How far can youthful presidential candidates go in 2023?
FELIX NWANERI reports that while several established politicians will be on the ballot for the 2023 presidential election, some political neophytes, mostly young people, are also in the race as less emphasis is being placed on age and experience of who becomes the country’s next president
There is no doubt that the passage of the Not Too Young To Run Bill by the National Assembly and its signing into law by President Muhammadu Buhari in May 2018, gave most Nigerian youths the opportunity to vie for elective positions during the 2019 general election.
The bill caused an amendment to sections 65, 106, 131 and 177 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) to reduce the eligibility age for elective offices across board. Consequently, the eligibility age for the Office of President was lowered from 40 years to 35 years, while that for governorship and senatorial positions was reduced to 30 years as against 35 years.
The law also provides for persons to contest for the House of Representative and state House Assembly elections at the age of 25. Prior to the amendment, the youngest age a person needed to run for elective office in Nigeria was 30 years for the House of Representatives or the state Assembly. Advocates of young people running for elective offices had predicated their campaign then on the belief that the youth deserve the same rights to run for offices and that age discrimination is a hindrance to youths’ participation in the democratic process.
It was further advanced that the present generation of young people is the largest the world has ever known as half of global population is under 30, yet 73 per cent of countries across the globe restrict young people from running for offices even though they can vote.
This teeming population of young people, notwithstanding, they make up less than two per cent of the world’s members of parliament. About 30 per cent of the world’s lower houses of parliament have no MPs under 30, while more than 80 per cent of the world’s upper houses of parliament have no MPs under 30.
Out of Nigeria’s about 90 million registered voters, more than 60 per cent are within the ages of 18 and 40. This means that Nigerian youths have the voting strength to determine the outcome of the nation’s electoral contests.
Besides the arguments for youths’ involvement in governance, growing discontent for old politicians, which seems to be driving the wave of youthful energy across the world, and perhaps, the reason why some countries recently elected leaders under the age of 40, spurred the feeling among several Nigerian youths that new approaches are needed to solve the country’s problems.
Most Nigerian youths, who insist that less emphasis should be put on age and experience, cited examples of Sebastian Kurz, who was elected to power in Austria at the age of 31 after serving as the country’s youngest-ever Foreign Minister and hosted negotiations on the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
Other examples are Ireland’s Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, who before Kurz was Europe’s youngest leader, Emanuel Macron, France’s youngest ever president elected at the age of 39 and Justin Trudeau, who became prime minister of Canada at 44.
Besides the influence of global trend of generational power shift, the rise in use of social media, which has changed the dynamics of politics and made it less predictable in most countries of the world, equally contributed to the renewed interest in and enthusiasm for politics among Nigerian youths as witnessed during the 2019 general election. Added to these factors were calls by personalities like former President Olusegun Obasanjo and an ex-President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Chief Olisa Ag-
bakoba, ahead of the 2019 polls for the opening of the political space for youths’ participation. The legal luminary had in a letter to Obasanjo, entitled: “Nigeria needs a generational shift in political leadership,” raised concern over the quality of leadership in Nigeria.
He averred that Nigeria’s situation is due to failure of leadership, adding that country has been “held back by a crop of leadership that has outlived its usefulness and effectiveness as a result of old age.”
He went further to state that Obasanjo ruled Nigeria at 39, and that Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo and Ahmadu Bello were 40, 43 and 40 respectively, when they began active roles as pioneers of Nigeria’s political history.
Agbakoba also reminded Obasanjo that Odimegwu Ojukwu and Yakubu Gowan were in their 30s, when they took centre stage in Nigerian politics and urged him to intervene in the political situation of Nigeria to see that a younger Nigerian could also be president.
Obasanjo in his reply entitled: “Re: Nigeria needs generational shift in political leadership,” called on the younger generation to organise themselves around positive core values and become ideological in the sense of nationalism and patriotism in their quest for a generational shift in political leadership of the country.
Apparently heeding to Obasanjo’s call, a number of youths declared interest in the 2019 presidency. Among those who showed interest in the country’s number one position then include Ahmed Buhari (39), Chris Emejuru (35), Adamu Garba (35), Fela Durotoye (46) and Eniola Ojajuni (39).
