Mustapha-Akanbi

With his impeccable personality, the late chairman of the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related Offences Commission, Justice Mustapha Akanbi, left an indelible mark on Nigeria’s anti-corruption crusade and the legal jurisprudence, writes Shola Oyeyipo

With President Muhammadu Buhari’s assent to the not “Not Too Young to Run Bill” on May 31, this year, the political space has been opened for youngsters to exercise their democratic rights.

The “Not Too Young to Run Act” reduces the hitherto age of eligibility for election as contained in the constitution. Hence, the Act has reduced the age of eligibility for election into the House of Assembly and House of Representatives from hitherto 30 to 25 years and from hitherto 40 to 35 years as the eligible age to seek election into the office of the president.

But the Act retains 35 years of age for eligibility for election into offices of governors and senators. The president expressed surprise that eligibility for elections into these two offices were not reduced and promised that the provision might be revisited in future.

But the president did not fail to express consciousness of the large population of the Nigerian youth, which constitutes 63 per cent of the entire 180 million population of the country. Therefore, he was quick to ask the youngsters, albeit humorously, to suspend any ambition to run against him at the 2019 presidential election.

The president who seemed to be conscious of the influence that this large population of youths could weigh in normal circumstances in the 2019 polls particularly as democracy is a game of number, should they throw their hats into the ring, did not mince words to urge them to defer their presidential ambition till after the 2019 general election.

“But please, can I ask you to postpone your campaigns till after the 2019 elections!” the president swiftly stated, thus prompting the entire hall to burst into laughter.

Indeed, but for financial constraints, if Nigerian youths with their huge population, coordinate themselves effectively and are determined to seize power from the older generation, it may be a walkover, more so that with their huge population, they have an edge over the older generation.

Hence, the president by his prompt plea with the youths to defer the opportunities provided them by his assent to the bill, seemed not to be prepared to take chances. Whereas the president’s decision to sign the bill might have been altruistic, pundits were quick to point out that it was meant to boost his chances of victory at the polls.

According to such pundits, since many youths hitherto shut out of involvement in politics by their respective ages have been agitating to participate in Nigerian politics, assenting to the “Not Too Young to Run Bill” provides the platform for the president to register his name in their good books.

Therefore, it was perceived to be politically smart of the president to have opted to secure the goodwill of the young men and ladies for his re-election bid by associating himself with their desires to be involved in politics especially since Nigerian youths had at various times, lamented the continued domination of the political space by the old men, who have been holding the aces since independence.

The president’s plea that the youngsters should not dabble into the presidential race in 2019 was a well thought-out initiative as he seemed to want to be sure, according to analysts, that the perceived primary intention of his decision to sign the bill was not defeated.

Observers argue that the bill was more or less a political instrument for the promotion of the spirit of sportsmanship between Buhari and the youths particularly after recently dismissing them as lazy. This, by interpretation, implied that the president was telling the young ones in a jocular manner that, “l will open the political space for you to run for elections by signing the bill but don’t use it against me.”

The appeal might have paid off as some of the youngsters, who were overwhelmed with joy following the decision of the president to assent to the bill on that day, promptly showered praises on him in the Council Chamber of the Presidential Villa, venue of the signing ceremony, describing him as a hero who had written his name in gold by bringing their dreams for political participation to fruition.

Thus, the Coordinator of Not Too Young to Run Movement, Samson Itodo, hailed the president for opting to sign the bill into law, saying by doing so, he had given hope to young Nigerian men and women and equally made a bold statement that democracy had come to stay in Nigeria. Nevertheless, the president’s comment was generally taken as a joke as many Nigerians are not in doubt that it would be a herculean task to find any youth with the war chest to slug it out with Buhari in 2019.

On the other hand, does the signing of the bill automatically guarantee a shift in power from the old men, who have held onto power since independence to the younger generation? Certainly not, as political watchers would interject. This is more so that the Nigerian politics is expensive and not within the reach of young men and women most of whom are just coming out of school and are more pre-occupied with the drive for survival.

Apart from expression of interest forms that are highly expensive, politicians spend hundreds of millions of naira to secure party tickets while such a huge sum is yet a tip of the iceberg, when compared to the real cost of driving political campaigns after emerging as party candidates. For instance, a former senator told this writer recently that he spent N140 million in his search for return ticket in his senatorial district and yet lost because some persons spent more.

Against this background, politicians won’t see the assent to the “Not Too Young to Run Bill” as any threat to political participation in Nigeria as it goes beyond the claim of “not too young to run” but rather a matter of “not too rich to run.” Most Nigerian youths come from average homes hence possessing N10 million and above to pick expression of interest forms not to talk of the huge cost of pursuing party tickets as well as running election campaigns, remains a tall dream.

At best, the beneficiaries of the “Not Too Young to Run Act” will be children of the old politicians, who have accumulated more than enough money from the system and can heavily fund their children’s drive for political offices. This appears to be the reason the bills secured the support of many appointed and elected politicians, leading to its quick passage by members of both the National and Houses of Assemblies. Only three states of Kano, Lagos and Zamfara failed to support the bill.

Beside the huge cost of running for elections, political game is tasking in Nigeria as internal democracy is alien to most political parties and so, it is the survival of the fittest and elimination of the unfit.

It was therefore not surprising that Itodo implored the president to assist the youths in entrenching the regime of credible and transparent election as well as internal democracy in the political system.

He also appealed to Buhari to help in reducing the cost of obtaining tickets to run for elections. But can the president dictate the pace for parties’ operations? This is a one million dollar question.

After signing the bill, the president reasoned that neither agriculture nor oil nor solid minerals constitute Nigeria’s resource, saying instead, the Nigerian youth is actually the country’s greatest resource.

According to him, it is the intelligence, talents and energy of the youths that will develop the country after his transition along with his generation. Therefore, he advised the youths to take advantage of the provisions of the bill, challenging them not to wait for paid employment but to be innovative enough to engage them, saying he was confident that the youngsters would transform the country through their skills.

He said: “Surprisingly, the age limits for senators and governors was not reduced, as originally proposed by the sponsors of this Bill. This is an issue that may need to be addressed going forward. Nevertheless, your focus and contributions have now successfully increased the quality and maturity of Nigerian democracy and expanded the playing field for youth participation in politics.

“You, the young people of Nigeria, are now set to leave your mark on the political space, just as you have done over the decades in entrepreneurship, sports, art, media entertainment, technology, and several other fields. You are undoubtedly Nigeria’s most important resource – not oil, not agriculture, not solid minerals – but you and all of us. Your energy, intelligence and talent are what will drive and develop Nigeria long after we are all gone…

“Thus, it may be tempting for you to think of this as the end of the journey. However, it is only the beginning; there is still a lot of work ahead, towards ensuring that young people take full advantage of the opportunities provided not only by this constitutional amendment but also through Nigeria’s boundless prospects.

“You should inculcate the spirit of self-help. Those who complete their training should not just sit down and wait for government or private sector to employ them. You should be innovative and turn your hands to any legitimate work that will enable you to sustain yourself.”