When the #NotTooYoungToRun movement started in 2016, we were driven by one central premise: that young Nigerians needed to be more involved in the governance and decision-making processes of our country. We considered it an aberration that for a country whose median age is 18 and has an overwhelming youth population (about a quarter of the population is between 18 and 35 years) will have less than 5% representation of young people within government. What that means is that the majority of the population were not making input into the decisions of which they will be the most accepted.
In order to increase the participation of young Nigerians in governance, it was necessary to start with amending the Constitution to reduce the age of eligibility for running for offices (which also define the age of eligibility for cabinet appointments), as this was a barrier to that participation.
It was to this end that the #NotTooYoungToRun Movement organized at the federal level with chapters in all 36 states, mobilized thousands of youths and garnered support from all stakeholders into building what is unarguably Nigeria’s largest youth movement ever and ran the campaign based on the belief that If we are not too old to vote, surely we are also not too young to run for office.
The success of the campaign was not just in the numbers we mobilized, but in how effective we marshalled our arguments at the general public, and also at federal and state legislators that had the constitutional authority to amend the Constitution. It was no surprise then that the #NotTooYoungToRun bill was passed by a large majority in both chambers of the National Assembly and by 35 state houses of assembly, before it was signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari on 31st May, 2018 – no small feat considering how herculean the process off constitutional amendment in Nigeria is.
Expectedly, the reduction of ages of eligibility threw the doors open for thousands of vibrant young Nigerians who were hitherto denied the opportunity to aspire for public service by the simple virtue of being ‘too young’. This brought a new energy to the political system and many parties, injected a spirit of competitiveness and enlarged the marketplace of ideas for the electorate to choose from.
In order to prepare these young candidates for the elections, the movement created the Ready To Run platform to provide them with support towards the 2019 General Elections. At the conference tagged The Convergence 1.0, the #NotTooYoungToRun movement played host to over 600 young candidates across all 72 registered political parties and from all 36 states for three days of training in the areas of fundraising, the use of social media for campaigns, electoral regulations, etc.
Now the elections have come and gone and many of these young candidates have scored victory at the polls. The level of youth representation in our government, particularly the House of Representatives and state houses of assembly has risen and not by an insignificant number. It is now time for the rubber to hit the road for these young elected representatives.
During the #NotTooYoungToRun campaign, one recurring question we were asked at every turn was this: “are young people prepared to lead in Nigeria?” We believe our campaign is an excellent example of the capacity of young Nigerians to lead as under-35s who built a national movement that went on to inspire thousands of their peers and even those older than them to push for the process of inter-generational change – and we did this by taking on the hardest process in the country, which is amending the constitution.
But we also believe that the young people who have been elected are also competent and capable to lead, and we are working together with them to make them even more ready for taking office in June so that they hit the ground running.
This is why we are holding The Convergence 2.0 where we are bringing together 300 young elected representatives from today, May 6-9, 2019 where they will be addressed by notable individuals on different issues of national importance that they would need to take note of as they assume office and on how to run an excellent legislative office.
It is very important that these young representatives-elect are prepared for the challenges of their new offices and how to ensure that their tenures are impactful to their constituents.
This is also a testament to the fact that young Nigerians are eager to contribute their quota to national development and not just be spectators in determining the course of our dear nation.
We believe that through this movement and The Convergence 2.0, these legislators will bring the same new vibrancy and energy from their campaign to their parliaments, and through this, they will deliver excellence law-making and legislative oversight.
Mark Amaza is a founding member of the Not Too Young To Run movement and a member of its Strategy Team.