One long battle has been won in a sweet thrilling fashion. The assent to the constitutional amendments contained in the Not Too Young To Run bill by President Muhammadu Buhari last Thursday was the making of history, no doubt. For the first time, Nigerians within a certain age bracket who were previously excluded from seeking to be representatives of their federal and state constituencies regardless of capacity, will be able to contest and hold those high offices if they win.
The passage of the Bill in the National Assembly, the ratification by the required majority of state Houses of Assembly, and the Executive assent did not come down from heaven. Young Nigerians, the likes of Samson Itodo, Cynthia Mbamalu, Hamzat B. Lawal and many others, sourced and pooled resources including their time to make it a reality. It will be a reference point, in addition to the 2015 election of a challenger over an incumbent president, for future chroniclers of Nigeria’s democracy, with particular attention to be placed on the defining and central role played by young people in driving the process. President Buhari was right when he said, in the signing speech, that the arch drivers of the legislation “have now established a formidable legacy – which is that, in our maturing democracy, if you really want to change something in Nigeria, and if you can organize yourselves and work hard towards it – you can achieve it”.
The victory was not absolute; while a young person of 35 can now run challenge Buhari for the presidency next year (he warned that none of the bill’s advocates should run against him, tongue-in-cheek), nobody lower in age can seek to be a state governor or Senator as the original draft of the bill had advocated. But even if that is something to be fought for, going forward, there are more immediate matters which require the same magnitude of attention and energy which got the present law so far, without which there may potentially be abuse and outright danger to the democracy which it sought to promote.
There is more than phonetics to the relationship between laws and loopholes. Taking advantage of the existence of the latter in the former is an art form mastered over time, for which Ministries, departments and agencies have struggled for efficiency. The ease of walking up to court clerks to obtain affidavits of adjusted birth dates is not uncommon in Nigeria. Hence, if the privilege and importance of the Not Too Young To Run act is to be preserved, the ease of obtaining such questionable verifications must be addressed with finality.
The Youth Initiative for Advocacy Growth and Advancement (YIAGA) deserve all credit for leading the cause for the amendments that has resulted in the passage of the Act, as do members of the National Assembly and Houses of Assembly who supported. However, the bulk of the success of the Act will lie with young people around the country who will have to keep watch to ensure that it achieves what it has been set up for. While YIAGA has established a platform, Read to Run, as a hub of sorts to highlight young people running for office, it will be the citizens in different localities who will do the needed rigorous background checks and scrutiny of qualifications to ensure that only the most capable and competent rise to the top.
When it enters the official gazette, the Not Too Young To Run Act will open a new dawn in Nigerian politics. To bear its true potential there must still be no slipping up on vigilance.