By Mark Amaza
When the #NotTooYoungToRun campaign started in May 2016, I did not need any convincing to be a part of the campaign’s strategy team. It was precisely what Nigerian youths needed in order to gain them greater participation in the nation’s political space: removing the age barriers to running for public office and being eligible for certain appointive positions, and also introducing independent candidacy so as to enable not just young people, but all Nigerians desirous of running for office without necessarily using a political party’s platform.
The process seemed pretty straightforward on paper: as this required an amendment to the constitution, it required a bill to be sponsored on the floors of the Senate and the House of Representatives respectively; if passed by two-thirds of the National Assembly, it will then need at least 24 state houses of assembly to pass it as well. At that point, only the president’s signature stopped it from becoming law.
The timing was great as well: the National Assembly had embarked on a constitutional amendment process, debating the recommendations of the 2014 National Conference as well as considering new items such as the #NotTooYoungToRun.
The campaign was lucky to have willing sponsors in the Senate and the House of Representatives, Senator Abdulaziz Nyako (APC – Adamawa Central) and Hon. Tony Nwulu (PDP – Oshodi/Isolo, Lagos), who were equally very passionate about seeing the bills pass.
This was backed by a massive nationwide campaign in every state of the federation: youth groups and activists mobilized to lobby their state legislatures and sign up more young people to support this cause. Never has there been such a youth-led campaign in the history of the Fourth Republic, nay, the country – entirely led by young people in a peaceful manner, with excellent engagement on every platform online and offline, and with all resources marshaled by young Nigerians.
This massive support that the #NotTooYoungToRun bill garnered was not by error: it is clear to everyone that a democracy where almost 70% of the population had a less than 5% representation in the government cannot be called a democracy – it excludes the majority of the population.
It is also obvious that by pegging the minimum age Nigerians can run for public office starting from 30, it robs us of the opportunities young people would have enjoyed having an early start in governance and learn the ropes quickly such that we could one day have a president that is not just young in age, but also has the experience to handle the demands of his office.
Lastly, the status quo does not allow for mentoring that many young people could have gained from those currently in government, preventing the vital transfer of knowledge across generations.
This is why it was easy for the campaign to pick up steam and got the endorsement of 33 out of 36 state legislatures. It also got the strong backing of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara and the Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu who at several forums publicly backed the bill, as did several lawmakers.
It looked like a done deal.
Until this weekend.
The Constitutional Review Committee of the National Assembly at its retreat in Lagos decided that the bill should not make the final list of proposed constitutional amendments for debate.
It is still quite a shock how the Committee are unable to see not just the urgency of the bill, but also its necessity – that this bill will expand the political participation of young Nigerian not just in quantity, but also in quality. It will also bring more healthy competition of ideas in the political space to the benefit of all Nigerians.
The rejection of the #NotTooYoungToRun bill sends one loud message to young Nigerians: we do not consider you important enough in the scheme of things of this country or worthy enough to involve you fully in the political space.
This is at variance with constant messages from the political space in general and the National Assembly in particular on how important young people are to the country, and the pledges by its members to support this bill and ensure it passes.
It is sad that when the time came for the most crucial actions, they failed to make their words count.
If this is not a betrayal, I do not know what else is.
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This op-ed first appeared here.
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