A lot of accolades have gone the way of President Muhammadu Buhari for his promptness in signing into law the Not-Too-Young-To-Run Act which lowered the eligibility bars for vying for certain elective positions in the country on the question of age. It was a promise he made during his May 29 Democracy Day address to the nation, which he duly kept a few days later, in a ceremony that attracted public adulation.
Section 13 (b) of the 1999 constitution had stipulated that a person aspiring to be president has to have attained the age of 40, those who want to be governors and senators have to reach 35 years and above to hold office while those aiming to be lawmakers in the House of Representatives and in the state assemblies have to be 30 years and above.
In the new law, however, the age for contesting in the presidential election was lowered from 40 years to 35 years while the age for election into the state assembly and the House of Representatives was reduced from 30 years to 25. However, the age for running for governor and for a seat in the Senate was unchanged at 35. The youth activists who conceived this law and championed it to a speedy and successful end must be commended for their achievement, for they showed that if they aggregate and focus their creative and production energy on any worthwhile goal, they can achieve it.
And while they are right to celebrate this achievement, it is instructive to remind them that their journey has just begun, a point the president himself made at the signing ceremony when he said that they still had a lot of work to do towards taking full advantage of the boundless opportunities provided by the new law to maximize their potentialities. As a newspaper, we cannot agree more. After the euphoria that followed the signing of the of the bill into law, it is time now for the youths of Nigeria to roll up their sleeves and take the necessary actions to own this new law and make it count for them.
The civil society organization that promoted the bill, Youth Initiative Advocacy for Growth and Advancement (YIAGA), has appealed to the political class to create conducive atmosphere for youth involvement in the political process, by ensuring internal party democracy, removing violence from the electoral system and waiving the party nomination fees for them.
However, the youths need to be reminded that, apart from a hereditary monarchy, power is not always given, but taken, sometimes by force. The older politicians will not just yield their political advantages and all their trappings; they will do everything to hold on to power even if they are not producing any tangible fruit with it, and possibly pass it on to their scions when they wish to retire. So the youth must employ creative and workable strategies to knock the old breed politicians off their perch.
Youths interested in leadership must first prepare themselves for leadership; they must work hard to develop themselves in academic learning, in the professions and in business, in order to gather up the necessary tutelage, reach and resources, and show that they can be trusted with power. It is their antecedents in holding other positions of responsibility that will demonstrate their capacity and integrity, and recommend them for public office. That is how it works in developed democracies.
Then they need to identify and mobilize like-minds and articulate and propagate higher ideals that resonate with Nigerians beyond the banality and parochialism that currently saturate the country’s polity.
It is noteworthy for the youths not to expect instant electoral success; after all – as the maxim goes – Rome was not built in a day. 2019 might seem too early for them to square up against the established order. But they must start now to strategise for future elections. That will give them ample time to rally the country towards changing the current mind-set in which the youths are largely seen as political thugs and errand boys.
Most importantly, the youths should ensure that they obtain their permanent voter cards (PVCs). In a country where over 60 per cent of the population is under-30, they have the power to decide who gets on the saddle in the next general election. It is a power they must use wisely. That is the first step towards demonstrating how far they can be trusted with higher office.
The future belongs to the youth. It is up to them to take up the opportunity of this law and use it to transform the country from what it is now to what Nigerians desire their country to become.
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