Monday, 2nd October 2023

2023: Between not too young to run act and ploy to raise election spending

By Onyedika Agbedo, News Editor
10 July 2021   |   3:09 am
It is obvious that political consciousness among Nigerian youths has risen to an all-time high. The era when they remained passive on issues of governance is gone for good.

President Muhammadu Buhari (middle) and representatives of Nigerian youths in 36 states of the Federation, during the signing of the Not Too Young To Run Bill at the State House, Abuja…yesterday. PHOTO: PHILIP OJISUA   

It is obvious that political consciousness among Nigerian youths has risen to an all-time high.

The era when they remained passive on issues of governance is gone for good. The #EndSARS protests that rocked the country in October last year showed the entire world that Nigerian youths are now keen on demanding accountability from those at the helm of affairs in the nation. Even four weeks ago, as the country was celebrating 2021 Democracy Day, many youths took to the streets to protest against rising unemployment and the prevailing insecurity in the country. Some of them displayed placards with various inscriptions like ‘Say no to Injustice’, ‘33.3 per cent Unemployment Rate is Criminal’ and ‘Digital Right is Human Right’ while some wore T-shirts with inscriptions such as ‘Freedom Comes by Struggle’, ‘We Must Come Together to Salvage Our Nation’.

These protests, coupled with the rising agitations for secession by some ethnic nationalities in the country, which are also mostly championed by youths, underscore the fact that the present generation of young Nigerians are not politically docile and would make a huge impact in future elections if they are able to get their act together.

The National Youth Leader of All Progressives Congress (APC) Caretaker/Extraordinary National Convention Planning Committee, Ismaeel Buba Ahmed, admitted this much in a recent interview with one of the national dailies when he stated that youths were the key to 2023 elections and beyond.

“In 2023, young people are going to demand what office seekers are going to do for us…we must work on gaining the young people on our side more. Engagement is the key. The youths are the key to the 2023 elections and beyond. I keep saying that 2023 is going to be a battle for the young people as it has been clearly demonstrated,” Ahmed said.

However, observers are doubting the seriousness of the young Nigerians taking the bull by the horns in 2023 and get a good number of their peers into a leadership positions at the local, state and federal levels, and the reason is not far-fetched.

In May 2018, President Muhammadu Buhari signed into law the “Not Too Young To Run” bill sponsored in the House of Representatives by Tony Nwulu and in the Senate by AbdulAziz Nyako to encourage the youths to aspire to high offices in the governance of the country. Essentially, the law relaxed some of the stringent provisions of Sections 65, 106, 131 and 177 of the 1999 Constitution that concern requirements for occupying elective positions in the country. It reduced the age qualification for president from 40 to 30; governor from 35 to 30; senator from 35 to 30; House of Representatives membership from 30 to 25 and for House of Assembly membership from 30 to 25. Many young Nigerians took advantage of the law to contest for elective positions during the 2019 general election.

Some youths contested the presidency with President Buhari, who was then seeking for re-election. Among the young presidential candidates were Chike Ukaegbu of the Advanced Allied Party (AAP), who was then 35 years old; Shipi Godia of the All Blending Party (ABP) who was aged 39; Obinna Ikeagwuonu, 38, of the Action Peoples Party (APP); Emmanuel Etim, 38, of the Change Nigeria Party (CNP); Robinson Akpua, 39, of National Democratic Liberty Party (NDLP); Eunice Atuejide, 40, of the National Interest Party (NIP); Ike Keke, 39, of the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP); Felix Nicholas, 37, of Peoples Coalition Party (PCP); Nseobong Nsehe, 33, of the Restoration Party of Nigeria (RP) and Ahmed Buhari, 36, of Sustainable National Party (SNP).

Many other Nigerians aged between 41 and 50 years also latched on the euphoria generated by the law to vie for the presidency. These included people like Omoyele Sowore, 47, of the African Action Congress (AAC); Fela Durotoye, 47, of the Alliance for New Nigeria (ANN); Nwokeafor Ikechukwu, 42, of the Advanced Congress of Democrats (ACD), Shittu Moshood, 49, of the Alliance National Party (ANP); Tope Fasua, 47, of the Abundant Nigeria Renewal Party (ANRP); Mamman Yusuf, 46, of the Allied Peoples Movement (APM); Lewis Abah, 48, of the Change Advocacy Party (CAP) and John Onwubuya, 47, of the Freedom and Justice Party (FJ).

