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Has Clamour For Young President In 2019 Waned?

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Events in the last few weeks shows that the excitement and enthusiasm that heralded the Not Too Young To Run movement and the agitation for a young president might be fading, Emameh Gabriel, writes.

When President Muhammadu Buhari signed the ‘Not Too Young To Run’ Bill into law, on May 31, this year, there was palpable excitement and hope, especially for the youths. Nigerians, and indeed the world, celebrated the lifting of the age barrier that hitherto hampered the younger generation from robustly seeking top political offices.

Before now, it was not possible for a Nigerian below the age of 40 years to run for the office of the president of the country, a caveat that restrained many zealous, innovative and vibrant youths from daring to seek for the highest office in the land.

Subsection (a) of Section 131 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), pegged the age of qualification for the office of the president at 40 years, while subsection (b) of Section 177 of the same Constitution pegs the age of qualification for the office of the governor of a state of the federation at 35 years. By this age inhibition, many promising young Nigerians were disqualified from aspiring to the executive positions of President of the Federal Republic and governor of a state of the federation.

It was in the light of this gesture extended to the youths of Nigeria by President Buhari that the age barrier that had hitherto prevented them from taking a shot at politics at that level was lifted. To make the signing of the bill more colourful, the president invited members of the Not Too Young To Run Group (NTYTRG) to witness his endorsement of the bill.

Leader of the NTYTRG, Mr. Samson Itodo, whose group had been at the vanguard of the campaign for the integration of youths into active politics, was very vocal in commending the move as he expressed high hopes of the possibility of actualising the age-long dream of harnessing the strength of youth for national development.

Goaded by the awareness generated by the agitation, scores of young aspirants most of whom were below the age of 40 were seen all over the country expressing their interest to run for president. They all joined political parties, using the social media as their campaign base. Interestingly, the narrative that heralded the youth movement also served as a subtle platform for some middle aged new comers into the political scene. For these set of persons, they leveraged on the youth movement to launch their political careers.

In retrospect, pundits aver many of the young Nigerians, aspiring to political offices may not have taken into proper consideration how murky the waters of Nigerian politics is which requires certain skill set, exposure and measurable war chest.

It would be recalled that even while President Buhari appended his signature to that very important bill, he didn’t mince words in stating his intention to continue in office beyond 2019 by appealing to the young people witnessing the signing of the bill to allow him go for another term.

Analysts had debated whether or not the statement of the President was to the extent that, as much as he couldn’t be seen to deprive youths the opportunity to participate in politics at the highest level, he wouldn’t also let go of his grip on the coveted seat he is presently occupying in favour of a younger person in 2019.

Political watchers opine that the endorsement of the bill leading to its signing into law, especially by the older generation, was largely  to gain positive public perception rather than leaving the scene for the younger ones.

While the young and ambitious contenders may have the strength and vigour to push through with their aspirations, they clearly do not have the clout, experience and deep pocket to withstand and subdue the more experienced, iron-fisted and well-loaded opponents. A fact that political analysts have touted to be the major reason the youths may not be anywhere close to actualising their dream of taking over the political turf in 2019.

A close look at the political sphere reveals that aspirants who are likely to clinch the tickets of the most popular political parties are the ones with enormous financial muscle and the experience to manouevre their way through.

Political parties are hardly sparing any considerations for the young category of their membership as seen in the humongous costs placed on the acquisition of the political parties’ expression of interest and nomination forms.

While the All Progressives Congress (APC) pegged its nomination form for the presidential ticket at 45million naira, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) pegged its at 22.5million naira. Aside the picking of the forms, there are also the campaigns and rallies that also cost huge sums of money. This scenario had prompted a protest by some concerned aspirants within the APC who decried the high cost of the forms as being inconsistent with the ideals of the party.

Sympathisers of the young political aspirants have strongly condemned the arbitrariness with which political parties have carried on with their businesses.

Still, the youths have not spared themselves from being caught up in the web of the political drama.

It would be recalled that in a bid to launch the youths in the political scheme of things, and to ensure greater youth involvement in politics, Samson Itodo and his Not Too Young To Run team, mounted pressure on President Muhammadu Buhari to assent to the Not Too Young To Run Bill. The bill was eventually ratified and passed into law, and the NTYTR group earned a reputation for achieving that feat.

While the group was yet celebrating that laudable achievement, political actors had already begun to calculate a hijack of the group for selfish gains. It wasn’t long after the celebrations that the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, approached the group, and offered to speak to members of the group who share the same political party and ideologies as he.

Without disclosing his true intent to the group, the Senate President upon mounting the podium to deliver his speech, declared his intention to run for the office of the president at that meeting, and stirred some heated controversy in the group. The development did not only spark up a controversial debate between the group and the observing public, but it also cast the group off as an appendage of the senate president.

