Many of my peers were elated when both Chambers of the National Assembly during the Constitutional amendment process voted for the passage of the #NotTooYoungToRunBill. The Bill seeks to reduce the age limit for contesting for elected offices in the country. The age for running for the presidency of Nigeria will be reduced from 40 years to 35 years; for state governor from 35 to 30; for Senate from 35 to 30; for the House of Representatives from 30 to 25; and for State Houses of Assembly from 30 to 25. Proponents of this bill erroneously claim that “if you’re old enough to vote you are old enough to run”. Unfortunately, apart from failing to realize that ruling and voting are entirely two different things, they also seem to fail to realize that although the youths may not be too young to run, they may just be too young to rule.
In propagating this youthful delusion, reference is always made to young leaders around the world. Leaders like Justin Trudeau Prime Minister of Canada, Emmanuel Macron President of France, David Cameron, past prime minister of United Kingdom, John F. Kennedy and Barack Obama (both past presidents of the USA). In a bid to further justify this delusion reference is also made to several young persons who wielded power in the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s in Nigeria. Persons like Awolowo (37 years), Akintola (36), Ahmadu Bello (36), Balewa (34), Okotie-Eboh (27), Enahoro (27), Gowon (32), Ojukwu (33), Danjuma (28), Babangida (25), Sani Abacha (23), and Yar’ Adua (23) Obasanjo (29), and Buhari (24), M.T. Mbu (23) and Pat Utomi (27). Unfortunately, the recent election of young person’s into the Kenyan parliament is merely going to fuel this delusion.
Sadly the discussion doesn’t ponder on how the “youthfulness” of these leaders positively affected their countries neither does it consider their educational and professional pedigree. All what most people are interested in is their age. When these factors- are considered wholly, the propriety or otherwise of this bill will be appreciated.
For the record, I am a youth with a history and indeed an interest in politics. This bill will favor me greatly if eventually passed into law but I sincerely think it’s ill-timed for our current political setting. It is not and never will it be the panacea to our national issues. It is merely a delusion.
We don’t need to make a voyage to the Moon to discover why this bill should be objected to. A look at the operations of the Student Union Government (SUG) or faculty associations in almost every Federal or State University in the country proves that young leaders are not the solution to the leadership dearth in Nigeria; it will merely multiple leadership ineptness. The student politicians are no different from the normal Nigerian politicians that we complain of daily. Their modus operandi is self-service, the common good is obliterated from their dictionary. The quantum of financial misappropriation and abuse of power by these student politicians will leave one who wasn’t involved in school politics bewildered. Unfortunately, the University authorities act lethargically. They don’t fail to realize that, that was an opportunity to train these students who are taunted as future leaders of tomorrow on justice, accountability and transparency.
The global and national emphasis on youthful participation in governance is indeed laudable but the over-emphasis on direct participation in politics is misleading and antithetical to the common good. Because of this emphasis, many youths feel that the only way they can serve the country or make political impact is by occupying a political position. But we know that this is not true. The youth like any other ordinary citizen can do a lot without being directly involved in governance and they have to be taught and shown how. A perfect example that comes to mind is BugIT, founded by youths. This group which is less than 8 years has made the budgets of the federal and state government accessible and transparent. They are also raising standards of transparency and accountability in government. All these outside of government and they are really succeeding. We cannot also forget the contributions of LEAP Africa, RISE Network and Enough is Enough to the socio-economic development of Nigeria. Neither can we forget the likes of Nasir Yammama, the founder of Verdant AgriTech, who is committed to supporting rural farmers with mobile technologies. We need more youth to follow similar paths.
By reducing the age limit to 25. There is a tendency that “Godfathers” may return into the nation’s political realm with their grandeur. The past experiences weren’t pleasing. The average 23 to 25 year-old Nigerian has less than 2 years of work experience and won’t be able to finance a political campaign. Elections in Nigeria are capital intensive, as such many young aspirants would want to look for “sponsors/investors”. On the other hand, this bill may favour the wealthy who may want to continue the political dynasty by incorporating their family members.
Ruling and voting are two different things. Ruling is a task that involves lots of intellectual capacity; a major predicament of the nation’s growth is the lack of intelligent and visionary leaders. Rather than remedy this by trying to invest in leadership, we merely want to continue it. How many Nigerian youth at 25 or 30 can appreciate the dynamics of governance? Very few! Many are still trying to understand themselves, find their professional path, get a companion etc. The mere fact that 1 or 2 youths are capable shouldn’t be the basis of creating the rule which will make 60-70 percent of incapable youth to contest and win. We will merely fill our political offices with the same cadre of inept politicians.
In the era of poverty and unemployment, vying for political offices will be many young people’s way of escaping poverty, hard work and professional life. Indeed the time has come when we have to make political offices less financially enticing so that we can get true and self-less leaders. This write-up should not be interpreted as implying that older politicians are better off than young leaders. It’s merely saying that we ought to change our parameters for leadership.
Indeed, Nigerian’s problem is not an absence of young leaders but good leaders. This bill will merely create youthful politicians and not youthful leaders and business will continue as usual. Our major focus should be getting leaders who are competent, visionary, sincere, and virtuous.
J. B. Nwachukwu