In May 2018, Nigeria’s president, Muhammadu Buhari, signed into law the much awaited Not Too Young To Run Bill. The Bill stemmed from an advocacy campaign that sought a reduction in the age at which a candidate could run for public office in Nigeria.

The law, which is the outcome of relentless efforts by a coalition of more than 40 youth-based initiatives across the country, was signed in the presence of selected youth leaders and advocates from different parts of the country who were at the forefront of advocating for the law to be passed.

The newly signed law gained popularity in the country, following frequent campaigns and peaceful demonstrations by advocates. It is aimed at relaxing some of the stringent and biased provisions of the constitution that prevent young people from participating actively in politics.

Advocacy for this age reduction started in 2016, against the backdrop of a failing state and the loss of faith in weak democratic institutions, such as political parties and parliaments, and the general undermining of democracy and governance.

In his Democracy Day speech in May, Buhari informed the country in a nationwide broadcast that he would sign the Bill into law.

“In a few days to come, I will be joined by many promising young Nigerians to sign into law the Not Too Young To Run Bill,” he said in that broadcast.

Critics dismissed the broadcast, however, describing it as “political”; a move aimed at winning the hearts of the youth ahead of the 2019 general election.

President Buhari and the campaigners behind the Not To Young To Run Bill after it was signed by the president. Pic: Supplied

Specifically, the law aims to alter Sections 65, 106, 131 and 177 of the constitution, reducing the age qualifications for the position of the president from 40 to 30; governor from 35 to 30; senator from 35 to 30; House of Representatives membership from 30 to 25 and State House of Assembly membership from 30 to 25.

Globally, young people under 30 make up less than 2 percent of members of parliament, while 73 percent of countries restrict young people from running for houses of parliament, even when they can vote, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, a global inter-parliamentary institution.

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The union goes on to say that about 30 percent of the world’s lower houses of parliament have no MPs below the age of 30, while more than 80 percent of the world’s upper houses of parliament have no MPs below the age of 30.

“The signing of this law is a commendable action by the president and will break down the age limitations preventing the youth from contesting higher positions during elections,” said Professor Jonah Onuoha, director of the Centre for American Studies at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. “It is what the youth have been pushing for and now they have it.”

Creating awareness

Although the law was signed amidst the popularity it has enjoyed in mainstream media, many young people do not know much about it or its relevance – no thanks to political apathy among some young people.

In the run-up to the signing, the groups advocating for the Bill to be signed into law used every opportunity to campaign and create awareness among citizens about the law. Walks, rallies and peaceful demonstrations and debates were held across major cities in the country.

However, many believe greater awareness needs to be created so that everybody is informed.

“That is why sensitising the public through the media is pertinent,” said Ekene Odigwe, a youth advocate. “For any advocacy or narrative to fly, the media has to be deeply involved. Not just new media but mainstream media too. We need to organise town hall meetings and people have to be introduced to these realities using tools that appeal to them.”

President Buhari signing the Bill into law. Pic: Supplied

Chinemerem Onuorah, 21, is one of the Nigerian young people who played a leading role in creating awareness among young people at the universities to get involved in governance. In 2017, she was one of the 40 young people selected from different states of the country and trained by the Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth and Advancement (YIAGA) Africa on how to take up leadership roles and embark on advocacy and campaigns.

Currently, she is organising a town hall meeting at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka where she teaches fellow students the importance of the law and the need to participate in elections by getting their voter’s cards. This enables them to vote for the candidate of their choice.

“The aim of these meetings is basically to sensitise them about the role they have to play in governance and to get them ready for the party primaries that are approaching,” Onuorah told This is Africa. “My intention is that, by the end of these meetings, they would be ready to get their voter’s card and vote wisely and that those who think they can, would contest for any political position,” she said.

Possible setbacks

However, despite the fact that the law is now in effect, many people believe the youth will face challenges when it comes to contesting for elective positions in the country. For one, voters may decide to vote for a candidate based on sentiment, existing relationships or financial capabilities. Sadly, where those factors play a role, age does not matter.

Older leaders are reluctant to relinquish power.

“It is a matter of support, basically. I think the older leaders are reluctant to relinquish power. In addition, the younger ones also don’t trust other younger people seeking power. They keep thinking it should not be now; the time is not right. But the movement’s slogan is, ‘If not you, who? If not now, when? And this, I believe, is valid. The youth need support to run,” Onuorah said.

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Since its passage last year, about 25 states, representing two-thirds of the country’s 36 states, had adopted the Bill. Paul Ibe, a political analyst, hopes that all the states in the country will adopt and domesticate the new law in practice.

“It is one thing to sign the law; it is another to put it into action immediately,” he told This is Africa. “We need all of them to be on the same page in this regard. This is a law that will help decide the collective future of the youth and the country at large,” he said.

“This is a law that will help decide the collective future of the youth and the country at large.” – Paul Ibe, political analyst

“Of major importance for young politicians is understanding the terrain; bridging the theory with the practical of Nigeria’s political system,” Odigwe said. “The issue of independent candidacy is also an important one. To be voted for in Nigeria, one has to belong to a political party and a lot depends on whether your party is the ruling party or among the opposition or the mergers.”

Odigwe argued it will take time for young people seeking elective positions to achieve the necessary finesse, maintaining that “being young doesn’t necessarily mean being capable”.

Nigerians of all ages are sure to be watching developments and the impact of this new law with interest in the run-up to the 2109 election.