With one of the largest youth demographics in the world, Nigerian youth won't be held back from entering politics and bringing change.
While the average age in Nigeria is 18, young Nigerians have long been neglected in the political arena. Now, they want to change that.
Around 60 percent of Nigeria's 190 million population is younger than 25 years old but not one of the country's serving senators is under 40. Nigeria’s youth have been absent in a political arena largely dominated by powerful older figures who wield massive influence in the politics and economy of Africa's most populous country.
As the February 2019 elections approach—in which the 75-year old current president Muhammadu Buhari will be challenged by the 71-year old opposition candidate Atiku Abubakar—young Nigerians are aiming to make the political landscape more inclusive.
Idayat Hassan, director of the Centre for Democracy and Development in Nigerian capital Abuja, tells TRT World that the movement to involve more people in the political decision-making process has led to the call by young Nigerians: “Nothing about us without us”
Nigerian Youth: Pioneers for Change
In contrast to the absence of young voices in contemporary Nigerian politics, historically, young people were at the forefront of major political accomplishments in Nigeria. Young figures like Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo, Tafawa Balewa and Ahmadu Bello held critical roles in the process of Nigerian independence from British colonial rule.
However, following independence in 1960, the youth’s outsized role in politics began to melt away. During 33 years of military rule and weak democratic structures, political youth movements calling for democracy were erased and student movements disappeared one by one.
From being a pioneer for change, Nigerian youth became a group with no voice compared to the older political class. The youngest member of the national parliament today is 43 years old.
Since Nigeria’s return to multi-party democracy in 1999, very little changed for youth inclusion in politics, that was until the implementation of the Not Too Young to Run bill.
A coalition of more than 100 youth and civil society organisations, led by the non-profit group Youth Initiative For Advocacy, Growth, and Advancement (YIAGA), conceived the Not Too Young To Run movement in 2016 to increase youth participation in governance.
The movement quickly gained popularity among young people across the country and they successfully lobbied the Nigerian government to reduce the age of eligibility for election candidates. Last May, Nigerian President Buhari signed the Not Too Young To Run bill.
The amendment lowers the age threshold from 40 to 30 for the president, 35 to 30 for state governor and the Senate, and from 30 to 25 for the House of Representatives and the state law-making bodies known as the state houses of assembly.
Hassan tells TRT World that despite the fact that the two dominant parties - the APC and PDP - have listed very few young people in their primary elections, the campaign has been a “unifier amongst youth” as it significantly “improved the political awareness of young people”.
According to her, reducing age limits has increased the number of people who are contesting political offices in the forthcoming elections.
In the 2019 elections, both a president and National Assembly members will be elected, and so far about 18 young people have announced their candidacy to be the next president of Nigeria.
Among the candidates, are 35-year-old tech entrepreneur Chike Ukaegbu, Eunice Atuejide, a 39-year-old lawyer, and Adamu Garba, 35, the CEO of an IT company.
However, despite the push for a more inclusive democratic system, Hassan says: “Youth participation in the electoral process is severely hindered by the enormous financial requirements.”
She adds: “The cost of elections - campaign expenses, nomination or expression of interest forms and donations to political parties make it very difficult for the youth to compete favorably against wealthy candidates.”
The Old Guard
Young candidates don’t just lack the financial resources, they also have to compete against veteran politicians, former governors, vice presidents and generals who have walked in the corridors of power for decades in Nigeria.
Olusegun Obasanjo and Buhari, both former generals who have had roles in military regimes, and the wealthy businessman Abubakar, have long played a political chess game to pursue their interests in Nigeria’s political scene.
Fragile alliances have been built among the three veterans many times over the past decade. For instance, Obasanjo who supported Buhari in the last election, has recently endorsed Abubakar in the upcoming election for president whom he publicly accused of corruption in 2006.
Hassan explains that young people’s discontent “with the old order stems from the failure of governance,” coupled with the consensus that the government has not been working for Nigeria’s millions of poor citizens.
During the next election young candidates want to change this and will be going up against the veterans to challenge the old order in the country.