Following the backlash that trailed the scenario, Itodo refuted the public speculation that his group had become partisan and to clear the air on what actually transpired between his group and the Senate President. But a statement issued by the Senate President’s media aide, Alhaji Yusuph Olaniyonu, Saraki’s action was done in good faith, and was never intended to hijack the group for political gains.

Olaniyonu further claimed that the Senate President felt comfortable declaring his intention to run for the office of the president at that meeting because he considered it worthwhile to disclose his plans to the members of the NTYTRG who were also seeking elective positions under the platform of his party, the PDP.

In a related development, an arrangement among the young aspirants,to choose a consensus candidate from within their ranks had failed to see the light of day as it was marred in controversy. It was named  Presidential Aspirants Coming Together (PACT).

The aspirants who formed the pact are: Thomas-Wilson Ikubese; George Mogahlu; Comrade Eragbe Anslem; Sowore Omoyele; Fela Durotoye; Tope Fasua; Sina Fagbenro-Byron; Jaye Gaskia and Ahmed Buhari. Others are, Mathias Tsado; Victor Ani-Laju; Alistair Soyode; Godstime Sidney Iroabuchi; Clement Jimbo and Elishama Ideh.

The sole purpose was to pick vibrant youths across the political space, create a platform on which the best and most acceptable among them is backed by all of them to fly their presidential flag in 2019 while others take on key political positions to drive home their aspirations. However, the PACT arrangement saw to a crack within the ranks of the young aspirants. Some of the aspirants including Mogahlu and Sowore, distanced themselves from the arrangement which saw Durotoye emerge the consensus candidate of the young persons.

Speaking with LEADERSHIP Sunday, a presidential aspirant on the platform of Labour Party, Comrade Aslem Eragbe, said for him and other likeminded youths, they decided to shun the PACT arrangement because of the unbridled individual interests of some aspirants which scuttled the process.

‘‘When people are not evenly united, they can’t stand. I was part of the Presidential Aspirants Coming Together (PACT) arrangement and we all had an agreement after signing an MoU, to produce a single presidential candidate. Part of the arrangement was that each political party or body should conduct its internal primary and those who emerge would be eventually presented to Nigerians to choose among them who is best fit to fly the flag of the PACT arrangement.

‘‘While this was still under consideration, they had insisted on a primary under PACT to produce a consensus candidate, and this was not in line with the electoral timetable as provided by INEC. I disagreed with the premature arrangement and told them right away that the Labour Party was not going to go against electoral rules, yet they went ahead to conduct the primary that led to emergence of Durotoye”, said Aslem.

He noted, ‘‘I was even shocked to see some of our names as part of those who produce the consensus candidate”, adding that just as he and others had earlier warned, the outcome of the primary has further created cracks in the PACT.

The Labour party presidential aspirant revealed that despite the belief in some quarters that the NTYTR movement is gradually fading away amid pressure, money bag politicians to keep themselves afloat in the polity, he is still very much in the race and would formally declare to run for president soon.     

On his part, former PDP local government chairman, Etsako East and an aspirant for Edo House of Assembly, Abu Abdulganiyu, said the youths have the responsibility to either turn the political table in their favour by doing what is best for themselves or remain perpetually foot soldiers to recycled politicians who can afford to hold sway till death.

“The signing of the “Not too Young to Run” bill recently remains a watershed in the Political evolution of the current democratic experiment. I have often asked Youths to get involved in politics rather than remaining tools in the hands of politicians as thugs. Today, due to deliberate steps to get involved, I am the sole Candidate for Edo State House of Assembly, Etsako East Constituency under the platform of the PDP.

‘‘We cannot keep complaining without getting involved. What we, as Youths, must realise is that power is never willingly given unless you fight for it. Let us take advantage of the window presented by the Not too Young to Run bill to assert ourselves. This is our time and there can be no better time than now,” he said.

Lawrence Elabor, a political analyst, said youths have a lot of forces to contend with, including some elements within them who can hardly put the country first.

‘‘Gradually this whole noise will fade away like lilies over taken by the strength of the sun. Although there are youths out there who are patriotic enough to stand for what they believe in. But like it has always been the case that they would be muscled out and eventually have their mushrooming structure collapsed into the major political parties in the country.”

Elabor however blamed the level of poverty in the country for the situation.

As it stands, most of the young aspirants have returned to their party platforms. Some like Mogahlu , Sowore and Eragbe, are preparing to slug it out on their own, hoping that their parties have the spread, finances and goodwill to carry them through. The much anticipated united front which many hoped would have caused a major upset, perhaps a revolution within the political sphere, seems to have waned.



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