History was made on May 31st when President Muhammadu Buhari finally assented to the ‘Not Too Young To Run Bill’ which officially reduced the age limit for running for elected offices in Nigeria. The new law has altered sections 65, 106, 131, 177 of the Constitution, which has reduced the age of running for elective positions for House of Assembly and House of Representatives from 30 years old to 25, and office of the president from 40 to 30. The age limit for Senate and Governorship still remains at 35 years. In signing the bill into law, President Buhari ended a campaign which had begun some two years ago when it was conceived by a civil society group known as YIAGA Africa in May 2016.
The group is headed by Samson Itodo, a human rights activist and good governance campaigner, who is the Executive Director of YIAGA Africa. The bill, however, finally gained traction in the National Assembly when it was sponsored in the House of Representatives by Tony Nwulu and in the Upper Chamber by AbdulAziz Nyako.
But in as much as we congratulate the President for endorsing the bill and all those who made it possible, we will like to quickly point out that signing the bill into law is not an end in itself as its impact on the populace is equally, if not, even more important. We all know how expensive elections in the country are which means that this already precludes many youngsters, who do not have deep pockets or very rich and powerful godfathers, from taking part in the political process. In as much as we know that changing this will be an uphill task, we still believe that there are still things that can be done to get around this. For instance, political parties can help drive the process by waiving the high fees being demanded for those aiming to contest for youths interested in elective office.
Some parties are asking as much as N5.5 million for their expression of interest and nomination forms. This is way too high for the average young Nigerian to be able to afford. The parties can also, like what many of them are doing to encourage the women folk, wave such fees for anyone who is young and wants to take part in the contest. Apart from this, if the parties also make their internal selection processes truly democratic then this will really reduce the impact of money on the process and will allow true representation of whom the people want to lead them.
The youngsters on their part can also take matters into their own hands by galvanising their fellow youths by launching online campaigns to drive home the need for them to be supported in their quest to make the nation a better place for everybody. For instance, the youth can mobilise using the social media platforms to not only raise some funds for their campaigns but more importantly get the millions of youngsters across the country to not only get their permanent voters’ cards (PVCs) but also use them on voting day to get people of their choice elected. That way they will be able to make a difference and make their numerical strength count.
By the way, the youths should not only focus on the major prize of the presidency, but should realise that they can equally make a difference right from the lowest elective position which is the local government level and which include councillorship and chairmanship positions. At the local government level, the youth can prove to Nigerians that they are up to the challenge by impacting on the people through good governance at the grassroots level.
In many parts of the world now, it’s the younger generation that are holding sway, obviously benefiting from the fact that citizens are finally fed up with the antics of the regular old politicians. Thus in France, 40-year-old Emmanuel Macron became President in 2017, while 46-year-old Justin Trudeau has been Canadian Prime Minister since 2015.
We still remember Tony Blair, who became Britain’s Prime Minister at just 44 in 1997 and David Cameron who was the same age when he became Prime Minister in 2010.
The National Orientation Agency (NOA) can also weigh in by beginning massive enlightenment campaigns driving home to Nigerians, both young and old, the importance of using their voting power to determine the future direction of the country, the way they want it and not leave it to a certain group of people who have so far left a lot to be desired in the way the nation had been governed. Nigeria’s election umpire, the Independent National Election Commission (INEC), should also make efforts to ensure that election costs do not spiral out of control and further bar youngsters from taking part. Once again while we commend the Federal Government for signing the bill into law we are equally waiting to see how its proper implementation will impact positively on the Nigerian youth.
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