There is additional need for financial regulation on political expenditures
For obvious reasons, President Muhammadu Buhari’s assent to the ‘Not Too Young to Run’ bill was greeted with so much celebration by several young Nigerians who feel that the absence of a legitimate law to back their participation was the reason they have not excelled in politics. However, while the new law will add to the available legal means of getting around potential human barriers to participation of young people in Nigeria’s political space, the question nonetheless remains as to whether it will make any difference to their aspirations, given the prevailing environment.
Passed by the National Assembly in 2017 to alter Sections 65, 106, 131, 177 of the constitution, the new law aims to relax some of the tough and biased provisions against young people participating in politics. And following the conclusion of the amendment process that has seen to the passage of the law by no fewer than 24-state Houses of Assembly, the age qualification for president has been reduced from 40 to 35 years while that of governor has been reduced from 35 to 30. Similarly, the age for the membership of the state House of Assembly has been reduced from 30 to 25.
Indeed, there is absolutely nothing wrong with Nigeria having a law that takes into account the fact that we are a nation of young population. This is despite the fact that young people between the ages of 15 and 25 constitute a fifth of the world’s population. And since majority of these young citizens face challenges that are hardly reflected in the everyday conversation of government at all levels in Nigeria, the thinking is that they should take their destiny into their own hands by seeking elective offices. So, this is a move in the right direction.
However, the real reason young people have not fared well in politics, especially in our country, is not necessarily the absence of a law but rather the absence of capacity, mostly financial. The factors that determine who wins a party nomination and election in Nigeria are beyond the issue of age. They have been a mixture of money and the factor of godfatherism. These are men who sponsor and determine who runs for political posts basically to regulate how the eventual winners manage such offices and make beneficial returns to them.
Incidentally, statistics reveal that eligibility for national parliament starts at 25 years old or older in a third of all countries in the world while less than two per cent of members of the parliament around are in their 20s. What that suggests is that the exclusion of young people from government is not only a Nigerian challenge even when ours may be rooted in socio-economic factors. But to truly enthrone a system where the young can have a level-playing field, there is an urgent need for a financial regulation on political expenditures that would support the ideals of this new law.
It is noteworthy that we have also seen from 1999 that some young people who were elected into political positions have not fared well in their respective offices to further buttress the point that youthfulness does not necessarily mean performance. What that says clearly is that while many of our young citizens who eye political offices must know that while the law is now on their side, there is so much work ahead if they are to realise their ambitions.
In all, while it is good that the age for becoming president, governor or lawmaker has been reduced, the challenge of the moment in Nigeria is not generational, it is about how to create a society where people of all ages can prosper and thrive.