Politics: Breaking the Age Barrier, By Dele Agekameh

Last week, the news of the signing into law of the “Not Too Young To Run Bill” by President Muhammadu Buhari caused mild ripples in the political landscape of Nigeria. The passage of the Bill into an Act was hailed as a victory for young people all over the country and the beginning of a new era in Nigerian politics. However, while there are positives to take from the development, the Act has not managed to shake the table of Nigerian politics in any substantial way.

Apart from the obvious technical issue regarding the appropriate procedure for amending the provisions of a written constitution, there are many other far more practical concerns emerging from the passage of the Bill. There are unexplained omissions from the original Bill in the final Act signed by President Buhari, which betrays a lack of commitment to the true spirit of the Bill by lawmakers.

The Bill was introduced into the House of Representatives by Tony Nwulu, the House of Representatives member representing Oshodi-Isolo Federal Constituency. The Bill sought to alter sections 65, 106, 131 and 177 of the 1999 Constitution. The aim was to reduce the age qualifications for the offices of the president, governor, members of the Senate, House of Representatives and the State Houses of Assembly.

The creation of the right to independent candidacy in elections was another major aim of the Bill. The document that was passed into law by President Buhari on May 31, 2018 altered the age of qualification for president from 40 to 30, members of House of Representatives from 30 to 25 and state House of Assembly members from 30 to 25. The age qualifications for governors and senators remain at the original 35 years.

While one can spend hours ruminating on the intention of the lawmakers in keeping the age qualification of governors and senators higher than that of the president and others, there is likely to be no better insight into this discrepancy than the baffling propensity for one-upmanship and the exaggerated sense of importance of the senators.

Again, in their little way, the senators seem to have played their hand in an endless battle for supremacy over the federal executive. However, what takes the cake in the public charade that the Act has become is the disregard of the provision that sought independent candidacy in elections. The omission of that provision in the final Act has watered down, to an unacceptable level, the purported rights created for truly young people to participate in elections through their candidacy.

The new Act may have been passed in its limited way, but it is left to the political parties to decide whether young people are good enough for leadership. In an essentially two-party system run on massive funds and accumulated political capital, young people stand little chance of influencing politics in the way the Act intends.

As the political terrain is set-up right now, political parties have immense powers in determining the future of the country. Their choices influence the political mindset of the electorate and limit the choices of the people in determining their own fate. The new Act may have been passed in its limited way, but it is left to the political parties to decide whether young people are good enough for leadership. In an essentially two-party system run on massive funds and accumulated political capital, young people stand little chance of influencing politics in the way the Act intends.

Whether or not there is an underlying mistrust of youth in the decision of the lawmakers, history does have lessons to share on the matter of young people in great leadership positions. Going as far back as the period before the common era (356-323 BCE), Alexander the great had conquered an empire that stretched from the Balkans to modern-day Pakistan by the age of 32, after little over a decade as King of Macedon.

In the late 18th century, a young Napoleon Bonaparte took the world by storm after the French revolution. He became a general at the age of 24, went on his first major military campaign at age 26, got himself elected as first consul of France at age 30 and became emperor at 35, all while conquering a large part of Europe and beyond. In more recent and familiar history, a 33 year old Odumegwu Ojukwu began a war in 1967 that he held for three years against a British backed federal government led by 32 year old Yakubu Gowon.

These examples in history at once show how far the determination of youth can go and at the same time the limits to youthful over-ambition. Nonetheless, those individuals left lasting legacies in their time that resound throughout history till this present day.

Youthful vigour has its advantages and many disadvantages, but denying the youth the chance to shape the future has a much more damning cost to progress than the price of their over-ambition. Sometimes the courage and determination to take the leap of faith is lacking in the aged, and the uncertain progress of the Nigerian state in these many years may portray this problem more vividly than most realise.

Perhaps, what we need is not a “Not Too Young To Run Bill” but a “Too Old To Run Bill”. Past leaders have hung on to the reins of power for far too long and the spirit of adventurism of youth may be the missing ingredient in solving Nigeria’s problems. It is true that the young are taking more time to reach self-actualisation in today’s world, especially in Nigeria where the average person only finds financial independence after the age of 30.

