By Odurombi Onabanjo
Some weeks ago, the Nigerian Senate approved some amendments to the 1999 constitution. Part of these amendments was the reduction in the age-limits for some political posts.
The minimum age-limit to contest for the highest office in the land, the Presidency, was brought down from forty to thirty-five, while the age qualifications to run for a governorship seat and a seat in the House of Representatives were reduced by five years—to thirty and twenty-five years respectively.
As expected, the news of the amendment generated a lot of excitement with many people, especially the youths, expressing optimism about the positive effects the age amendment would have on youth participation in politics.
While the amendment is laudable, age, in my opinion, has never been an encumbrance to youth participation in the nation’s politics. Therefore, while other youths took to the social media to express their happiness at the news, I went into a study of the factors militating against youth participation in politics.
One of the factors unearthed during my study is the poor political awareness among the youths. It is not enough to know that President Muhammadu Buhari is the president of the country and Prof. Yemi Osinbajo is the vice-president. No! There must be a vivid awareness of the nation’s political history: how she came into existence, her battle with British colonialists before independence, her short-lived first, second and third republics, her long years of military rule and a potpourri of other issues that continue to shape her existence and the role of the youths in molding her future.
Unfortunately, information about these events is only available in bookshops and libraries, which makes it inaccessible to many youths due to their poor reading habit. In fact, only a few youths are interested in current happenings in the country as many youths loathe the idea of reading newspapers or listening to the news, not to talk of their interest in events that took place in the dim past.
This aversion to books is the chief reason many Nigerian youths only grow in body and not in mind. Yet, they gleefully announce to the nation that they are not too young to run. Run where, you may ask? Maybe to rival Usain Bolt!
I also found out during my study that the Nigerian youths lack veritable platforms to acquire and hone their leadership skills. In many of our universities, student unionism is frowned at; and where it exists, the leadership of the union is no more than the appendage of the school management. How then can the nation’s youths be sufficiently imbued with the right leadership skills to make them active participants in the nation’s politics when they study under regimented academic climate, where dissenting voices are stifled and contrary opinions are shouted down? But our varsiy administrators would have the nation believe that her future is in good hands with such unquestioning and politically inept products.
Where the platform exists, the Nigerian youths have not proved to be better politicians than the geriatrics they love to blame. At the moment, the umbrella body of Nigerian students, the National Association of Nigerian Students, (NANS), is factionalized owing to disagreements arising from the election of her leaders. One would have thought that a student body like NANS would be immune to political infighting bedevilling the nation’s politics. Sadly, this is not the case. In fact, those involved in the leadership of the student association have become the archetypal Nigerian politician, employing all sorts of political subterfuge and chicaneries to perpetuate themselves in office. If the youths cannot provide purposeful leadership within their sphere of influence, how can they be trusted with greater political role?
The few youths, who have occupied or at the moment occupy public positions, have also not acquitted themselves creditably. The House of Representatives is known to be home to a number of young lawmakers. But what have these young lawmakers done to enrich the quality of debate on the floor of the House other than shouting ‘ayes’ and ‘nays’ when issues are put to vote and ‘padding’ the national budget? In fact, there was a time in the nation’s political history when a young Dimeji Bankole became the Speaker of the House of Representatives at the age of thirty-seven.
Many had hoped that with Bankole’s election as the Speaker, the youths were ready to alter the course of the nation’s history and take their rightful place in the leadership of the country. Their hope was, however, deflated when Bankole was accused of financial malfeasance; and, despite his good education, showed seeming symptoms of leadership inadequacy. At the end, so awful was Bankole’s performance in office that his constituency, Abeokuta South Federal Constituency, failed to elect him for another term in the green chamber in the 2011 general elections, preferring an unknown and older Segun Williams to him.
At the moment, one of the North Central states has a relatively young governor at the helm of affairs. The young governor, who came into office by accident, has not brought the vigour and energy expected of a youth into the administration of the state. Rather than this, he has dissipated his energy on fighting real and perceived enemies. These examples only buttress the belief that some of the nation’s youths are not mentally equipped for leadership.
Lastly, I found out from my study that many Nigerian youths are too financially malnourished to engage in politics. It is not unusual to hear youths talk about founding a youth party to upstage the old politicians from power. A big grin always spreads across my face whenever I see this grandiose suggestion on social media, especially Nairaland. ‘And how will you fund this party?’ is always my question to youths mooting the idea. The unassailable truth is: politics is an expensive enterprise. I could not hold my jaws when a state lawmaker told a friend and me that he spent over thirty million naira on his primary election. In his own words, ‘I knew the last election would be Hurricane Buhari, so I was prepared to spend any amount of money to win my party’s nomination.’ As obnoxious as it sounds, sadly, that is the nature of politics. Before anyone says such does not happen in advanced democracies, particularly Uncle Sam’s country, let me remind such people that Donald Trump spent millions of his own money to get to the White House. So, proponents of a youth party had better know that money is the lubricant that oils the machinery of political parties.
But where will a callow youth get thirty million naira to, according to the lawmaker, ‘mobilize party delegates’? Your guess is as good as mine. Therefore, until the youths increase in mental magnitude and financial altitude, they will remain mere spectators in the political arena regardless of the age limit.
Onabanjo writes from the Department of Political Science, University of Ibadan