Youths’ leadership of state legislature

Although the 2019 general elections may have been mired in some controversies, considering the plethora of litigation, hovering around 800, arising therefrom, the elections, no doubt, attained a significant milestone in not just the active participation of the youths but also their victories at the polls as well as their taking the mantle of legislative leadership in some states.

It is instructive to note that the Not-Too-Young-To-Run Act, which was signed into law in 2018 by President Muhammadu Buhari, became operational in the 2019 general elections. The Act is principally aimed at cushioning some electoral provisions in the 1999 Constitution, as amended, and the Electoral Act in order to pave the way for young people to contest for elective offices.

The Bill for the Act, sponsored by Tony Nwulu and Abdulaziz Nyako in the House of Representatives and Senate, respectively, sought the amendment of Sections 65, 106, 131 and 177 of the 1999 Constitution. The bill was subsequently signed into law by President Buhari on May 31, 2018. Essentially, it reduced age limits for president from 40 to 30, governor and senator from 35 to 30 and membership of the House of Representatives and State Houses of Assembly from 30 to 25.

While some political analysts described the Act as a mere smokescreen designed to tentatively whet the appetite of the youth population, others observed that the legislative innovation indeed broadened the political space, even if marginally, for younger politicians.

Specifically, the Act influenced the election in a number of ways, especially with regard to the number of candidates and the statutory requirement of age. For the first time in Nigeria, many candidates below 40 years contested for the offices of president and governor. The same applied to the Senate, House of Representatives and the State Houses of Assembly, where younger candidates even emerged winners.

Remarkably, it is through the instrumentality of the Act that 37-year-old Nicholas Felix became second runner-up in the presidential election; he would have hitherto been constitutionally disqualified on account of age. Nicholas not only contested but also garnered 110, 196 votes to place a distant third behind President Buhari and former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar. Furthermore, other presidential candidates like Chike Ukaegbu, 35, Obinna Ikeagwuonu, 39, Ademola Abidemi, 37, Akpua Robinson, 39, Ike Keke, 39, Nsehe Nseobong, 33, and Ahmed Buhari, 36, would have been ineligible on the basis of the statutory age requirements.

In Ondo state, 26-year-old Tajudeen Adefisoye (Small Alhaji) of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) also took advantage of the Act to contest the Idanre/Ifedore Federal Constituency election. The lawmaker, who would not have qualified to stand for the election, trounced Kayode Akinmade of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to win election into the House of Representatives.

Similarly, another 26-year-old lawyer, Bob Otobong, won the Nsit Ubim state constituency election for the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly. It may be argued that the proponents of the Not-Too-Young-To-Run bill were perhaps inspired by the gale of political innovations that swept across France, Austria, Italy, among others, and led to change of political leadership from the old guards to the younger generation.

But quite significantly is the emergence of some youths as speakers of their respective state Houses of Assembly. In Oyo state, Debo Ogundoyin, 32, of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) representing Ibarapa East constituency, emerged Speaker of the ninth House of Assembly. He was elected unopposed by the 32 members of the House.

In Plateau state, 33-year-old Abok Izam, representing the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Jos east, emerged Speaker of the state House of Assembly while 34-year-old Yakubu Salim Danladi emerged Speaker of the Kwara State House of Assembly. Danladi, who is a first time lawmaker, is from Ilesha-Gwanara constituency.

This historical development is indeed a landmark achievement for the Buhari administration as it marks a paradigm shift in the evolution of Nigeria’s democracy. It is regrettable that the nation has for too long restricted its young people, who constitute over 60 per cent of its population, from vying for elective offices, even though they can exercise their voting franchise, thanks to the universal adult suffrage.

Interestingly, the Nigerian example has inspired the Office of the UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth to initiate a global campaign in partnership with UNDP, OHCHR, the IPU, YIAGA and the European Youth Forum in order to convene existing efforts into a global movement and provide young people with a central platform through which to advocate.

While Blueprint commends the Buhari administration for this great feat, we also urge the government to carry out a holistic reform of the political system with a view to discarding the excessive monetisation of the political process.

It is evident that the high cost of nomination fees charged by the two main political parties was a major disincentive for the average Nigerian youth to seek elective offices. The N45 million nomination fees for president or N22.5 million for governorship fixed by the governing APC and the main opposition PDP, respectively, were not only astronomical but also outrageous and unaffordable by many Nigerian youths.This is as unacceptable as it is undesirable.

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