The aim is not to empower partially-formed adults, but to encourage well-rounded individuals with enough youthful vigour to carry Nigeria past the line of development. Nine of the past United States presidents, including Barack Obama, were below the age of 50 at the time they were elected. This list includes Theodore Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton. Donald Trump is the oldest US president at 70 and he may prove to be the worst.

While there is audible clamour for younger candidates, elected officials like Yahaya Bello, the youngest serving governor and Dino Melaye, one of the youngest senators, both elected under the flag of the APC, have proven to be bad examples with their indecorous conduct and personal and official excesses.

Since its passage at the National Assembly in 2017, the “Not Too Young To Run” Bill has been adopted by 25 state assemblies in Nigeria. This may seem like an encouraging sign, but the true potency of the Bill will not be felt in the near future, not with the obvious limitations highlighted above. In more realistic terms, the original age qualifications for the elective positions may be more practical, but the Bill at least sends a message to the old hands of Nigerian politics that the country is tiring of spent forces that take us around in circles.

In the run in to 2019, with all that has been said, it is surprising that the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) seems to be more forward looking in terms of age than the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). Only recently, 31 year old Adebo Ogundoyin of the PDP won the by-election of Ibarapa East State constituency in the Oyo State House of Assembly. This is even as the PDP is toying with names like Ibrahim Dakwambo that seems like a sprightly, youthful option, in comparison to the likely candidature of Muhammadu Buhari in the 2019 general elections. The opportunism of the PDP in this regard may reap benefits that the APC is unprepared for.

While there is audible clamour for younger candidates, elected officials like Yahaya Bello, the youngest serving governor and Dino Melaye, one of the youngest senators, both elected under the flag of the APC, have proven to be bad examples with their indecorous conduct and personal and official excesses. They are proof that there are no guarantees either way, but the cynicism of age and the present politics of accumulated interests tips younger, untainted candidates ahead of the rotten pack of old timers.

The one takeaway from the emergence of the Act is that relatively young Nigerians under the banner of the Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth and Advancement (YIAGA), with support of the vice president, were able to conceive the Bill and push it through the works to a conclusive end. It is a sign of better things to come. The movement should however know, in the midst of the celebration, that it is not yet Uhuru for inclusive politics. At this time, the passage of the Act is an empty victory.

Why Not A Too-Old-To-Run Law? By Lasisi Olagunju

A friend made a dash abroad last week and soon became nostalgic of home. She called. “How is Naija?” She asked me, and I told her what I always tell myself whenever I escape to dreamland. “Naija is cool. Change has truly berthed this golden shore.” My friend was curious. “Cool? Is it about the Not-Too-Young-To-Run law? Or have the killer herdsmen been caged finally like the degraded Boko Haram terrorists? What cooled Nigeria?” I hissed at the simplicity of my friend’s thought.

Optimists are simple people, and women are great players of the game of optimism. That is why they get laid more than once by tricksters. What is my own about any Too-Young or Not-Too-Young law? That law would have been cool if it had included a Too-Old-To-Run section. In any case, the old man who signed the law immediately postdated it to 2023.

What else should the elderly use old age for if not to cheat the young? You are too young for this moment; 2019 is not your year of maturation. That is what the president told the youngsters who wanted to rule Nigeria. And he meant it.

“So what cooled Nigeria? E ku fasting? Is rice now N2,500 and beans 4,500?” My friend continued her cynical inquisition. Does my friend now price rice and beans per grain or what is she talking about? “Sai Baba!!!” she continued. “Dollar nko? Is it now N22 per dollar?”

I am beginning to suspect my friend. Has she travelled back to the years of Sani Abacha? I know our president dreamt of the golden years of Abacha some two weeks ago. Is my friend now a member of Buhari Media Organisation? The N22/$1 figure she mentioned belonged to Sani Abacha’s Central Bank. Even then, Abacha’s favoured elite were the only Nigerians with gate pass to that official rate.

What have we not seen in this country? It is not good to be ordinary, driving on the dusty road of crude destiny. Ordinary Nigerians have always suffered. They suffered yesterday, they smiled it off; they are suffering today and they are praying and rejecting it in their prayers. May tomorrow not be in the womb of suffering, they pray, and I join in saying amen.

Today’s too-young-to-think generation won’t know that when Abacha sold dollar to his class at N22, the under-class who needed to pay school fees abroad bought theirs at N88. They won’t know and their parents who should remember are obsessed with the politics of 2019. Abacha had two exchange rates in 1996. How many does Buhari have today, 22 years after? They won’t ask.