The outing was, however, very poor going by the result of the election. Although one of them, Felix Nicholas of PCP, was the second runner up in the election, he garnered only 110,196 votes, representing 0.40 per cent of the total votes cast while the first runner up, Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PD) got 11, 262, 978 votes, representing 41.22 per cent of the total votes cast. President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC), who won the election, polled 15, 191, 847, representing 55.60 per cent of the total votes cast.

The abysmal performance of the young candidates in the election has been blamed on a number of factors, including lack of strong party structure at the grassroots, weak financial muscle to successfully prosecute their campaigns and failure to collapse their structures and rally around a sole youthful candidate.

Unfortunately, these challenges may not give way anytime soon even as another one is brewing. If the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2021 currently before the National Assembly is passed, as it is, the problem of poor financing would particularly be worsened for the youths.

The extant 2010 Electoral Act, as amended, caps spending limits as follows: presidential election – N1 billion; governorship- N200 million; senatorial – N40 million; House of Representatives candidate – N20 million and House of Assembly – N10 million.

According to insider reports on the Amendment Bill, the lawmakers are seeking to substantially raise campaign spending under Section 88. If passed, a presidential candidate would be free to spend up to N15 billion; governorship candidate N5 billion; senatorial candidate N1.5 billion; House of Representatives candidate N500 million while a candidate for House of Assembly could spend up to N50 million.

While defending the move to grant higher spending, a lawmaker who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said: “We took cognisance of the fact that N1 billion campaign fund limit is no longer realistic. The same thing applies to other candidates at other levels. We are being realistic with the new campaign cash ceilings. And the reality is that most candidates in the past breached the provision of Section 88 without sanctions. We have to come to terms with reasonable thresholds.”

But what would be the fate of young Nigerians who are angling to take over power from the established and old politicians? Will, the provision does not make a mess of the Not Too Young To Run Act? What do Nigerian youths think about it? And how ready are they to latch on to their current political form and make a major inroad into the political arena in 2023?

The Guardian interviewed some young politicians and activists on the issue and presents their views as follows:

‘It’s Strange Nigerian Lawmakers Are Thinking Of Raising Election Spending’
Chukwunonso Daniel Ogbe, is a lawyer. He ran for the Enugu North/South Federal Constituency, Enugu State in the 2019 general elections on the platform of African Peoples Alliance (APA). He told LAWRENCE  NJOKU in Enugu that increasing election spending would encourage the merchandising of the country’s political process.

As political realignments for 2023 elections begin in earnest, this is the right time for youths to strategise about taking over the reins of governance, but that does not seem to be happening. What is your take?
OF a truth, many Nigerian youths are presently contending with many challenges emanating from the economic crisis that is ravaging the nation at the moment. As a result, they do not have much time to play partisan politics. It is said that a hungry man is an angry man, and I make bold to state that a poor man is an emotionally destabilised man. The economy of Nigeria is presently in a shamble, and I can tell you that this unfortunate development is already adversely affecting the political actions and inactions of most Nigerian youths.

You do not strategise with bare hands. Money is needed to strategise. You have to host meetings, and in doing that, a huge amount of money is needed to take care of logistics and other miscellaneous expenses. Money is needed for media presence. The political activities of the Nigerian youth in preparation for the 2023 general election may not be in the limelight if most of the youths who are political actors lack the financial wherewithal to make their voices heard.

Though moves by Nigerian youths to become active in the 2023 general election at the federal level may not be well coordinated, the scenario at the state level may be different. From my personal observation, many Nigerian youths are becoming more interested in what would happen in the political terrain of Nigeria come 2023 at the state level.  

Do you think Nigerian youths are ready to give the older politicians a challenge or they pushed for the enactment of the Not Too Young to Run law just to be in the law book?
I must assert that the Not Too Young to Run Movement, which has been given legal life with the reduction in the constitutional age requirement to vie for some political offices in Nigeria, is a bold political campaign championed by Nigerian youths. I am also of the view that the age requirement for Nigerian citizens to vie for elective offices should be further lowered, considering what obtains in other climes, where young people of about 21 years of age are legally empowered to vie for political offices.

There are many Nigerian youths who are ready to assert their political right but do not necessarily consider partisan politics as an avenue to embark on political confrontation with elderly politicians. However, it seems the odds are against such youths, considering the political climate of the country which seems not to be favourable to the youth.

Accordingly, having, to a large extent, surmounted the initial hurdle of lowering the age requirement to vie for political offices in Nigeria, I believe that the second phase of the clamour for political empowerment of the youths would be asserted vehemently come 2023. I see many Nigerian youths vying for political offices in a more coordinated manner when the next general election will be conducted. Of late, there seems to be serious awareness and sensitisation among the youth, especially on social media platforms, on the need to be involved in partisan politics. 