While none of them was able to make it to the villa as President Muhammadu Buhari (then 76) was re-elected, other young persons who opted for positions in the state Houses of Assembly, realised their ambitions. Interestingly, a handful later emerged as speakers of some of the state legislative houses.
Among these youths are Aminu Shagali (39 – Kaduna), Abok Izam (33 – Plateau), Adebo Ogundoyin (32 – Oyo), Nasiru Magarya (31- Zamfara), Chinedu Orji (44 – Abia), Yakubu Danladi (34 – Kwara) and Aniekan Bassey (41 – Akwa Ibom).
The 2023 challenge
Beyond the euphoria that greeted the appreciable electoral success recorded by Nigerian youths during the 2019 elections, calls for more young people to get involved in politics and governance, resonated again ahead of the 2023 general election. Interestingly, the call was championed by some key officials of the present administration, including President Buhari as well as Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo.
The President had in February, during a virtual meeting with All Progressives Congress (APC) youths held at the State House, Abuja, on urged Nigerian youths to participate in politics, assuring them of more party and government policies to accommodate their interests.
His words then: “Young people owe this country the responsibility to deploy their energy and creativity in every field – health, science, education, sports, agriculture and bring up innovations that would be in tandem with the changing dynamics of the world. “While I will be looking forward to a more robust engagement with young people across the country, I wish to emphasise to you all that in me, you have a major supporter.
“I will offer you my full support to grow in politics, public service, entertainment, entrepreneurship and many other sectors because I know that the future we envisage as a country cannot happen without our youths.”
Buhari told the youths to closely monitor the processes that lead to the emergence of leaders in the political party, and also to pick more interest in taking up leadership roles.
“Tell your colleagues to go back to their constituencies and join in party registration, attend party meetings, pay your dues, make contributions and bring your youthful energy and zeal to bear on the development of the party right from the unit and ward level up to the national level. If you want to see something different you have to be willing to do something different,’’ he stressed.
Vice-President Osinbajo reechoed the call, when he interacted with Nigerian Fellows of the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders. He particularly urged youths to join politics to make a difference in the country. He said youths “need to go the extra length if you are not already involved, get involved in politics.
While a lot can be achieved in civil society, government still holds the ace in terms of capacity and resources to bring social goods to the largest numbers.” Osinbajo added: “Besides, being deciders instead of pressure group at the table in policy formulation are hugely different positions.
The consummation of our great ideas to transform our societies ultimately will depend on ‘those politicians’ as we sometimes derisively describe them.”
“African nations and especially our country cannot afford to have its best minds and most committed social activists remain only in the civil space. No, we simply can’t afford it; you have to get involved in politics. You have to be in the position to make the difference on the scale that is required.
“Of course, there are many who will not be involved in politics but those that are inclined should, and there will be many challenges even in the winning or getting heard in politics. But I want to say to you that it should be an objective that you should set for yourselves, to get involved at whatever level of politics, so that you can make the difference on the scale that is required.”
The vice-president, who recalled his days in civil society engagements and later in politics as Lagos State Attorney-General, noted that “it took public office for me to be able to get the scale of change that is required to make a difference. Without public office, I would have remained a pressure group activist, I would have done some nice things, but I wouldn’t have been able to make the changes that my country required.”
Youthful candidates heed call
While the question against the backdrop of admonitions to the youth in their quest for generational power shift is how feasible can they disrupt the old order without going through the required and necessary rigours of political schooling, some young people seem not deterred by the hurdles on the way to power and will be on the ballot for the 2023 presidential election.
They include Christopher Imumolen (39), who is the standard bearer of Accord Party (AP); Dumebi Kachikwu (49) of African Democratic Congress (ADC); Osita Charles (49) of Action Peoples Party (APP); Yusuf Dantalle (50) of Allied Peoples Movement (APM); Okudili Nwa-Anyajike (51) of National Rescue Movement (NRM); Omoyele Sowore (51) of African Action Congress (AAC).
