These are difficult times for Nigerians as the leadership of the country pass through challenges, which gives signs that have the potential of inadvertently derailing democracy from the path of the founding fathers of the nation.
The political space has been heated up with intense rivalry between the Executive and Legislators, which has no doubt deprived the lawmakers from concentrating on the real issues that bother on the welfare of the citizenry.
It is obvious that the internal wrangling between the Presidency and National Assembly is getting messier by the day. We have witnessed several battle of wits, just like the summons by the senators on the chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee against Corruption, Professor Itse Sagay (SAN) for describing the lawmakers as childish and irresponsible.
We have seen the drama that unfolded over the authorized purchase of a single vehicle worth N370 million by the senate in the midst of the economic recession in the country, which Nigerians have described as insensitive, parochial, selfish, self serving and out of touch with the reality in the country today.
The Senate’s order on the Comptroller General of the Nigeria Customs Services, Col Hammed Ali (Rtd) to appear before it in uniform, which arose from the confiscation of a tinted Range Rover purchased at N298 million with underpaid duties of N70 million also revealed the frosty relationship between the National Assembly and the Presidency.
All these and many more are in the public domain and they invariably dent the fragile image of democracy the nation is nurturing. With what we have seen so far, many questions need to be answered if the nation must make progress and the younger generation who are the youths can no more continue to be mere observers.
According to some Nigerians, the leadership structure of the nation need to be reviewed and that should start with injecting new blood into the system because as it is today, the recycling of corrupt and inept leaders will take the country to its doom someday.
It is their view also that Nigeria democracy has been taken over by sit tight corrupt political office holders who have refused to give way for the youths who are leaders of tomorrow. However, sadly, they have been relegated to the background while the retired folks have dominated the political scene.
To change this trend, a bill sponsored by Hon. Tony Uwulu, representing Oshodi/Isolo Federal constituency 2 and Sen. Abdul Aziz Nyako from Adamawa state in the Federal House of Representatives is seeking to reduce the constitutional age requirement for running for elective office in Nigeria. The ultimate goal of the bill is to promote increased youth participation in the political process in the country.
The House bill with gazette number HB. 544 seeks to alter section 65, 106, 131, 177 of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) to reduce the age qualification for the office of the President from 40 years to 30years: Governor 35 to 30, Senate 35 to 30, House of Representatives 30 to 25 and state House of Assembly 30 to 25.
The Senate bill with gazette number SB. 363 which also seeks to remove age as a criterion for political candidacy in Nigeria also seek to mainstream independent candidacy into Nigeria’s electoral laws in order to strengthen and increase the competitiveness of the political process. Not only will independent candidacy check the practice of imposition and substitution of candidates by political parties, it will promote issue-based politics.
It was learnt that the bills before the House of Representatives and Senate Committees on constitutional review would guarantee equal opportunity and participation of Nigeria’s youth population in the political process. For democracy to thrive, a level playing field must be created for all citizens to participate as both voters and candidate.
The bill will deepen intergenerational dialogue and knowledge transfer and promote youth participation in public governance, a model that most developing nations have adopted to spur democratic development as well as expanding the political space for youths to contest.
This will potentially increase the patriotism quotient, instill national pride in the youths, and reduce incidences of youth involvement in violence and political thuggery. With the dynamism, energy, innovation and resilience of youths, the bill if passed will increase the competitiveness of electoral politics and build a culture of civic participation and engagement in youths, thereby facilitating the implementation of the fundamental right to political participation for young people.
According to the Administrative Secretary of a non-governmental organization, Connected Advocacy, Mr. Sadjini Wilson, the interesting aspect of this bill, which is at the committee level, is that independent candidates can participate in elections in Nigeria, thereby checkmating the old politicians.
He noted that in the past, young men and women ruled the nation, citing Gen. Yakubu Gowon who ruled the country at the age of 32 years and others like Prof. Pat. Utomi who was Special Adviser to the president at the age of 22 years. However, today, some young men and women in that age bracket are still in school and under their parents care.
It was also learnt from Prince Israel Orekha, Edo Coordinator of Connected Advocacy , which is championing awareness creation for the “Not Too Young To Run Bill” in Edo, that twenty one state House of Assemblies have to approve the bill for the affected sections of the constitution to be altered.
The campaign was taken to the Edo State House of Assembly by the Connected Advocacy in collaboration with the department of political science students association of the University of Benin to drum up support for the youth inclusion in democratic governance early this week, with the expectation that the members of the House of Assembly will vote in support of the bill.
While Nigerians are gradually getting used to the change mantra of the federal government, all well-meaning persons who want the true leaders of tomorrow, the youths to take their rightful positions in the scheme of things should support this bill.
Eubaldus Enahoro is Assistant Editor of the Nigerian Observer