As the sun set and I gathered with the crowd of more than 150 young Nigerians to watch the premiere of the short film, "My Vote Fit Change Naija" ("My Vote Can Change Nigeria"), at the U.S. Ambassador's residence in Abuja, I couldn't help but feel energized.
I had just finished listening to dynamic and energetic young leaders from across Nigeria. They told me dozens of inspirational stories about how young people understand the power of the vote, and are taking action to promote free, fair and credible elections in the run-up to Nigeria's critical presidential election in April.
Youth in the the YoungStars Development Initiative work with USAID's "U Can't Swag My Vote" program and developed the film, "My Vote Fit Change Naija," with Nollywood stars like Julius Agwu, Jenifar Akerele, and Chidi Mokeme. These actors and youth all donated their time to produce the film and participate in critical voter education projects.
I also met a number of "Corpers" -- members of the National Youth Service Corps. These college graduates perform a year of national service outside their home states. Over 300,000 Corpers worked with the Independent National Electoral Commission to register millions of voters and will also staff voting booths on election day. For many Corpers this was the first time they traveled outside their home regions, and they spoke eloquently about their commitment to building a single Nigerian identity amid the country's extraordinary diversity.
Another young leader spoke about her Vote or Quench project -- a youth driven, social media-enabled organization that is shedding light on Nigeria's complex political arena, giving young people an entry point into political engagement. She called for presidential candidates to hold a first ever debate based on youth questions, already securing the commitment of at least one candidate.
These young Nigerians know that the integrity of elections is pivotal to the stability and progress of the nation. Although Nigeria celebrated its 50th anniversary last year, Nigeria lacks public confidence in democratic institutions and governance. Corrupt, mismanaged and fraudulent elections undermine faith in democratic values and can generate instability and violence.
With 80 percent of Nigeria's population under the age of 40, the youth population clearly has the numbers to drive progress and help ensure more stable and transparent elections. Each one of the young people I met last night, and many others around the country, are part of that momentum. Whether it is waiting all day in the hot sun to register to vote, working at the polls on Election Day, or sending texts to remind others to cast their ballots, these young people understand that they can be ambassadors of political change. As one young woman said, "We are not apathetic; we believe in our ability to change." I couldn't agree more.