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Where are the young?

I must be missing something. On May 30 last year, President Buhari signed into law a rather interesting bill now known as Not Too Young To Run. The act amended sections 65, 106, 131 and 177 of the 1999 constitution and thus reduced the age qualifications for aspirants to elective offices in the executive and the legislative branches of government. The idea is, to borrow from the world of soccer, to catch them politically young.

Under the act, you do not need to be at least 40 years old any more to aspire to the office of president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. You can be as young as 30 years. To qualify, age wise, to be governor, a senator, a member of the House of Representatives and a member of the state house of assembly, simply prove, with either a birth certificate or a declaration of age certificate, that you are 30 years old in the cases of governorship and the senate and 25 years old in the cases of the house of representatives and state houses of assembly. The youthful political age is upon us. Splendid.

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The bill was sponsored by honourable Tony Nwulu. It is easy to read his thoughts on this. The honourable member, like many young people, wants the country to shop for and put its present and future in the hands of young people. The law thus shortens their long trek to tomorrow when the young are supposed to assume leadership of the country at all levels in government as well as the private sector of the economy. The problem is you never know when tomorrow will come. It is nice to have a law that ensures that age-wise, your tomorrow is a function of how fast the hands of the clock move, taking you from the cradle towards Aso Rock villa.

The framers of the constitution cannot be blamed for raising the age bar for aspirants to political offices. At the time they wrote the constitution, children did not mature as a quickly as they do now. This is the age of Cowgate milk. Children fed on it grow up quickly. You can confirm this from the business centres, the pulpits of the computer-driven social media generation.

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The clamour for the old to yield place to the young has a pretty long history in our country. It is often argued, quite erroneously, that our problems as a nation are the consequences of the age of our political leaders. Meaning, when a country puts its fate in the hands of geriatrics, it should expect a funny kind of leadership that owes more to old age related physical problems than brain power.

This views has many takers but it flies in the face of the facts. Nigerian leaders have been relatively young people. By the time the military put a bloody end to the First Republic, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, at 56, was the oldest among our first generation of political leaders. Tawafa Balewa was 50; Obafemi Awolowo was 51; Ahmadu Bello was 50. Of the military leaders, General Yakubu Gowon was 33; Ironsi was 42, Murtala was 47, Obasanjo was 39, Babangida was 44; Buhari was 42. In the second Republic, Shagari was 54. In the current republic, Yar’Adua was 46 and Jonathan was 43. Were they in China, none of these men would qualify for political leadership.

But I accept that there is a sense in which age matters. Take China. When the geriatrics ruled the country, everyone wore brown khaki like prisoners or farm labourers. It was the only country in history to decree a uniform for all its citizens. But with the generational change, can you see the Chinese in expensive and well-tailored continental suits? I am not prepared to argue that the country achieved its current status with its economy and industrialisation because it ditched the fatigue uniform that, obviously, promoted uniform thinking, for the current sartorial elegance of its citizens.

President Ibrahim Babangida was our first leader who found it both wise and necessary to attempt generational shift in political leadership, when, by decree, he sought to retire the old brigade from politics to give way to younger people. It did not work. Because the old brigade, like corruption, fought back. And there the matter remained until honourable Nwulu decided to lend his name to this act of parliament that surely guarantees him a deserved revered place in the hallowed chambers of the National Assembly.

But here we are. We are now in the hot season of electing new or replacing our current political leaders we think have failed the test of delivering the goods to the people. But I cannot see a political party making a point of giving effect to the law by parading young men and women who are not too young to run. The presidential candidates of the two leading political parties, APC and PDP are not any where near 30 years of age, being the minimum age qualification for a man or a woman to be elected president. I wonder if anyone among the other 28 or so presidential candidates is on the threshold of the age qualification of 30 years.

The problem is the law itself. What it stipulates is the minimum age requirement. This means, in effect, that a man can be between the ages of 30 and 100 to legally aspire to be president or state governor. It has thus solved nothing if good leadership is supposed to be predicated on youth. I should think that for the law to clear the field for those who are not too young to run, it should stipulate the minimum as well as the maximum age requirement for the aspirants, say, 30-35 for president. The law generated emotional heat but it seems to have fallen on its face. It raised the hope of the young but offers them no realisable hope. The law, as it is, is a statement based on the hope that tomorrow can be hastened. Well, ask the sun.


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