Nigeria: Beyond #NotTooYoungToRun campaign, can the youths salvage Nigeria
In Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, talks of a youthful representation in government are rife, but only a handful are critical of the youths’ ability to turn things around, should they eventually get power.
It is all about a generational shift of political power. For many Nigerian youths, wrestling political power from the older generation, who has been in power for many years, is a fight to finish.
Youths activism in the country are thick on social media and other platforms as another general election closes in the country and political bigwigs predict the issue would form the campaign strengths of many political parties, come 2019, the nation’s general election year. Already, Atiku Abubakar, a Presidential aspirant from the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, the country’s main opposition party is trying to curry support from youths by pledging 40 percent of appointments in his cabinet to them, if he emerges the winner at the polls.
The #NotTooYoungToRun Campaign and its Soldiers
The #NotTooYoungToRun is a constitutional amendment campaign aimed at seeking increased youth participation in power. The group, using the NotTooYoungToRun bill, seeks to upturn the country’s extant age limits, which had been barring youths from participating in politics. “If you’re old enough to vote, you’re old enough to run for office,” reads a post on one of the group’s website.
Sections 65, 106, 131 and 177 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), pegs the age qualification for the office of president at 40; senators and state governors at 35 and House of Representatives and State House of Assembly at 30. But the present bill is seeking to reverse that law.
The bill seeks to place the age for a candidate wishing to run for the office of the President at 35; governor at 30; House of Representatives and State Houses of Assembly at 25
The NotTooYoungToRun soldiers want swift passage of the bill to allow for participatory governance, with the youths at its core. This school of thought contends that that age limitations can no longer hold sway in a time and age of globalization, technology and the ever-evolving dynamics in global politics.
For the bill to take effect, it needs to be passed by National Assembly, endorsed by at least 24 State Assemblies and assented by the President. Both Chambers of the National Assembly had in July 2017, following mounting pressures from youths in the country, who had thronged the National Assembly to drive home their course.
As at February 2018, the bill had secured the required endorsements from States’ House of Assemblies. This means that the bill now requires only presidential assent to become a law in the country.
Why the increased calls for youths’ representation in government?
Most #NotTooYoungToRun activists are those rankled by the present state of things in the country. Since the country gained independence from the British Colonialists, it has been grappling with many crises, which some have observed stem out of poor leadership. Late Chinua Achebe, one of the country’s literary icon, once pinned Nigeria’s major problem on lack of good leaders.
Many therefore observe that what Nigeria needs are fresh crops of leaders with innovation to rebirth the nation’s present ailing state. All things being equal, the youths are “the best to introduce fresh ideologies into Nigerian politics,” says Ambrose Igboke, a Lagos-based Political Analyst, in a chat with Caracal Reports.
Aside from this, there are other factors fueling #NotTooYoungRun activities in Nigeria. One of them is the outcome of elections in other countries, where people of young age emerged winners. The case of Emmanuel Macron who emerged President of France 14 May 2017 is one of such instances.
Beyond #NotTooYoungToRun campaign
While the calls for youthful government is garnering momentum across the country, there are concerns in some quarters over what the youths have up their sleeves, should they eventually get to the corridor of power. Opponents of the youth activism movement believe the campaign is nothing but a misplaced priority. To this group, the campaign should beam more light on equipping the youths for power. The present crops of Nigerian youths, this group contends, lack the political will and ideology, that can offer something different from the alleged ‘older generation’.
“Many of our youths will perform just as badly as the current crop of elderly politicians if we go by what happens in student governments on campuses around the country. We need the system overhauled. We need value reorientation so that people extol honesty, hard work, etc. We need a system that rewards diligence, trustworthiness, etc and punishes every kind of corruption and moral failure. When we have that kind of system, then the youth and everyone else who has something worthwhile to offer can help build Nigeria. At the moment, there’s no sincerity. People outside government complain loudly but once they get into office, the corruption and valuelessness in the system infects them if they aren’t already stained and we keep going round in circles,” says Edith Ohaja, a lecturer at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, the country’s first indigenous university.
Also pitching his tent with this side of the divide, a former governor in the country, James Ibori, in his punchy article “Leadership: What Has Age Got To Do With It?” faulted the #NotTooYoungToRun campaign for drawing its premise solely on age, arguing that there is more to leadership than just age.
“The call for a power shift from the older to the younger generation is fast gaining currency. This political discourse has occupied the public space in recent times and understandably so. The question is what level of leadership are we talking about and what age suitability should be considered; below age 40 or 50 or 60? Or even below age 30? We are yet to interrogate the idea that the failure of leadership may not necessarily be age-related,” says the Ibori.
According to him, “Closely related to this idea is the proposition that this failure is actually across all sections of society. That is to say, it may not be restricted to political leadership alone because other sections of the society that are by nature exclusive to the youth are also afflicted. For example, university students’ unions and the financial sector where we have a large proportion of young people in senior management positions. Have these young men and women exhibited the leadership qualities lacking in the older generation? We must, of necessity, answer this question. We also have young men and women as ministers of God. Many of them are at the helm of affairs in a majority of the churches in Nigeria. Has the youth trumped the old in behavior, morality, leadership, integrity, and frugality? How have our youths fared in the professions, the military, and the civil service? Do they even hold out any hope for the nation?
“One problem that appears to have bedeviled Nigeria is the “one solution fits all” and “easy way out” syndrome. We are quick to proffer ill-thought out solutions to all our problems; transfer political power to the youths and all our problems are solved.
“When nine years ago Americans voted in a 47-year old Barack Obama as their President, many Nigerians enthused that American politics had embraced youth power. That Obama had attended the best schools in his country, volunteered again and again in providing free services to his communities, and had been involved in politics as early as he could, and the fact that he had been elected into the country’s Senate did not matter in their reasoning.
