When in 2016, YIAGA Africa, a civil society headed by human rights activist and good governance campaigner Samson Itodo, started the campaign for the Age Reduction Bill, it seemed an uphill task and it was.
Popular as the Not Too Young To Run Bill, it sought to and succeeded in reducing the age limit for running for elected office in Nigeria. It was sponsored by Hon Tony Nwulu in the House of Representatives and Senator AbdulAziz Nyako in the Senate. The campaign is now global, symbolized by the hashtag: #NotTooYoungToRun.
The goals were 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, State House of Assembly 30 to 25 and to mainstream independent candidacy into Nigeria’s electoral process.
To succeed, the campaigners needed at least 24 of 36 states houses of assembly to vote a Yes as it is a constitutional amendment. All did except Kano, Lagos and Zamfara states. Taraba state voted No at first but changed its vote after being put in the Hall of Shame by the bill’s proponents. The process accelerated and in April 2018, the Senate resolved to transmit the Not Too Young To Run bill to the President. On May 29, 2018, President Muhammad Buhari announced during his ‘democracy day‘ national address that he planned to sign the bill into law. He did on the 31st of May 2018.
It was not all victorious as the age of qualification for the Senate and governorship offices remain the same but the joy that followed this announcement knew no bounds. Social media was awash with congratulations, bonhomie, and all other emotions that come with achieving a great victory; of reaching a significant milestone. In all these, there is a need to take a step back and really ask ourselves the significance of this constitutional amendment. This question should be mulled upon, taking into cognisance the peculiar social and political environment that defines Nigeria.
On the one hand, this is a positive development. It widens the door for participation for men and women who believe they can, through the political process, help fix some of the ills of the society. There is also a psychological boost that comes with that. Much of politics is appearances; posturings and the passage of this bill has created a belief that it is time for the youths.
The Bill is a vote against the gerontocracy that we have now and also, hopefully, the start of a new cadre of leaders who are more in touch with the issues of today and how to solve them. This new crop of leaders will hopefully be more proactive, less distanced and be able to apply Nigerian solutions to Nigerian problems.
Above all, they have to understand that they can listen to what the current crop of leaders have to say but should be their own people. This current crop brought us to where we are, they really have nothing to offer us anymore.
All these hopes are in spite of what the situation really looks like. It is hope in the face of a reality that calls for despair. This is because of answers that a few questions throw up.
Are Nigerians ready to vote in a 30-year-old president? Are the people, male and female, in the age bracket capable of being Nigerians before identifying as a member of a tribal group? Are the altruistic youths more than those who see political appointments as a chance to “hammer”? However, I am a Nigerian, an eternal optimist. I await our own Macron but won’t mind a Clinton. By Nigerian standards, that is very young.
One thing which cannot be taken away from this victory (Yes, it is a victory. Many a bill have died or are pending in the time it took this one to be passed) is that when the youth of the nation band together for a common purpose, they win.