The Not Too Young to Run Bill was signed into law by the president on Wednesday. The Bill seeks to reduce the required age for people who are interested in running for office substantially. It is good news, but I can’t shake the feeling that it is a big Greek gift.
The leadership challenges in Nigeria are more complex than just the age of the aspirants to political offices in Nigeria. It has more to do with the failure of institutions to deliver basic KPIs and the lack of clear enforcement strategy for the citizens. Our electoral landscape is marred by multifaceted problems, some of which are: Citizen apathy and cynicism, lack of a comprehensive extant legal framework, technology adaptation in an infrastructurally challenged environment, “Do or Die” attitude of politicians and of course, the peculiar systemic challenges of being Nigerian. In the light of the above, the activism to allow younger people to run for offices may be well-intentioned but may not necessarily, without more, have any far-reaching positive effects.
Do not forget that electoral campaigns in Nigeria (and everywhere) cost a lot of money. Let us take a look at the 2016 U.S. presidential elections for example. As at December 31, 2015, the Clinton campaign had raised $1.4 Billion in donations and the Trump campaign, $967 million. In Nigeria, we have no such records. But we know from observation that it takes a lot of money to fund party primaries, television and radio jingles and all the other small costs it takes to run successful campaigns. If the goal of the bill was to achieve greater inclusivity, especially of the youth in elections and political leadership, then it may have failed. In a country that has about 70 percent of its population living below the poverty line (that is living on $2.5 or 900 naira daily), what 35-year-old can afford the take-off capital to run for the president of Nigeria? Without either selling out to the establishment or being himself born into the establishment? Have we inadvertently given impetus to politicians to front their children and their stooges to continue the same cycle of exclusivity and mediocre governance?
For a moment, let’s argue without conceding that age was indeed a problem. The average age of Nigerian Heads of State from independence is 48 years; the oldest being Olusegun Obasanjo and Muhammadu Buhari. Since the advent of democracy in 1999, the youngest has been Goodluck Jonathan at 53. The law which was repealed by the Not Too Young To Run Act was that the president was required to be 40 years old. However, no 40-year-old has come close to winning an election in the present political advent. Largely due to political apathy of the youth both to vote or to participate in any way in the political leadership of the country.
I hope, however, that the goodwill the Bill has garnered, will give the much-needed impetus for young people to form deeper election reforms, especially in updating the legal framework around elections in Nigeria and hopefully, formulate innovative tech solutions to the problems of data and information. I hope the momentum remains there for young people to indeed participate more in Nigerian politics by actually voting and running for office. The battle may have been won in getting younger people to run, but this does not absolve us of responsibility from the bigger war, of pushing for bigger and more daring electoral reforms. If anything, the success of the Not Too Young to Run Bill has shown us that it is possible.
Zikora is a Radio producer/presenter, and writer. Lover of books and bread. In his spare time, he writes about himself in the third person. Follow him on twitter@z1kora