Not Too Young To Run Law: Gains and Losses, By Frederick Adetiba
For my colleagues at the Not Too Young To Run movement, this shows that the battle is not yet over. There is no doubt that we have made significant progress. But we have to press further when we have the opportunity again in the near future. I would encourage all Nigerian youth and indeed all well-meaning Nigerians to join us in the struggle to introduce independent candidacy…
I would like to start by appreciating and congratulating every member of the national strategy team of the Not Too Young To Run movement, led by Samson Itodo, various state coordinators, partners and all the young people in different parts of the country who were part of this process, and indeed all Nigerian youth, for a successful campaign.
When this campaign started, there were quite a number of people who did not understand why we were asking for a reduction in the age qualification for contesting elective offices. One of the major arguments against the Bill has been that young people are not ready. This is actually a flawed argument when we consider the age at which some of our current politicians had their first shots at governance and political leadership. Despite all the arguments against the Bill, we now finally have some reduction in age qualification for running for elections in Nigeria, albeit in three of five elective offices.
The original Not Too Young To Run proposal sought the alteration of sections 65, 106, 131, and 177 of the 1999 Constitution, to reduce the age qualification for contesting for Senate from 35 to 30; House of Representatives, from 30 to 25; State Assemblies, from 30 to 25; president, from 40 to 30; and governor, from 35 to 30 respectively. What was eventually passed reduced the age qualification for House of Representatives as proposed, from 30 to 25 and State Assemblies, from 30 to 25. That of the president was reduced from 40 to 35, instead of the proposed 30 years. It however, left that of the Senate and governor unaltered.
My first disappointment is with that of the Senate membership and governor that were left at 35 years. This means you have to be 35 years before you can contest to be a State governor and a senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. It is unfortunate that this remains the case in a country where the educational qualification needed to contest for any political office is a School Leaving Certificate. Without making light of the achievement of the Not Too Young To Run Movement, what we still have in Nigeria is a Constitution that raises the age qualification and lowers educational qualification for contesting for elective offices. The implication of this is that older and uneducated people are more favoured to stand for election in Nigeria.
My second and major disappointment is the rejection of the introduction of independent candidacy into our electoral process. The original Not Too Young To Run proposal had included independent candidacy as a way of truly opening up the political space for more inclusive participation. This was removed entirely. I am not even sure it got to the State Assemblies for consideration before it was removed. The implication of this is that the 25 year olds who are now qualified to run for State Houses of Assembly, and the House of Representatives, and also the 35 year olds who are qualified to run for the office of the president would have to contend with older people who are already in control of our various political parties. The idea of independent candidacy is to give opportunity to those who think they have what it takes to run for office without the bottlenecks and hurdles of our party structures and processes.
It is most unfortunate that candidates don’t emerge in our parties on the basis of competence and suitability for the positions they are contesting for. It is usually on the basis of who has the deepest pockets; and many times in dollars. This is where the problem of our political leadership emanates from.
The rejection of this provision would therefore gravely impede the successful participation of qualified young people in the political process. Some people have argued that young people should get involved in the political parties. While that remains the only option for now, it is a well-known fact that there is no internal democracy in most of our political parties, particularly the major ones. Most of the political parties have been hijacked by the old people who have insisted on perpetuating themselves in power – a situation partly responsible for our socio-economic underdevelopment.
What is common in the emergence of candidates running for office on the platform of these political parties is consensus candidacy. It is a common practice in the various parties for old people, who are in control of these parties, to handpick candidates standing for elections. Where then is the fair playing ground for young people to participate meaningfully in our political process? Most of these political parties have godfathers who decide who becomes what. There are states in Nigeria where the governors who are the leaders of their party structures handpick those who represent their parties at state and local government elections, including into the Senate and House of Representatives.
Apart from the issues of consensus candidacy and godfatherism in the various political parties, we all know the role money plays in our political process. Even when a party decides that there would be a fair playing ground for everyone within the party, the odds are stacked against young people who don’t have the kind of money these older people have to influence decisions in their favour. It is an open secret that delegates who elect those that would run for elections on party platforms are usually for sale to the highest bidders.
It is most unfortunate that candidates don’t emerge in our parties on the basis of competence and suitability for the positions they are contesting for. It is usually on the basis of who has the deepest pockets; and many times in dollars. This is where the problem of our political leadership emanates from. As part of campaign spending, candidates running for office are expected to earmark money for buy votes from their party delegates. Often than not, these delegates end up voting for candidates who have parted with the most money. Sometimes it is the godfathers that actually spend this money on behalf of their anointed candidates.
How are young people expected to participate actively in our political process if they have to go through all these at the party level? After crossing the hurdles of political parties, there are other systemic stumbling blocks to contend with at the general elections. Recently, there was an open confession by a former senator of the Federal Republic, Ibrahim Mantu, that party big weights, himself inclusive, usually bribe INEC officials and security agencies to favour their candidates at general elections.
The way forward for the Nigerian youth right now is for them to align themselves with existing political parties that are youth-friendly, where their aspirations can be realised. Youth-friendliness would mean reasonable fees for nomination forms, internal democracy, delegates that are not for sale, among other considerations such…
Our calculation is that young people would be able to cross most of the hurdles at the party level if they have the opportunity to run as independent candidates. The United States of America from where we borrowed our democracy model has that provision in their electoral process. Why do we think things would suddenly change if we continue with the same old practices? How are we going to get it right if we cannot have competent and qualified people on the ballot? Must we always be left with the terrible versus worst options to pick from, particularly from the platform of the major political parties?
In 2017, a 23-year-old student, John Paul Mwirigi won a seat in the Kenyan parliament as an independent candidate. The young man, who campaigned on foot, moving from door to door, to canvass for votes beat the candidate of the ruling Jubilee party with over 3000 votes in his constituency. The young man had a clear agenda for his people, he put in the work and eventually won. It may be difficult to run for certain elective positions such as the office of the president, for instance, as an independent candidate in present day Nigeria, it would however work for local and state elections and even the Senate and House of Representatives.
The way forward for the Nigerian youth right now is for them to align themselves with existing political parties that are youth-friendly, where their aspirations can be realised. Youth-friendliness would mean reasonable fees for nomination forms, internal democracy, delegates that are not for sale, among other considerations such as their manifestoes, statements of core values, etc. There are about 68 political parties in Nigeria at the moment. Young people who are interested in running for office in 2019 would have to get to work. The starting point would be to research which of these parties meet the above stated criteria. This would have to be the way forward until we are able to provide for independent candidacy in our Constitution.
For my colleagues at the Not Too Young To Run movement, this shows that the battle is not yet over. There is no doubt that we have made significant progress. But we have to press further when we have the opportunity again in the near future. I would encourage all Nigerian youth and indeed all well-meaning Nigerians to join us in the struggle to introduce independent candidacy into our electoral process. Independent candidacy would not only benefit young people, but everyone who thinks he or she has what it takes to win elections without the barriers posed by our political parties.
Again, congratulations to all. But the struggle continues!!!
Frederick Adetiba is a good governance advocate, strategy management consultant and the Pastor of The Finishing Church, Abuja. He is also a member of the National Strategy Team of the Not Too Young To Run Movement.