Today, President Muhammadu Buhari finally signed the #NotTooYoungToRun bill, a constitutional amendment aimed at reducing the age of eligibility for running for elections with the aim that it opens up the space for greater youth participation in Nigerian politics.
This is a culmination of two years of arduous campaigning by its proponents, which involved building a national movement and peaceful marches in about 30 states of the federation. One will be hard-pressed to remember if ever there was any precedent for such in Nigeria: a youth-led movement organized behind one singular issue and pursuing it within the ambit of the law.
Now that the bill has become law, what does that mean?
First, it means that 25 year olds can run for state houses of assembly and the Federal House of Representatives, 30 year olds for governor and 35-year olds for the Presidency. It also means that 25-year olds are eligible for cabinet seats at the state and federal levels rather than having to wait till the age of 30.
Unfortunately, the twin amendment proposal for independent candidacy failed to win the requisite 24 states in addition to two-thirds of the Senate and House of Representatives. This means that candidates will still have to go through the party system – independent candidacy would have further widened the space.
Nonetheless, the new law is going to be a boon to more young people participating in elective politics. Already, there are numerous candidates who would otherwise have been under-aged prepping to run for all the various offices up for grabs next year. This is only fair considering the huge youth population that more young people partake in governance.
Like every idea, the #NotTooYoungToRun law is not without its criticisms, even among the very young people it is aiming to help: some have said that young people are not ready, others have said that there are more pertinent issues affecting young Nigerians, others yet have claimed that it is a bill designed only to help elites considering the prohibitive costs of political campaigning in Nigeria.
The #NotTooYoungToRun law is not in any way a silver bullet to youth issues in Nigeria, even for youth participation in governance. But it is a vital first step towards increasing youth participation. There are still other issues to look at such as leadership grooming, campaign financing and incentives within parties to encourage more young people to run. Also, independent candidacy is still needed in our political system. The journey does not end here.
Those who claim that young Nigerians are not ready for governance does a great disservice to the millions of hardworking, smart and enterprising young people who have put Nigeria on the global map in many fields such as sports, entertainment and technology and also made huge contributions in virtually every sector including governance.
Of course, like every demographic group, we are not without our bad elements, but it is unfair to describe all of us by the worst of us. Young Nigerians are very much ready to participate in governance – also, we cannot keep complaining about the age of our public office holders while simultaneously disallowing young people from participating. You cannot make an omelet if you do not break the egg.
The history of Nigerian politics is replete with examples of persons who have gone into governance without being elites, those who won against establishment candidates and those who have upended dominant political orders. This can also happen among young people. This law is designed for all young Nigerians irrespective of social status, gender, ethnicity and religion and the hope is all will take advantage of it.
This law opens an exciting new chapter for Nigerian politics and governance, one where the bulk of voters can finally see candidates they can relate to, where there is an infusion of new ideas and energy, where there is an avenue for older people to find protégés they can mentor.
To all those who worked tirelessly to make this happen in every way possible, congratulations – your efforts will not be in vain.
And to all young Nigerians, this is your victory – we are now able to directly be involved in those decisions that affect us. Hopefully, we shall make the best use of it.
For those interested in running, please visit http://readytorunng.org/ as they have great resources for helping young aspirants.