On Tuesday, July 25, the main entrance to the Nigerian parliament building was shut off by a group of young activists demanding for an opportunity to speak with lawmakers.
The protesters were members of the #NotTooYoungToRun movement, a coalition of Nigerian youths seeking improved access to government. Foremost among their demands, was a call on MPs to pass new legislation to reduce the age limit to run for major political positions, including the office of the president.
Following closely on the heels of the protest, the Nigerian senate finally voted to lower the age limit required to vie for political office. The lawmakers set 35 as the minimum age required to seek for the office of the President, 30 for governorship positions, and 25 as the minimum for election into the lower house of parliament.
In the wake of protests by the youth and the landmark vote by parliament, the hashtag #NotTooYoungToRun has been trending on social media in Nigeria. For many, the possibility of retiring the gerontocrats who have mostly commanded the political field since the country returned to democracy in 1999 is an idea that they welcome with enthusiasm.
Some, however, sound a note of caution; they say while the misrule of the tired-old-men, who cling on to power against all odds is well chronicled, on the few occasions when young people have had the chance to lead, they have not fared any better. Indeed, many believe the country was worse off under youthful leadership.
It may be recalled that soon after independence from Great Britain, the exuberance of the Nigerian military top brass brimming with youthful officers led to the bloody coup of 1967, sparking a chain of events that plunged the country into a civil war. When the guns went silent 3 years later, over a million lives had been lost with many more displaced.
Nevertheless, many have observed with concern that in today’s Nigeria, aside from the shining lights in showbiz, sports and business, the country currently appears to be without a crop of young people ready to step into positions of political leadership.
With more than 50 percent of the population aged less than 18, the country is probably only a few years away from a crisis of leadership in politics and governance.
In the midst of it all, some critics posit that the motives of the #NotTooYoungToRun protesters may not be altogether altruistic. Lacking in genuine grassroots or popular following, it is easy to dismiss the movement as a band of ‘overindulged pups’ of the Nigerian elite who simply can’t wait to deep their hands into the national till.
Whatever their motives may be, it is nevertheless gratifying to find that Nigerian youths are eventually learning to engage with the political class while doing away with their characteristic disillusionment and apathy in matters of national policy.
True leadership is hardly a function of age and it should matter little if the Nigerian president is a ruddy young fellow or a wizened senior citizen. The real victory here, for everyone, is the much needed participation of young people, the touted leaders of tomorrow in the democratic process.