I told my friend God has done it for Nigeria. Now, the judiciary has grown balls to fight corruption. A Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governor kissed the canvass last week; one other had his mugshot everywhere online holding his multibillion naira charge board. Several others who thought justice had been caged are now in the oven of karma. “I read about it, the jailed man, Jolly Nyame, Danjuma’s man. I hope you guys are learning how power works?” She said in a very sly tone. I always knew my friend to be very subversive in thought. What could she be thinking with that nexus she just introduced?

Even if her thought was correct, is it not true that these guys were rats who infested our kitchen and ate our power cables? “Rats with the temerity to eat the manhood of power. They even ‘colluded’ (or are colluding) to chase Lion out of his den. Very rude, audacious rodents. Who gave them teeth sef?” She asked, and I ignored her. This is Ramadan. I won’t allow any lewd newsroom language ruin my labour of faith. But she wouldn’t stop. Women may not have balls but they are very tenacious, especially when pushing an agenda very dear to their heart. She went on whining about how Nigeria had been messed up. I cut her short reminding her of how today’s cleaners were part of the dirts of the past. That is why they are presiding over the beatification of Abacha.

She wouldn’t listen. “Eating the cables of power; deflating the manhood of power is a capital offence. Can’t an old man enjoy his old age again without wearing boxers?” I reminded my friend that this power she is romanticizing is encased in empty boxers; boxers without punches. All air, no substance. Besides, she should know that today’s rats are very tenacious. Their method is called nibbling…eating a lot, in small bits, slowly, quietly, and blowing fresh air. That is how they eat long and live long unnoticed, uncaught. They eat safely and promise a tomorrow of continuous fumigation of the inner recesses of the kitchen.

“Enough of this talk about judges and justice. Can we discuss a more serious matter?” She begged. What else can be more serious than a big man going to jail without an option of fine? Jolly Nyame, man of means, reverend gentleman of God! Money does all things – or should do all things. Is it not said that any case that money can’t decide will be left to rot in the unswept corridors of power?

Who was that person who shamed money? Is money no longer the senior of all values? When the privileged is robbed of his privileges, the ground must quake. So, what more serious matter has my friend to discuss? The Not-Too-Young-To-Run law? Oh! That one. Should anyone with the energy of youth beg or lobby for power? Anyone who desires power goes for it. The law can’t be a short cut. Law can be helpless where the will to use it is absent. So, how does this new law help the youths who would rather follow than lead?

Buhari already said the youth are lazy. And he was right. They won’t fight for the hook; they would rather beg for fish. No law can help the laid-back. These old men they are clapping for, did those ones beg to be relevant? Their Rome didn’t become an empire in a day. They woke up very early and started building their own city of power. Buhari joined the Army in 1962 and fourteen short years after, he was already a state governor; two years after that, he was in charge of all our oil – in land and at sea.

Twenty-one years after he joined the army, he became Head of State, Commander-in-Chief! Who wrote his own Not-Too-Young-to-Govern law for him? Who did? He did it by himself and he signed it for himself, retiring the established order. The youths of that past were very prepared and impatient to beg. They did not live long in their Surulere flat. Their duplex is still there in Maza-Maza. You know the Yoruba venerate indolence with Surulere; and the Hausa talk of immediacy when they utter the word maza-maza.

I told my friend the new law makes little sense to me. Even with the law reducing age qualifications, how many of the qualified will step forward? Among the few who will step forward, how many will be able to raise the millions for nomination forms and the billions to buy delegates? Why not also a Not-Too-Poor-to-Run? That one won’t happen. It will deregulate power and empower the unfavoured. So, anyone who wants power should go get it. If you are too young to die, you can’t succeed to the throne of your ancestors. That is a Yoruba proverb that the young appear not listening to.

They are old enough only to invade the Senate and steal maces. They are good enough as social media attack dogs and cyber snakes stalking preys for smart paymasters. That is the lesson in the presidential admonition they got at the bill-signing ceremony.

Wait for your time, the president counselled them. And what was their response? They laughed. They are not old enough to contest this year and the next. It is rude enough that they went for that law. Should a child seek to be his father’s bed sharer? Power belongs to the fathers of the land. It is bad manners to watch the mouth of eating elders!

