Age of Candidacy Bill: A Renewed Hope for Nigerian Youths

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Hon. Tony Nwulu’s bill advocating a review of the age of candidacies in the country is good news for the Nigerian youths, reckons Adebowale Adeniyi

“Let us acknowledge and celebrate what youth can do to build a safer, more just world. Let us strengthen our efforts to include young people in policies, programmes and decision-making processes that benefit their futures and ours.” – Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s message on International Youth Day, 12 August 2010.

It was a renewed hope and excitement for the Nigerian youths on Wednesday, June 8, 2016, when the #NotTooYoungToRun Bill passed second reading at the House of Representatives. The bill was first introduced and sponsored by Hon. Tony Nwulu, Oshodi/Isolo Federal Constituency II of Lagos State on Wednesday May 26th, 2016.

The Bill with gazette number HB 544 seeks to alter Sections 65, 106, 131, 177 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) to reduce the age qualification for the office of the president from 40 years to 30 years; Governor 35 to 30, Senate 35 to 30, House of Representatives 30 to 25 and State House of Assembly 30 to 25 respectively. The Bill also seeks to mainstream independent candidacy into Nigeria’s electoral process.

The #NotTooYoungToRun Bill if completely and successfully passed, the interest of the Nigerian youths will be more protected and their destinies will be in their own hands. It will also enhance and increase opportunities for youths to contribute to democratic governance in Nigeria; promote inclusive politics, which will guarantee a level-playing field for all, promote adult-youth partnership in public governance which is in line with international best practices.

The bill will limit the youths’ involvement in political hooliganism, gangster-ism, racketeering, violence and thuggery. The bill which will give way for independent candidacy, will truncate the corruption and lack of internal democracy in the political parties, will discourage godfatherism, imposition of candidates, monopolisation etc which over the years have discourage the youths from political participation.

The Nigerian youths constitute the largest constituency of over 60% of the 170 million population which amounts to at least 120 million youths. It is worrisome how the youths in the last decade have been schemed out and marginalised from governance. The present administration’s insensitiveness to being inclusive in terms of youth’s inclusiveness in governance is a point of worry and needs urgent attention.

In the Federal Executive council, where decisions are being made, no single youth to represent and negotiate for the youths, even the Minister for youths and Sports is about 52 years old, the youngest of the 36 Ministers is Alhaji Abubakar Malami, SAN (Minister of Justice), who is 48 years old as at the time of his appointment. This singular act alone is a bogus slap on the faces of all Nigerian youths and this signifies that the youths have no place in the affairs of governance and decision-making in Nigeria, and this is a total disregard to the global call towards reducing injustice and inequality world-wide.

Some have argued that Nigerian youths of today are inexperience and not ripe enough to govern, but I must point out clearly that such minds are still living in the dark, failed to delve into the history and have refused to realign themselves with the present realities around the world. Experience and evidence have shown that youths are change makers, critical thinkers, innovators, communicators and natural leaders. Analyses below are concrete arguments and evidence from various perspectives.

International Perspectives
At the United Nations Headquarters in New York from 25-27 September 2015, 193 world leaders including Nigeria’s president converged for the first time and signed an agreement to have a global and common agenda which are the Sustainable Development goals (SDGs). The goals are set of all-inclusive and achievable group of objectives which if attained or achieved, will make the world a more just, peaceful, and a sustainable place for all. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 targets aimed at eradicating extreme poverty in all its forms, promoting economic prosperity, ensuring environmental sustainability, promoting social inclusion and achieving global peace and Security.

It is important to point out clearly that one of the basis and foundation the 17 SDG goals are built upon is to “Reduce Inequality” that is: NEVER LEAVE ANYONE BEHIND in other word, if we must achieve the maximum development, just, peaceful and sustainable world – inequality and injustice must be addressed and reduced. E.g., there must be equal rights between women and men, the gap between the rich and poor must be reduced, and the youths must be given adequate rights in line with the principles of equality and non-discrimination to participate in governance and decision-making process.

Away from United Nations, the minimum age requirement to contest for governorship across 50 state of the United States of America is 30years, Senate 30 years, U.S. Congress 25 years, House of Delegates 21 etc.
In Australia, any person 18 years of age or older may stand for election to public office at federal, state or local government level. The youngest ever member of the House of Representatives was 20-year-old, Wyatt Roy elected in the 2010 federal election. In Denmark, any adult 18 years of age or older can become a candidate and be elected in any public election.

