NIGERIA’S politicians are out courting young voters but many of them are too preoccupied with trying to eke out a living to pay much attention to next month’s election.
Mobolaji Adebiyi says she’s just too busy—and doesn’t see how she can affect anything, even the raging Boko Haram insurgency in the far northeast.
“I don’t vote,” the 22-year-old told AFP between mouthfuls of pounded yam at an open-air workers’ cafe located on wasteland between two office blocks.
“I leave that to others. I have much to do.”
Posters seem to be plastered on every wall of Nigeria’s biggest city and financial capital at the moment, urging people to vote at the February 14 presidential and parliamentary poll.
Some show Jonathan and parliamentary candidates for his Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Others feature his main rival Muhammadu Buhari and hopefuls from his All Progressives Congress (APC).
Lagos and the surrounding state of the same name is an established APC stronghold and seen as a key battleground in next month’s election.
But fellow diners eating with Mobolaji—some of them construction workers, others senior managers or civil servants—prefer to talk about their daily problems than power politics.
Talk jumps from corruption, lack of access to education, or the high cost of living at a time when the country’s main source of revenue, oil, is falling and the currency is struggling.
“We’re working hard and the money isn’t enough,” said Akin Adeyemi, a 46-year-old electrician, who spends five hours a day in traffic as he can’t afford to live closer to his place of work.
“Everything’s expensive. I’m working and by the 10th of the month, the salary is gone. And I have no electricity and water,” he added.
Despite the talk of Nigeria’s many problems, the one getting the most international attention—the Boko Haram insurgency—is hardly mentioned at all.
The Islamist militant group’s campaign of violence has devastated Nigeria’s far northeast, 1,500 kilometres (nearly 1,000 miles) away from Lagos, with deadly attacks on almost a daily basis.
“It’s not that we don’t care. But there’s nothing we can do about it,” says Mobolaji, shrugging her shoulders.
Lagos, a megacity home to some 20 million people, is a sprawling urban patchwork of chaotic, overcrowded suburbs dotted with modern tower blocks.
Workers live cheek-by-jowl with an emerging middle class and petro-dollar billionaires.
For the majority life is tough: 37.5% of Nigerians under 25 don’t have a job, according to the government, and Mobolaji knows she’s been lucky to be taken on.
Her job as a building supervisor earns her 45,000 naira ($230) a month. Her father works in the same sector.
“Keep fighting”, “hustle” and “work hard” to get on are popular refrains in sub-Saharan Africa’s most populous city.
A few roads away, on a potholed street lined with luxury shops selling made-to-measure Italian suits and gleaming Porsches, Morgan Ekezie is also too busy to talk politics or Boko Haram.
The coffee-shop worker is just 23 but gives the impression that he has already seen a few things in life since leaving his hometown of Makurdi in central Nigeria.
He dreams of working in fashion but for the time being makes coffee in an upmarket cafe from 7:00 am to 8:00 pm. Home is a hut shared with a friend who works as a security guard.
He earns 30,000 naira a month, saving most of it to pay for his university fees.
“Once you’re in Lagos, if you don’t hustle, you don’t put food on the table. It’s the spirit of Lagos. You have to keep fighting,” he says, making a capuccino.
Morgan and Mobolaji’s role models may be successful Nigerians but they’re not politicians.
The young barista listens to 2face Idibia on a loop. 2face sings about women and success.
Morgan’s all-time hero, though, is Mike Adenuga, the country’s second-richest man, who made his money in telecoms and oil.
“He’s a self-made man,” says Morgan, impressed.
For Mobolaji, it’s Nollywood actress Omotola Jalade, better known to her fans by her nickname “Omosexy” and who featured in Time magazine’s 100 most influential people list in 2013.
Ask her what she dreams about and she lets out a sigh.
“You can dream. I have dreams. But here, you never know what’s going to happen,” she says.