Children of the power elite are the ones who are not too young to rule. The ones born outside powerhouse delude themselves if they think of power as a freebie. They cannot rule, they can only serve the powerful. They are not only too young to rule; they are also too poor to hold office. They also don’t think! Now, some youngsters stole the mace in the Senate chambers some weeks ago. Why couldn’t those ones think like the big men and their children who sent them? Those who can think would rather see mace as an item of business – not of theft.

The ones who are not too young to think are thinking mace and thinking business. How about selling mace in multiples to that Senate, to the House of Reps and the 36 state’s House of Assembly? When daylight robbers snatch one, you bring out a replacement sharp-sharp. Some proposals must be exchanging hands on that already. This is where the idle Nigerian youth should get himself some sense. But these young ones applauding Buhari’s signature, will they ever wake up? And the ancestors in our public space are smart. Their kids are smarter. As you read this, they are digging deep, thinking how to domesticate that new law in their family pen.

The ones who are too young to rule are those sending themselves to Europe through the deserts of Libya. Children of the power elite don’t struggle for empowerment. Rather, things fall in place for them in the right places and in the right measure. These are the ones the Not-Too-Young-To-Run law was made for. It is not a law for the ineffectual poor from challenged backgrounds.

The pioneers of Nigeria who schooled abroad came back to lead the liberation struggles. They came back to demand power from the British. They did not beg for it. The generation that profited from the labour of the heroes past are the ones describing today’s youth as lazy and hasty. They are the generation of Buhari asking the young to defer their quest for power till five years’ time.

Do not blame Buhari, he spoke for his class. The Nigerian power elite may lack values, including character; but they do not lack good old commonsense. They think and act ahead. Why don’t they make a law against old men shooting their way into our space and staying put? If you are old with tired bones and tendons, retire! In their old age, they say they are still virile and aren’t going nowhere. At worst, they hand over to their crown princes to continue the relay race.

The children of the ex-this, ex-that going abroad to read are not coming back to change the narrative of the country. If they come back, they are coming to consolidate their heritage. That is why the hustlers here should calm down and join the right queue. And that is the queue of positive action, not of a law that was not made for them. They are too powerless to legislate themselves to power. They should read history.

Not Too Young To Rule: NDCP Hails Buhari, Nigerian Youths

The Nigeria Democratic Congress Party NDCP has commended President Muhammadu Buhari and the National Assembly for ensuring that the Not-Too-Young-To-Rule Bill became a reality.

In a statement on Friday, the Founder and Presidential Candidate of the party, Dr Johnson Edosomwan lauded all stakeholders who played key roles in making sure that the dreams of Nigerian Youths come to fruition.

The party said the signing of the bill is an attestation to the fact that young Nigerians are capable of making the desired change in the political space.

According to Edosomwan, the Not-Too-Young-To-Run movement has not only succeeded in fashioning out a way for Youths to demand a better life from government, they have also given the younger generation the opportunity to lead the nation.

According to Dr Johnson, one thing is signing it into law, another thing is implementing the law, so Nigerians are patiently waiting.

“The signing of the Not Too Young To Run Bill is a step in the right direction. It has given an hope to Nigerian Youths that they can chart a course for their own to making government implement key decisions.”

“As a party that believes in the ability and potentials of the Youths, this Bill will give us the opportunity to gather the more young minds who can help to redefine our politics. We will definitely give the Youths a place in our party.”

It asked Nigerians to support it in the quest to take over power from the APC in 2019.


Not-Too-Young-To-Run: APC Hails Buhari, Calls PDP A Killjoy

The All Progressives Congress (APC) has congratulated President Muhammadu Buhari on the signing into law of the progressive Not-Too-Young-To-Run Bill.

In a statement on Friday by its spokesman, Bolaji Abdullahi, the APC said the development is another promise kept by the President and the party.

“We promised to provide the opportunities for youths to realize, harness, and develop their full potentials and to facilitate the emergence of a new generation of citizens committed to the sustenance of good governance and service to the people and the country,” he said.

“We also hail the efforts of the Senate President, Bukola Saraki and the Speaker, House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara under whose leadership the Bill was passed in the National Assembly and forwarded for presidential assent.

“The Party congratulates the Youth Initiative for Advocacy Growth and Advancement (YIAGA), Youngstars Development Initiative (YDI) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI) who partnered to launch the “Not Too Young To Run” (NTYTR) campaign.