In France, any citizen 18 years of age or older can be elected to the lower house of Parliament, and 24 years or older for the Senate. Minimum age for the President of France is 18. In Iran, a person must be at least 21 years old to run for president. In the Netherlands, any adult 18 years of age or older can become a candidate and be elected in any public election. In Norway, any adult 18 years of age or older can become a candidate and be elected in any public election.

In South Africa, Section 47, Clause 1 of the 1996 Constitution of South Africa states that “Every citizen, who is qualified to vote for the National Assembly is eligible to be a member of the Assembly”, defaulting to Section 46 which “provides for a minimum voting age of 18 years” in National Assembly elections; Sections 106 and 105 provide the same for provincial legislatures. Ghana has a voting age of 18 years with a population of over 24M, and a voting population of 13M. However, the age requirement for running for a seat in Parliament is 21 years.
In the United Kingdom, a person must be aged 18 or over (16 in Scotland) to stand in elections to all parliaments, assemblies, and councils at the European, UK, devolved, or local level. This age requirement also applies in elections to any individual elective public office. In Venezuela, a person must be at least 30 to be president or vice-president, 21 to be a deputy for the National Assembly and 25 to be the Governor of a state
Some of the outstanding young leaders in the world include Mhairi Black, the youngest member in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom was 20 years old, when elected in 2015. Jean-Claude Duvalier was president of Haiti at the age of 19 in 1971. Kim Jong-Un, Supreme Leader of North Korea was 31, when he assumed office. Taavi Rõivas, Prime Minister of Estonia was 35; Atifete Jahjaga, President of Kosovo was 39, Moussa Mara, Prime Minister of Mali was 39, Matteo Renzi, Prime Minister of Italy 40, Joseph Kabila Kabange, D.R. Congo (Age: 44).

National Perspectives
An evaluation of the political and economic scenes in Nigeria’s democracy reveals a country, where it is hard to say youths are the leaders of tomorrow. Most of the politicians, who are leaders today have monopolised the power despite being out of ideas that can salvage the nation from the incessant crisis and economic woes. Historically, young leaders had fought for and ruled this great nation with their youthful exuberance and performed brilliantly.
Nigeria’s pre-independence struggle was championed by young nationalists like Chief Obafemi Awolowo (37), Akintola (36), Ahmadu Bello (36) Abubakar Tafawa Balewa (34) and Okotie-Eboh (27), Enahoro (27), Dr. Nnmadi Azikiwe (40), etc. all led the struggle for independence of Nigeria in their youthful ages.

Buhari, Nigeria’s President presently also benefited from being given the opportunity to participate in governance at his youthful age. In August 1975, after General Murtala Mohammed took over power, Buhari was appointed the Governor of the North-Eastern State at the age of 33, to oversee social, economic and political improvements in the state.
Also in March 1976, the Head of State, General Olusegun Obasanjo, appointed Buhari at the age of 34 years as the Minister for Petroleum and Natural Resources. In 1977, Buhari was 35 years old, when he was also appointed Chairman, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) which was created in 1977. Buhari was just 41 years when he became Nigeria’s Head of State.

Other leaders, who had ruled the country in their youths are, General Yakubu Gowon who became the Head of State at the age of 32; Murtala Muhamed was 38, when he became head of state; Gen. Obasanjo was 39, while Major General Aguiyi Ironsi was 42 years. Matthew Tawo Mbu at age of 30 held the distinction of being the youngest Nigerian ever to serve in the federal cabinet. Between 1960 and 1966, and Pat Utomi was a presidential adviser at 27, etc.

The National Youth Policy categorises youth as all persons between the ages 18 – 35. Since the democratic regime, the 1999 Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria, Section 65, 106, 131, 177 have all placed age restrictions in elective offices despite prescribing the age of 18 as the voting age. These age restrictions over the years create a huge gap between the voting age and eligible age to run for office. Whilst the ‘right to vote’ is guaranteed, the ‘right to be voted for’ is not guaranteed until the attainment of an age bracket that is above the youth age classification.

For instance, all those who fall within the youth age category are deemed unqualified to run for the office of the President, Senate and Governors. This in itself is discriminatory and an exhibition of injustice and inequality. Whilst the Constitution recognises 18 as the voting age, it strips young people of the opportunity to pursue their political aspirations until a certain age.

The Not Good Enough Argument
There is an argument from the older generation that young Nigerians of this present time are not good enough to become leaders. This, I must say, is baseless, just a mere illusion, only existing in the world of ideas and dreamland. Nigerians of today are critical thinkers, change makers, innovators, communicators, influencers and enterprising. Below are Nigerians who are doing well and uplifting the image of Nigeria, Africa and excelling at global stage.

