“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.”
– Ban Ki-moon, United Nations’ Secretary-General
on International Youth Day, 12 August 2010.
It was a renewed hope and excitement for Nigerian youths on Wednesday, June 8, 2016, when the #NotTooYoungToRun bill passed its second reading at the House of Representatives. The bill was firstly introduced and sponsored by Honourable Tony Nwulu of Oshodi/Isolo Federal Constituency II of Lagos State on Wednesday May 26th, 2016. The Bill – with gazette number HB. 544, seeks to alter the Section 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, will have the interest of the Nigerian youths 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, and 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 will also give way for independent candidacy, truncate corruption and lack of internal democracy in the political parties, discourage godfatherism, imposition of candidates, monopolization e.t.c. which over the years has discouraged youths from political participation.
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 one decade have been schemed out and marginalized from governance. The present administration’s insensitiveness to 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 is present to represent and negotiate for the youths. The Minister for Youths and Sports is about 52 years old and the youngest of the 36 Ministers is Alhaji Abubakar Malami, SAN (Minister of Justice) who was 48 years old as at the time of his appointment. This singular act is a bogus slap on the faces of all Nigerian youths and signifies that the youths have no say in the affairs of governance and decision making in Nigeria. It is a total disregard to the global call towards reducing injustice and inequality world-wide.
Some have argued that Nigerian youths of today are inexperienced and not ripe enough to govern, but I must point out that such minds are still living in the dark, have 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. Analysis below are concrete arguments and evidences from various 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 a set of all-inclusive and achievable group of objectives that, if attained or achieved, will make this 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 that one of the basis and foundation the 17 SDG goals are built upon is to “Reduce Inequality” that is – NEVER LEAVE ANY ONE BEHIND. In other words, if we must achieve the maximum development, just, peaceful and sustainable world, inequality and injustice must be addressed and reduced. For example, 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 the 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 states 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 that is 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 that is 18 years of age or older can become a candidate and be elected in any public election. In France, any citizen that is 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 that is 18 years of age or older can become a candidate and be elected in any public election. In Norway, any adult that is 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. 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 and Joseph Kabila Kabange of the D.R. Congo was 44.
An evaluation of the political and economic scenes in the 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 monopolized 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. Muhammadu Buhari, Nigeria’s current president 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 as 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 then 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 as the Chairman, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) which was created in 1977, and he was just 41 years when he became the Nigeria’s Head of State.
Several other leaders who ruled at their youthful ages include General Yakubu Gowon who became the Head of State at the age of 32, Murtala Muhamed at 38, General Obasanjo at 39 yrs, Major General Aguiyi Ironsi at 42 years and so on. Matthew Tawo Mbu at age 30, holds 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 categorizes youths 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 have over the years created 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 recognizes 18 as the voting age, it strips young people of the opportunity to pursue their political aspirations until a certain age.
The ‘Nigerian-Youths-Not-Good-Enough’ Argument
There is an argument from older generations 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 years old Nigerian novelist, nonfiction writer 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 at 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 student 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 experience.
Japheth Omojuwa, 31 year 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 Nigerian most popular new media entrepreneurs.
The list is endless as today’s realities have shown that youths are ever ready and fit to become leaders in political space. The youths of today have transformed the entertainment industry and made Nigeria to be rated globally, names like Wiz Kid, Davido, Olamide, Yemi Alade, Kris 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.
The 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 marginalized, but has made them to wait endlessly. The old 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 it scales through, will 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 realize that we have a formidable tool at our disposal which will cost us nothing; all we need is to be committed, visionary, act, and engage. The tool we have is our ‘numbers’ i.e. our ‘population‘. Since politics is a game of numbers, 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.
2019 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, mobilize ourselves en masse to have a mutual interest and fight what belong to us. Remember, the time is now!
Adebowale Adeniyi is the Executive Director, Centre for Global Solutions and Sustainable Development(CENGSSUD), a nation building strategist, a researcher, policy analyst, Sustainable development practitioner and a Philosopher.