“We believe the massive support the Bill received particularly from APC members in the National Assembly speaks volume of the progressive ideals the Party continues to identify with and champion, irrespective of partisan considerations and interests.

“We are confident that the new law will inspire a new thinking among many Nigerian youths pertaining their roles in elections and politics. Youths should not be used as disruptive elements, thugs and social media mobs, it is possible for young people to lead politically and occupy elective positions.

“Meanwhile, it is unfortunate that the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has chosen this very moment of victory for our youths to be a killjoy and engage in its usual pettiness and unnecessary divisive politics over the Bill’s sponsor in the National Assembly.

“Our party is happy to share this victory with all Nigerians who desire to see a better future for our youths. However, we probably needs to be remind the PDP that it is still a minority in the in the National Assembly.”

Buhari Signs “Not Too Young To Run” Bill Into Law

President Muhammadu Buhari has finally signed the Not Too Young To Run bill into law.

Buhari signed the bill on Thursday afternoon inside the Council Chambers of the Presidential Villa, Abuja.

Recall that the President had in his Democracy Day broadcast on Tuesday, pledged to sign the bill “in a few days’ time.”

The bill, which was passed by the National Assembly last year, seeks to reduce the age qualification for elective office seekers across the country.

Not Too Young To Run: CSOs Want Buhari To Sign Bill

Not-Too-Young-To-Run Movement, a Coalition of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), has asked President Muhammadu Buhari to immediately append his signature to the bill lowering age for participation and contesting in elections in Nigeria now on his table.

A Principal Officers of the movement, Mr. Samson Itodo, said in a statement in Abuja that the group had already sent a letter to the President to assent to the Not-Too-Young-To-Run Bill which aimed to enhance youth’s participant in politics.

According to the group, the quest for age reduction for persons to participate in politics was premised on five points of promoting inclusion, deepening inter-generational dialogue and exchange, and enhancing democratic development.

“Till date, this campaign has gained both national and global attention with the United Nations adopting it as a global campaign for youth inclusion.

“More recently, the African Union and ECOWAS also endorsed the campaign and have launched it in several countries in Africa like Kenya, Gambia, Liberia, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Cameroun and Sierra Leone, ” the group said.

The group recalled that the Senate passed the bill in July 2017 with an overwhelming majority of 86 senators while it was also passed by a large majority of 261 members in the House of Representatives.

It also noted that in February 2018, the age reduction Constitution Amendment Bill was popularly known as Not-Too-Young-To-Run was passed by 33 out of 36 states’ Houses of Assembly.

“With this unprecedented feat, the world looks to you to assent to the constitutional amendment.

“Once you assent, the bill becomes law making it possible for young people to run for office in 2019 and beyond.

“It is against this background that the Not-Too-Young-To-Run Movement requests that you assent to the age reduction bill as soon as the National Assembly transmits the constitutional amendment bills to you,” the group urged Buhari.

Osun Assembly Passes ‘Not Too Young To Rule’ Bill, Step Down LG Autonomy

By Israel Afolabi

The State of Osun House of Assembly has stepped down debate on granting of autonomy to Local government administration, saying a public hearing would be conducted on the matter.

The house approved 10 provisions , stepped down two others and rejected three of the provisions in the proposed amendment of the 1999 Constitution.

The lawmakers at the plenary, presided over by its Speaker, Hon. Najeem Salaam, on Wednesday brought the constitutional amendment issues for debate.

The speaker explained that the bill was stepped down to allow the numerous stakeholders air their view on the issue, saying the resolution of the House would be passed to the National Assembly through the conference of Speakers.

In a yes/no vote proceeding, the Parliamentarian  unanimously rejected provision for independent candidature in elections (  section 7, 65, 106, 131, 177 and 228); constitution alteration bill section ( 9) and period during which the President or governor shall lay the appropriation bill (section 81 and 121)

The lawmakers also ‘ stepped down ‘ the amendments on strengthen Local Government Administration in Nigeria (Sections 7, 318 and part 1 of the fifth schedule ) and abrogation of Joint Local Government Account (Section 162) for public hearing.

Speaking at the end of the proceeding, the speaker of the assembly,   said that  the two bills were stepped down so as to  consider the interest of the numerous stakeholders tied to the provision  of the  bill.

