Politics: Breaking the Age Barrier, By Dele Agekameh
Youthful vigour has its advantages and many disadvantages, but denying the youth the chance to shape the future is a much more damning cost to progress than the price of their over-ambition.
Last week, the news of the signing into law of the “Not Too Young To Run Bill” by President Muhammadu Buhari caused mild ripples in the political landscape of Nigeria. The passage of the Bill into an Act was hailed as a victory for young people all over the country and the beginning of a new era in Nigerian politics. However, while there are positives to take from the development, the Act has not managed to shake the table of Nigerian politics in any substantial way.
Apart from the obvious technical issue regarding the appropriate procedure for amending the provisions of a written constitution, there are many other far more practical concerns emerging from the passage of the Bill. There are unexplained omissions from the original Bill in the final Act signed by President Buhari, which betrays a lack of commitment to the true spirit of the Bill by lawmakers.
The Bill was introduced into the House of Representatives by Tony Nwulu, the House of Representatives member representing Oshodi-Isolo Federal Constituency. The Bill sought to alter sections 65, 106, 131 and 177 of the 1999 Constitution. The aim was to reduce the age qualifications for the offices of the president, governor, members of the Senate, House of Representatives and the State Houses of Assembly. The creation of the right to independent candidacy in elections was another major aim of the Bill.
The document that was passed into law by President Buhari on May 31, 2018 altered the age of qualification for president from 40 to 30, members of House of Representatives from 30 to 25 and state House of Assembly members from 30 to 25. The age qualifications for governors and senators remain at the original 35 years.
While one can spend hours ruminating on the intention of the lawmakers in keeping the age qualification of governors and senators higher than that of the president and others, there is likely to be no better insight into this discrepancy than the baffling propensity for one-upmanship and the exaggerated sense of importance of the senators. Again, in their little way, the senators seem to have played their hand in an endless battle for supremacy over the federal executive. However, what takes the cake in the public charade that the Act has become is the disregard of the provision that sought independent candidacy in elections. The omission of that provision in the final Act has watered down, to an unacceptable level, the purported rights created for truly young people to participate in elections through their candidacy.
The new Act may have been passed in its limited way, but it is left to the political parties to decide whether young people are good enough for leadership. In an essentially two-party system run on massive funds and accumulated political capital, young people stand little chance of influencing politics in the way the Act intends.
As the political terrain is set-up right now, political parties have immense powers in determining the future of the country. Their choices influence the political mindset of the electorate and limit the choices of the people in determining their own fate. The new Act may have been passed in its limited way, but it is left to the political parties to decide whether young people are good enough for leadership. In an essentially two-party system run on massive funds and accumulated political capital, young people stand little chance of influencing politics in the way the Act intends.
Whether or not there is an underlying mistrust of youth in the decision of the lawmakers, history does have lessons to share on the matter of young people in great leadership positions. Going as far back as the period before the common era (356-323 BCE), Alexander the great had conquered an empire that stretched from the Balkans to modern-day Pakistan by the age of 32, after little over a decade as King of Macedon. In the late 18th century, a young Napoleon Bonaparte took the world by storm after the French revolution. He became a general at the age of 24, went on his first major military campaign at age 26, got himself elected as first consul of France at age 30 and became emperor at 35, all while conquering a large part of Europe and beyond. In more recent and familiar history, a 33 year old Odumegwu Ojukwu began a war in 1967 that he held for three years against a British backed federal government led by 32 year old Yakubu Gowon.
These examples in history at once show how far the determination of youth can go and at the same time the limits to youthful over-ambition. Nonetheless, those individuals left lasting legacies in their time that resound throughout history till this present day. Youthful vigour has its advantages and many disadvantages, but denying the youth the chance to shape the future has a much more damning cost to progress than the price of their over-ambition. Sometimes the courage and determination to take the leap of faith is lacking in the aged, and the uncertain progress of the Nigerian state in these many years may portray this problem more vividly than most realise.
Perhaps, what we need is not a “Not Too Young To Run Bill” but a “Too Old To Run Bill”. Past leaders have hung on to the reins of power for far too long and the spirit of adventurism of youth may be the missing ingredient in solving Nigeria’s problems. It is true that the young are taking more time to reach self-actualisation in today’s world, especially in Nigeria where the average person only finds financial independence after the age of 30. The aim is not to empower partially-formed adults, but to encourage well-rounded individuals with enough youthful vigour to carry Nigeria past the line of development. Nine of the past United States presidents, including Barack Obama, were below the age of 50 at the time they were elected. This list includes Theodore Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton. Donald Trump is the oldest US president at 70 and he may prove to be the worst.
While there is audible clamour for younger candidates, elected officials like Yahaya Bello, the youngest serving governor and Dino Melaye, one of the youngest senators, both elected under the flag of the APC, have proven to be bad examples with their indecorous conduct and personal and official excesses.
Since its passage at the National Assembly in 2017, the “Not Too Young To Run” Bill has been adopted by 25 state assemblies in Nigeria. This may seem like an encouraging sign, but the true potency of the Bill will not be felt in the near future, not with the obvious limitations highlighted above. In more realistic terms, the original age qualifications for the elective positions may be more practical, but the Bill at least sends a message to the old hands of Nigerian politics that the country is tiring of spent forces that take us around in circles.
In the run in to 2019, with all that has been said, it is surprising that the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) seems to be more forward looking in terms of age than the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). Only recently, 31 year old Adebo Ogundoyin of the PDP won the by-election of Ibarapa East State constituency in the Oyo State House of Assembly. This is even as the PDP is toying with names like Ibrahim Dakwambo that seems like a sprightly, youthful option, in comparison to the likely candidature of Muhammadu Buhari in the 2019 general elections. The opportunism of the PDP in this regard may reap benefits that the APC is unprepared for.
While there is audible clamour for younger candidates, elected officials like Yahaya Bello, the youngest serving governor and Dino Melaye, one of the youngest senators, both elected under the flag of the APC, have proven to be bad examples with their indecorous conduct and personal and official excesses. They are proof that there are no guarantees either way, but the cynicism of age and the present politics of accumulated interests tips younger, untainted candidates ahead of the rotten pack of old timers.
The one takeaway from the emergence of the Act is that relatively young Nigerians under the banner of the Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth and Advancement (YIAGA), with support of the vice president, were able to conceive the Bill and push it through the works to a conclusive end. It is a sign of better things to come. The movement should however know, in the midst of the celebration, that it is not yet Uhuru for inclusive politics. At this time, the passage of the Act is an empty victory.
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