President Muhammadu Buhari’s assent to the Not Too Young To Run Bill received commendations and optimism across the Country, being a direct result of, among other things, the assumption that the law was the main hindrance to young people holding political offices; a deeper look, however, shows a wider problem.
The Bill was proposed to reduce the age qualification for Presidency from 40 to 30; Governor from 35 to 30; Senator from 35 to 30; House of Representatives membership from 30 to 25 and State House of Assembly membership from 30 to 25.
President Buhari had hinted the signing of the Bill in his Democracy Speech, saying “In few days to come, I will be joined by many promising young Nigerians to sign into law the “Not Too Young to Run” Bill.”
Speaking to some selected youths at the signing of the Bill, Buhari said the contributions and focus of the young people in the Country have increased the quality and maturity of Nigerian democracy and expanded the playing field for youth participation in politics.
“You, the young people of Nigeria, are now set to leave your mark on the political space, just as you have done over the decades in entrepreneurship, sports, art, media entertainment, technology, and several other fields.”
He jokingly made a request that the youths shift their campaign till after the 2019 General Elections, this was however sensationally reported as delaying the implementation till after him.
Age, not a limitation Before Now
Prior to the Bill, Nigeria had witnessed very few young person’s venturing into its political sphere.
Former Governor of Cross Rivers State, Donald Duke, was the youngest Governor Nigeria had in recent times, as when he became Governor at 37 years old.
Since then, the age of gubernatorial aspirants customarily became 40 years and above, even when the law allowed for 35 years old. The same 5 years difference the new law just achieved.
The current youngest Governor in Nigeria, Yahaya Bello of Kogi State, is 42 years old, seven years between his age and the previous age limit.
Yul Edochie; 36, attempted to break Duke’s record when he contested for Anambra’s Election but was defeated by incumbent Governor, Willie Obiano, who is 60 years old. With 145 votes in the Gubernatorial Election, Edochie now wants to run for President.
Prior to the 2015 Presidential Elections which brought President Buhari, the previous age limit was at 40, but the average Presidential aspirants were 62 years old. The immediate past President, Goodluck Jonathan, was the youngest, in near history, to have assumed office at 53. His predecessor, Umaru Yar’adua, was 56, Cheif Olusegun Obasanjo, who while he came to power as a military leader in 1976 was just 39 years old, was, as of 1999 when he became the first President in the new republic, 62 years old.
Also in the National Assembly, the youngest Senators are in their 40s, with Senator Isah Missau, representing Bauchi Central, the youngest to be elected at age 41.
This may suggest to some that age was the least factor in youth involvement in the Nigeria political system.
While the Bill would further see more youth clamouring for good governance by active involvement, analysts say some key areas also need to be addressed to balance the tide.
Cost of Elections
In February 2017, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced that Political Parties and their various candidates spent about N1trillion on the 2015 General Elections.
It is known that by itself the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) spent N8.74 billion while the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC), which was the opposition party then, expended N2.91billion.
Prior to the Elections, President Buhari suggested he may have to borrow money for his nomination ticket form which cost N25 Million.
He had mildly suggested that there is need to reduce cost to create a level playing field. A suggestion young people will benefit from.
In 2017, the Senate amended the Electoral Act which limited the cost of nomination ticket on aspirants by a Political Party.
All members of political parties are now eligible to determine the ad-hoc delegates to elect candidates of parties in indirect primaries. The capacity of party executives to unduly influence or rig party primaries has been reasonably curtailed, if not totally removed.
Parties can no longer impose arbitrary nomination fees on political aspirants.
The bill fixed prescribes limits for each elective office as follows:
(a) N150,000 for a Ward Councillorship aspirant in the FCT;
(b) N250,000 for an area Council Chairmanship aspirant in the FCT;
(c) N500,000 for a House of Assembly aspirant;
(d) N1,000,000 for a House of Representatives aspirant;
(e) N2,000,000 for a Senatorial aspirant;
(f) N5,000,000 for a Governorship aspirant; and
(g) N10,000,000 for a Presidential aspirant.
However, the amendment Bill is yet to be assented by the President.
The current elections structure in Nigeria does not give room for independent candidates to contest for elections as aspirants must belong to a Political Party.
The Not Too Young To Run Bill had proposed Independent Candidacy, which would alter Section 65 2(b) of the Nigeria Constitution.
The bill proposed that “Section 65 (2)(b) is amended by substituting the provision with a provision as follows: A person shall be qualified for election under subsection (1) of this section if – (c) He is member of a political party and is sponsored by that party or he is an independent candidate”
However, the Bill that was assented by the President, did not have independent Candidacy, rather what was altered was the Subsection 1(b) of the same Section which substituted age “thirty” to “twenty-five”.
It is believed that Independent Candidacy if allowed, would advocate more power to Youth in seeking Political offices without fear of prejudice.
Most Political Parties are feared to possess a factor wherein a Youth may be denied contesting either because he is too young or too low in Party hierarchy.
There is also the popular notion that Political Parties win Elections due to influence and popularity, not candidates.
According to former Minister of Information and Culture, Tony Momoh, allowing independent candidacy would further lead to the depletion of the resources that would have been channeled into the development of the Country.
“Independent candidacy will increase the cost of our Democracy and then show how ready we are to put Democracy in the front burner of governance to the detriment of development. Nigeria is the only Country in the world that puts Democracy before development.
“Now, we have more than 45 registered political parties and we want to add other opportunities where people can spend the little resources they have trying to access power. So, the mode of accessing power, which are the peripheral areas we are looking at today, is a mode and no more; it will not add value to governance.”
While the shortfall of independent candidates may mean aspirants sourcing for campaign funds themselves, it is perceived that it would invariably deal a great blow to “godfatherism” in politics, as a candidate without a political party does not need the endorsement of a successor.
Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State, Rochas Okorocha of Imo are the latest Governors that have handpicked their successors.