Students consider security threats ahead of the election

The closure of tertiary education institutions in Nigeria for three weeks to enable voters to reach their voting districts has not been embraced by all students, many of whom are concerned about security risks as they travel long distances home by road to exercise their franchise.

Whereas some students, whose permanent domiciles are about 400km to 1,000km away from their institutions, told University World News they are unwilling to go home, citing insecurity, a lack of funds for transport and distrust in the country’s political system, others said they are determined to embark on the journey.

Nigeria’s Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, has directed all tertiary education institutions to close from 22 February to 14 March, during which time voters will elect a new president and national lawmakers on 25 February, as well as governors and state lawmakers on 11 March.

The National Universities Commission conveyed the minister’s directive to vice-chancellors in a memo signed by Dr Chris Maiyaki, the commission’s deputy executive secretary of administration.

Similarly, Lawal Hafiz, the director of human resources at the National Board for Technical Education, confirmed in a 10 February memo that all “polytechnics and similar tertiary institutions” will suspend academic activities during the same period.

The directive followed demands on the government to close schools so about 3.5 million students who are eligible to vote could exercise their civic right.

Nigeria operates manual voting which requires eligible voters to be physically present in their voting districts where they are registered – usually in the areas where they reside permanently.

But several students will not be returning to their homes.

“I have my PVC [permanent voter card] but I am not travelling home,” said Olayiwola Abdulgafar, a student at the Bayero University, Kano, who is supposed to vote in Ilorin, Kwara State, about 700km from the school.

“Travelling by air would have been the option but it is very expensive. Many of us can’t even afford the fare to travel by road, which is about NGN40,000 [about US$86]. Even if I have the means, I won’t travel by road for fear of being kidnapped. I can’t risk my life because of any elections,” Abdulgafar said.

A few months ago, gunmen in broad daylight abducted students of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Anambra State, along the Nsukka-Opi road while they were travelling back to the school to resume academic activities, Premium Times reported.

Folashade Adesina, who is based in Lagos and studies at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria in Kaduna State, also said she would spend the holidays in her hostel instead of travelling almost 965km.

“I am not travelling home to vote. One of the major roads I will pass through is notorious for kidnapping. My parents won’t even support my decision to come home just because of elections,” she said.

But Abdullahi Ibrahim, a student at the University of Abuja, said he would travel the 450km distance to his home town in Akure, Ondo State, against all odds.

“I will go home to vote. I’m aware of the delicate security situation of the country and the fares which are relatively high now as a result of the fuel scarcity. But I and a few other students are ready to take the risk. We want a good government which can only be achieved if we vote for candidates we believe in,” he stated.

The Independent National Electoral Commission registered 93.4 million voters for the upcoming elections, with young people – including students – between the ages of 18 and 34 constituting more than 37 million; representing about 40%, Tribune reported.

Over the years, elections in Nigeria have witnessed low voter turnout as many people appear to have lost trust in public office holders who, most times, fail to deliver on their campaign promises after they are elected.

But insecurity in different parts of the country which, according to a report by TheCable, led to the kidnapping of 4,611 people in 2022 alone has compounded the apathy.

Kidnappers have compelled families of abducted persons to part with millions of naira in ransom or killed the victims whose relatives could not meet their demands.

Students encouraged to vote

President of the National Association of Nigerian Students Usman Umar Barambu urged students not to feel discouraged to travel home to vote for the greater good of the country.

“We [students] have to vote so that, tomorrow, we can tell the government that we elect them and have the right to demand accountability from them,” he told University World News.

The spokesperson for the Nigeria Police Force, Olumuyiwa Adejobi, in a statement on 8 February, said the Inspector-General of Police, Usman Alkali Baba, has deployed a team across the country “to identify, analyse and mitigate threats, as well as carry out on-the-spot appraisal of the security ahead of the general elections”.