In 2019, many young Nigerians floated political parties and contested for the position of President. Why is it difficult for Nigerian youths to come together and line up behind a young presidential candidate?
I think we have to get something clear. The fact that one is a youth does not automatically imply that one would make a good leader. There are Nigerian youths who may not do well as leaders if they should mount the saddle of leadership; the same way we have some elderly people in power who have also failed to prove their mettle as far as leadership is concerned.

Many variables determine the manner the electorate exercise their franchise in any given election in Nigeria. Most electorate, save for those whose actions are propelled by primordial sentiments, would naturally opt for those that stand a high chance of delivering the goods as far as governance is concerned irrespective of whether such prospective political office holders are youths or otherwise. We also have to appreciate the fact that the financial implication of aspiring to occupy the office of the President of Nigeria is high, and many youths who championed the clamour for the emergence of President from among the youths or better still, not-too-elderly strata of the political class, never had the financial wherewithal to prosecute the campaign. The existence of a structure, to a large extent, determines the success or failure of any political outing. A presidential candidate of a political party is expected to have at least governorship candidates in all the states of the federation. These governorship candidates are the ones to coordinate the campaigns of their young presidential candidate at the state level. This was not the case during the 2019 general elections. We hope to see a more coordinated outing by young Nigerian politicians come 2023.  

What are some of the issues impeding the participation of young people in politics?
The major challenge that has made it difficult for an average Nigerian youth to thrive successfully in the political terrain is the huge financial requirement to vie for a political office. In Nigeria, candidates of political parties basically shoulder the cost of prosecuting their electioneering campaigns, unlike what obtains in many other climes where the electorate galvanise support for aspirants into political offices who seem to have the wherewithal to deliver the goods to them leadership-wise. Many Nigerian youths do not have the huge amount of money needed to prosecute political campaigns.

There is also the problem of electoral malpractices that have made it difficult for many youths to assert themselves politically. The local council should ordinarily afford a large number of youths the opportunity to participate actively in governance but it has become a notorious fact that most, if not all, local council elections in Nigeria are replete with fraud. These two challenges have made it difficult for young people to actively participate in politics.   

What is your reaction to the move to raise election spending in the draft Electoral Act now before the National Assembly?
It is a strange development that Nigerian lawmakers are more interested in raising the amount of money that may be spent by Nigerians desirous of vying for a political office, as opposed to making frantic efforts to see that electronic voting is made legally possible in Nigeria. Raising election spending will further encourage the merchandising of our political process. However, the ball is in the court of Nigerians to decide if they seek to be bought over with money on election day and suffer thereafter, or whether they would opt for men and women of modest means who may not be moneybags, but who have what it takes to better their lives.

Many elderly politicians have posited that Nigerian youth are not ready for leadership. Do you agree with them?
To an extent, I agree with elderly politicians. If many youths are ready for leadership, they would appreciate the need to have numerical strength, virility and intellectual disposition to take over power through constitutional means. When we talk about electoral malpractices, we have to acknowledge the fact that it is difficult to perpetuate the fraud without the express or implied support of the youths. If many youths are willing to ignore pecuniary inducements given to them by those who see politics as a business, then the elderly politicians will be compelled to have some level of respect for the young Nigerian politician. Nigerian youths may not indeed be ready for leadership when they would not be willing to come together and support a young person who has the qualities to make a good leader if given the opportunity to serve. Nigerian youths should be ready to take that which rightfully belongs to them by refusing to be deceived and used by those who believe they can always buy them over.

Some people believe that the youths need to have ‘godfathers’ or undergo mentorship by old politicians before they can get to a leadership positions in this country. What is your reaction to this?
I do not agree with that stance, unless for youths who seek to toe the same line as the leaders who have retrogressed our nation over the years. When we talk about mentorship, we have in mind an ideal situation wherein an elderly person tutors a younger person on how to thrive well in a given facet of existence. It would be strange to encourage the Nigerian youths to undergo mentorship under the current crop of leaders and godfathers in the country unless we are saying that we do not want to make progress as a people forever.

Who will mentor the Nigerian youth politically? Is it a man that believes that you have to buy votes on the election day, manipulate election results, perpetrate violence because of political power and make frantic efforts in recouping financial losses incurred during elections upon mounting the saddle of leadership? What we need at this point in time as a people is a brand new set of young politicians who will play politics in a manner radically different from the conventional way politics is played and has been played in Nigeria.

