From the ecstasy that followed the initiation, legislation, passage and presidential signing of the Not-Too-young-To- Run bill into law, it is as if Nigerian youths have been handed a life-extending pill that will guard them against death. But it was the signing of a mere bill that is remarkable because it opens the door to contest the nation’s offices to younger people. The prominence of the bill is that it alters Sections 66, 106, 131, 177 to reduce the age qualifications to contest for the Presidency from 35 to 30, governor from 35 to 30, House of Representatives membership from 30 to 25, State assembly membership from 30 to 25. Curiously, as has become the fad with the current senate, the minimum age requirement to contest for the Senate was left at the same 35 years it was before the commencement of the movement but that is a story for another day.
On yes, the age bar to contest for virtually all elective offices have been lowered. Wild orgies have been thrown over this feat. The youths have run themselves giddy with joy and excitement and self-congratulations have been thrown and received. But then, what next? What follows the birth of this new law? Is it all about significance? What practical realities exist to push this law to the realm of practicality? I ask these questions because many Nigerian youths translate this as meaning they will easily access power which is far from the intendment and prospect of this new law. Many believe that the older generation will automatically vanish from the political stage for them to take over. Many believe that the political space will transform into an exclusive play field for those in their thirties. I see these as a reflection of the short-sightedness of our youths who, I can vouch, hardly know the real essence of this new law. One can ask how many youths within or under the 35 years, which was the former age limit for these various offices occupy these offices?
Is it hard to know that such excitement and fawning attended the periodic reduction of the age qualification for these offices? Let us recall that when these age limits were crashed to 35 and 30 in the past, there were equal exhibition of funfair but some years later, has our political space been taken over by the 35 and 40 years old? No. it is still the same recycling and revision of the same players that dominated in the past. The youths are still out there in the field of agitation. You can bet that another round of not too young to rule agitation will start soon with demands that age qualification to contest elections be further crashed to 20 years. I will throw a wager on this if anyone is interested. I will also wager that such demand would be granted with little or no effect on the existing order that has continued to favour the older genre of our population in the quest for political offices.
Let no one walk away with the impression that I want to kill the overflowing joy of the Nigerian youths at this moment. No, rather I am calling them to widen the inquest into the reason why Nigerian youths have become permanent agitators for lowering of the age limits to political offices. I am inviting them to enquire why youths have become agitating spectators on the Nigerian political stage while the same people keep jugging the ball to themselves no matter how low the age limit is reduced. I am doing this with sincere intentions because Nigerian youths, if they refuse to do much more soul-searching, may find out soon enough that the Not-Too-Young-To-Run law is a mere fantastic toy that is taking them nowhere near power but deeper into the sidelines as permanent agitators. The new law may be all about cosmetics and nothing more if Nigerian youths refuse to carry out a deeper voyage on what practically huts them from political power and wage a meaningful war against such vicissitudes.
Whatever one may say, Nigeria’s leadership challenges or that of any other nation, is not an age issue. The developed world did not achieve the height they have done through age-related calibration of their societies. Leadership is both a natural and an acquired art and does not discriminate along age lines. Such other things as energy and experience are added flairs that build leadership. If the desire that prompted the Not-Too-Young-To-Run bill was to add to leadership, I don’t see any problem where a country recruits its leadership from the former 30 to 35 years bracket but if the pin firing the bill is to widen the space of those that eat the proverbial national cake, one can safely that the passage of the bill into law has rather exacerbated the national problem. So whichever way one looks at it, the bill is a costly toy in that the difference between the two age limits is just five years!
If Nigerian youths want to make a serious inroad into the country’s politics, they must engage in serious soul searching and research that will lead them to remove self-imposed road blocks and those imposed by the elderly politicians on the ways of the Nigerian youths to political power. Lowering the age limit does not translate to access to political offices and the earlier the youths realized this, the better for all of them.
Coming to roadblocks laid on the way of Nigerian youths to political offices, I think youths will drive themselves nearer to power if they support any moves made to track and control election campaign funding. This is one of the major hindrances pushing Nigerian youths further away from access to power. If the issue of campaign funding is not dealt with, the old, corrupt politicians who have amassed immeasurable wealth from looting the treasury while in power, will continue to dominate the political space irrespective of how downward the age barrier is lowered. If Nigerian youths can form a ring against illicit campaign funding and uncensored political funding, they would have made the space more accommodating for youths wishing to go into politics. So it will serve the youths better if they support official efforts to track campaign funds and punish, by exclusion, any violation of the desirable funding politicians should bring to electoral contests.
Closely related to illicit campaign funding is the source of wealth of politicians. Nigerian youths must insist on probing the source of wealth intending politicians bring to the table. In fact, youths must support a critical probe of the wealth of Nigerians because they are always the ultimate casualties of laundering illicit wealth in politics and of course the acute corruption that has ensured that the country’s wealth ends in the pockets of few politicians. If Nigerian youths think that a not-too-young-to-run law is the panacea to getting them into the shark-infested and hugely corrupt Nigerian political space, then they are hallucinating.
The aforementioned cases demand that youths merge together and demand stricter punishment to corrupt Nigerians that employ politics to steal public resources and laundering such illicit wealth in politics. This demands that youths support and empower the present anti-corruption war by the present government or any future government because they will be the ultimate beneficiaries as it promises to fumigate and make the political space more accommodating to the successful prosecution of their ambition. I believe this was what the Ooni of Ife, a youth, meant when he advised another youth, Fela Durotoye who came to his palace to seek his royal blessing for his presidential ambition, to support President Buhari’s regime in what he is doing in Nigeria presently. There are no two ways about it. Youths must show unalloyed support to track and drastically bring down corruption if they desire the space opened wider for their participation.
Coming to roadblocks imposed by the youths themselves to their quest for political power, it is trite to say that youths that do no self-respect themselves are bound to end up collective failures. In a country where many youths have taken to crime, drug trade, internet fraud, rituals, etc. as means of acquiring fast, illicit money and thereafter laundering same in politics, there is no gainsaying that no one will take them serious. Leadership, as I said earlier is an art that is imbued or learnt so inordinate crave for illicit money cannot be a good advertisement to leadership. A youth that is trapped by such desires will never ever access leadership because such youths operate under a climate of mutual suspicion and fear.
Equally discouraging is that many youths in Nigeria today are wasting their daily energies on aligning, fighting for and defending corrupt politicians that should be put away for their own good. If Nigerian youths easily mobilize themselves to offer services to corrupt old politicians and treasury raiders, they are creatively demobilizing themselves for leadership. If youths offer themselves as perpetual internet rats and boisterous defenders for old corrupt politicians, they are directly disqualifying themselves for leadership and not even a thousand Not-Too-Young-To-Run bills will take them an inch near political power.
I remember some light years ago, during the Obasanjo regime, some politicians massed together under the umbrella of Under-50 politicians to take over power, with high octave campaign propaganda and soundbites. They held several meetings and mapped out various strategies to yank power from the oldies. I wrote an article then to say that our leadership problem was not an age-related issue. Some few years down the line, the movement has been forgotten, most of the proponents have died political deaths and nothing is said of it today. My feeling is that lowering the age limit for qualification to political office merely admits more youths to contest. It does nothing to alter the political equation to favour youths. What will favour youths to get into political spaces in Nigeria requires not the kind of confetti-throwing razzmatazz that has followed the Not-Too-Young-To- Run law but deep strategic thinking that will dismantle the many roadblocks placed on the paths of the Nigerian youths to access real political power.