#NotTooYoungToRun: What Young People Must Do By Rinsola Abiola
“The truth is that nothing will be ceded or conceded to your generation without a fight.” – Rt. Hon. Yakubu Dogara, Speaker, House of Representatives.
Statistics concerning the size of the youth demography have been common knowledge for a long time; one thing that has also been constant is the agitation for improved youth representation at all levels of governance. Young Nigerians want to go from just campaigning for candidates to running for elective office, and this demand is very understandable in light of our demographic strength and the ideas we bring to the table.
Youth activists have, since the return to democracy, asked that the stipulated age requirements for various elective offices be reduced in the spirit of equity and social justice; for indeed, it is the highest form of injustice to be able to vote at 18, but have to wait until 30 to be a candidate in an election. While we understand that our society is – at its core – ageist, there is no proof whatsoever to indicate that the age of a candidate or elected official bears a direct impact on the quality of governance. Although women have been pushing for inclusion and making some sort of progress, youths are deleted from the equation altogether due to legal constraints. Thanks to the Eighth House of Representatives, there seems to be a beacon of hope on the horizon.
Enter: The Eighth House of Representatives
On Monday, 9th May, 2016, Rt. Hon. Yakubu Dogara and other Members – including the Majority Leader, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila and Hon. Abdussamad Dasuki – had an interactive session with 161 student leaders from tertiary institutions across Nigeria. In his opening address, the Speaker urged students and youths to play a more active role in politics and eschew voter apathy, then stated that in furtherance of the youth inclusion aspect of the legislative agenda of the Eighth House, lowering the age of eligibility would be considered in the next constitution amendment process. During the session, other topics concerning student welfare, improving the standard of education and protecting the rights of students were also discussed.
The pronouncement on reducing the age of eligibility elicited cheers from the students in the room, and was also met with commendations from young people who communicate via popular social media platforms. Subsequently, Hon. Tony Nwulu sponsored the #NotTooYoungToRun bill, which has since scaled second reading in the House of Representatives. The bill seeks to alter Sections 65, 106, 131 and 177 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) to reduce the age qualification for the Presidency from 40 to 30, Governorship from 35 to 30, Senate from 35 to 30, House of Representatives from 30 to 25 and State House of Assembly 30 to 25. The Bill also seeks to introduce independent candidacy into the electoral system.
Not Yet Uhuru
It is imperative to remember that while the #NotTooYoungToRun bill may enjoy overwhelming support in the House of Representatives, a lot of work has to be done to ensure that it officially scales through. This is because for any proposed amendment to take effect, it must receive approval from two-thirds of all 360 Members of the House (240), two-thirds of the 109 members of the Senate (72), then two-thirds of all 36 state assemblies (i.e. 24 state assemblies must support it). If the bill successfully scales all these hurdles, the President must then assent to it.
What We Need to Do
Some weeks ago, the International Republican Institute (IRI) and the Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth and Advancement (YIAGA), a Civil Society Organisation led by the very efficient Samson Itodo, held a roundtable discussion with youths who are politically active. I had the honour of being one of those who were invited and I believe that the advocacy should in no way be left to Civil Society actors alone.
Those of us who are members of political parties must engage with our leaders and make them understand why this bill means everything to us, and why the amendment must succeed. No party can attain success without its youths and now is the time for our leaders to reciprocate the good faith by prevailing upon those members who occupy offices vital to the success of this amendment. Furthermore, we need to leverage on personal relationships that we have built with our legislators at both federal and state levels, with the aim of securing their support for the bill. It is also important that these negotiations be done as a group as much as possible. Our political affiliations may differ but if we are involved in politics, then I believe that it is because we want enhanced representation for members of our generation.
We, therefore, have to focus on this and work together to achieve this aim.
We all – politically active or not – should engage effectively with our elected representatives and use all media platforms at our disposal to intensify the campaign for inclusion. Now would be a good time to besiege their offices with letters and their social media accounts with reminders. It is important to establish these communication channels so that no one is left with a doubt as to how important reducing the age of eligibility is to us. Nigerian youths have fulfilled their civic responsibilities by voting, and now we must make those whom we voted into office understand that there can be no true representation until and unless the wishes of Nigeria’s largest voting bloc are reflected in the laws of the country we all care passionately about.
We also have to organize peaceful rallies in as many states as possible in order to send a clear message: “Nigerian youths are ready; we want inclusion, and we want it now.”
We have been described as the generation that talks but never does; I believe that we completely disproved this notion with our level of involvement in the 2015 elections and if we could disprove it then, we can channel that passion into demanding and achieving equity for our generation now.
It is essential that all young Nigerians – irrespective of ethnicity, gender, religious views and party affiliations – contribute whatever they can in terms of actionable ideas and strategy, their time for those moments we will need to march, and their passion and commitment to achieving a feat that future generations will be proud of.
This is the first time that a leading government official will publicly support a bill seeking to institutionalize youth inclusion, and in Speaker Dogara’s words: “This country belongs to you but it is under the stranglehold of men and women of a generation that has overreached itself; the truth is that nothing will be ceded or conceded to your generation without a fight.”
The time to fight, is now.
Rinsola Abiola is an advocate for youth inclusion in politics, and SA on New Media to Rt. Hon. Yakubu Dogara. She tweets via @Bint_Moshood.