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Youth revolt against gerontocracy in Nigerian politics

By Babatope Babalobi
18 May 2018   |   3:45 am
One of the issues that have recently dominated national discourse is the need for a generational power shift to the youth in Nigeria 2019 or beyond. Nigerian youth in the vanguard of this campaign believed...

One of the issues that have recently dominated national discourse is the need for a generational power shift to the youth in Nigeria 2019 or beyond. Nigerian youth in the vanguard of this campaign believed they have been short changed in the past and are demanding a generation shift in who governs Nigeria as political reparation for past youth marginalisation in political leadership. The recent ascendancy of the young at heart to the corridors of powers in several developed countries has bolstered this campaign. Prominent among are Emmanuel Macron elected France’s president in May 2017 at the age of 39; Kim Jong Un, the Supreme leader of North Korea who has pursued a nuclear power development campaign in defiance of western objections, is 35 years old; and Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was 43 when sworn to office three years ago.

The clamour of the youth is that if they are qualified to vote, they should be qualified to be voted for. Presently only 18+ citizens are qualified to vote under the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, but a voter has to attain 40 years before his qualified to run for Presidency. Youths are therefore revolting against being treated as cannon folders by older aspirants to public offices. Under the Nigerian constitution, the age qualification for state governor is 35, Senate 35, Federal House of Representatives – 30 and State House of Assembly – 30. A bill to reduce the age barrier for elective offices by between 5-10 years has been passed by Nigeria’s National Assembly, and on his way to President Muhammadu Buhari for assent.

On the global scene, a #nottooyoungtorun campaign in several countries has received international attention and support from UNDP, United Nations Human Rights Commission, and the Inter Parliamentary Union. Some of the interesting statistics is that whereas 51% of the world’s population are under 30, less than 2% parliamentarians globally are under 30. The #nottooyoungtorun is therefore a revolt against gerontocracy, government by elders and the old. There is no doubt that youths deserve not only to have a say in the corridors of power, but also should be in the corridors of power where ‘who gets what’ is decided. The youthful age comes with several advantages and edges. Youth is the prime of life where strength and energy is at its peak. By the middle and adult years of life, diminishing health sets in, and the argument here is that youths rather than adults are better placed to withstand the physical and mental challenges of good governance.

Moreover, the youths are known to be more creative and innovative as human intelligence is at its peak at teenage years. A school of thought believes the brain aging process starts from the twenties when we begin losing neurons the cells that make up the brain and nervous system. Unarguably, memory decreases with age. Another argument of #nottooyoungtorun campaign is that since politics is a game of numbers, the youths that constitute the larger percentage of the voting population, should not be denied access to elective offices through age restrictions. Youths should not be treated as a mere launch pad to office, as their interests is better understood and served by elected leaders of their age group.

What inspired the age restrictions on elective offices in the first instance, one may ask? If 18 is generally regarded as the voting age, why can’t an 18-year-old contest for the highest office? The framers of the constitution could have been influenced by the fact that experience and wisdom count in governance and these come with age. While adults are disadvantaged in innovativeness and creativity, they make up in experience and wisdom.

Nigeria does not have a history of giving the young access to the highest office through the democratic space. For the Presidency, the youngest occupants got to power through military fiat rather than the ballot box.

Sir Nnamdi Azikiwe assumed office as Nigeria’s first President at the age of 44, the late Major General Aguyi Ironsi became Military Head of State in 1966 at the age of 44, General Yakubu Gowon became Military Head of State in 1966 at age 32, General Murtala was 37 when he toppled Gowon and became Military Head of State in 1976, Chief Olusegun was 39 when he became Military Head of State in 1976, and 62 years old when he became civilian president in 1999, Alhaji Shehu Shagari was 54 when he was sworn in as President in 1979, and General Muhammadu Buhari was 41 years old in 1993 when he toppled Shehu Shagari administration, and 72 years old when he returned to power in 2015.

General Ibrahim Babangida was 44 years old in 1985 when he shot himself to power, Chief Earnest Shonekan was 60 years old as Interim President in 1993, the late General Sani Abacha was 50 years old in 1993 when he toppled Chief Shonekan, General Abdulsalami Abubakar was 56 in 1998 when he succeeded Abacha, the late Umaru Yar Adua was 56 in 2007 when he became President, and Goodluck Jonathan was 53 when he became Acting President. As it can be seen from the age statistics above, Gowon and Obasanjo, the only two past Head of State that attained office at below 40 years had military background. No Nigerian below 40 or 50 years old had been able to assume Presidential office through the democratic process.

One vexed question that is often overlooked, but begs to be answered is who is a youth, and within which age bracket do youths fall? The Nigerian National Youth Policy (2009) defines a youth as between 18-35 years, the African Youth Charter classifies ‘‘youth” as “every person between the ages of 15 and 35 years,” while the United Nations is more conservative, defining a youth as persons between the ages of 15 and 24 years.

If we adopt the National Youth Policy 18-35 years youth age bracket as the gold standard in defining youth, it will be obvious that several people that are parading themselves as youth are really Papa youth or simply adults. In Nigeria we have 40 or 45 years old leading youth organisations, and persons above 35 invoking the youth mantra to demand access to positions, power, privileges and offices. Some of the Nigerians that have signified interest in the Presidential seat include President Muhammadu Buhari 75, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar 71, Deputy Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria Kingsley Moghalu 55, Sahara Reporters founder, Omoyele Sowore 47, Governor Ayodele Fayose 57, former Governor Donald Duke 56, motivational speaker Fela Durotoye 46, and Nollywood actor Yul Edochie, 36. None of them is a youth in the literal sense of the word, as they are all above 35 years old.

As we approach the 2019 general elections, if the consensus is that Nigerian deserves a youth as President, let us have a youth in deed and in truth. Let the youth that are demanding a generational power shift get registered to vote and step forward to be voted into office. Elections are not won on social media but on the political turf.

Babalobi wrote from Lagos.