Africa is the world’s “youngest” continent with 41% of its population under the age of 15, 19% of its population between the ages of 15 to 24. Coming closer to home, 68% of Nigeria’s 180 million population is made up of citizens between the ages of 18 to 35(age bracket of youths as stated in the African charter).
There has been growing interest about the ‘Not Too Young to Run’ bill. The bill seeks to reduce the ages of political office aspirants in a bid to open up the political space to more youths and have the benefits of their energy and vibrancy in Nigeria’s political organization and decision making. It also champions independent candidacy and reforms for election funds.
The bill sponsored by Honorable Tony Nwulu in the House of Representatives and Senator Abdul Aziz Nyako in the Senate House intends to alter sections 65, 106, 131 and 177 of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to reduce the age of qualification for the offices of President, Governor and House of Representatives from 40 to 30, 35 to 30 and 30 to 25 respectively.
The bill was passed by the National Assembly last year and was signed by the President on the 31st of May, 2018. However, the signed law puts the age qualification of the President at 35 years, House of Representatives and House of Assembly at 25 years but left that of the Governor and Senate unaltered.
In the new democracies of the world, the role of youth is of special importance. Older generations include leaders of the discredited undemocratic regime and many who supported, or at least tolerated it. By contrast, young politicians are freer of association with excesses of the past. With the challenges facing Nigeria, directly or indirectly affecting youths, this bill will help to proffer solutions as youths who have interest in politics are more inclined to change, they are more idealistic in their goals and less loyal to established traditions.
As the bill as been signed into law, it will give way for innovative ideas from youths. Diverse ways of addressing issues will be provided unlike the crude ways of the older generation. They would have also learnt from the past mistakes of the older leaders, thus, avoiding such mistakes. It will also serve as an avenue for the creation of jobs as the youths will conduct their affairs by themselves and will not just serve as mere branches of a larger organization or political party but functional entities.
The supporters of this new law, including myself, believe that it will change the course of politics in Nigeria.
Now that the youth are allowed to vie for political posts in government, political instability, violence, radicalization, etc will reduce by a large number as they are caused by political exclusion. These societal problems are often as a result of exclusion of the youth from political affairs, they are left idle with nothing tangible to do with their time therefore they are recruited as thugs by the older politicians. Now that the youth can contest, their contribution to these problems will reduce drastically because they have something worthwhile to do.
These supporters also believe that if other countries like Australia in which anyone 18 years of age or older may stand for election to public office at federal, state or local government level or the United States of America with the age of candidacy for presidency at 35 and above and various other countries, why then should Nigeria be left behind?
Young minds will make all the difference in the world, and signing of the bill into law has given a platform to make such a difference in the country and even the world at large. Going back to our history, Sir Anthony Enahoro was barely 30 years old when he moved the motion for self governance in 1953. I believe that if youths are old enough to vote, they are also old enough to be voted for. The signing of the ‘Not Too Young to Run’ bill is a significant milestone in Nigeria’s political history; it has expanded the playing field for youth participation in politics and given the youth the opportunity to make their marks.