Salaam said the assembly would organised a public hearing on the two bills that were stepped down to get stakeholders inputs.

Meanwhile,  the speaker has  directed the House Committee on Local Government and Chieftancy Affairs to work out guidelines for training of the newly elected councillors at the Local Government Areas in the state.

The speaker , who noted that the parliamentary  local government was relatively new in the state,  stressed the need for councillors to be properly acquainted with rudiments of parliamentary democracy.

However, the House approved the not too young to rule bill,  alter the name of the Nigerian Police,  Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps bill,  immunity for members of the legislature and the period within which Pre-electoral matter is to be determined.

Cross River Assembly Passes Not-Too-Young-To-Run Bill

The Cross River House of Assembly on Tuesday passed the Not-Too-Young-to-Run Bill and the Bill to strengthen the judiciary for speedy dispensation of justice.

The House also passed the Bill for the funding of Houses of Assembly directly from the Consolidated Revenue Fund and Bill to change the name of the Nigerian Police Force to `Nigeria Police’.

It, however, voted against Independent Candidacy as canvassed in ongoing process to amend the 1999 Constitution.

At the plenary, the lawmakers considered 13 out of the 15 Bills transmitted to assembly by the National Assembly for the amendment of the Constitution.

The Bill for Local Government Autonomy and Bill to strengthen Local Government Administration in Nigeria were deferred to another plenary.

Speaker of the assembly, Mr John Gaul-Lebo, told News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) after the plenary that the House organised a public hearing where the 25 constituencies in the state made presentations on the amendments.

“The Cross River House of Assembly voted for 13 alterations out of the 15 transmitted to us by the National Assembly for our concurrent resolutions and transmission back to them.

“We deferred the Bill for Local Government Autonomy and the Bill to strengthen Local Government Administration in Nigeria to another legislative day. This is to help us do more consultations on the two bills.

“After the public hearing, we got memorandum from some groups and we felt we should give them fair hearing as it concerns primary school teachers’ salaries, primary healthcare and other local government issues.

“We voted overwhelmingly for 12 items while the Bill for Independent Candidacy was voted against. In all, we got 12 resolutions in support and one against.

“The Not-Too-Young-to-Run Bill will afford the young ones the opportunity to seek election in Nigeria,’’ he said.
Gaul-Lebo stated that the older generation had remained in power for too long, adding that the Bill sought to position the youths for future political leadership.

On Independent Candidacy, he said that Nigeria was not yet ripe for it as the nation lacked the institutional framework to manage the process.

Kenyan Youths Are Winning Elections, The Ones In Nigeria Are Daydreaming By ‘Fisayo Soyombo

This is a story of two popular but dissimilar Cynthias. One recently earned her fame, the other has been around for a while. One is a politician, the other a musician. One symbolizes intellect and strength of character, the other is unmistakably a sex symbol. One is Kenyan, the other Nigerian. One is Cynthia Muge, the other Cynthia Morgan. Each name could possibly be mistaken for the other, but surely not their stories.

Cynthia Morgan, 25, burst onto the Nigerian musical scene in 2010, aged just 19, after featuring in Jhybo’s Ejo le fe ro. The daughter of an Edo-based gospel artiste, Morgan’s music is anything but gospel. Her music videos are x-rated, replete with raunchy acts, salacious dancing and nude bathtub scenes, and offering very little for moral, intellectual or societal regeneration. A vain mind like the majority of her music-industry peers, Morgan once boasted of owning a N12million wristwatch.

Unlike Morgan, Cynthia Muge does not have N12million in her bank account much less own a N12million item. But she shot to limelight last week all the same.  The 24-year-old, running as an independent candidate because she lacked the funds to obtain the Jubilee Party’s nomination form, defeated five men to secure the Member of Country Assembly (MCA) seat in Kilibwoni Ward, Nandi County.

Muge’s chances looked so slim that even her own mother advised her against running. Without the funds, the University of Nairobi graduate devised a social media and house-to-house campaign strategy. She polled 8,760 votes, while her closest competitor, Wilson Kiptanui of Jubilee Party, garnered 8,354 votes. She joins five other women in taking six of the 30 assembly seats available in Nandi.


