Trying to appraise the ‘Not Too Young to Run’ law recently signed by President Muhammadu Buhari, the Leadership Empowerment and Resource Networking in partnership with the Youth African Leaders Initiative recently organised a conference to brainstorm on the next move. Sunday Ehigator reports
“After the rain, comes the sun,” as the saying goes. For the Not Too Young To Run (NTYTR) supporters, this saying has become a focal point in recent times following President Muhammadu Buhari’s assent to the NTYTR bill on May 31. Despite the landmark law, which gives every young person a chance to aspire to elective office, to make an impact, young people must strategise and try to answer the question, what next?
After signing the bill in Abuja, Buhari had told those present, which included representatives of young persons from the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory, “You can aspire for president but, please, postpone your campaign till after 2019 election.”
For the team, the gesture was like giving and taking back candy from a little child.
The new law, which is aimed at relaxing some of the stringent and discriminatory provisions of the 1999 Constitution, was passed by the National Assembly last year to alter Sections 65, 106, 131, and 177 of the constitution. It reduced the age qualification for presidents from 40 to 30; governors from 35 to 30; senators from 35 to 30; House of Representatives membership from 30 to 25 and State House of Assembly membership from 30 to 25.
The president, however, said in the bill presented to him for assent, there was no reduction in the age requirement for the office of senators and governors, indicating that age would still be left at 35, and said he hoped it will be looked in eventually.
Although, lawmakers also approved independent candidature in the new law, as part of a wider constitutional amendment process which the National Assembly carried out last year, that did not see the light of day.
A few weeks after the bill was signed, Leadership Empowerment and Resource Networking (LEARN) in partnership with Youth African Leaders Initiative (YALI) organised a one day conference tagged “Not Too Young to Run, what next?”
The primary focus was to brainstorm on how young aspiring Nigerians can take advantage of the new law to occupy leadership positions across board. At the conference, youths and speakers from different walks of life, divulged their diverse opinions on whether or not, the youths are ready for leadership positions.
Another factor that was considered was whether the youths intending to occupy the political space are truly leveraging on the provisions of the bill, as statistics showed that since its passage in July 2017 by the National Assembly, about 25 states, representing more than two-thirds of the country’s 36 states, had adopted the bill as at March 2018.
Speakers at the conference were Mr. Tokunbo Odutola, Mrs. Ayisha Osori, Hon. Damole, Mr. Japheth Omojuwa, Mr. Owei Lakemfa, Hon. Rotimi Oye, Dr. Taofeek Folami, Mrs. Adeola Afum, DCP Yetunde Modupe, representative of the Nigerian Police force, and Mr. Olugbenro Osaze.
In her opening remarks, Chairman of L.E.A.R.N and wife of Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mrs. Abimbola Fashola, lamented poor voters’ registration among youths. Fashola lamented that less than 10 out of over 50 youths at the conference had obtained their Permanent Voter Cards (PVC). She said, “I am taken aback that not up to half of the people in the conference have their PVCs. It is your right and there is time for you to get your PVCs; go and collect your PVC now.
“You do not get what you want until you prepare yourself for it. The will to win means nothing without the will to prepare. Let the community you are know you. Let them know what you stand for; your principles that are non-negotiable. I am talking about your values. Who are you? What are your characters? What attitude are you made of? Choose the right things according to your ability. You must know the qualities that you have and you are able to serve with them, because everything about politics is all about service and nothing more.
“So don’t get it twisted. Don’t end up with the criticising group that asks what a leader has done; you yourself, what have you done to change the situation, what are you sowing? I don’t know why people don’t want to go for councillorship or chairmanship positions, everybody wants to be president. We can only have just one president. So I will be sincere, why don’t you look at those places that are even very important than that presidential seat?
“You have to look at the chairmanship of the local governments, and that is very important because you are meant to be serving, you are meant to be doing some roads around your area, you are meant to ensure that the community is safe and all that. Nobody is looking at that, and that is the most important aspect of government as it deals with those at the grassroots. And the moment you can conquer that, you are going upward.
“You can only start from the bottom to the top not otherwise. However, you must know that you get what you prepare for and not what you want. Work towards your dream and prepare! Make sure you do not compromise and the result would be very rewarding.”
Expressing her appreciation for the speakers, she also thanked the sponsors, the media, supporters and all the working committee who contributed to the success of this program.
During the interactive session, some of the speakers identified the power of money as the major hindrance for youths getting fully involved in the leadership space of Nigerian politics. According to them, politics in Nigeria is capital intensive and most youths that are legally employed can’t afford it even with the presence of the not too young to run bill.
This was further depicted as a major reason why godfatherism still thrives majorly in Nigerian politics, and why corruption would always have its way as he who plays the piper, dictates its tune.
In his submissions, Oduntola, the former Vice Chairman of Surulere Local Government Area of Lagos State said, “Godfatherism is in Nigerian politics. If you don’t know somebody in the political sphere and you just want to come out as a fresh candidate, it’s your money that must speak for you. If your money doesn’t speak for you, then you must align yourself with the ‘who is who’ in the party.
“If you don’t align yourself with the ‘who and who’ in the party, they will not even vote for you. Most of those who are your ward chairman and representative, probably maybe your pedigree or your position in the society is better than theirs, but you have to stand to conquer, you have to bow down for them. And when they come for meeting, they want to return back with some little gifts. When you have delegate election and there are eight delegates, eight delegates expect money from you. So nothing is free.”
Leveraging on the bill
On the way forward for youths to leverage on the bill, he said “I want them to come together and be participatory first. Belong to a political party, have your own ideology. But then, we have two different types of youths in Nigeria; the rich and those who are into fraud populary known as ‘yahoo-yahoo’ who have their money to dominate the system, the youths who are into the road transport association who will now dictate the terms for the youths who have graduated from Harvard. If they bring out their guns, naira or machete, the rich youths will run away, and then they will dominate the system?”
