Yesterday, a horde of Nigerian youth marched to the National Assembly in Abuja, blocking roads and passages, and clamouring for the complete removal of the current political age limit as provided in the Nigerian Constitution of 1999. As far as the group is concerned, eligibility to vote should equal eligibility to be elected. And until this is the case, Nigerians will continue to benefit from partial enfranchisement.
According to the existing electoral provisions, as posted in a “public notice” by the Independent National Electoral Committee (INEC) in 2006, only citizens aged 40 and older are eligible to occupy the position of President and Vice President, while those between the ages of 30 and 35 can occupy offices from Chairman of Area Council, up until Governor and Deputy Governor. Citizens aged 25 can only occupy the position of Councillor of Area Council.
However, these provisions do not suit the group who marched under a #NotTooYoungToRun banner, and represent a literally growing set of Nigerians who experience a unique form of political marginalization in the country.
Despite the fact the sheer number of Nigerian youth should automatically count for adequate representation in Nigeria’s leadership sphere, and despite the provisions as presented on paper, the top political offices in land continue to majorly feature citizens who expressly do not qualify as youth, nor capture the sentiments or interests of this age grade.
It is difficult to state for a fact that there was a time when Nigerian youth could care less about politics in the country, or to say that they care now, more so for the right reasons. But one thing which is clear is the ideologies in that regard are shifting and adjusting. A brief surf of the popular social media networks on the Internet present evidence that there is a maturing concern for the sociopolitical state of affairs in the country among Nigerian youth. Whether it applies to voting or demanding accountability from voted leaders.
In May, the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu advocated for the elimination of age as a criterion to elect an individual into office. The senator appeared to have developed this opinion after receiving members of the Not Too Young To Run campaign (under the umbrella of the Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth, and Advancement – YIAGA) in his office that month, and following the pivotal election of France’s current president – Emmanuel Macron.
Senator Ekweremadu argued that individuals should primarily be elected based on their level of competence. About a year before this, a bill seeking the same political concession passed the first and second readings at the House of Representatives. Also, in 2014, former Head of State, Goodluck Jonathan, pointed out the discrimination in the political age restrictions as provided in the constitution.
In reality, the increasing rally for lowering or eliminating political age limits is not an occurrence limited to Nigerian youth. Around the world, there are progressive demands to reduce the ages for voting and contesting for elections, such as recently witnessed in Scotland and India, in order to meet up with countries such as France who seem to be living up to the standards of democracy.
Although Nigeria – as with many other African countries – is known to traditionally reserve a peculiar level of ‘respect for elders’ the protest held in Abuja yesterday goes to prove that this is not exactly the reason we continue to vote our elders into power. The true reason remains that we do not happen to have any other choice. And we want to. A member of the movement told Ventures Africa that they are optimistic the 8th Assembly will answer this great call of history and remove constitutional impediments to increased youth participation in the political process.
Nigerian youth may have their fair share of developmental stages to pass through in order to live up to the expectations and responsibilities that go hand-in-hand with occupying crucial political offices in the country, but the present exclusion and domination of these offices by senior citizens who are armed with an entirely different vision than the ones the youth need only hinder the process.