Editor's note: The special assistant on new media to Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki, Bamikole Omishore writes extensively on the Not Too Young to Run and Independent Candidacy Bill.
The time of youth is the best time of one’s life; the peak period when purpose should be chased and dreams fulfilled. It is however a parody that according to reports, 73% of young people are restricted from running for office even when eligible to vote, and 51% of the population are under 30 years, but only 2% are members of parliament. These facts go a long way to puzzle the mind, but more puzzling is the fact that people between the ages of 20 and 44 make up 57% of the world's voting age yet only 26% are members of parliament in different countries.
The situation was no different in Nigeria as the required constitutionally age for being elected as president or vice president was 40 years until the relentless efforts of the Bukola Saraki-led Senate to change these laws by passing the 'Not Too Young To Run' bill.
The young population has been instrumental to determine how elections swing in the recent past. For instance the last election in 2015 was basically determined through the efforts of young people through social media campaigns and offline advocacy. The social media which until then wasn’t a major factor in Nigerian election became a major tool of influencing voters. The likes of Tolu Ogunlesi, Japheth Omojuwa, Adebola Williams, Ohimai Amenzie, Deji Adeyanju, Reno Omokri, were very active and useful in terms of electioneering efficacy.
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Behind the scenes one could see the efforts of Abang Mercy, Yemi Adamolekun, Linda Ikeji, Akin Oyebode and a host of others. These factors may have helped the resolve of the Senate President who is a believer in young people's ability to deliver, to ensure that their participation in the election goes beyond electioneering but office seeking.
This bill ensures that young people have a chance to use the best times of their lives in service of the nation as the age mark required by law to be members of parliament has been reduced from 30 years to 25 years (House of Representatives) and 35 years to 30 years (Senate). This reduction of age wasn't limited to the parliament alone but youths now have a chance to contest to become state governors at the age of 30 as opposed to 35 years formerly dictated by the constitution and can aspire for the highest office in the land (president) at the age of 35 as opposed to the 40 years benchmark earlier stated by the constitution.
It is easy for one to envision smart, articulate young people like Gimba Kakanda, Sam Hart, Ariyo-Dare Atoye, Yemi Adamolekun, Babangida Ruma, Aisha Yesufu, Japheth Omojuwa, Audu Maikori being members of the Senate or House of Representatives. One can also imagine how vibrant State Houses of Assembly would be if we have young men and women full of ideas debating developmental issues.
The efforts of the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki in ensuring that this bill passes and young people have a say in governance stems from his vision and love for the youth population- The 'Not Too Young To Run' bill was a promise made and kept by him. The movement for this bill started in the National Assembly when the distinguished Senator Nyako moved the motion in the Senate and Tony Nwulu did the same in the House of Representatives. Their intention was to reduce the age mandated by the constitution for the aspirants of political office in the country.
However, there is a need for political will amongst the youths in Nigeria to get this bill functioning as it should. There is a need for Nigerian youths to come together in all 774 local governments to ensure that the bill is ratified in their state assemblies. This feat requires the effort of every young reader of this piece.
The 'Not Too Young To Run' movement commends the 86 senators who voted in favour of the bill and also the 261 members of House of Representatives who did same.
Nigeria can now toe the path of countries like France which elected a young man, Emmanuel Macron to be its president after elections were held on April 23 and May 7 on the platform of Enmarche (EM) political party. He is the youngest president in French history. The overwhelming support he received from people of all races in France is a testament to the belief they had in this young man. This was only made possible by laws in France which allows people aged 18 years or older to be elected to the lower house of parliament and 24 years or older to the senate. The minimum age for presidency in France is 18 years and the good fruits of such laws is already yielding.
Another development is that of independent candidacy bill in Nigeria, a bill which was re-introduced at the Senate by Stella Oduah, senator representing Anambra North Senatorial district. I remember a meeting I had with Stella Oduah in June of 2016, the Senator who has been a proponent of independent candidacy bill since the beginning of the 8th National Assembly shared her conviction on why she felt independent candidacy remains the best option for representation in 2019. She believed among others that with independent candidacy, party impunity will come to an end and more women and youth will have opportunity to vie for elective positions.
The previous National Assembly had debated and supported independent candidacy clause and made an alteration during the last constitution review however, the bill failed to scale through before the end of that assembly.
The independent candidacy bill will help ensure that non partisan individuals can take part in politics and can decide to run for any electoral office. This will reduce the impunity of imposition of candidates by elements in political parties and ensure that right minded people who support certain policies or ideology have a chance to be part of governance.
Nigeria's democracy is growing, but the country will fare better if young Nigerians play active roles in determining governance. The situation in Nigeria will not change unless the youths are actively invested in moving the country forward.
The independent candidacy bill will benefit young Nigerian leaders who are driven by their political desire to make potent impact on Nigerians through citizen driven governance, but do not belong to political parties: they will have a chance to run for offices. There are men who see beyond party ideologies and their visions cannot confirm to party rigidity- I would like to play a game with your imagination but indulge me when I ask you to imagine likes of Omojuwa, Baba Idris, in politics or Seun Okinbaloye or even a Chimananda Adichie coming back to run for office as an independent candidate. The effect of such colorful personalities being involved in Nigeria politics can only make a dim mind smile.
Both bills (Not Too Young To Run and Independent Candidacy) are worthy investments in the political activities of the youths. The Independent Candidacy bill if passed into law would be in conformity with the ideals of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), a signature effort to invest in next generations of African leaders. Former president Barack Obama launched YALI in 2010 to support young African leaders to spur growth, prosperity, strengthen democratic governance and enhance peace and security across sub Saharan Africa. The independent candidacy bill complements the 'Not Too Young To Run Bill'.
One can see the vision of the Senate President and the 8th Senate for the youths of this country. A rare opportunity has been passed down to them to run for offices at a young age and they are empowered by bills that do not restrain them. They are now in league with their contemporaries all over the world as the independent candidacy bill is practiced in nations like United States, Canada, Bulgaria, Taiwan, Crotia, France, Germany, Hong Kong just to name a few. The National Assembly has played it's part, it is now left to the different state assemblies to play theirs by endorsing the bill so that it can take effect for its impact to be felt. The bill (Independent candidacy) needs the endorsement of 24 state assemblies.
The baton of leadership has now been passed to the younger generation with the introduction of these bills. The passage of both bills signals to the fact that youths will now be empowered by law to aspire to political offices of importance and thereby magnifies their life ambitions. No longer is there a need to blame the older generation but to take the bull by the horn and face challenges. Yes, there are challenges like that of finance but unity of purpose by the youths can defeat this.
Finally, it is necessary to state that the stage is now set for new emergents into politics. The ball is now in the court of the young population. There is now an opportunity for political participation and it is my hope that this generation will take up the challenge to change the trajectory of Nigeria and not use their position to "pepper them". The era of excuses for non participation is over and the time for serious engagement in governance is here, we might not get another opportunity to be the leaders of our generation, if we do not seize this opportunity and ensure that both bills are passed by minimum of 24 states.
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Watch the NAIJ.com TV video report on how Nigerian youths protest made the National Assembly pass the 'Not Too Young To Run' bill.