“The only thing that registered was that a black person below age 50 was President. Many never bothered to study his trajectory to power. Had they done that, they would have realized that Obama did not become President simply because the United States of America decided that the old must give way to the young or whites to blacks. No, Obama became President because, at that moment, he was adjudged the best among those who offered themselves for election. He had built up some national gravitas. He had been noted as having something to offer his nation, something great enough to even transcend whatever obstacles that had blocked the way of every black politician before him. In as much as his election was a black revolution, it was actually personal to Barack Obama.
“There was no national consensus before the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi began to defend people for free. And when he began that public service in 1969, he was a young lawyer. Let it not be forgotten that when the late Chief Anthony Eromesele Enahoro was jailed because of his struggle for Nigeria’s independence, he was just 21 years old. The Wole Soyinka, the John Pepper Clarks, and the Chinua Achebe’s that we celebrate today achieved greatness while they were in their youth. Achebe wrote Things Fall Apart at the age of 28. Ben Enwonwu became a master sculptor in his youth. There was no national consensus that literary greatness should be taken from the old to the young then. And when the Ben Okris and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s took over the mantle of becoming great writers, they begged for no let or leave from the old. They just did what they had to do. They tasked themselves until they achieved greatness.
“The election of a 39-year-old Emmanuel Macron in France may have galvanized a section of Nigerians to think that the time is NOW. Monsieur Macron did not contest for office solely on the basis of being a “youth”; he ran in a national election based on concrete ideas. He ran against popular Eurosceptic and anti-immigration candidates. He believed in something. It was not because someone mobilized the French voters to support a young man. In electing Macron, France voted a left of center politics.
“Macron has been in public service for decades. He studied Philosophy at Paris Nanterre University before obtaining a Masters degree in Public Affairs at Sciences Po. He graduated from the École Nationale d’administration (ÉNA) in 2004. He worked at the Inspectorate General of Finances and later became an investment banker at Rothschild & Cie Banque. Before entering politics, he was a senior civil servant and investment banker. He joined the Socialist Party in 2006 and was appointed Deputy Secretary-General in François Hollande’s first government in May 2012. He was appointed Minister of Economy, Industry and Digital Affairs in 2014 under the Second Valls government, where he pushed through business-friendly reforms. He resigned in August 2016 to launch a bid for the 2017 presidential election under the banner of En Marche!, a centrist political movement he founded in April 2016, and won the election on 7 May 2017. Macron made history as the youngest President in the history of France, but he actually paid his dues. He learned the ropes and acquired experience. He was tested to the hilt. He did not scream that he represented the youths whose turn it was to take over power.
“A good look at Nigeria’s political history will throw up the fact that, ironically, the problem of Nigeria has been caused, in large part, by exuberant young men who were at the helm of affairs in the first decade of the nation’s independence; civilian and military alike. Major Patrick Chukwuma Nzeogwu was just 28 years old when he pulled off his January 15, 1966 coup. Gen. Yakubu Gowon, under whom Nigeria fought a civil war, was 32 when he became Head of State and could not prevent the war that started when he turned 33. Even the first military Head of State, Gen Thomas Umunakwe Aguiyi-Ironsi was 41 when he mounted the saddle. Late Chief Obafemi Awolowo was in his 30s when he started the Egbe Omo Oduduwa as a university student in London. This association later metamorphosed into a political party, the Action Group.”
“The late Sir Ahmadu Bello was in the same age bracket when he rallied the North together through the Northern Peoples Congress and the late Mallam Aminu Kano was also about the same age when he decided to speak up for the rights of the “talakawas”. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe was just 30 years old when he returned from the US and began his Pan-Africanist struggle in Ghana. Their failures and successes cannot and should not be laid at the doorstep of age. It was not because they were old or young men. The reason for their failures must be found elsewhere,” the former governor concluded.
Speaking in an in an interview with Caracal Reports, Mr. Agi Victor, a Public Relations expert, based in Abuja, the nation’s capital, wants the campaign to address other youth-related issues aside the demand for power.
His words: “Well, it will be hasty to think that youths are a quick fix to the nation’s problems. When the issue of youth becoming leaders comes up, it’s easy to point to other climes where youth are turning things around, but it’s also important to evaluate the antecedents of youth leadership in the country, and even presently.
“Without going far, the present governor of Kogi state is a youth in his early 40s, and what have we seen? One would have expected that he will manifest in every sense the energy of a youth, but today, Kogi state is not living up to that wild expectation of having a youth in charge who should ordinarily bring his youthful creativity and exuberance to bear.”
Also speaking, Igoke said: “The youths of Nigeria as presently constituted are not ready to take over power from anybody. Though that may be possible when they wake up. How many of our youths read? Most of them don’t read, they don’t know our history. They don’t even read political strategies. If you put a political strategy on paper now, can a youth read it?”
Similarly, a Chikwado Udoh, a Social critic in the country told Caracal Reports: “When we look around the world, we would realize that age is nothing but a number. The President of America- hate him or love him, is an old man and in fact contested among old people- Hilary Clinton, Bernie Sanders et al.
“The above does not in any way mean that we can’t get good youths in Nigeria who will give us exemplary leadership. What I frown at is the unreasoned mouthing of ‘youthocracy’ as the panacea to Nigeria’s woes. Nigeria’s problems go beyond age. It’s a thing of the mind- a corrupt youth will do exactly what the corrupt old men are doing.”
With months away from the country’s general election, time will tell where the pendulum of the #NotTooYoungRun activists would swing.