Neither too young nor too old to run or ruin
The piece of legislation, or more accurately, the Constitution amendment exercise, that is now the Not-Too-Young-to-Run Act has been appropriately hailed by many Nigerians, old and young, and touted as marking the beginning of a new glorious era in the recruitment of leadership in the country. For many others, however, the hope—indeed, the prayer—is that “Not-Too-Young-to-Run” is not a merely smart-mouthed euphemism for Not-Too-Young-to-Ruin-the-Nigerian-Economy-and-Run-Down-the-State.
The Act, which has, for a change, sailed through the usually protracted legislative process in good time and has been signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari, effected the amendment of Sections 65, 106, 131, and 177 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), lowering the age qualifications for executive offices (presidency and governorship) and legislative capacities. Now, the minimum age required by the Constitution to run for the offices of the President and state governors is 30, and that of the House of Assembly is 25. The Act has also enabled independent candidacy, thus attempting to break—on paper at least—the hegemony and tyranny of political parties.
President Buhari signed the Bill into law the other day, congratulating the Nigerian youth and jokingly asking the young ones to wait for four more years (obviously after his own second term) before seeking to take over.
The United States Embassy also tweeted a congratulatory message to the Nigerian youth, reaffirming America’s support for “a free, fair, and inclusive political process in Nigeria that includes the voices of young people, women, and the disabled.”
Support for the Act has thus been truly massive and widespread. But so has been, and deservedly so, the scepticism over whether the law is really going to change anything, or, worse, whether (assuming it changes anything) that change is going to be desirable in the least. Given the sorry state of character development, even among the youth in Nigeria today, this pessimistic reading of the legislation appears to be better thought-out than the unreserved optimism over it.
For the real worry is whether the accumulation of defects in the personalities of some current leaders—venality, ethnocentrism, untruthfulness, and the general dullness of mind—can be truly taken to be an exclusive recognition stamp of the older, white-haired generation. Put differently, are some of these anti-leadership character traits not found in many, perhaps even in the preponderance of, Nigerian young leaders, actual and aspiring?
“The older generation has failed the nation” is now the chorus being sung by many young men and women across the country seeking political offices. Even if it is granted that this is true, inner ears must still be open to the unspoken demands or solutions that these men and women are raising in reaction to the political failure of their elders.
By pushing for and achieving the Not-Too-Young-to-Run legislation, have Nigerian youths truly offered themselves as viable alternatives to the older and corrupt politicians of the old era? Or have they (the youths) agitated so much only so that they can be participatory in the crushing of the nation’s body and soul? These are the questions that must be asked and truthfully answered, now that the euphoria over the signing of the Bill into an Act has died down.
All these may seem very harsh and joyless words but all Nigerians must, of a truth, be critical of a polity that reduces its democratic process, misfortunes and fortunes to a matter of age. It is even worse when the intelligentsia of that polity, along with self-seeking international bodies, begin to aid and reinforce this misplaced singularity of mind.
A nation that is truly ready for positive change would be talking about education, character building, and the strengthening of governance-empowering institutions and frameworks. The United States of America, from where Nigeria borrowed its presidential democracy, which elected 42 year-old John F. Kennedy President as far back as 1960, elected 70 year-old Ronald Reagan in 1980 and turned to Bill Clinton, 46, in 1992. The same United States of America that put 47 year-old Barack Obama in office in 2008 turned round to elect Donald Trump, aged 70, in 2016. Of course, by the time the French nation elected a youthful Emmanuel Macron president in 2017 at the age of 39, he had earned, on his young shoulders, epaulettes of study, humanitarian service, business experience and political maturity.
What is to be learnt from all of this? The Not-Too-Young-to-Run Act, because of the inclusion it enables, should still be regarded as a positive step. The emphasis on age-based inclusiveness will, however, be a disaster if it is not backed up with an equal or even greater emphasis on character development, institution building, and an aggressive education of the masses. Age is nothing but a living entity’s experience of time and since time yields nothing but a harvest of efforts put into it, then it follows that age too does not guarantee effectiveness in leadership.
First of all, the worship of money in the Nigerian polity and its politics, of course, needs to be curbed. The Act may now allow for independent candidacy, but no candidate, no president or governor, can be truly independent when tied to the purse strings of godfathers and financiers. The newly included young leaders, most of whom cannot match the financial capacity of the old and traditionally wealthy, may therefore not be able to actualise their dream of assuming leadership positions unless they bow to good old money. This must change. And only Nigerians themselves can effect this change.
In practical steps, the eligibility requirements for leadership in Nigeria should be thoroughly looked into, particularly with regard to academic/professional qualification. While paper qualifications may not really mean much, in this new world of complex economics, politics, technology, and international diplomacy, it should be obvious that the Secondary School Certificate or its equivalent is no longer adequate as a minimum. This is especially true in light of the dangerously declining standard of education in the country, which certainly makes the certificate worth not as much as it should. This is crucial and is worthy of re-examination.
Most importantly, institutions must of necessity be built and made to run independently without being tied to strong personalities only. Strong personalities will come and go but only institutions endure to sustain ideals.