Around June last year, a group of Nigerian youth activists and youth-led organisations started an audacious campaign to have the age of eligibility for contesting for public offices in Nigeria reduced and to allow for independent candidacy – which will help in removing two huge barriers to active youth participation in elective politics.
The campaign was audacious because the process of constitutional amendment in Nigeria is quite herculean: two-thirds of each chamber of the National Assembly and of at least 24 state houses of assembly have to agree to that amendment. Against the backdrop of the financial demands of such a campaign, relative inexperience and the unfairly negative perceptions of young people in this country, it was indeed an audacious campaign.
A year later – numerous media appearances, debates and marches to drum up support for the Not Too Young To Run bill in Abuja and almost 30 states in the country, the bill has sailed through the Senate and the House of Representatives. While we await the state houses of assembly to begin deliberation on it and other proposed amendments, we are optimistic that the bill will pass as well.
However, one question that numerous people have asked us is whether young Nigerians are ready for leadership roles and if we should have started with grooming leadership first before seeking to change the laws.
For starters, we do believe that there are many young Nigerians who are ready for leadership. This was evident even in 2015 where about 30 young people running for different offices were disqualified on the basis of age, thus robbing it of what could likely have been excellent leadership. Age by itself does not confer on one the readiness to lead – as such, using age alone to disqualify people from leading is quite discriminatory.
Admittedly, leadership is often best learnt consciously in theory and practice. However, it is good to keep in mind that growing older by itself is not a great tool for learning leadership – this means leadership development should not be confined to just young people.
As a campaign, the Not Too Young To Run campaign does not yet have any plans for leadership development. This is because it is a loose alliance for the specific purpose of advocacy for the bill. Such an alliance cannot handle leadership development and other goals.
However, there are members of the campaign which are involved in leadership development, such as the League of Progressive Ambassadors of Nigeria (LEPAN).
Also, it is important that we look outside the campaign at other avenues for youth leadership development that are often overlooked or misused. An excellent example is student union governments in higher institutions, the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) and the National Youth Council of Nigeria (NYCN).
These bodies, rather than be excellent avenues for organizing young people, representing their interests and for honing leadership talent in young people, have become extremely politicized and in many ways, a reflection of the larger politics in Nigeria.
There is need for these institutions to be reformed such that young Nigerians, especially those in tertiary institutions enjoy positive benefits from them.
But beyond these organizations, there are other organizations which can provide excellent platforms for leadership training. These could be religious organizations or philanthropic ones such as the Rotaract International and Junior Chambers International. These and many more organizations can provide excellent practical experience for intending young leaders.
Evidently, there is still a gap in providing leadership training targeted at young people – hopefully, an organization or set of organizations that will build a process for imparting leadership skills to many young people.
In conclusion, any young person interested in grooming himself as a leader cannot afford to sit and wait for other people to create ways for him to learn. He has to be proactive in learning about leadership – it could be from reading, volunteering with organizations, seeking mentorship, etc.
Mark Amaza is a communications expert and brand strategist at MINDcapital. He is also a member of the Strategy Team, Not Too Young to Run Campaign.