Youths Will Use 2023 Elections
To Consolidate On Their Gains So Far’

Olajide Ahmed Oseni is the All Progressive Congress (APC) chairmanship candidate for Igando/Ikotun Local Council Development Area (LDCA) of Lagos State. He spoke to DANIEL ANAZIA.

Many people are saying the youths should now be strategising to take over governance, but that does not seem to be happening yet. What is your take?
I BEG to differ on the notion. It’s happening at the local government level at least in Lagos and some other states in the Southwest. Politics is local; we have witnessed a victory for youths in primary elections and endorsements by the older politicians. As 2023 approaches, you will see more young people indicate interest in one elective office or the other.

Do you think Nigerian youths are really ready to give the older politicians a challenge in 2023?
Yes we are ready; I challenged older politicians in 2019 and recently in my party’s chairmanship primary election. During both efforts, there were challenges and I did not give up. 2023 will be a consolidation of whatever happens now.

In 2019, many young Nigerians floated political parties. Some even contested for the position of President but their performance was very poor. Why is it difficult for the youths to come together and line up behind one young presidential candidate?
I will say it is a result of ambition; we all are ambitious. For instance, it’s been tough for us to reach a consensus on NANS presidency for decades now. It is, however, not new. During the 60s and military era, there were always two sides among the youths and it applies today. I think it will continue even in times to come.

The other challenge is that so much is expected from young leaders, hence when we evaluate them, they seldom pass. The marking scheme for leadership is basically how progressive the nation or state has been during your tenure. Like Julius Caesar says in De Bello Civile, “Experience is the teacher of all things” or more generally “experience is the best teacher.”

There is a need for experience gathering, and this can only be gained when you move from one phase of political training to the other. For now, I will advise that those seeking to occupy the office of the president should first of all gain political experience. Some of these young presidential candidates have not really performed at their state level. No youth wants to fail politically. The bar has been raised and this makes it more difficult to find the desired candidate.

Why do you think many youths are not participating in politics? There are a number of them. First, combining academics, building career/business with politics is tough these days. Most political meetings are held when young people are at school, in the office or at their business centres trying to eke out a living for themselves. The second issue is the fear of failure. Most young people cannot afford loosing out. It’s tough to bear and not too good for our morale. Third is hostility of some older politicians. Many young people who have dared to participate can tell you that their presence threatens some older politicians, which have led to many unforeseen results.

What is your reaction to the plan to raise election spending in the draft Electoral Act before the National Assembly?
It’s a good development; election spending is similar to our daily spending. We all spend more on food and other needs now.

Many elderly politicians have posited that Nigerian youths are not ready for leadership. Do you agree with them?
I do not agree; most of them started at their youth and they did better when they were younger. The approach today is a blend of analog and digital unlike their era. It is expected that people of the analog era will see those who take advantage of the technology as lazy.

Every generation gets the kind of leadership that fits it. Today, we want to see things done faster and simpler. This lifestyle is why they say we are not ready as youths. If we judge a fish with the skill of a monkey, it will forever be seen as unproductive. The youths are the ones who understand the struggles of today. What the older politicians should do is to allow them play the roles that are exhausting and reserve advisory/mentorship roles for themselves.

I agree with political mentorship but it can go on simultaneously while we take leadership positions. There is nothing wrong in making political mentors a prerequisite on election nomination forms by the political parties and electoral bodies. Historically, I can say that the issue with previous republics we have had was that young people who took power were not mentored. There is an urgent need to include political mentorship in screening exercise. It’s like references when seeking employment.

‘Possibility Of Youths Uniting To Support A Sole Candidate Should Not Be Ruled Out’
By Seye Olumide, Rotimi Agboluaje (Ibadan) and Daniel Anazia (Lagos)

TO a former National Association Nigerian Students (NANS) leader, Seyi Bamidele, the enactment of the Not Too Young To Run law was a watershed in Nigeria’s evolving democracy.

According to Bamidele, who is South-West Zonal Youth Leader of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Nigerian youths are ready to give the older politicians a challenge in the 2023 general election.

“I just set a precedence in the last PDP Southwest congress. I insisted that we must abide with the provisions of party constitution on age limit for the post of youth leader and that led to my emergence as the party’s youth leader in the zone.

“The youths are really ready for 2023 election, politics and leadership. We all witnessed the #EndSARS protest in 2020. The postulation that young people are not ready for the rigours of elections and elective positions but are satisfied with the crumbs they get from the old politicians and being ‘youth leaders’ and pawns of the old politicians is a fallacy.”

Bamidele said that the efforts put into the enactment of the Not Too Young To Run Act was worth it, noting that it had helped to accelerate the rate at which young people agitate for leadership positions in the country.

