A lot of the young online support gravitated toward Obi, 61, a businessman and former member of the PDP who campaigned on a platform of reforming Nigeria’s state institutions, which have often been tainted by corruption. He also said that he would officially apologize to victims of police brutality, a promise that spoke directly to the EndSARS movement.
While the legacy parties focused their attention on traditional media, the Labour Party was supported by popular activists and influencers. Youth organizers used Twitter spaces and hashtags such as #ObiDatti2023, #Obidients, and #1MillionMarch4PeterObi to rally support. They took their online efforts offline, volunteering to go door-to-door to spread the party’s message. Supporters created online challenges such as “talk to someone about Peter Obi” and launched an app to distribute content and campaign messages. The party crowdsourced donations, helping it to overcome a massive gulf in funding between it and the two legacy parties.
The odds were stacked against Obi’s Labour Party, which attracted just over 5,000 votes in the last presidential election in 2019. But this year, the party’s vote surged to 6.1 million—more than 25 percent of the electorate—putting it in third place, not far behind the PDP’s 6.9 million. The party won six Senate seats and three seats in the House of Representatives. In Lagos, the country’s economic center, its candidate beat the ruling party. It even got the largest share of the vote at the polling unit inside the presidential villa.
“The statement ‘four people tweeting in a room’ was demeaning,” Ayomide says. “I’m glad at how things played out. I think we made a statement.”
Since the presidential and senatorial elections, the online activist networks have kept working, calling out perceived electoral irregularities and voter suppression, and challenging the role of money in politics. Some are trying to crowdsource a database of results from specific polling units in hopes of providing records that could prove irregularities in court. Both of the leading opposition candidates have alleged vote-rigging and violence during the election.
“Many young people have used social media to advocate for their preferred candidates, and this has led to some youth-friendly candidates winning elections and disrupting the political environment,” says Rinu Oduala, a youth activist and founder of Connect Hub, which provides advocacy and support for democracy and against state violence. “And when politicians don’t deliver on their promises or engage in corrupt practices, we call them out on social media, putting them under greater scrutiny, creating a culture of accountability.”
Nigeria’s political establishment seems to have woken up to the power of the online caucuses. The country held gubernatorial elections on the weekend of March 18. In the run-up, the PDP and ruling APC both ramped up their social media campaigns. Lagos’ APC governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, started tweeting more frequently and announced a series of policies apparently designed to win the youth vote, including a pledge to rethink the country’s ban on cryptocurrencies.
Full election results are still coming in. While the APC won the gubernatorial elections in Lagos with more than 762,000 votes, the Labour Party edged ahead of the PDP to come in second, with 312,000 votes. Preliminary results show the party has also become a major contender in several states in the southeast of Nigeria.
The results have reinforced the idea that the “four people tweeting in a room” are now part of the political mainstream, and that Nigeria’s politicians can’t, as they often have, dismiss young voices with slogans like “there are no polling units online.”
“The digital gathering of young Nigerians is a direct challenge to the incompetent leadership, corrupt officiating, and brutal policing that has long been the status quo,” says Adebowale Adedayo, a content creator and activist known as Mr. Macaroni, who has used his platform as an influencer to advocate for youth participation. “If the EndSARS protests failed to prove that online advocacy translates to real-world action, then the record numbers of youth participation in the 2023 election cycle will settle any debate.”