Ola Orekunrin is 25 years old. She became a medical doctor at the age of 21, and she is the founder of Flying Doctors Nigeria Limited, which she set up in 2010 as the first air ambulance service provider in West Africa’s health care history. Bukola Elemide aka Asa is 34 years old, a multi-talented musician. She has influenced many young men and women across the world.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a 38-year old Nigerian novelist, non-fiction and short story writer. A MacArthur Genius Grant recipient, Adichie has been called “the most prominent” of a “procession of critically acclaimed young anglophone authors (that) is succeeding in attracting a new generation of readers to African literature”

In November 2001, Agbani Darego was just 19 years old when she was crowned Miss World, beating Miss Scotland and Miss Aruba in the final round and she has influenced the youths in various ways. Linda Ikeji, 34 years old, is a successful entertainment blogger with millions of youths following and reading her blog. She is a great influencer.
Opeyemi Awoyemi, 26, Olalekan Olude, 30 and Ayodeji Adewunmi, 30 are the founders of Jobberman.com, a job search navigation site they co-founded in 2009, which has helped many unemployed Nigerian youths to get employed. Rilwan Hassan, 30, is the general managing director of Focal Point Group and publisher of Sardauna magazine, which he founded in 2004 while still an undergraduate at the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria.

Toyosi Akerele is the Founder/CEO of Rise Networks, a Leading Social Enterprise in Africa. She is a Nigerian, Populist Social Entrepreneur and Human Development Expert with over 9 years on the field of experience. Japheth Omojuwa, 31 years is a Nigerian blogger, public speaker, socio-economic and political commentator and social media expert.

Mark Essien (Founder, Hotels.ng): Essien, 31, is the founder of Hotels.ng, Nigeria’s largest hotel booking website. Uche Pedro Pedro, 30, (Founder, BellaNaija) is one of Nigeria’s most popular new media entrepreneurs.
The list is endless as today’s realities have shown that the youths are ever ready and fit to become leaders on the political space. The youths of today have transformed the entertainment industry and made Nigeria to be rated globally. Names like Wizkid, Davido, Olamide, Yemi Alade, Kiss Daniel, Dbanj, Psquare, Tuface, Iyanya etc have made us proud globally, and apart from the entertainment, youths have taken giant strides in the business sector, technology, agriculture, sports, education etc.

Clarion Call and Way Forward
The notion that the youths are the leaders of tomorrow is no longer working and fashionable. This assertion has not made the youths to be only relegated and marginalised, but has made them to wait endlessly. The older Nigerian leaders, who have ruled 30 years ago are still the set of people ruling today, so when will the “tomorrow” of the youths come? The answer is: ‘tomorrow is now’ and we are the leaders of ‘today’ not ‘tomorrow’ anymore.

We must possess our possession, and take our space within the political space, as it takes a young mind to understand the thinking, wants and needs of a young person. We must all support the #NotTooYoungToRun’ bill, as if scaled through to renew the hope and future of the Nigerian Youths. It will also be desirable if the bill can request or ask for at least 30% allocation for the youths both within all political parties for elective positions and also appointive positions. With this, the interest of the youths will be well cemented and level playing participation guaranteed.

We must also realise that we have a formidable tool at our disposals, which will cost us nothing. All we need is to be committed, visionary, act, and engage. The tool we have is the ‘number’, the ‘population’ since politics is a game of number, and if youths alone are up to 100 million out of 170 million total population, then we can out-number any group or age bracket within the political space.

Two thousand and nineteen is around the corner, we all need to renew our interest in politics, have a common voice in unity, vision and take our future in our own hands. If the best political position the president of Nigeria could afford to give us is the Personal Assistant on New Media, Bashir Ahmad, who is 24 years old, despite the full and mass support he enjoyed from us during the campaign, both online and offline, then we need to have a rethink, mobilise ourselves en-mass to have a mutual interest and fight for what belong to us. Remember, the time is now!

-Adeniyi, the Executive Director, Centre for Global Solutions and Sustainable Development, wrote from Lagos

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The Nigerian youths constitute the largest constituency of over 60% of the 170 million population which amounts to at least 120 million youths. It is worrisome how the youths in the last decade have been schemed out and marginalised from governance. The present administration’s insensitiveness to being inclusive in terms of youth’s inclusiveness in governance is a point of worry and needs urgent attention