The spokesperson of Youth Ballot Evolution (YBE), Ayo Banjoko is someone whose vision for Nigeria among his peers is unparalleled. His commitment to civic education over the years drives his passion for change. In this interview with Lauretta Omosoga, he talks about his work and why Nigeria’s 53 million youth population should be active in electoral process, beginning with the 2015 elections.
What is Youth Ballot Evolution and why was it set up?
The Youth Ballot Evolution is an initiative to inspire and stimulate youth interest and participation in elections and the electoral process in Nigeria. It is the perfect answer to the general apathy of youths to the ballot and the way political leaders emerge in Nigeria. That in itself is a paradox. I will explain.
If you take a close look at the history, the statistics of elections and the political process in Nigeria, you’ll see an ironic twist with regard to the Nigerian youth. With the population of about 53 million, the Nigerian youth form the largest subgroup in Nigeria; and we are the most directly affected by the political fortunes of the country. In fact, you could rightly say we are the biggest stakeholders in the political destiny of Nigeria.
However the enigma is; the average youth in Nigeria has a certain, unexplained apathy towards elections and the electoral process in Nigeria. And by ‘youths,’ we don’t mean political thugs and ‘area boys’ used as political tools to gain undue advantage to the seat of power.
I am referring to the new Nigerian youth, who are well-informed, responsible and vibrant. I am talking about the twenty first century youth who has become more politically aware than ever, one who has realised that throughout the world, youths are at the forefront of political changes in their countries, from Thailand to Greece, from Hong Kong and even here in Africa.
So YBE, as we refer to ourselves, was set up as a clarion call to the Nigerian youth population who are yet to fully tap into their potentials to influence and in fact determine political outcomes in Nigeria.
If the youths have a general apathy towards the elections and the political process in Nigeria, how do you hope to ignite their interest?
To some extent, the general indifference of youths towards the ballot box in Nigeria is understandable. The youths have had to endure an almost endless episode of dashed hopes and political failure by elected leaders, years after years. The continued indifference however does not and has not changed the story. We just cannot afford to continue to stay on the sidelines.
There’s a small detail people usually miss out on youths and their level of interest in the political process. The youths are actually interested in the political direction of Nigeria; it is justr interest needs to be activated. They have been forced into a state of apathy because of past disappointments. So the interest is there, but only passive and perhaps also not communicated. YBE is only going to ignite the interest.
If you take a quick look at the ever busy social media highway, for example, it will immediately become evident that the online entrepreneur – or ‘netpreneurs’ as they are called now -, public opinion influencers, leaders and shapers are mostly the youths. And for those who are not directing traffic on social media, they have strong political views and perspectives in their different social, informal gatherings. So YBE is only trying to breathe life into that latent interest and channel it appropriately into the political process so that our voices as youths are louder in elections and the political process in Nigeria to significantly influence political leadership in our beloved country, Nigeria.
What do you want to achieve?
We are saying that by choosing to move off the sidelines as youths; by choosing to stop sitting on the fence, we can (and will) impact our nation. Like a mighty tsunami, we can dislodge those who are opposed to the nations rising.
And as we participate enthusiastically and constructively in the political process, the entire nation will hear our voice – one voice – loud and clear through the ballot. YBE is also calling on other youths and youth groups who share our vision of a transformed Nigeria to join in the train of evolution to inspire and reorientate youths towards elections and balloting. Let us all rise and fulfil our great potential as the giant of Africa. This is our time. This is the hour. A brighter future beckons.
What channels would be your vehicles of change?
We want to reach the youths through different channels. One of such is what we call the ‘Phone2Phone’ Initiative, which by the way, is an organising body of the Youth Ballot Evolution.
This initiative involves exploring the most efficient communication platforms to bring the message to the youths using SMS, IVR, MMS, blogs, etc. Other avenues include traditional media and popular new media popular sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+ and LinkedIn.
Youths and youth groups willing to join the movement can reach us any of our contact numbers, emails and physical addresses. They too can help in mobilising youths and organising youths forums to create greater political awareness among youths and encourage them to be part of the electoral process by always turning out to vote during elections. However, they must ensure they get registered as eligible voters by obtaining their permanent voters cards. They should also inspire a heightened spirit of balloting among the youth through mass mobilisation on the social media, SMS, leaflets and fliers.
Our message is simple: Let them hear our opinion as youths loud and clear through the ballot. Let’s vote and let’s vote right. Let everybody between the ages of 18 and 35 years be the voice of the youth through the ballot box.
How confident are you about changing the youths attitudes towards elections and reorientation them?
I am a youth and so I will be practically talking with and enlightening people like myself. As one of us, I know what it takes to be enlightened which naturally stirs you up for an attitude change. We’ll create situations and forums, online and real time where we could meet, discuss and rub minds together on the political future of our nation as youths and how we can use our numerical advantage to decide or influence the nation’s leadership.
So, to directly answer your question; yes, I am very confident about a positive attitude change among Nigerian youths on elections, voting and the electoral process generally.
But it wouldn’t be just enough to inspire and awaken political consciousness in them. You would also have to mobilise them to participate more in the electoral process. Don’t you think that’s such a challenging task?
Of course, I will not delude myself to think this is any easy mission; but it is one YBE is passionate about. Achieving a shift in youth’s orientation about politics and elections in Nigeria is definitely not a walk in the park. We have to work hard at it. But like all major progressive strides in political history, the driving force and foundation has been passion; and that is exactly our biggest assets at YBE.
Nothing tangible has been achieved in the history of the world – be it political, technology, arts or even military – without passion.
We are committed to the future of Nigeria, which are the youths, and now is the time to start shaping it. We are committed to the YBE project because it is a noble one. The starting point in deciding our political destinies is through the ballot box and active youth participation. This is the YBE gospel.
We want to echo and re-echo our message, which is that the destiny of our beloved nation is in our hands. If we so choose, we can steer the direction of our nation if we all play more active roles in the nation’s political decisions and leadership. We have got the energy. We have got new perspectives. We have the network. We have all it takes to make a difference.
Giving the enormity of the challenge ahead, critics may not give you a chance.
Sceptics are always part of the political process in any society, even if they always chose to stay on the fence and criticise from a distance. In a large and multifaceted society like Nigeria, there are bound to be varying opinions on every issue, no matter how honest and genuine.
What are your expectations in the short and long terms?
I am very positive about the outcome of the YBE movement; because it thrives on the energy and passion of youth. In the short term, I look forward to a heightened interest among the youths about the political process and political leadership in our beloved country; and in the long term, I want to take another look at the statistics of voting pattern in Nigeria and see the youths forming a huge number of the electorate.
As youths, the 2015 general elections is an ample opportunity to put our numerical strength to the best use by coming out en masse to actively participate in the electoral process and cast our ballots on the election days. We are the future. We own the future. Let’s decide the future.