By Hamzat Lawal
To say that I, and indeed all Nigerian youth, are disappointed at the recent development in the National Assembly regarding the Not Too Young To Run bill, is an understatement.
The truth is that when the reports filtered out at the end of the recently concluded joint retreat of national legislators on constitution review in Lagos, indicating that the Senate and House committees on constitution review had killed the bill, I was totally heartbroken.
We felt like a child given a sudden, debilitating sucker punch by someone he trusts so much – his own father!
No one saw it coming. The bill had already passed the first and second readings. The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara and deputy president of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, had also publicly declared support for the bill. More than 25 State Houses of Assembly had publicly declared support for and endorsed the bill, following a series of fruitful engagements with young people at the state level. In fact, the House of Representatives even alluded to the bill as an achievement in its two-year score card.
Yes, we all thought Nigeria has come of age with the coming of this historic bill which enjoyed maximum support from Nigeria’s vast youth population. But, suddenly we woke up to the rude shock that, perhaps, all the cameras and light at the National Assembly in support of #NotTooYoungToRun were just mere histrionics to paint a false picture.
Nonetheless, the facts are irrefutable. Nigeria is at a crossroads, burdened by the youth question of “what does the future hold?” And, this is truth we cannot sweep under the carpet or gloss over with any amount of contrived political theatrics, no matter how hard we try.
First, killing the bill is tantamount to directly encouraging election-related violence; fueling regional agitations; and empowering the enemies of our country to use the youth to perpetrate mayhem. This is because during the preparation and campaign for #NotTooYoungToRun bill, there emerged a perceptible new sense of maturity among Nigeria’s youth population. One could easily feel a silent revolution in the atmosphere: A consensus among the youth to enter the political fray as contenders, instead of continuously being used as pawns in violent pre- and post-electoral protests.
The Nigerian youth mustered a new intellectual energy with which they prepared to engage the democratic arena in future elections after the bill must have been passed and signed into law.
But today, witnessing the abandonment of this important bill, one wonders how this tremendous energy would be dissipated. The bill was supposed to give young people a sense of belonging in the political scheme of things, and allow for the cross-fertilisation of ideas between the leaders and the led, because the lack of a mechanism for such outlet is at the root of socio-political unrest. Now one wonders, where do we go from here?
Second, discarding the Not Too Young To Run bill is another way of telling the international community that Nigeria is neither progressive nor upwardly mobile. It is important to note that #NotTooYoungToRun is a global movement, which has found so much traction in the facts that general demographics favour the youth, and that even the current Sustainable Development Goals (SDGS) seek for proper youth mainstreaming for its effective implementation.
The campaign was launched by the United Nations in November 2016 and January 2017 at its offices in Geneva and New York. And, ironically, the same National Assembly had received commendation from the UN and AU for providing leadership in the continent of Africa for considering the bill in the first place.
On January 2016, the African Union Assembly rose with the decision to devote its theme of the year 2017 to “Harnessing the Demographic Dividend through investments in Youth”. AU recognised that investments made today in the youth, who represent Africa’s greatest asset, will determine the development trajectory of Africa over the next 50 years, and position the continent towards realizing the “Africa We Want”, a strong united and influential global player and partner, as envisioned in Agenda 2063.
As can be easily understood, the greatest investment in youth is political investment, because it holds the key to opening the doors to other developmental concerns like infrastructure, equality, education, health and environment, etc.
We had hoped that by 2019, we would see young people in power, helping to chart the course of governance to an all-inclusive future. But now, the feeling one gets is that the legislators are scared of such a future.
This should not be so. Rather, our distinguished lawmakers should see it as an opportunity for them to write their names in gold. Just like they rightly added it to their score card, it is a noble legacy for which posterity shall reward them and history shall be kind to the Eighth National Assembly. For, in passing the bill, they would have given the right tool of participatory democracy to Nigerians yet to be born.
Third, Nigeria is currently passing through difficult times, and is highly in need of a “cohesion-incentive” to make the youth continue believing in our young democracy. The #NotTooYoungToRun bill, which is celebrated by the world and lauded by the best of political intellectuals, is such a mechanism. It presents yet another opportunity for the youth and the government to see eye-to-eye and hold hands in a journey to birth a people-oriented new Nigeria.
And if the bill dies, a deep crack would be created in the fabric of our national consciousness, which might be hard to heal, as it would feed on the simmering underground tensions in the country to gather its destructive momentum.
History beckons on Senate President Bukola Saraki and House of Representatives Speaker Yakubu Dogara to guard our democratic heritage, entrench noble leadership, equal representation and true patriotism.
Certainly, in times of national need, Providence chooses not necessarily the old and experienced to provide effective leadership. Our founding fathers, Awolowo, Azikiwe, Balewa, built the foundation of this nation as part of the youth. Our present day youth also need their voices, to answer when Nigeria calls comes.
Fourth, it is important to remember that the Not Too Young To Run bill is not about politics; it is about governance. It is about putting a final stop to the brain drain syndrome that makes the youth leave our shores in droves and take their God-given talents to other countries, while we need them here.
It is about ensuring that young people, who nowadays graduate from tertiary institutions in their teenage, also find a place in the political space, should they aspire to such career.
It is about addressing an emerging need in the polity, after witnessing more than seven thousand youth troop out to canvass support for the #NotTooYoungToRun bill in insurgency-ravaged Yobe and Borno States. It is about entrenching true democracy – the choice of the people, who have spoken loud and clear that young Nigerians be given the opportunity to represent their communities, states and nation in matters of governance.
It is about a future that we all want to be part of, and be proud of; a New Nigeria of many faces, including the young and innocent ones. A great Nigeria!
Hamzat Lawal is an activist and a supporter who believes in the Not Too Young To Run bill.