“Fortune favors the brave”, it is commonly said. This quote aptly describes the journey of what has become a watershed moment in the movement to encourage inclusion and better participation of young people in politics in Nigeria as embodied by the ‘Not Too Young to Run’ movement.
For an organic movement that started with an unlikely band of 20 pioneer young fellows to grow exponentially to become one of the most powerful community mobilization efforts ever, for youth inclusion in Nigeria, NTYTR has greatly evolved over the past two years. This evolution has, in no small way been aided by the enthusiastic effort of so many different people in different places who joined along the way that it is difficult to even know each other.
I have thus come to realise that it is necessary to share my own experience to provide a better understanding of the movement, not in the general sense but from my specific perspective to provide an understanding of the beauty of this movement and, what we started out to do. Here is my story – one that I sometimes liken to be one of the most interesting adventures I have ever had.
ARE YOUNG PEOPLE READY?
This question has been the bane of this movement for me. In almost every interview or conversation I have had, the question of young people’s readiness always cropped up. Now, here is the issue with this: The question is based on a skewed thinking that, All young people are identical and behave in the same way. WRONG!
Young people have different goals, experiences, ideas and interests and so we cannot expect to answer that question directly. Some young people are ready and there are those who aren’t. However, I think people stray away from the main point of Not Too Young To Run when they ask that question. The right question to ask is this- does the movement encourage a more democratic Nigeria? The answer to that question is ‘yes’ because out of the tens of millions of people aged 18-35 in Nigeria, all are allowed to vote but not allowed by the constitution to contest for political office.
Isn’t it interesting that people who are trusted enough to join the army, defend the country, enter into legally binding contracts are constitutionally denied the right to run for elected office? NTYTR is not a promise that young people will solve all of Nigeria’s problems. Neither is it advocating for a complete change of guards from old to new. Rather, it is about giving young people the space to participate at all levels of the political process – the right for young people to vote and be voted for. This is the premise of an all-inclusive political process; one that we staunchly believe will improve and revolutionise the process in Nigeria. As we have seen in other countries in Africa and across the world, the inclusion of young people into the political process enhances rather than diminishes the delivery of good governance.
NOTE: If someone is qualified and trusted for the job, voters should not be deprived of that person as an option.
Think about the young man in Kenya, who at about 24 years old and still a student won a legislative seat. He did not win because he had money for posters, he reportedly went around neighbourhoods, door-to-door, to explain to people what he planned to do and that was how he won over their votes. The point of this story is to explain that at his young age, he had something of value to offer that his constituents found valuable enough so they chose him. This is the beauty of democracy.
ON PIONEERING / ON BEING A NTYTR PIONEER ( your choice)
Now, I want to tell the story of how I got involved with the Not Too Young To Run movement. I had been volunteering for YIAGA (Youth Initiative for Advocacy Growth and Advancement) – a dynamic and progressive youth led Civil Society Organisation. I started out as a volunteer for the ‘Young Legislators Accountability Program’ with YIAGA. Along the way, I remember receiving information about a bill to reduce the age to contest for elective office and being added to the WhatsApp Group where we had a clearer discussion on the bill and made contributions to what ages we all thought were appropriate until a final draft was developed.
This was the birth of the “Not Too Young Strategy Team” – a group of 20+ young persons convened by the seemingly quiet but very intelligent Samson Itodo with myself, Adeshola Komolafe, Bella Ann Ndubuisi, Chioma Chuka, Cynthia Mbamalu, Hamzat Lawal, Ibrahim Faruk, Jenny, Kenneth, Laz Uze Ede, Mark Amaza, Nana Nwachukwu, Runcie Chidebe, Safiya Bichi, Ukachi Chukwu, Yetunde Bakare, Moshood, Fatu Oguche, Stephanie Oyaide, Frederick Adetiba as the core pioneer members. Over the next few months and with the contributions of those of us in the core strategy team, the movement would take up a unique life of its own as we had initially set out to do.
Being quite active on social media, I did not hesitate in pushing discourses and engaging the online community on this salient issue. In doing this, many people may have had the (mis)conception that NotTooYoungToRun was an online movement when in fact; the real work was going on offline. Along the way, Not Too Young To Run grew so much that the press and policy makers could no longer ignore the movement. The movement gained public support from notable people such as the Rt Honorable Speaker of the House of Representatives, The British High Commissioner, The Australian High Commission and even adoption of the movement by the United Nations Youth Envoy where we began to see it being discussed by young people in different countries.