He identified lack of finance as the major impediment to young people getting into top elective offices.

“Across all parties, the youths have agitated and they are still advocating for lower spending limits, but most of their agitations are not made public due to party guidelines,” he said.

According to him, the possibility of young people uniting to fund themselves to be able to win elections should not be ruled out.

“Young people are now coming together but I don’t see it coming to reality by 2023. Tunde Eso, who is the originator of Youthocracy, which is defined as government of the people, by the youth and for the people in 2013, is one of the young Nigerians uniting the youth to enthrone a new ideology and ensure growth in our political system. He is one out of the few Nigerians trying to actualise the dream.”

The National President of National Association of Polytechnic Students (NAPS), Comrade Olalere Benedict Adetunji, said the youths needed to take a proactive action before the next general election by sensitising themselves to obtain their voter’s card and get involved directly in the elections.
Adetunji said it was not enough for the youths to persistently criticise the government. “We must all learn how to get involved directly and not to continue staying at the back and blaming the government. There is need to take a frontline position if we must change the present narrative.”

He said the youth could not rule out the elderly ones in the nation’s politics for now.

“What we need to do is to get involved by contesting for some lower elective positions that will bring us closer to grassroots people. The youth should also present someone among themselves to run as a vice president ahead of the 2027 elections. We also need to be united and stop floating new political parties. My admonition is that we should join either APC or PDP and stop wasting resources,” he said.

One of the youngest members of the Oyo State House of Assembly, Qozeem Olayanju, said the youth needed more orientation to participate in politics

“One of the setbacks for our youth is their lack of courage to take risks. It is also unfortunate that our younger ones in politics are not united. This is the right time to come out and team up, work together as a youth. But while all the old politicians are working tirelessly and planning ahead if 2023, we, the youth, are on social media 24 hours. Social media can influence and mobilise but INEC will not count or bring ballot box and paper to the social media. It is said that 65 per cent of activists on social media do not have voter’s card,” he lamented.

Olayanju also decried the cost of running for election in Nigeria, saying “it doesn’t give room for fair, equal and credible participation.”

“In 2019, the cost of nomination form and expression of interest for House Assembly was over a million. How many youths can afford that? How many young people can you mobilise to vote during the election without necessarily giving them money. We must say no to buying and selling of votes,” he added.

‘Raising Election Spending Amounts To Injustice, Disservice To Nigerians’­­­­
Cynthia Mbamalu is the co-founder and director of programmes for Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth and Advancement (YIAGA) Africa, one of the youth groups that pushed for the signing of the Not Too Young To Run Bill in 2018. In this interview with TOBI AWODIPE, she talks about the readiness of youths to run for elections in 2023.

Many people believe that this is the time for the youths to start planning how to take over the reins of governance. Do you see them doing that yet?

THIS is the right time for the youths to start strategising for the 2023 elections, as the political class has since started their own since 2019. It is important that young people, especially those who want to contest in 2023, become very active in their political parties and engage at that level as well as the constituency level. The people that are going to vote need to know who you are from now. I don’t think young people aren’t showing interest because last year’s #EndSARS protests showed us how eager young people are to commence the voters’ registration process.

As of July 5, this year, of the 203, 497 Nigerians that had pre-registered for voter’s card on INEC’s site, 175, 849 were under 35 years. This shows that more young people are developing interest and should be encouraged to keep doing so to be able to vote younger people into power. There are also conversations happening on young people joining young parties but this isn’t sufficient. I want to see more young people take better strategic steps towards their 2023 candidacy.

Do you think Nigerian youths are ready to give the older politicians a challenge?
I think our youths are ready; it is just a matter of approach and strategy. Our goal with the Not Too Young To Run Bill was to reduce the age limit, thereby opening up space for young people to contest and compete in the elections and electoral process. The law was passed at the time we needed it the most and we saw the successes in 2019, as there was a record increase in youth candidacy. There were also some victories. Those were the first beneficiaries of the law.

Four youths under 35-years became speakers of their state assemblies in 2019 (Oyo, Zamfara, Plateau and Kwara) while 101 under 35-years also won elections in 2019. What we need to do now is consolidate on those gains and do more work. It goes beyond showing interest because after party primaries, the number of youths contesting dropped drastically. This is because many party primaries are not credible and transparent. Also, PDP and APC did not field young candidates. When we ranked parties that fielded the youngest candidates, the ADC was first, APC was 26th while the PDP was 24th. In all this, only one young person from the ADC won the election and what this shows is that we need party primaries that are credible and willing to support young candidates, especially within the APC and PDP.