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Sunday, October 1, 2023

Not Too Young To Run: Surviving the final lap

Abuja-based activist and Co-Founder/Chief Executive of Connected Development (CODE), Hamzat Lawal is working to build a grassroots movement of citizen-led actions through Follow The Money, an initiative that, among others, seeks better service delivery in rural communities while holding government representatives accountable. In this piece, he explores dynamics of the Not Too Young to Run campaign in the light of progress made so far

Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki

Now that the Not Too Young to Run Bill has been passed by the National Assembly, and is now awaiting approval of two-thirds majority of the 36 Houses of Assembly of the Federation for inclusion in the Nigerian constitution, we the youth are hopeful that a new dawn is about to break over our country’s political horizon. However, in as much as our hopes have been raised to the pitch of expectant enthusiasm, we cannot afford to rest on our oars. We are in for the long haul!

Considering that the bill is in the chambers of the State Assemblies, one could assume that it has found a place among its own: the grassroots. The truth is that the essence of the Not Too Young to Run is to mainstream the youth in governance, and there is no better background for situating the gauge for effective democratic governance but in the wards and local governments, the actual constituencies of the Houses of Assemblies.

Therefore, we must let every Nigerian, young and old, to know that the victory of the Bill is a victory for democracy, because the best dividends thereof are the ones that touch the people at the bottom of the pyramid. As the bill faces the final hurdle, there are relevant issues that need to be brought to light.

The first is the present challenge of rural to urban migration. It is young people that are more affected because they are perennially in need of better comfort, prospects and opportunities. Their fresh energy and exuberant drive push them to the cities in their millions, and when in the cities, they are further pushed to try their luck outside the country. But the sad reality is that at the end of the day, the frustration they encounter both in the cities and in foreign lands make them get even angrier at the government.

Nigeria is at a crossroads. These young people are sent back to Nigeria from countries that can barely afford to feed its own teeming youth population. Presently, we are feeling a national outrage at the inhuman experience of many Nigerians in Libya.

They suffer slavery, prostitution and forced labour in foreign land. But most remarkably, the pain they feel is in the fact that they have finally become disappointed when they discovered that the reality is that even Nigeria could be better than the country they had ran to for greener pasture. They realize that their own country has potentials for greatness. Ironically, these Nigerians believe, but do not trust. Why? Because our political class is not made up of young faces like theirs.

All over the world, young people want to see leaders with kindred spirits, with whom they could dream and build. They want to be part of a new system where people like themselves are given opportunities to impact the lives of fellow young people. They are tired of promises of a better tomorrow that never gets better. They are tired of begging. They are tired of handouts.

The second reality is that Nigeria is a regional giant, and therefore the #NotTooYoungToRun could easily catalyse a new African political paradigm. A peaceful one at that, without the violence that usually accompanies youthful movements like the Arab Spring.

For instance, the United Nations had taken clue from this action and set up agencies to pioneer the campaign to make it a global goal. The Office of the UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth initiated the Not Too Young To Run global campaign in partnership with UNDP, OHCHR, the IPU, Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth and Advancement (YIAGA) and the European Youth Forum in order to convene existing efforts into a global movement and provide young people with a central platform through which to advocate.  The global campaign was launched at the first United Nations Forum on Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law at United Nations Geneva, November, 22, 2016.

According to the UN, there are more young people in the world now, than ever before, and approximately 1.8 billion people between the ages of 10 and 24. In Nigeria, over 60% of the population is under the age of 25. The median age of the country is 18, placing it in the top 20 youngest countries in the world. This is why Nigeria’s leadership must reflect its populace.

The third issue is the psychological impact the Bill will have. At the onset of the #NotTooYoungToRun movement, there were some groups that insisted that age limit should be totally removed, so that even young Nigerians who are 18 years of age should be eligible to run for political offices. To this school of thought, the victory recorded so far in the removal of five years from age limit of President, Member House of Representatives, and Governor, is nothing to celebrate. However, I am of the view that we cannot afford to miss the psychological triumph gained by the assent of the National Assembly to our demands.

For sure, it opens up a whole new vista in the political affairs of our country. It is a way of telling every young Nigerian to maximize his energy for the good of all. Five years is time enough to rev up one’s youthful potentials and make resounding impact.

For the avoidance of doubt, the bill sought to alter the section, 65, 106, 131, and 177 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) to reduce the age qualification for the office of the President, Governor, Senate, House of Representatives and House of Assembly. The Bill also advocated for an independent candidate in our electoral system.

Finally, with the successful passage of the Bill at the National Assembly there is a convergence of powers. It will be recalled that while the Bill was still at the National Assembly undergoing deliberations, more than 25 State Houses of Assembly had publicly declared support for and endorsed the Bill, following a series of fruitful engagements with young people at the state level. This is why I expect that we shall surpass the required two thirds (24 Houses of Assembly) approval. We look forward to up to 30 approvals.

One can safely conclude then that the Legislature has taken up the gauntlet, and is poised to guard our democratic heritage by engendering equal representation and true patriotism. Having recognised a future of demographic threat of a rising youth population without commensurate channels of positive engagement, our lawmakers are investing wisely. As can be easily understood, the greatest investment in youth is political investment, because it holds the key to opening the doors to other developmental concerns like infrastructure, equality, education, health and environment, and general self-advancement.

It is now left to us as youth to prepare to play our own part with requisite wisdom, tact and patriotism. We must muster a new intellectual energy with which to positively engage the democratic arena in future elections after the Bill must have become law. We must equip ourselves with the right tools for sustainable democratic process. We must increase our capacity. We must learn new things, from our elders and from history.

It is my hope that come 2019, we would see young people in power, helping to chart the course of governance to an all-inclusive future. By then we must have found the “cohesion-incentive” to make us continue believing in our young democracy where we shall see eye-to-eye with our leaders, and hold hands with our fathers, mothers and mentors in a journey to birth a people-oriented new Nigeria.

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