by Jude Feranmi
I had promised to focus on the problems and how we can solve it in the last series on this episode but I’ll really like that we try and answer this popular question. “Why are young Nigerians currently not participating in politics?”
The popular answer right now is that the constitution does not allow young Nigerians to participate in elections. One can only be a Representative at 30, a Senator at 35, a Governor at 35 and a President at 45. This discourages young people from participating in politics.
But then, if this was really the problem, we should then have a sizeable number of representatives in their early thirties and senators in their late thirties. At least, age is not a barrier at that level.
With a counter-argument of this nature, the respondent usually then shifts to the argument to other countries and their age criteria for contesting office. Aphorisms like “If I can vote, then I should be able to be voted for” then come into play. There’s one other funny aphorism, “No decisions about us without us” or something like that.
When you ask, will the Not Too Young To Run bill solve the problem of political participation of young Nigerians? You often get a resounding yes with little thought being put into what is usually a chorus answer.
Let’s skip back a little. You could actually get another answer to the question about political participation. I happen to be a student of this ‘school of thought’.
Why are young Nigerians not participating in politics?
This is a wrong question. Young Nigerians are already participating in politics, much more than we would like to admit.
The only set of people that INEC employs for elections that are above the age of 40 are electoral collation officers. More than 60% of the election force are youth, mostly youth corps members.
Those who craft and wield electoral strategy documents and tactics are not usually older than 40. Most of the time, they are young people who have just graduated from ivy league schools in “the abroad” and have “international exposure”.
When it comes to organising for rallies, the only category of people that can rival the youth category are older women in their “asoebis”. Recent INEC data revealed that students formed the second largest category of people who voted in the 2015 elections. Those who helped organise these students are not old people.
In places where ballot boxes are still being snatched and where violence or the threat of it is still an election winner, the ones who are the active players in these episodes of violence are also not old people.
As for the observers, both locally and internationally, the ones who are responsible for what is now the “situation room” and the hundreds of civil society actively campaigning for peaceful elections and voter education, young people form the bulk of the active players here too.
So why are we asking why young people are not participating in politics? How else do you define participation outside of these activities?
Once the NotTooYoungToRun bill has been passed, will it increase this level of participation? Maybe, Maybe Not. The probability is that the level of participation will not change.
The barrier to entry to political leadership for youths is NOT the age criterion. The Not Too Young To Run Bill is great and I am a part of it. However, there is a need for those of us who are really interested in what the Bill has to offer to start identifying what the real barriers are.
The only aspect of our democracy that young Nigerians are not involved is the aspect where those leaders who end up becoming the candidates we have to choose from on the ballot are decided!
Young Nigerians have no influence whatsoever on the primary elections. At best, the youth caucus of any political party has a few number of delegates. The remaining delegates are those who will choose on anything apart from the interest of a generation whose future has been mortgaged (personal opinion)
When they are choosing who gets to be the party flag bearer by imposition of the godfather, there is no influence whatsoever that the youths have to say otherwise or even suggest otherwise.
We should actually turn the question upside down. Why are 5o-something year olds still contesting for Local Government Elections? If we are supposed to be building a country where young people will one day be handed over the rein of powers and want to prevent a leadership gap, Isn’t the Local Government the best grounds for mentoring and leadership?
The answer is simple really. Nigeria’s political system is RIGGED against the Young Nigerian.
Maybe when we are done with reducing the age criterion which, for the record is the most discriminatory clause in our constitution today, we will then face the political parties and fight the real “demons”. Or Are we not better off starting now?
Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija
Jude ‘Feranmi is the National Youth Leader of KOWA PARTY.