Going this route and backing young aspirants, Feranmi argues, is one way to changed the “flawed narrative” that young candidates cannot win elections. In the long-term, part of “playing the long game,” he says, is to enable a bulk of young people get into office, create track records and gain crucial experience for when they seek higher positions. The group is supporting 25 candidates—all younger than 35—in the current election cycle.

Breaking the hold

The dominance of two major parties—the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) of Buhari and the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) of Atiku—means candidates running on other platforms face an uphill battle. It’s a reality that’s true even for “third-party” presidential candidates.

But young aspirants are increasingly walking away from and being forced out of APC and PDP.

Sirajudeen Adebakin, a federal legislative aspirant under KOWA party, quit APC last year after becoming disillusioned. “It’s not possible for you to perform optimally if you belong to any of those parties,” Adebakin says. Having a campaign sponsored by party leaders and their associates translates into owing allegiances to “political godfathers,” he explains.

Abiola, also a former member of APC, says she left due to “a lack of internal democracy and dictatorial tendencies” from party leaders who threatened her so she wouldn’t run.  She says condoning the intimidation would be a “betrayal” of democratic values her father fought and died for.

In some cases, the cost of winning tickets to contest on the platform of major parties is in itself a major barrier. “The nomination forms are too expensive in the leading parties,” says Jesse Nwaenyo, also an aspiring federal legislator. While purchasing a form to contest for the party ticket as a federal legislator under the major parties can cost up to $10,000, Nwaenyo’s form cost $800 under the United Progressive Party (UPP), a much smaller party.

Buying the forms under a major party also guarantees little. “Even if a young person is able to raise the said sum and purchase the form, there’s another big hurdle to cross and that’s the primaries where you’re up against more experienced politicians with bigger name recognition,” Nwaenyo says.

As such, young candidates who lose out in the primaries of major parties are known to end up in smaller parties where there’s a higher chance of winning the party’s ticket. Running under a smaller party also comes at its own price though: Nwaenyo says with UPP unable to raise enough funds through the sale of forms, his campaign has received no financial support from the party.

New methods

To differentiate themselves from older generation politicians, young campaigners are trying to do things differently. Zainab Sulaiman Umar, aspirant for the state house of assembly in Kano, northern Nigeria, under New Progressive Movement says going directly to the grassroots, making door to door visits and meeting voters in person is a tactic that could secure success on election day. Given her lack of funds like most other young aspirants, it’s also a cheaper way to campaign.

The tactic is also important as young candidates look to explore voters’ frustration with their current representatives who are seen as aloof and distant. “I go to some places and I get people telling me they’ve never seen a candidate face-to-face and engaged them this way,” Abiola tells Quartz. That disconnect and a failure to cater to the people’s needs is “a failure of governance at the smallest levels of society,” she says.

Her strategy is to “forge a relationship” with voters by “going to them where they are” rather than holding rallies and deploying surrogates as experienced politicians tend to do. “I could as well adopt the usual way of campaigning, but I want to see the people in the conditions they live in, so I understand exactly what is at stake,” she says.

But even in doing things differently, Adebakin insists it’s tough to change the deeply ingrained habit of offering cash and food as incentives for votes. “There is hunger in the land whether we want to accept it or not and it is very difficult to talk to people who are hungry to change their mindset,” he tells Quartz.

Amid the several challenges though, young candidates have one decisive upside with a majority of Nigeria’s registered 84 million registered voters aged between 18 and 35. As such, they stand a better chance of connecting with them in ways older politicians cannot.

For her part, Abiola, now in her late twenties, acknowledges her youth has been focal in helping her campaign get reception from young voters but she also concedes that being young alone does not amount to a political trump card even among that bloc of the electorate. “Being young is not enough to make people vote for me,” she says. “It’s a feature, not the entire substance of me as a person and as a candidate.”

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