I watched the television as President Muhammadu Buhari signed the Not Too Young to Run Bill into law. It was not a children’s day ceremony – but maybe it was. The young people thought it was their day, the day of their liberation, their freedom from oppression. They surrounded the old man, some of them on his left and others on his right, thus making the old man the meat in the sandwich Buhari put his seventy something year old fingers on the paper and with a flush of grandfatherly handwriting he signed the document before him. Smiling, in fact grinning, the President displayed the document triumphantly and Trumpianly so that those who were not there may believe that, truly, he had actually signed the document to give the young people the entry visa to Aso Villa if they can find their way to the place.
Both the old man and the young people are looking for the same thing. The old man has it and wants to keep it. The young people don’t have it but want to grab it. This document that the old man signed reduces the age of people who want to contest for the presidency from 40 to 35 years. The atmosphere carried in its womb a high measure of excitement. There was electricity in the air and even the air seemed to be holding its breath. In the social media, the young people went gaga. They announced that it was payback time, a time for revenge, not for them the Lord’s injunction that vengeance is His. They were still angry that President Buhari had told an English audience that “most of them” were lazy, sitting around and waiting for freebies since their country is mined with crude oil. They thought that this was a God-given opportunity for them to punish Buhari for the heretical remark since, according to statistics, they form about 60% of the population or a substantial portion of the voting population.
However, the youths have got it all wrong. What they have is a dud cheque, because the Not Too Young to Run Act is inferior to the 1999 constitution. The age limit of 40 years for the Presidency is prescribed in Section 131 of the Constitution. That section lists the qualifications for election to the office of President as follows (a) He is a citizen of Nigeria by birth (b) he has attained the age of 40 years (c) he is a member of a political party and is sponsored by that political party (d) he has been educated up to at least the School Certificate level or its equivalent. It is clear therefore that if Section 131 (b) of the constitution that relates to the age qualification is not amended then the reduced age in the Not Too Young to Run Act is of no validity for the purpose of the election. The Constitution will prevail in that conflict between the Act and the Constitution.
Since there had been a serious altercation between Buhari and the youths, I thought the signing ceremony was a gilt-edged opportunity for him to repair the damage that his gaffe had done. I thought he would tell them that they had made Nigeria proud in various fields including ICT, Nollywood, music, dance, comedy, entrepreneurship and inventions and that he was very proud of them. Instead of doing that he told them, not entirely jokingly, that they should not contest for the Presidency in 2019. That advice is likely to fall on deaf ears because a lot of young people are already out there in the field campaigning for people they think are not too young to run. Of course, the President has his hordes of fanatical followers who inspite of his poor performance in the last three years and his age believe that he is not too old to run. The 2019 presidential contest may not necessarily be a straight fight between the young and the old because most of the young people have no idea how power is acquired in Nigeria. If they know it, they lack the wherewithal for acquiring it in the immediate future.
For young Nigerians who are acquainted with global happenings age has suddenly become some kind of serendipity in governance. They point to Emmanuel Macron of France who became leader of France at 39, Justin Trudeau, 42, son of a former Canadian Prime Minister, Sebastian Kurz, 31, Austrian Chancellor, Enid Dimitriev, 38, of Macedonia, Carlos Alvarado Quesanda, 38, of Costa Rica, Volodymyr Groysman 39, of Ukraine, Juri Ratas, 38, of Estonia, Leo Varadkar, 39, of Ireland. The list also includes the youngest woman to lead a major country, New Zealand. Jacinda Ardem, a former disc jockey is now New Zealand’s fresh face in the Prime Minister’s office. I suspect that the reason Nigerian youths have an obsession about younger people taking charge is because of the poor performance of the country over the years. But age is not the cause of the problem. Being young is not necessarily a qualification for success except other factors are present. It is the poor quality of our leadership over the years.
In the First Republic, Nigeria and its powerful regions were administered by young people. Here are the statistics: Obafemi Awolowo, Premier of Western Region (37), Ahmadu Bello, Premier of Northern Region (36), Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Prime Minister of Nigeria (34), Festus Okotie-Eboh, Minister of Finance (27), Anthony Enahoro who moved the motion for the independence of Nigeria (27), M.T.Mbu, Nigeria’s Foreign Minister (23). Of that group of leaders in the First Republic, Nnamdi Azikiwe was the oldest, 42 years. Also, not to be forgotten is Yakubu Gowon who was only 32 years when he took over the rulership of Nigeria and steered it successfully through the country’s most turbulent history. Today, we still remember the exploits of these men at campaign venues and in governance with a great deal of nostalgia. Most of them went to some of the best schools in the world and complemented it with self-tuition.
Most of them were great masters of oratory because they believed, like Benjamin Disraeli, that “with words we rule men.” They were prepared for the arduous task of rulership. As young people we were often excited to attend the campaigns of Zik and Awo because whenever they spoke your soul would be stirred, you would be moved to tears by the sheer power of their words. In the Fourth Republic, things have been different, depressingly different. No moving speeches, only platitudes, bromides and banalities, and then they raise someone’s hand. Over the years the Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria and the Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria have struggled to institutionalise presidential debates. In some other countries it is a desideratum. It is an avenue for candidates to put their best feet forward. Here, many candidates often look for excuses to dodge them. I thought the National Assembly would have made it part of the Electoral Act.
For me the age factor in governance is not as important as the education factor. Considering the complexity in today’s world why should Nigeria choose school certificate as the minimum qualification for the presidential office. In today’s world, a school certificate holder is a virtual illiterate. In my book the irreducible minimum qualification for the office should be a first degree. Besides, the person must prove at a competitive debate that he has briefed himself well on contemporary happenings in his country and the world. That is the top job in the land and yet we choose for it the same qualification as the one that companies choose for messengers and cleaners. That underlines our unseriousness in the choice of people for the number one job in the country.
The youths have apparently not noticed that the parties have a well-crafted design to marginise them and women. That is why they create the position of youth leaders and women leaders, youth wings and women wings. Is there an elders’ wing of the parties? No. Are there elderly leaders elected for the parties? No. So those elders who covet power have already assigned a subordinate role, an inferior role to youths and women, the role of hewers of wood and drawers of water. They may eat the crumbs but not at the table where the food is served. In my part of the world when a goat is slaughtered the elders will tell you that youths and women cannot eat the gizzard. That belongs to the elders. The party’s gizzard belongs to the elders. Do the youths know that?