These youthful candidates will square up against established and experienced politicians like former Vice President Atiku Abubakar of Peoples Democratic Party, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu of All Progressives Congress (APC), Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso of New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP) and Peter Obi of Labour Party (LP). Imumolen, who is the youngest candidate in the 2023 presidential race, seems not deterred by the big names.
He says he has the strategy to mobilise Nigerians to support his agenda for the country. He added that he won’t waste his energy on social media publicity because he has been building political structure over the years to win the nation’s number one position.
His words: “Let me say this. Next year’s election is going to produce a few surprises because it is those who come into the race with a well-articulated strategy that will carry the day. I am a strategist and I have been all my life “I have been planning this for 15 years through affecting the lives of people. I have been building my structure from the grassroots through empowerment programmes and mass mobilisation.
“If it was due to the level of noise one could make on social media, I would probably not have won the Accord Party primaries. I know of candidates who made so much noise in the media but failed to get nominated for the positions they sought because they failed the acid test of putting sound strategies in place.
“As a matter of fact, I beat candidates who were more vociferous, more vocal than I was during our own primaries. And I tell you. While they were busy making their noise, I was more concerned with how I would get people to vote for me. “Yes, my concern is to see how Nigerians will turn out in their numbers to vote for me and my party on election day.
As I speak, we are planning on how to get voters, and agents to vote as well as represent us in all the 176,000 polling booths across the country on election day. Publicity is good.
But not at the expense of real strategy to win the required votes to become the president of a country like Nigeria.” SDP’s Adebayo, who played down emphasis on experience, told New Telegraph in a recent interview that antecedent in politics is not enough but capacity to tackle the myriads of challenges confronting the country.
He said: “We worry much about experience in Nigeria but where is the system that we want experienced people to sustain. I don’t want to be a minister of Power in a country where there is no electricity. I don’t want to be a minister of Education in a country where lecturers are on strike for over seven months and nobody is doing anything to resolve the industrial dispute. “It is clear that there is no development but retrogression.
So, we don’t need people, who are experienced in retrogression. What we call experience for many of them is just wasted opportunities. A journalist, who interviewed me recently, laid so much emphasis on my experience but I told him that I have personally created more employment opportunities than most of the key people in the presidency put together. “What this means is that the relevant experience for the problems of the country is what should count and not how many years one has been receiving salaries from government and living in government houses, blowing siren and giving excuses rather than solving problems.
“If you are insisting on experience, why is it that Boko Haram doesn’t run away when they hear President Muhammadu Buhari’s name because of his military background? Why are they even threatening to kidnap him if experience matters?”
Power not served
While the youth have over the years been on the receiving end for their indifference to politics, there is no doubt that several factors inhibit their participation in the political process.
The most significant is funding given the huge cost associated with electioneering in Nigeria. This has even been worsened by the recent increase on the campaign spending benchmark by in the revised version of the Electoral Act passed by the National Assembly and awaiting the President’s assent. The new campaign spending limit increased presidential campaign funding from the current N1 billion to N5 billion, while that for governorship candidates rose from N200 million to N1 billion.
For senatorial candidates, the raised it to N100 million from the current N40 million; candidates to the House of Representative (N70 million from the current N30 million, while for the state Assembly (N30 million from N10 million).
This is as the cost of nomination forms for the APC and PDP presidential tickets stands at N45 million and N12 million respectively, while that of the governorship is N22.5 (APC) and N6 million (PDP).
Some analysts, who commented on this, said most youths cannot afford to gamble with such huge amounts for party tickets even when they are not sure of scaling the hurdle of primary elections. To open up the political space to accommodate more young people, it was suggested that the various political parties should come up with deliberate policies to grant waivers to young person’s aspiring to contest for political offices as well as encourage the youth through mentoring.
These analysts, however, advised the youth not to wait for opportunities to be thrust upon them without fighting or striving for it as power is not served but fought for.
The youth were also charged to learn the intricacies and art of politics if they are to change the old order as it is erroneous to assume that because they have achieved some level of successes in their chosen professions, they can do same in politics without learning the ropes.