What a lot of people don’t know is that the march to the National Assembly was not planned. Having heard so many stories of how the bill was not even going to be considered by the legislators, we felt we had no choice- within a short period of time, meetings held and the 5,000 man march was on.
A lot of work had gone into it by the time its success was recorded at the National Assembly and for the first time, I can comfortably speak for myself by saying I breathed a huge sigh of relief, knowing that our effort had not been in vain and confident in the path that lay ahead of the movement. At this point, I must also thank Senator Nyako and Hon. Tony Nwulu for sponsoring this on the floors of the National Senate and National House of representatives respectively. Who knows where the movement would have been without this? Thank you for your courage at a time many didn’t give this a chance.
I must add this; the successes of the NTYTR movement could not have been possible if young Nigerians had not identified with the cause. It was something that so many people identified with from the start and it is equally commendable that the NTYTR Core Strategy Team set out from the start to ensure that ownership of the movement belonged to every young Nigerian. We wanted it to stay that way and still do. With the benefit of hindsight, this was a genius decision.
The Not Too Young To Run teams grew astronomically in States across the nation… it was clear that even with scarce resources, so many young people were willing to volunteer time and energy into ensuring this bill was passed. The members who were in the States around Nigeria were incredibly zealous. In fact, many of them wanted to travel to Abuja for the march that took place from Unity Fountain all the way to the entrance of the National Assembly in July 2017. That was a triumphant day for the movement and the multitude of people who walked in solidarity that day was nothing short of amazing.
MOVING FORWARD IN THE FACE OF CHALLENGES AND OPPOSITION
Of course, after that success, people had a lot to say – some in favour but the sceptics were not left out either. There were false claims and false accusations even from people who were close enough to the strategy team to know better but that was to be expected for a movement that had grown to such a scale. It was so hard for them to believe that such a movement could grow so organically, it was an amazing feat to behold.
The swiftness and ease with which the many challenges faced were handled must have given a wrong impression that pushing this movement was a walk in the park but I must commend everyone who participated and ensured all hands were on deck to move the movement forward. You are the real heroes. Your work and effort ensured the movement is what it has become today.
At the next stage and after the National assembly voted on the amendment, 24 State Houses of Assembly out of 36 were constitutionally required to get the bill to its final stage for Presidential Assent. Initially, the voting process started out slow with so many negative assumptions that these bills would not pass in the required 24 States. Kastina, Borno, Adamawa, Nassarawa, Benue, Delta, Ondo, Kwara, Yobe, Ekiti and Enugu had passed it in no particular order when Taraba State House of Assembly voted ‘against’ it in a turn of events but engagement with the youths in Taraba State continued, in order to understand what went wrong.
In a commendable turn of events and a reflection of the power of the youth, 24 States had voted YES by the 13th of Febriary 2018 confirming that the stage was complete and paving the way for the president’s assent. Still, it was important for all States to show their support and show that they were youth friendly by making sure to represent the desires of the Nigerian youth they represent. Taraba State House of Assembly reconsidered the bill after several advocacy initiatives by young people in the state and they overturned their earlier ‘NO’ vote.
As we await the votes from other States, it is my sincere and humble request that they carefully consider the clamour among the youths they represent for this bill to a success. It is important that all other States which are yet to vote confirm that they fully align with the aspirations of Nigerian youth. After observing the efforts of State Coordinators and volunteers all across Nigeria, one must commend their audaciousness and commitment that made this movement an even bigger force than was ever expected. As we await presidential assent, I am confident that the state coordinators and volunteers will keep pushing for 36 out of 36 because every Nigerian youth in every state deserves that chance.
We are at the final stage now, which requires President Muhammadu Buhari to assent to the bill. Mr. President, history will forever be in your favour if you listen to the yearnings of the Nigerian Youth who make up the single largest voting bloc in this country.
Nigerian youths have agreed to march to your official residence, Ask Rock, on 14th March 2018 as a request for your Excellency to take this bill into consideration and we humbly look forward to positive results.
We are tired of sitting on the sidelines. Young Nigerians will, God willing, be able to run for political office in the upcoming 2019 elections if you act quick. Will you align with us on the positive side of history?
The youth aren’t only ‘Not Too Young’ To Run but also ‘Ready to Run’ and able to perform. The time to act is now.
History will be made!
There are so many stories of how things happened behind the scenes that I am not able to tell but the truth is.. so many young people worked tirelessly to make this movement come to life and continue moving.