“All over the world, young people want to see leaders with kindred spirits, whom they could dream and build. In an age when the world is mainstreaming Resource Mobilization, the present paradigm shift promises to usher in a smarter and inclusive Nigerian society” – Hamzat Lawal.
Conditions for new entrants into Nigerian governance improved for prospective youth political candidates after The Age Reduction Bill popularly known as the Not -Too- Young- To- Run Bill was signed into law in 2018, making a 25- year- old eligible for the House of Representatives and House of Assembly and a 35- year-old eligible for the Office of the Senate, Governorship, and Presidency.
Despite this, the 2023 elections have still seen low youth political participation, keeping the baby boomers as a persistent demographic bulge weighing down Nigerian governance. Despite the youth’s frustration with the ancient ways of thinking by our aged leaders, young citizens remain disengaged from electoral politics. This generational gap in governance explains why Nigerian politicians stand to prioritise the elderly more than the young.
Fact remains that the more youth abstain from political participation, the more decisions from our legislators will be biased against their interests. Neglecting the absence of youth participation is a breeding ground for social inequality on a massive scale.
Redressing generational biases in the political system is a concern for all democracies and may be able to be addressed by legislators examining intergeneration issues, the implementation of mandatory voting, etc. Nigeria has no business being led by old people who should be settling into retirement.
The generational dimension is remarkably absent from political debates, making them inconsiderate of true democracy, youth and inclusion. The respite gained by the older generation will certainly have to be paid for by the younger ones in the long run. It is not overambitious to desire a leader who can catch Nigeria up to its potential, particularly through human capital development, but Nigerian leaders continue to express the facts and figures of economic growth through human capital and are still yet to place education and health at the forefront of their progressive agendas.
By not challenging the ‘analogue’ thinkers that insist on leadership in a predominantly youth nation, the fate of most citizens under 30 will be fundamentally affected. Political priorities differ between older leaders who want to preserve backward ideologies that are seemingly failing the country every day instead of the fresher ideas that understand the importance of leveraging the capacity of Nigerians to alleviate our country of its reliance on imports and oil production.
To represent Nigerians is to be fearless, commanding and disruptive. It is to be aware of the aged Nigerians who remain in positions they should have been retired from, the setbacks youth face in the public and private sectors, and how to create a better environment for smart work and innovative ideas to thrive. It is to be concerned about the access of Nigerians to an income, safety and an education, and to mobilise the best among us to head our government Ministries, Agencies and Departments.
While we worry about the fate of the nation, that concern is further amplified by the sight of presidential aspirants slurring their words and falling asleep on national television. We must take seriously our local and global representation by having younger and sharper minds in political office with the capacity and willingness to perform better than what we are currently being subjected to.
To make way for more youth political participation, we must create a culture of accountability by those already in office and not glamorize a job that should be in service to the people, not one that sacrifices them. The cost of failure must be higher than that of entry into governance to purge the system of inactivity.
Nigerians should have a say in who is too old to run for public office and this discourse should not be about age alone but more about personal ideology. We cannot afford to further descend into the pit of despair as the bar for good leadership gets lower and lower. Our youth must begin to understand that change occurs faster from the inside. Let every old man or woman who assumes the seat of leadership in our country serve as a motivator to be concerned about governance and to get involved as soon as possible.
YIAGA Africa sets an example of how the youth can unite for progressive change after spending two years striving and eventually altering sections of the Nigerian constitution successfully. It is in the strengthening of our democracy and governance systems that we will begin to fix the deeply embedded rot. We must shorten the gap between those deciding policy and those who weather its effects and this should be a major concern for the youth as they have the most at stake.
Shuaibu is a member of THISDAY Editorial Board.