For the past two weeks, there has been a campaign waged primarily on social media by a group of young Nigerians for more youth inclusion in our politics and governance. The campaign, tagged #3oPercentOrNothing, is demanding that 30% of appointments and elective positions be reserved for young Nigerians under the age of 40. It also has auxiliary demands that minimum age requirements for elective positions be abolished – in other words, once you are of voting age, you should be able to run for any elective office. Currently, one cannot run for the House of Representatives and state houses of assembly until he or she is 30 years old, 35 years old for the Senate and governorship and 40 years for the president.
There is also the demand that political parties waive nomination fees for their members under the age of 40 intending to run for office. They believe that the fees are a stumbling block to young people running for office (for example, the ruling PDP collects N10m from members that want to fly its flag in governorship elections). They have argued that this is one of the main reasons why elective offices are available to only moneybags or those backed by wealthy godfathers.
This campaign has had a very mixed reception from the very young people it is said to help gain inclusion into our politics. While a lot of people support eliminating minimum age requirements for elective positions and many are for political parties reducing or waiving the nomination fees for young aspirants, the main message of receiving 30% of appointments and offices for young people has met stiff opposition.
Let me explain my own position on the demands:
I have always found it absurd the minimum age requirements for elective positions. There is no proof that one is a better at governance as he gets older. We have had young people in governance who distinguished themselves and older people who were colossal disasters. We also cannot on one hand say an 18-year old is smart and mature enough to make excellent choices in voting public office holders but has to wait for another 12 years before he can make laws for his state or country. Thankfully, this is a sentiment that is equally shared by President Goodluck Jonathan, which means with some push, we will see this absurdity removed from our laws.
On the issue of waiving nomination fees, I do not think it is a stumbling block to only young people. There are equally many 50-year olds that cannot afford even a million naira to buy nomination forms to run for any office. While a few people have argued that it is a means by which political parties raise finances, I think it actually is a stumbling block to many people from running for elections in these parties. However, this is something that should be pushed from within political parties to reduce or waive these fees.
Another way to go around this issue is to push for the introduction of independent candidacy into the Nigerian political system. An independent candidate would not have to bother with paying any sort of nomination fees to a party. Thankfully, both the House of Representatives and the just-concluded National Conference is in support of independent candidacy. It is now up to the Electoral Act to specify the conditions for one to qualify as an independent candidate.
Now, as for the main demand of reserving 30% of appointments and offices for youths, in the nicest of words, it is a cockamamie idea.
First, I dislike quota systems in every way. They do not allow us put our best foot forward and we end up sacrificing merit for convenience or “inclusion”.
Secondly, what do we define as youths? The United Nations and the African Union, for example, define youths as those between the ages of 18 and 35 and this is what is used by many youth organizations. These campaigners have chosen their age limit as 40. Curiously enough, our two main political parties seem to have a much higher age limit in their definition of youths judging by the fact that they have both had or have youth leaders much above 40 (the PDP had most recent youth leader was 60 years old, the APC’s current youth leader’s age is given between 45 and 53).
The danger with this is that we will suddenly have many old people claiming youths so as to benefit from this.
If we want to get more young people into government, let us start by encouraging them to participate in politics and to run for offices on the merit of their qualification and not just because they are young.
Let us encourage them to not be satisfied with being errand boys in their political parties but that their voices are prominent. For example, let us look at how Julius Malema at the age of 27 was a very influential leader in South African’s African National Congress while running its youth wing, has broken off to form his own party and today sits in the country’s parliament.
Let us encourage them to excel in their professional endeavors so that their brilliance cannot be denied and the chances of being appointed increases.
But let us not take this lazy route of asking for a quota of position and elective offices, where merit will be sacrificed and age becomes the main criteria.
Young Nigerians, we are better than this.
iWrite Pieces are opinions of the writer. They are views held by the writer and do not always represent the views of Yada Magazine
This article was written by Yada Magazine Contributor, Mark Amaza. He is a Passionate Nigerian; Chief Thinker/CEO of MINDcapital, a strategy, innovation and branding consulting firm by day; coordinator of NIGERIA:UNITED, a youth-based movement working to foster national unity despite our religious, regional and ethnic differences. He blogs at http://markamaza.com. Follow him on Twitter @amasonic
Image from http://www.30percentornothing.com