by Mark Amaza
It is a week since 39-year-old Emmanuel Macron was elected as the new President of France, making him the youngest leader not just in Europe, but one of the youngest globally. For us in Africa, it is a stark contrast to the ages of our leaders where 21 countries are led by people above the age of 70, including Nigeria and with at least 8 of the leaders having been in power for more than 20 years.
Expectedly, Macron’s election elicited debates about the need for young people in Africa to be in governance and not allow our democracy to be dominated by gerontocrats.
Here at home, there is a bill before the National Assembly which aims to reduce the age of eligibility for running for elections and backed by a nationwide campaign titled #NotTooYoungToRun. The objective of the bill is to enable younger people to be elected into government.
Why is this bill necessary? Let us examine it through the lens of Macron’s election victory:
- Is a Macron possible in Nigeria? The short answer: no. The long answer is that if Macron were Nigerian, he will not even be eligible to run for the Presidency. The Constitution sets the minimum age for running for president at 40 years. The #NotTooYoungToRun bill is aiming to address it by reducing the age of eligibility for the Presidency to 35 years (the House of Representatives version) or to 18 years (aligning it with the voting age, in the Senate version).
- But will political parties even allow a young person become its candidate? This is not just Macron’s first election ever; it is also the first for his party, En Marche! which he founded a year before the election. In Nigeria, it is undeniable that the party politics can often be insurmountable for younger people, with the structures controlled by older people. This is another issue that the #NotTooYoungToRun bill is aiming to address: independent candidacy. If passed, candidates for elections will not have to be sponsored by parties. They can decide to stand on their own. This allows for more options for not just those vying for office, but for the electorate as well.
- Will a young person be qualified to run Nigeria? Macron’s youthfulness is only half the story: although this was his first attempt at an elective position, he has some experience in government. He was the Minister for Economy under President Francois Hollande before he left to found his own party. Without doubt, there is need for those who intend to occupy the nation’s highest office have experience. But the current constitutional requirements make it virtually impossible to have a young person to be president. This is because barring local government offices, the youngest one can be elected in Nigeria is to either to the House of Representatives or a State House of Assembly at 30. This means before one moves up the learning curve and political ladder to ascend to the Presidency, s/he is definitely no longer a youth.
- But what about appointing young people into government? This is a fair point: why do we not even have young people in appointive positions? Currently, there is no federal minister under the age of 45. This in stark contrast to countries like Sweden where 3 of its ministers were under 30 when they were appointed, or Austria where its Foreign Minister is 30. Again, this is because the age of eligibility also affects appointive positions. To be a minister, commissioner or special adviser, the appointee must be eligible to run for the House of Representatives or House of Assembly. Safe to say we are not seeing under-30 cabinet members unless the law is changed.
- Is it all about having a young President? Not at all. For a country that is 73% young people, it is quite a shame that young people make up less than 5% of elective and appointive positions. This is not for lack of competent young people but because there are constitutional barriers to having more young people in government at all levels. Reducing the age of eligibility for elections will increase the participation of young people in governance, increase competition and make generational change easier. Nigeria can really do with the vibrancy and energy that comes with young people.
The #NotTooYoungToRun bill has passed second readings at the Senate and House of Representatives and is currently before the Constitutional Review Committees of both chambers. While there is optimism that it will be included in the final report of the committees for final voting, it is still important that all Nigerians, particularly young people rally behind it and show support for the bill.
This is the perfect time to get in touch with your federal representative and senator and tell them how much you are in support of the bill.
Young Nigerians need it to be passed.
Dolapo is a writer and journalist who works with YNaija. He has interests in Christianity, politics and sports.
Leave a reply