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Q&A: All you need to know about Nigeria's Not Too Young To Run campaign

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Q&A: All you need to know about Nigeria's Not Too Young To Run campaign

27 Oct 2017

6min min read
  • Democracy
  • Political participation

igerian activists who have campaigned to lower the minimum age at which candidates are eligible to run for political office in their country are confident that they will soon make history.

In July, the Nigerian Senate and House of Representatives passed a constitutional amendment bill that reduces the age of qualification for running for president from 40 years to 35 years and, for governorship positions, from 35 years to 30 years. It also permits candidates 25 years and older to run for office in National and State Assemblies across the country. Dubbed the ‘Not Too Young to Run’ bill, it has inspired a global movement around increased youth participation in politics. 

The Africa Portal spoke to Samson Itodo, executive director of the Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth and Advancement (YIAGA), a youth-focused think tank at the forefront of this campaign.

What is the significance of the 'Not Too Young To Run' bill? 

At this point in time and in the constitutional amendment process, it is the only proposed amendment that addresses the concerns of Nigerian youth (defined by our government and the African Union as those between the ages of 18 – 35), who constitute approximately 65% of the population. 

Globally, 51% of the world's population is under 30 years of age yet only 2% of the world's parliamentarians are under 30. Seventy-three percent of countries restrict young people from running for office, even when they can vote.

These numbers are alarming! They show that there is an urgent need to address the deficit of youth representation and participation in political affairs. 

What is the current status of the bill and what steps must be taken before it becomes law?

The #NotTooYoungToRun bill (which includes the proposals on age reduction and independent candidacy) is part of other constitutional amendment bills that have been transmitted from the National Assembly to the 36 State Houses of Assembly. 

According to Section 9 (2) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), an alteration of the constitution shall not be passed unless the proposal is supported by the two-third majority of all members of that House and approved by the Houses of Assembly of not less than two-thirds of all states.

In order for this to happen, citizens (young and old) who support the #NotTooYoungToRun campaign must strategically engage state legislators through visits, calls, letter, text messages, electronic, print and social media to support/sign the bill.

The final stage requires that the President of Nigeria assents to the constitutional amendment bills before they become law.

None of these can be achieved unless the citizen movement strategically and constructively engages the process to ensure citizens’ interests are represented.

The goal of the bill is to increase youth participation in the political process – how certain are you that the reduction in the age requirements will incentivise youth to run for office?

The major hindrance/barrier to youth running for office in Nigeria is the current age limits enshrined in the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (CFRN) 1999 (as amended).

The proposed constitutional amendment to lower the age of eligibility for elective office is borne out of the need to expand the political space for greater youth representation. For a country where about 63% of its population is within the youth bracket, it is undemocratic that the minimum age for contesting most elections is 30 years and that is just for the Houses of Representatives and Assembly. For the remaining offices, young people are not eligible to contest by age.

This systematically excludes the youth demographic from the decision-making process despite the fact that they will live with the results of those decisions longer than the older population. Lowering the age of eligibility will also afford young people the opportunity to start learning the ropes of governance at a younger age by deepening inter-generational dialogue and mentoring, where they learn from the older and more experienced ones. This is what the #NotTooYoungToRun bill will achieve.

The bill also seeks to mainstream independent candidacy into Nigeria’s electoral laws. How will this impact on political processes?

Independent candidacy will strengthen the political process in a number of ways including enhancing competitive politics. Political parties have been accused of ‘imposing’ unpopular candidates during elections and as a result, the constituents of the elected representatives do not enjoy true representation. 

Not only will independent candidacy check the practice of imposition and substitution of candidates by political parties, it will also promote issue-based politics. 

Across the globe, millennials are stereotyped as inexperienced, entitled, unprofessional and lazy. How can campaigns like yours combat a culture of age discrimination against young people in leadership? 

The most resounding argument against youth leadership and participation is the uncomplimentary narrative that you’ve mentioned. The view that age determines experience is retrogressive and serves the interests of only a minor segment of the society. Age does not determine the competence of an individual. What determines experience or competence is exposure to leadership and capacity building opportunities and commitment to self-growth. 

In reality, there are older people in public governance who have little or no experience just as there are also records of younger people who have gained competence due to their life experiences or exposure. Therefore the argument that age determines experience holds no water. What is critical is whether an individual seeking to run for office has the competence and character to hold such office. 

There’s the argument that electing a younger leader does not automatically guarantee better leadership. How can Nigeria’s youth upskill themselves for the role and responsibilities that come with political office?

The #NotTooYoungToRun campaign in Nigeria and the movement across the world is anchored on the values of participation, inclusion and representation for all interest groups in any society.

The exclusion of young people from elective offices robs society of their contribution to economic and political development. Young people have skills and capacities that can be transferred to political office. Young people bring vibrancy and innovative thinking to their activities, evident in the way they have built up thriving entertainment, ICT and e-commerce sectors that are now major drivers of the economy. This same vibrancy and innovative thinking will be invaluable in our political space.

Beyond Nigeria, is there strong support for African youth participation in politics?

Yes! We have seen youth movements in Kenya, the Gambia, India, Zimbabwe and many other countries adopt ‘Not Too Young To Run’ based on their contexts to either raise awareness on youth participation, or advocate for more space, or inspire young people to run for elective office.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) recently endorsed the #NotTooYoungToRun campaign in Nigeria during the African Union Regional Youth Consultation for West and Central Africa.

The African Union, through its Department of Political Affairs and the African Governance Architecture, endorsed and supports the #NotTooYoungToRun campaign as a means of creating and claiming space for young people in the political affairs of their member states.

Inspired by the Nigerian example, the Office of the United Nations Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth partnered with the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), YIAGA and the European Youth Forum to convene existing efforts into a global Not Too Young To Run campaign and provide young people with a central platform through which to advocate.

In contrast to #NotTooYoungToRun, Uganda’s ruling party has introduced a bill to scrap the presidential age limit, which would allow leaders above 75 years of age to contest for office. Your thoughts on this?

I think it is paradoxical that while Africa has the most youthful population in the world, it also has some of the oldest leaders as well. While in Nigeria, we are organising to reduce/remove the age for contesting elections in Uganda it is a different situation and context. The only age limit at which individuals are prevented from contesting elections in Nigeria is until they have attained the age of 30, 35 or 40 years depending on the office one is contesting for. 

I think that in a democracy, there are some key elements which include equality, rule of law, freedom, participation, inclusion and representation for all interests groups in any society.

What are YIAGA’s ambitions for the 2019 election? 

This election will be a defining moment in Nigeria’s history as we consolidate our democratic gains and strengthen democratic institutions. Our work cuts across various areas of the democratic governance spectrum and we would love to see a mass of young people run for office or as independent candidates after the #NotTooYoungToRun bill has been passed.

Probably more important for us is how we empower the ‘inconsequential powerful majority’, also known as citizens, to effectively participate in the political process in one way or another. We have a few projects like #WatchingTheVote and #BounceCorruption that focus on amplifying citizen voices and engagement with politics and governance. 

(Main image: Florian Plaucheur/AFP/Getty)

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of SAIIA or CIGI.