#NotTooYoungToRun: The Cacophony of Youth Inclusion In Nigerian Politics, By Ani Agwu
The Global Goals are built on the success of the Millennium Development Goals’ endeavour to exterminate all forms of poverty. The goals recognize that ending poverty must go hand in hand with strategies that build economic growth, and address a range of social needs including education, health, job opportunities and social inclusion. The SDGs envision building effective, accountable, and inclusive institutions at all levels for shared prosperity, peace, and partnership.
In trying to build institutions, Nigeria has had a checkered political and economic history. Like many other African countries, Nigeria won independence in 1960. It adopted a parliamentary democracy akin to the Britain’s, with Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa, who lasted for only six years before the military murdered him. This era, generally known as the first republic, lasted from 1960 to 1966.
It was marked by ethnic tensions, poor governance and corruption. The second civilian leader, President Shehu Shagari, stayed in office for four years (1979-1983) before he was tossed out by a dictator, General Muhammadu Buhari. In the contemporary Nigerian political parlance, Buhari had converted; he’s now a democrat.
Around May 29, 1999, Nigeria returned to a democratic arrangement with General (Rtd) Olusegun Obasanjo as a civilian president. Be that as it may, the country did not escape military’s influence. By the military mentality that subsisted, a man’s might is his right. Even this morning, if you “provoke” the Nigerian secret police (DSS), they would host you indefinitely. If you’re unlucky, nobody would ever see you again in this present life.
Partly because of this very rough political history, young Nigerians developed apathy or lethargic indifference towards politics. Politics was confined to sexagenarians, septuagenarians and even octogenarians. Old people, across geopolitical zones, took hold of the political space but this proved rather catastrophic. In fact, they instituted a legal caveat barring young people from what they are doing in the form of minimum age requirements. To play partisan politics, you just needed to be old to fit in.
But suddenly, there was an outrage. The young people, who constitute overwhelming majority of the population rose up against the establishments, maybe for the first. They drafted and sponsored a bill, seeking a slash in the age requirements for elective positions. The bill was christened #NotTooYoungToRun. Tension heightened, almost consuming. The argument was strong enough: If we are old enough to vote, then we are old enough to be voted for. Build up to the 2019 general elections, exactly on May 31, 2018, the president caved in and assented to the bill. To a great extent, the law is positioned to counter political apathy and provoke young people into partisan politics, in pursuit of youth participation and political inclusion.
Is it a case of coup d’état against young people?
Before the young people’s’ jubilation could go full circle, the establishments struck again, calculating to reverse whatever fortune the #NotTooYoungToRun had gathered in the months before. The action substantiated a certain narrative that Nigeria politics is “tele-guided”. The first assault came from the ruling party – All progressive Congress (APC) by “imposing” a restrictive and discriminatory fee on party nomination forms. With Forty-five Million Naira (N45, 000, 000.00k) for nomination forms, the message is simple: We don’t want you in this affair!
This is the highest fee for party nomination in the history of the country. APC has been cited here as an example, although, the nomination fees of other political parties are behind that of the APC in the ranking. Going by the national minimum wage, you need to set aside your whole salary for a minimum period of 200 years. Unfortunately, the maximum number of years permitted in public service is about 35 years. The price tag for APC’s party nomination forms is simply contradictory to the spirit and letters of #NotTooYoungToRun.
Sparking public outrage, the former Vice President of the World Bank; former minister of education and co-convener of BBOG, Dr Oby Ezekwesili took to twitter to convey her disappointment and displeasure. “When I decide to run for elective office, no way any Party that charges above N100,000 for Nomination Forms would get my membership. Tufiakwa!” she said in disapproval.
In a related development, Adamu Garba – a young entrepreneur, who had earlier declared his interest, withdrew from the race for inability to pay the restrictive amount. Overnight, he quitted and dashed for his business in Lagos.
Certainly, to play politics in Nigeria, you need a formidable war chest. You need enough money for razzmatazz, flamboyant campaign and buying-of-votes. Going by the trends, a vote goes between N1, 000 – N10, 000. At the grassroots, the basic understanding of social contract is cash-for-votes. It is: how much are you willing to pay? In the art, money (mammon) is the god.
Any hope for the victims?
The holy book says, “But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man”. Nigerian politicians are strongmen – brutish and mean. How do we bind them? To bind them, the shrinking civic space must be strengthened or emboldened through domestic and international pressures for political inclusion. If the organized labour and civic organisations do not find a means to cause a disruption in the political space, old politicians may effortlessly succeed in completely emasculating Nigerian youths.
Because fighting from the outside could really be efforts in futility, the struggle requires more than one approach. For the binding to succeed, the establishments – old politicians, must willingly pave way or at least cooperate with young people seeking inclusion. This is a sad reality going by how much these gerontocrats have captured state resources and power to their private gain. They possess so much power and command undue influence.
Is Nigerian politics a cash cow for her retired and tired civil servants and military Generals? “We are retired but not tired” they often admit with faces rich in sarcasm. Paradoxically, youths are driving enviable changes in the banking sector, ICTs but not politics. Up till today, youth inclusion is only but a cacophonous concept in Nigeria. It is discrepancy. It has to change, urgently. May we succeed as young Nigerians!