As part of the fall out of the signing of the ‘Not Too Young To Run’ bill into law, about 400 young candidates of various registered political parties converged in Abuja for a three-day international conference aimed at empowering them to win votes and make positive impact ahead of the 2019 general elections. The bill, passed by the National Assembly last year and signed by President Muhammadu Buhari this year, reduced the age qualification for president from 40 to 30; governor from 35 to 30; senator from 35 to 30; House of Reps from 30 to 25, and State House of Assembly from 30 to 25.
The event, tagged ‘Convergence: Power, Capacity, Politics’ was organised by the Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth and Advancement (YIAGA Africa), the Not Too Young To Run movement, and the United Kingdom Department for International Development (UKAID).
Different speakers including young lawmakers from Nigeria, Ghana and Kenya among other countries, leaders with inspiring stories, and other guests. One guest excitedly told Daily Trust Saturday that at the end of ‘Convergence’, there is hope that younger, more effective politicians will be better-equipped to kick out the older ones. “Their time is up,” she said.
Speaking at the opening, the convener of the ‘Not Too Young To Run’ movement, Mr. Samson Itodo, said the conference is a unique platform for young candidates to build their competence, network, share experiences and advocate for greater representation and credible 2019 elections. “Convergence promises to inspire and empower them with the kind of skill sets they need to navigate this hostile political environment in Nigeria,” he said.
Also, YIAGA-Africa Programs Manager, Cynthia Mbamalu, said the event was not organised because it was fashionable to converge but because the youths and organizers decided that Nigeria must work.
A member of the House of Reps, Tony Nwulu, who sponsored the ‘Not Too Young Run Bill’, said one of the issues dominating national discourse recently is the need for a generational power shift to youth in Nigeria in 2019 and beyond. He also told participants that they do not need money to win in the 2019 elections. “You need people, resolve and connections to win,” he said.
Head of DFID in Nigeria, Debbie Palmer, bemoaned the misrepresentation of youths in the Nigerian political space, and she told the candidates to not only think about getting elected but to have a solid plan. “If you don’t win this time, you will run again. This is a learning process for you, learn your craft. If you not successful, become a volunteer and join advocacy campaigns. I hope for some of you, this will become a profession for you. And you have to remember that women, children and disabled people matter,” she said.
Member of Parliament representing Kwabre East Constituency in Ashanti Region of Ghana, Mrs. Francesca Oteng Mensah, stressed the need for proper branding for candidates running for elective positions. According to her, there are difficulties young and female candidates face in politics, hence the need for young people to do proper research before going into the polls and to know electoral laws well.
Mensah, who was 22 years when she ran for office in 2016, said she is not only the youngest amongst the 275 lawmakers in the 7th parliament of Ghana, she also became the lawmaker who had the highest number of votes in both parliamentary and presidential election in the country.
Popular Nigerian musician, Olubankole Wellington, also known as ‘Banky W’, running for the House of Reps in Eti-Osa Federal constituency, Lagos State, under the Modern Democratic Party (MDP), shared a story on how he rose to fame in music and how he built a successful music label.
The PDP candidate for Lagos West Senatorial District, Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour, said a lot people misconstrue politicking with governance and politics. “Some people run to become popular, to form alliances, to get connected while some people run to win. People that run to win need to understand politicking. Do research just like a football coach on how he will serve better in the position he is gunning for,” he said.
Ms Zainab Sulaiman Umar, a former SUG vice president of Bayero University, Kano, said she was the first woman, and youngest candidate to run for state house of assembly under her constituency in Kano State. She said being a young politician was a challenge, but a privilege.
Also, the candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) for Pankshin-South Constituency of Plateau State, Chikas Kumle, argued for the inclusion of more women in politics. “Women understand issues of welfare more than men. Women understand how painful it is for a family to have needs and not be able to meet them. Women should be given a chance to contribute their quota.”
A candidate in the 2016 Kenyan Parliamentary elections, Boniface Mwandi, who is also a renowned Kenyan activist and founder of 234 PAWA, another crowdfunding platform, said he did not have money when he contested. He said as much as money is important, there is a need for candidates to build a network of reliable people and make people believe in them enough to give them money. “The mistake young people make is trying to play the system that the godfathers set up. To change this, you need to break that system,” he said.