If Muge’s story is enthralling, another’s is simply intriguing. John John Paul Mwirigi, 23, ‘broke’, jobless and an orphan, ran without a party against veteran politicians boasting membership of established political parties. He emerged victor, polling 18, 867 against Jubilee Party’s Rufus Miriti, who had 15, 411 votes. Three other seasoned politicians —Mwenda Mzalendo (7,695 votes), Kubai Mutuma (6,331 votes) and Raphael Muriungi, a Deputy Governor, two-tome ex-MP and former Assistant Minister (2,278 votes) — placed nowhere near him.

The sixth child of eight children from his parents, Mwirigi still lives in his family home — a local granary in the community! He printed no campaign posters, and prosecuted his door-to-door campaign on foot until his former colleagues bought him a motorcycle.


False hopes in Nigeria

Considering the recent passage of the ‘not too young to run bill’ by the National Assembly, Mwirigi and Morgan have raised hopes, particularly on the social media, that twenty-year-olds could soon be winning elections in Nigeria. Not only is that impossible, even the older youth can only dream of elective public office. For the youth, there is at least one more secondary obstacle and many primary ones.


The ‘not too young to run’ bill seeks to give the Nigerian youth the kind of opportunity available to Kenyans; it wants the Constitution to lower the age requirement for occupying the office of the President to 30 years from 40 years, Governor to 30 from 35, Senate to 30 from 35, House of Representatives to 25 from 30 and State House of Assembly to 25 from 30. The bill also seeks to allow independent candidature in the country’s electoral process. For the amendment to become final, 24 state houses of assembly must approve the bill and the President must assent to it.


Although the green chamber favored the bill from scratch, the red chamber despised it and indeed threw it out after in November 2016, following opposition from majority of its constitution review committee. Last month’s positive about-turn was triggered only by agitation from a coalition of youth groups, most prominent of which was Samson Itodo’s Youth Initiative for Advocacy Growth and Advancement (YIAGA). That initial resistance of 2016 is likely to be the true position of the legislature and possible indication that the state houses of assembly could pass up the bill. Should this happen, YIAGA and co have a real battle on their hands. One-stop protests at the National Assembly is hard enough, but travelling round a minimum of 24 states on a lobbying/protest mission is surely not the simplest of tasks.


Nigeria isn’t Kenya

Mwirigi and Muge didn’t win in Kenya simply because the young could run or because the poor did not necessarily need to join a political party. As confirmed by Fatu Ogwuche, an elections technology consultant who observed the Kenyan polls, both of them had integrated themselves into their communities. They had a deep connection to the grassroots. Mwirigi had particularly been dreaming of a legislative position since Form 3, the Nigerian equivalent of Primary 3. Gradually, for well over a decade, he crept into the minds of Igembe South people by sitting and dining with them, and “helping them whenever” he could. When he rose to contest, they saw him as the product of their struggles, an aggregation of their individual parts. His campaign was as good as theirs; if he won, they did. That’s why they all keyed in.


Here in Nigeria, politically conscious youth cannot lay claim to a physical connection to the grassroots. The leading lights are all Twitter superstars and “social-media influencers”. Unfortunately, Twitter superstardom won’t deliver votes. Kenya proved that already with the defeat of its Twitter god, Boniface Mwangi, at the polls. Mwangi, a popular activist, currently has 738,000 followers on Twitter but he had only secured 11,714 votes as of the time he conceded defeat, while a candidate had double his votes and another had almost quadruple. This is not to say Mwangi is not loved both home and abroad. For example, his recent book, Mwangi UnBounded, was endorsed by the biggest names in literature and international politics, from Ngugi wa Thiong’o to Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Still, he lost.

If we managed to find a Nigerian youth with the grassroots appeal who could contest as a stand-alone candidate to circumvent the huge financial burden of party politicking, he may not be alive to witness the end of his door-to-door campaign. That’s a hyperbole, but Nigeria’s population is nearly four times that of Kenya; any candidate who springs up a door-to-door campaign on foot or with an Mwirigi-like motorcycle is on a suicide mission and will be bogged down in exhaustion.

In all, money will continue to dominate Nigerian politics for the foreseeable future. Youth who are without godfathers, and are not money bags, may run but will predictably lose. If Nigerian youth do not get off the social media and properly set about the process of connecting with the grassroots, the ‘not too young to run’ bill will yield not-too-young-to-lose and still-to-young-to-win results. It would be fantastic for the bill to become law; opening up the political space to youth is great progress but securing victories is distant prospect still.