On the push for the approval of the bill for independent candidacy as a hope for youth’s involvement in leadership, he said, “I don’t believe in independent candidacy as a means to solve our problems. Let us make that political office less attractive. Everybody including the youth gunning there, it is for the money and the perks of the office that gets Nigerians interested. If you want to really know who has the passion, let’s make that position; National Assembly, presidency and all other offices less attractive.”
Former Lagos State Commissioner for Home Affairs and Culture, Alhaji Oyinlomo Danmole, in his contribution, said, “If we want to talk about not too young to run; what next, we have to start from what has being in the past, How has it been, what is it now, and how it ought to be? It’s only when you know that, that you can know where we are. When this problem of age limitation came into play was in the 1999 constitution. Before then, the young people come into politics and they are relevant, because money was not the dictates of that time.
“In those days, you have to be a member of the party with a membership card and you have to be paying your dues. But these days, the party pays you to be a member. The chairman of the party, the secretary, everybody at the ward level, they have no visible means of livelihood. But before now, everybody, even as the legislator, you must have a visible means of livelihood, even before you can be considered for any appointment.
“So youths need to rededicate themselves, then relate with their communities. What we need to do is to create a movement, instead of trying to run. A movement that would change the system to favour you, but if you want to run, start crawling. You don’t know the past; you don’t even know the language of politics. Because politics is a business in itself, it is an enterprise you need to learn from the scratch.”
“The youths have to start at the level where they can; which is from the local government. But most of us are not concerned because we have to go to work. Most of us are not concerned about who becomes our councillors. The issue of nominating the councillors now becomes the job of somebody under public employment. Somebody who has the quality doesn’t want to contest for councillor, and the councillor determines what happens in your area. Most of the councillors we have in some areas are people who are looking for one job or the other to do but no employment. They have not done anything before.
“But now that we have youths who are clamouring, you can start from there. You cannot say because you are a graduate, you cannot go so low. There is underman in the US that is sometimes retired people and those with good qualifications. Underman is councillors. From there, you show the people what you can do, people would see you. And once people know what you can do, they would stand up for you.”
“The youths have always stood a chance in government. It’s because money is the most important factor in any business in Nigeria. Not only in politics. To get a job, you need to know somebody or give somebody money. To start a business, you need money. To talk to a leader in the community you need to put some money in your pocket. And to be known politically, you need to give money to some people. That is the situation we are in Nigeria. We have created the situation for ourselves, and our youths have really taken it, even beyond the unit. Because most times, revalorises that we see around today, are being carried out by our youths because they want money.
“In Lagos we have a lot of people between the age of thirty and fifty who are in charge of government today. They are there; as council chairmen, leader of the council, honourable members, between that age. Let all youths pick a clue from them and follow suit.”
On the need for youths to vie for positions from the lowest to the highest, Fashola told journalists after the conference that it was pertinent they affect their environment before aspiring for the office of the state governor or even presidency. She said Nigerians are fond of apportioning blames when truly they don’t take the pains to know the tools and rudiments of whatever they are going into.
She said, “It is something I have always wanted to do aside from this platform to say that; let’s call our leaders to order, for good source of accountability. The youths already have the participation in politics; it’s just that they are vying for positions. So when you are vying for positions, I don’t really think you should just go straight. I am from the school of thought that you don’t need a title to do whatever you want to do in life.
“And if now you are saying that you want a title, you must work that talk. You must do those things that you need to do. You must be known in your grassroots and within your community. Your attitude, your character and the value you stand for must always speak out for you.
“I don’t believe in the school of thought about the not too young to rule law being a gimmick for the old brigade to still be in power. Because one, you should understand that even this dispensation that we are, we have youths who are already in the House of Assembly, who are in various leadership positions as well. So that’s not it. I think it’s because people are yearning for it, they have asked that they should do that, and that’s why they have done it for them. But really, it is not your age that determines the positions that you should go for, it is what you have in there, what you can deliver; your tools, your skills, your values, that would not be negotiable that you are taking to the board.
“In fact, forget about the age, anybody can be a leader. In fact, you are a leader from your home, school and within your community. Now, what we see is that, people believe its title that makes you a leader.
“If you are talking about working in a place where you earn a living to prove your competence to me you don’t need all that statistics. It’s just because in our culture, we are so tied down with academic qualification. For you to be able to have that experience; you can have experience in anything. It can be on volunteerism. I encourage that a lot because, when you volunteer, you already have experience, and that is a plus for you.
“But how many of our youths are ready to volunteer these days? They don’t even see volunteerism as the beginning of whatever they want to canvas for. So one, they need to encourage the youths to volunteer, so that their CV’s would be up and they would be able to compete to say that; yes they have tested me, and I can do this. And then secondly, we should always see that the youths themselves must try as much as possible to live by whatever they said they want to do. So many people are not doing that. So your value must speak for you as well, and your contribution within the society where you come from.
“If they don’t know you on your street and within the community you come from, what are you looking for in the larger platform of the state or the country? What have you contributed to that small place you come from? What have you done within the compound and even your street? What actions have you taken? So those are the things they talk about when they say tested and trusted.
“It’s not about political position, it’s about; what have you done when you didn’t have a position? Because what you didn’t do when you didn’t have a position, I doubt if you would do it when you get any position.”
As the conference ended, the participants went away with one burning and salient question: have young people in Nigeria really made enough impact in their immediate environments before they can effectively launch out to the wider political arena? Observers say this is a question young people for whom the new law is meant would need to seriously ponder as the 2019 election nears.