By Ukachi Chukwu
For thousands of young people who have been advocating for the passage of the #NotTooYoungToRun bill, news that the proposed amendment was not included in the final report that was considered and adopted by the lawmakers at the joint retreat on constitution review held in Lagos last weekend came as huge blow.
Despite the fact that our overpaid, self-serving legislators have shown on several occasions that they do not genuinely care about the interests of the people they claim to represent, these young people in Nigeria were hopeful that maybe this time, the law making body would put their interests into consideration. Well, they were wrong. Again.
Sources say that the proposed amendment was not even included on the agenda to be considered in the first place. If this move stands, then it signals the final nail in the coffin of a bill that, if passed, would not only address the legal bottlenecks young people seeking to run for elective offices face, but would also create a level playing field for the demography that makes up more than 60% of Nigeria’s population to aspire for political positions.
How did a bill that received so much public support from the National Assembly leadership, over 25 State Houses of Assembly and helped put the 8th Assembly on the global stage fail to make it into the final report considered and adopted by lawmakers at the just concluded retreat?
The answers to that question can be answered in three ways:
Lawmakers lack a clear understanding of what the #NotTooYoungToRun bill seeks to do.
Commercialization of the Constitution Review Process
The National Assembly underestimates the power of youth voices.
In his article published by SaharaReporters, Olanrewaju Suraju explained that the #NotTooYoungToRun bill was discarded at the committee level because lawmakers were afraid most of them would be unseated in 2019 if young people were allowed to run for office. The report further stated that lawmakers felt that, “Nigeria is not ready for younger leaders and that ground should not ceded to them as they have no place in leadership and politics.”
For lawmakers to assert that Nigeria is not ready for younger leaders shows that they lack knowledge of the country’s history. Our history is replete with heroic stories of young people like Dr. Herbert Macaulay, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Sir. Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, who have been at the forefront of promoting democratic development and nation building. These young nationalists led the independence struggle in their youthful age. In fact, Anthony Enahoro was only 30 years when he moved the motion for Nigeria’s independence in 1953!
On what premise, then, will our lawmakers erroneously assert that Nigeria is not ready for younger leaders when Nigeria’s independence was championed by young leaders? Beyond the struggle for independence, youths have been deeply involved in the sustenance of Nigeria’s democracy through their immense contributions in the areas of election management, democratic accountability, peace and security.
Had our lawmakers taken the time to truly understand the #NotTooYoungToRun bill and how it seeks to deepen Nigeria’s democracy, they would have known that their irrational fears that young people are poised to push them out in 2019 are uncalled for.
The bill, if passed, would guarantee equal opportunity and participation of 60 percent of Nigeria’s population in the political process. For democracy to thrive, a level playing field must be created for all citizens to participate as both voters and candidates. How can Nigeria claim to be a democracy if more than half of the country’s population cannot truly participate in the political process?
Furthermore, the #NotTooYoungToRun bill would deepen intergenerational dialogue and knowledge transfer, and promote adult-youth partnership in public governance – a model that most developing nations have adopted to spur democratic development. The bill is about one thing and one thing only: inclusion. Young people have the right to take part in making decisions that directly affect them, not just as voters, but as office holders.
The beauty of democracy is seen when citizens choose their leaders out of several alternatives. With the dynamism, energy, innovation and resilience of youth, the #NotTooYoungToRun bill, if passed, would increase the competitiveness of electoral politics in Nigeria. It would enhance issue-based politics and build a culture of civic participation and engagement in youths.
The commercialization of the Constitution Review Process is another reason for the failure of the #NotTooYoungToRun bill to make it past the joint constitution review committee of the National Assembly. Members of the Committee expected the campaign and the bill sponsors to lobby them and when this was not forthcoming, the support for the bill waned. Perhaps, like politicians who see everything in Naira and Kobo, they thought the campaign was being funded. How sad that lawmakers would truncate a bill that would deepen Nigeria’s democracy as a result of petty, selfish interests!
Right now, the #NotTooYoungToRun bill appears to be on life support. Whether it will be brought back to life or have its plug completely yanked off is up to the 47 lawmakers who voted against it. For one, young people in Nigeria will not take this lying low. After expending so much sweat and energy into advocating for this bill, they will ensure that their lawmakers do right by them and pass this bill into law.
Plans are already in place to begin recall processes for the 47 legislators who voted against the #NotTooYoungToRun bill if the decision is not reversed in time for the proposed amendment to make it into the final report adopted by lawmakers. With huge presence and influence across the 36 states of the federation, advocates of the bill will leave no stone unturned in making sure that the process is a success.
Young people are prepared to withdraw the youth vote in 2019 should the National Assembly pull the plug on the #NotTooYoungToRun bill. Making up more than 60% of Nigeria’s voting population, Nigerian youths are aware of the enormous political power they wield and are ready to bring this power to bear against any lawmaker who voted against the bill in 2019.
The National Assembly is at the threshold of history. They should not allow this moment to slip away.
Ukachi Chukwu is a Public Affairs Analyst.