Cynthia Mbamalu is a lawyer and one of the founding members of Youth Initiative for Advocacy Growth and Advancement (YIAGA) Africa. She is the organisation’s programmes manager and also a member of the #NotTooYoungToRun strategy team. In this chat with ENE OSANG, she bares her mind on the recently passed bill and how female politicians will benefit.
The NotTooYoungToRun bill was spearheaded by Youth Initiative for Advocacy Growth and Advancement(YIAGA) Africa, can you tell us what it’s basically about and what inspired it?
The NotTooYoungToRun bill which received the President’s assent on May 31, 2018, amends Sections 65 (1)(b), 106 and 131 of the Constitution reducing the age to contest for election into the House of Representatives from 30 years to 25 years, House of Assembly from 30 years to 25 years and the office of the President from 40 years to 35 years respectively.
The bill, in accordance with Section 9 of the Constitution, was introduced at the floor of both chambers of the National Assembly as the ‘Age Reduction Bill’ and was successfully passed in the National Assembly after receiving more than the minimum requirement of two-third majority affirmative vote in both Chambers of the National Assembly.
The age reduction Bill was then transmitted to the state Assemblies where it also received more than the minimum required two-third majority support, before being sent back to the National Assembly and transmitted to the President for assent.
Although, the initial demand was to reduce the age for president, governor and senate to 30 years, the bill as transmitted to the President reduced only the age for the President to 35, for the House of Representatives and state Assemblies to 25years.
The bill was inspired by the injustice to young people who have over the years been excluded from government. Considering that young people in Nigeria constitute about 60 per cent of the population, yet young people remain a minute number with respect to occupying elective offices in Nigeria.
This, was not just an injustice to Nigerian youth but a threat to democratic development because the more we exclude the major percentage of our population from decision-making the longer our challenges with national development, security and democratic consolidation.
We needed to make a conscious effort to promote youth inclusion and we decided to begin from the Constitution which excluded young people by providing for the specific age for eligibility for elections in Nigeria.
The NotTooYoungToRun Law was one, if not the only constitutional amendment bill, that enjoyed the support of millions of Nigerians and inspired a movement for youth political inclusion in Nigeria and beyond.
Although, an initiative of YIAGA Africa it only succeeded because we worked with a powerful team of youth leaders and youth-led Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and it garnered the support of Nigerian youth.
When you talk about youths in politics, the picture that comes to mind is young males, what value can this bill bring to females in politics?
That is actually not just the case when you talk about youth in politics. Generally, in Nigeria, when we talk about politics or government the image of representation that comes to mind is male and this only proves that as a people we have been led by a government that has reflected only a section of the society and have affirmed the wide gender gaps.
The truth remains that we cannot change entrenched attitudes and beliefs that have been passed down generations by just telling the people that it is bad, we change by also showing that we can be better, in the actions we take, in the stories we tell, in the picture we create.
The power of imagery is beyond the words we hear; it is that power that ignites emotions that guides our thoughts and inspires action and that was what NotTooYoungToRun tried to achieve.
From the NotTooYoungToRun leadership popularly called the Strategy team down to the leadership teams at the State level we have young women who are not just a number to fulfil gender balance but who led the movement, represented the movement in public engagements and delivered on their responsibilities with such finesse that the movement would not have achieved this success if they were not part of the team. In addition, to just showing we were intentional in our media engagement and messaging to always emphasize ‘young men and young women’.
While our goal is to have, young people occupying elective offices in Nigeria we believe we fail our generation if we do not ensure young women run and win elections. This is why the #ReadyToRun Movement has special interest in inspiring young women to contest election and supporting all the young females that signed up on readytorunng.org to effectively contest and win elections.
This for us is important because dislodging patriarchal beliefs requires intentional actions which includes projecting more women as leaders, putting positive measures to ensure gender representation and giving more women the space to deliver on responsibilities.
#NotTooYoungToRun is about doing things differently and promoting diversity in government.
How do you feel being a part of the team that achieved this feat?
It feels excitingly great to be part of this phenomenal movement of young people who believe in our democracy. I feel privileged and humbled to have witnessed this historic moment.
In the past years, I have met young people from different states, and different ethnic, religious and political orientation and each time I felt more inspired and encouraged that we are indeed powerful. #NotTooYoungToRun has shown us that we can achieve more as a united people speaking with one voice.
Do you have a preferable platform for female aspirants?
My, my focus for now is to work towards having more young women and young men contesting and winning elections to provide quality leadership.
As a leader, within my sphere of influence I want to continually inspire as many young women as possible to believe that they can achieve more, that they are phenomenal, that they are leaders and that they can win elections.
What strategy do you have in place to ensure young female aspirants win elections?
Yes, we have young women on our readytorunng.org who are have declared that they will be running in 2019. For us, we will be supporting the identified young women who are running by first projecting them as competent and capable leaders, meeting capacity development needs, providing support with respect to campaign messaging and communications and identifying support structures that they can benefit from.
President Buhari, though jokingly, asked youths to run after 2019, are we not likely to see a situation where policies are made but not implementation?
