The Thumbprint Revolution

How the youths won the 2015 election to become leaders of today

POWER INDEED LIES WITH THE people, and with Nigeria’s population at about 170 million, majority of the powerbrokers are

the youth, representing 64 per cent of the total population, according to figures from the National Bureau of Statistics and federal Ministry of Youth Development.

Nigeria’s new president, Muhammadu Buhari, after the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Attahiru Jega, officially declared him winner of the 2015 presidential election, told the people: “In a more profound way, it is you Nigerians that have won.”

This front-page statement has made converts of politicians from Buhari’s All Progressives Congress (APC) that in the past would have ascribed victory to their party’s ideology; they’ve joined other bandwagon politicians in chorusing “Nigerians won the election.”

It is in this same manner, casually and without proper thought other than the need to be seen to speak for the youths that politicians for years have told young A female voter casting her ballot Nigerians that they are the “leaders of tomorrow”.

Beyond this periodic quip, the political class have not pushed for policies to transfer power to a generation of young leaders. The class of the political actors in the concluded

Since the constitution allows any Nigerian at 40 years to be elected president or vice- president, 35 for senator or state governor, and 30 years for House of Representatives; with a smart phone, ballot and a deciding population, there’s nothing holding the youths back in this game of numbers called politics

2015 election, a recurring decimal in Nigeria’s public service life, supports this point. For instance, among the 360 politicians that contested and won elections into the House of Representatives, only 36 are in their thirties. Also, in the Senate, none of the 109 elected senators are below 40 years.


Where the constitution allows any Nigerian at 40 years to be elected president or vice-president, 35 for senator or state governor, and 30 years for House of Representatives, the establishment continues to describe someone in his thirties as a leader suited, not today, but for tomorrow. The system favours the older politicians, ascribing maturity to age. Many Nigerian voters who at 30 are within their rights and mature to seek political office, have for too long chosen to rather stand in line patiently for hours in the sun, rain and darkness to cast their votes every election year; but lessons from 2015 shows Voters queue to vote Election officials attending to voters that this won’t be the situation for too long. Political participation is being rewritten,

and like Buhari said in his speech, “When the account of this fine moment is written, it will be said that it was the people themselves who led this nation to democracy.” Already the account is being written, and in doing so, it’s only appropriate to begin from the genesis.

In the morning of May 6, 2010, a day after the death of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, President Goodluck Jonathan was sworn in as Nigeria’s substantive president. Delivering his swearing in speech at the Aso villa, Jonathan pledged to reform the country’s electoral process and ensure that “all votes count and are counted” beginning with the 2011 general elections.


For votes to count, Jonathan understood the role of strong institutions. This much he seemed to have suggested in an interview with CNNs Amanpour, weeks before he became the substantive president. Even though he played hide and seek when asked if he was going to sack then chairman of INEC, Professor Maurice Iwu, Jonathan nonetheless passed a clear message to strengthen the electoral system, regulations and laws. Also of importance was the man to supervise the counting of votes, who was to come loaded in integrity, and so in place of Iwu, Jonathan presented Jega’s name at a council of state meeting where members unanimously approved him. The statement to make votes count and be counted, metamorphosed to the now famous ‘one-man-one-vote’ slogan. Over the years and during every given occasion, Jonathan campaigned using the slogan. In retrospect, one might say Jonathan underrated the effect his pledge would have on the voters psyche, and how this seemingly good intentioned statement would aid series of actions to his defeat at the polls. With Jega’s appointment, Jonathan warmed his way into the hearts of many people and his popularity soared. He followed this gesture by giving Jega the leeway to operate as INEC chairman unrestricted. Haven committed to free, fair and credible elections, the 2011 general election, 2012 Edo state election and the Ekiti and Osun elections of 2014 were opportunities for Jonathan to boost his social capital, which was on a freefall over his failings on security and corruption. Jega went to work building on the achievements of these elections and determined to institute far-reaching reforms. Two of the several changes made by him were the Permanent Voter Card (PVC) and the accompanying Card Reader machine used for authentication of voters.

No one knew just how far effects of the reforms would go when voters had the kind of tool that removed and elected leaders. With Jonathan down, partly through efforts of theirs on social media and at the ballot, the youths now know that they are leaders of today, and not tomorrow. During the 2015 election, in both the PDP and APC, young people were the engine room for the campaigns of Jonathan and Buhari. It was them that set the agenda by controlling debate using social media. Many have argued that elections are not won on social media, and to their harm overlooked the fact that it nonetheless shapes perception, which in turn determines why a voter would support a certain candidate.


Jonathan’s media handlers failed, until unrepairable damage had been done, to realise the importance of the social media. When the president visited Lagos to campaign, he told the crowd of how the opposition had “employed social media critics to lie that we are not doing anything.”

There was no better way to put it that he was feeling the power and influence of young people who had been neglected to the background for too long, but

During the 2015 election, in both the PDP and APC, young people were the engine room for the campaigns of Jonathan and Buhari. It was them that set the agenda by controlling debate using social media