Over the past five years, youth inclusion in democratic processes has gained global attention, buoyed largely by the emergence of young leaders across the world. In Nigeria, the Not-Too-Young-To-Run Movement addressed a major impediment to youth inclusion in the electoral process with the passage of the Not-Too-Young-To-Run (age reduction) bill. This historic piece of legislation was a positive action towards closing the representation gap and signalled a shift towards inclusive politics. As a result of the reduction of age limits, Nigeria witnessed a new wave of competent and credible young women and men who aspired to run for office in the 2019 elections. For the first time in Nigeria’s post-independence history, young people between the ages of 25 and 30 are legally empowered to contest seats in the House of Representatives and state Houses of Assembly.
The direct and indirect impact of the age reduction bill is evident in how the youth fared in the 2019 elections. Across the 991 seats in 36 state Houses of Assembly, 68 members are between the ages of 31 and 35. While this represents only 6.08% of the members of the state Houses of Assembly, it is an improvement from the levels of youth inclusion in 2015. More importantly, there are 22 direct beneficiaries of the Not-Too-Young-To-Run Act in the state Houses of Assembly between the ages of 25 and 30. This is directly as a result of the age reduction legislation passed by the National Assembly and assented to by President Muhammadu Buhari on May 31, 2018.
The emergence of Saliu Yakubu Danladi, Abok Nuhu Ayuba, Adebo Ogundoyin and Nasiru Magarya, Speakers of the Kwara, Plateau, Oyo and Zamfara state Houses of Assembly respectively, who are all under the age of 35, also represents an improvement in the level of youth inclusion across state legislatures. Young legislators also occupy principal positions in various state legislatures following the passage of the age reduction bill.
The age reduction legislation goes beyond reducing the age for running for elective offices to also reducing the age for appointive positions in the federal and state cabinets. The 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) states, “No person shall be appointed as a Minister of the Government of the Federation unless he/she is qualified for election as a member of the House of Representatives” and that “No person shall be appointed a Commissioner of the Government of a state unless he/she is qualified for election as a member of the House of Assembly” among other qualifications aimed at ensuring equal representation in the federal cabinet, which has also been emulated across state executive councils.
In 2015, young people were mainly appointed as special advisers on new media. In states like Kaduna, Abia, Cross River and Anambra, young persons were also appointed to prominent portfolios like commissioners of finance, budget and planning, youth and sports development. However, it took President Buhari six months to constitute a cabinet after the 2015 elections and a similar situation seems to be happening after the 2019 elections (Senegal’s Macky Sall and South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa both appointed ministers within days of being sworn in this year). An analysis of the composition of the President’s cabinet in 2015 did little or nothing to promote youth inclusion in decision-making spaces.
While attention seems to be focused on the announcement of ministerial nominees, the state executive council provides more opportunity to increase the level of youth inclusion in decision-making spaces. It is important to sound a note of caution that beyond the tokenistic appointments of the youth as special advisers on new media or to the ministry of youth development, as President Buhari noted, ‘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.”
The Not-Too-Young-To-Run law has provided an opportunity for the emergence of young individuals with competence, character and content to contribute their quota to national development in appointive positions the federal and state cabinets. All eyes are now on President Buhari and the state governors as they constitute their cabinets.
Faruk is a Senior Programme Officer with YIAGA AFRICA’s Youth Programme. Email: [email protected]. He tweets via @IbrhmFaruk