Well, while I acknowledge that we have a poor policy implementation attitude in Nigeria with a lot more work to be done. I however, understood the President’s statement to mean that he appreciates the power of the youth and believes that we do have capable young Nigerians who with the passage of this law will be powerful contenders in 2019. The beauty of election is that eligible Nigerians all have the right to run for office and compete in a free, fair and credible process. Politicians do not like competing against worthy opponents with the potential to win and the President is a politician who has indicated his interest to run for re-election.
Some people have expressed fear that this Law would only give advantage to children of Nigerian politicians to easily take over power from their parents, what is your take on this?
The Not Too Young To Run Law amends Sections 65 (1)(b), 106 and 131 of the Constitution to give young Nigerians the opportunity to run for elections in Nigeria. The focus here is on ‘young men and young women’ in Nigeria and we have not asked for any clause to be included in the Constitution to give special advantage to any section of the youth. The law is to promote political inclusion of young Nigerians.
Politics requires lots of money which most young politicians don’t have access to, don’t you think this Law may be a strategy by the ruling party to win the hearts of youths?
Politics in almost every country of the world requires money and I am not oblivious to the overbearing influence of money in our political system. However, the bill succeeded because young Nigerians organised around #NotTooYoungToRun and placed cogent demands on both the National and State Legislative Houses and the President.
It was about demanding for a right democratic choice and using the power of the youth to achieve result. Did the lawmakers and the President think about their re-election in passing the Bill? They probably did, but who wouldn’t, especially when young people constitute over 50 per cent of the voting population.
Some youths, however, don’t see the law making any difference, how will you convince these group?
The reality is that there will always be the sceptics and we do appreciate their concerns. However, as a movement we believe that it is a step at a time, the first was to take away the constitutional barrier to open the space for more young people to run for elections.
We achieved that with the age reduction for contesting office into the House of Assembly, House of Representatives and for the President.
In convincing this section of the youth, I will base my argument on the Nigerian Constitution which articulates in Section 14, that the welfare and security of the people is the primary purpose of government, and government for me can only truly meet the needs of young people if we have young people in government to represent the voices of Nigerian youth.
The NotTooYoungTooYoung is beyond just reducing the age to have more young people on government but also is a fundamental means of addressing the challenges with youth development.
How do you speak for the youth if you don’t understand the needs of the youth and if you are not part of the decision-making process?
the age reduction, I am optimistic that we will have more young people in the Legislature for instance, which is the hub of democracy.
What better place to represent the youth than in the Legislature where laws are made, where the voices of the people are represented and where oversight of the executive is done. Social security, employment, quality and affordable education are all policy issues that can only be addressed if we have the right laws and policies, focused drivers of the policies and oversight structures to ensure accountability; this is possible when we have more young people in decision making processes.
We believe that with more young leaders the challenges of our present times especially as it relates to youth development and the needs of the youth will receive the requisite attention which will be reflected in the strategies and implementation framework adopted to truly guarantees result.
In addition, within the movement alone are different groups working on different thematic areas towards national development and democratic consolidation who relentlessly engage on issues of youth development.
Now the bill has been signed, what next?
First, is celebrating this success achieved so far. However, this is just the beginning because to truly have the law effective, the political parties have a role to play.
Accordingly, one of our demands is that political parties reserve 50 per cent of party tickets for capable, competent young aspirants. A demand to the leadership of political parties to promote internal party democracy especially in their conducting democratic, transparent and credible party primaries to enable the young aspirants emerging as candidates.
As a movement, we already began inspiring more young people to run for office and identifying young aspirants across different parties and States under the #ReadytoRun campaign to provide different levels of support with respect to capacity needs and in boosting their campaigns.
As for expectations, I expect to see some resistance from the political elites and some critiques of the law but I see the youth power winning in significant measures in 2019.
This time around, the youth vote matters a great deal and I expect more parties to become amendable to youth political inclusion and our demands.
What is your advice to female youths aspiring to run for elections?
As identified in our call for action, we need more young people becoming members of political parties. Political Parties are currently the only platform to contest election in Nigeria and until we have more young people registered in the party, it will be difficult to negotiate for recognition when you are not within.
Running for election is a lot of work, financially demanding and quite tedious but the success of #NotTooYoungToRun has shown us that being consistent, persistent, focused, strategic and innovative are qualities that we need to achieve result.
So, I will say to all young aspirants; Thank you for taking the first step! Now is the time to get down into the real work, building intentional relationships with your people/constituents and across board.
As a leader, called to service, learn the needs of your people and what service they want, build a leadership team with diverse skills set and added values. Be humble but smart, learn from past experiences and stories of elected officials who won elections as youth.
You need your party’s support, give them a reason to have no better choice than you as a candidate because at the end, parties want to win elections.
Another call for action is for young people to register as voters with their PVC ready for use because the power of the youth is in the numbers of the youth. Young candidates with the capacity, competencies and integrity will need the power of the youth votes to win elections.
Do you see youths particularly female candidates being elected in the 2019 general elections?
Yes, I do. We will have more young people win elections especially legislative seats in the State Assemblies and the House of Representatives considering that the minimum age is now 25 years old. I recognise the challenges in our political system, and I know it will be a gradual process but I am optimistic we will have a significant number of young people emerging from the 2019 elections.