The NotTooYoungToRun campaigners have shown that there is nothing that cannot be achieved with careful planning, dogged resolve and relentless passion. Active citizens must awaken that spirit within them and ensure that 2019 does not throw up mediocre, rent seeking oligarchs as elected officials.
The overwhelming support received by the Not Too Young To Run Bill at the recently concluded constitutional amendment by the National Assembly is noteworthy. Perhaps no other Bill among the 33 slated for amendment had generated so much attention and advocacy. The air was so thick with anticipation that any contrary opinion about the propriety of the bill would have been deemed an odious contaminant. In the end, the Bill passed the amendment process with a vote of 86 to 10 in the Senate and 261 to 23 in the House of Representatives. Remarkably, before the vote was taken in the House of Representatives, a cross section of members held out signs with “not too young to run” inscribed on them and began to chant “not too young!” repeatedly. It took several appeals by the leadership of the House to eventually quieten the vivacious legislators.
What prompted lawmakers to enthusiastically vote for a legislation that ostensibly means more competition for them? How did the Bill gain so much currency to the extent that it was almost unthinkable that any legislator would vote against it without facing dire consequences? The answer is “active citizens.”
It was such citizens involvement that catalysed the Not Too Young To Run movement. “Not too young to run” was not a random phrase that was plucked out of the air. It was a wholly deliberate, skillfully calibrated and diligently executed campaign that took years of meticulous planning.
There are three factors that led to the success of the Not Too Young To Run Bill at the National Assembly. These factors can also return outstanding results in the 2019 general elections if enlightened, active and patriotic citizens get involved.
First, the promoters of the Not Too Young To Run campaign had a clear and concise objective. There was never doubt in relation to what the campaign was about. It was immediately apparent from the hashtag NotTooYoungToRun.
The objective was clear and was not allowed to mingle with other demands. It was not an open ended request like one simply calling for a reduction in the age of participation for elective offices. This would have been too vague and could easily be thrown out for the lack of clarity.
If there is going to be any change in the quality of leadership and representation in 2019, active citizens must be clear in their objective. Transparency and accountability in government would guarantee that actual power resides with the people.
The target was also an achievable one. The proposal was for a five to ten year reduction in the age of participation for election into the office of the president, the Senate, the House of Representatives; for governor and State Houses of Assembly. Of course the promoters could have said the age limit should be 18. The logic being, if one is old enough to vote then one should be old enough to be voted for. But such a proposal would have been drowned in debate and controversy. Thus the promoters of the Bill stuck to what was realistic and achievable – a five to ten year reduction in the age of participation for all political offices in the country.
If there is going to be any change in the quality of leadership and representation in 2019, active citizens must be clear in their objective. Transparency and accountability in government would guarantee that actual power resides with the people. That might be the rallying objective for an active citizen’s movement.
Second, there was active collaboration. A clear objective will not percolate if not assiduously acted upon. Thus, the people behind the campaign mobilised youth groups across the country to join the movement. They secured the support of over 50 such groups and used their respective platforms to register their presence in every state of the federation.
For well over a year before the constitutional amendment vote took place, both social and conventional media kept the campaign on the front burner. This sustained media lifespan is attributable to the active participation of the motely groups that bought into the campaign.
Furthermore, the group paid advocacy visits to the leadership of both houses in the National Assembly to push forth their plan. It was, therefore, highly significant that periodically photographs were circulated of leaders of parliament holding signs expressing their support for NotToYoungToRun. Perhaps of even greater significance was the fact that the group was able to co-opt some likeminded legislators to work with them. These legislators ultimately became the sponsors of the Bill and its principal lobbyists.
Active citizens must not only seek out one another but must also synergise with personalities in civil society, faith based organisations, the media and even likeminded people in government. It is this powerful network that would give the movement the needed traction to pull the rest of the country in its direction.
…eternal vigilance also means that the movement cannot rest until the amendment succeeds at the various State Houses of Assembly. The amendment will require the concurrence of 24 out of the 36 states of the federation to pass.
Third, they were vigilant. If eternal vigilance is the price of liberty, then the NotToYoungToRun campaigners were determined to pay it in full. The group never went to sleep nor took it for granted that having secured the commitment of the National Assembly leadership, the success of the Bill was a fait accompli. Consequently, when in the build up to the vote on constitutional amendment, news began to filter that the NotToYoungToRun had been “killed”, all hell broke loose. Press conferences were held and press releases issued. The social media space went agog with campaigners threatening to create a Hall of Fame and Shame for legislators in addition to initiating recall processes. Some groups also took to the airwaves stating their intention to petition the United Nations and pressure a boycott of Nigeria from participating in international youth programmes. This media buzz prompted the two houses of the National Assembly to promptly issue statements refuting the report, while affirming that the Bill was indeed slated for consideration at the constitutional amendment.
However, despite the assurance from the National Assembly, the ever vigilant campaigners organised what they called a “National Day of Action”. They mobilised youth groups, civil society organisations and members of the public to march on the National Assembly in order to garner support for the passage of the age reduction Bill. Thus on the morning of July 25, 2017, the short stretch of road between Unity Fountain Abuja and the Three-Arms-Zone was a sea of white. Protesters marched in their hundreds to the National Assembly, holding placards that clearly stated their demands.
Ultimately, the proposed amendment for age reduction passed in the National Assembly with huge success.
But eternal vigilance also means that the movement cannot rest until the amendment succeeds at the various State Houses of Assembly. The amendment will require the concurrence of 24 out of the 36 states of the federation to pass. To be clear, the task is probably more difficult at that level due to the fact that primordial sentiments and even crass ignorance are more readily displayed in the states.
There is also the reality that almost every State House of Assembly tends to move in the direction of the executive of that State. All these mean the job is only half done. But with a sharp focus on the objective and strong collaboration with not only the state legislators but governors, there is reasonable cause for optimism that the vote for constitutional amendment at the states will result in another resounding success.
The NotTooYoungToRun campaigners have shown that there is nothing that cannot be achieved with careful planning, dogged resolve and relentless passion. Active citizens must awaken that spirit within them and ensure that 2019 does not throw up mediocre, rent seeking oligarchs as elected officials. Rather, there should be a consistent pattern of identifying and supporting informed, enlightened, competent and accountable persons for leadership across all tiers and levels of government.
Jeremiah Angai, a lawyer and public affairs analyst, writes from Abuja.