A few years ago, it was almost impossible to talk up the chances of a youth becoming president in Nigeria. But now, the clamour for a young leader is gaining momentum with the signing of a bill that reduces the age limit to seek political office in the country.
The limit was lowered from age 40 to 35, giving younger people an opportunity to vie for the coveted position. The original version of the bill proposed reducing the presidential candidacy age to 30. It also reduced age requirements for the Senate and state governor to 30 from 35.
With elections in early 2019, some younger Nigerians have thrown down the gauntlet, hoping to break the deadlock.
Adamu Garba, 36, said he is hoping to become the country’s youngest elected leader – an ambition he claims to have been nursing since 2003.
Garba hopes to make a difference in the political space.
“I am inspired to do this by observing … several wrong policy choices of our leaders that affects the general wellbeing of the people. I am driven by empathy and compassion towards humanity,” Garba said.
“I, over the period of 12 years, studied and came up with deliberate policy proposals in the form of manifestos that will address all of Nigeria’s seeming challenges – joblessness, lower skills level, illiteracy, diseases and security issues.”
￼President Buhari in May signed the bill reducing the age limit to seek political office.
More than half of Nigeria’s estimated 182 million population is under 30 years of age. The country’s median age is just 18, according to the United Nations, but politics is dominated by older politicians.
All civilian heads of government were more than 50 years old before they were elected. Nearly two decades after the advent of civilian rule, former military leaders retain a strong influence over politics.
Samson Itodo, leader of youth advocacy group YIAGA which is pushing for increased participation in politics by younger Nigerians, said they are not intimidated in their bid to participate in politics.
“Nigeria and Nigerian politics requires fixing and my generation is taking responsibility for fixing Nigeria. The movement is maintaining its identity as a citizen’s movement dedicated to democratic accountability, inclusion, and excellent public leadership,” Itodo said.
“This movement is raising a new cadre of political leadership and redefining civic engagement.”
The campaigners, with the slogan #NotTooYoungToRun, hope to increase the number of younger people in the corridors of power starting next year.
￼Eunice Atuejide is hoping to be Nigeria’s first female president in 2019
Women in politics
Nigeria ranks as one of the worst in the world for female representation in politics. Women occupy only 27 of 469 parliamentary seats.
Women have continued to be sidelined in the country’s politics – playing minimal roles, resulting in a shortage of female candidates.
Eunice Atuejide, 39, leader of National Interest Party, told Al Jazeera she’s hoping to make history.
“I am quite certain that I stand a very good chance to wrestle power from the more experienced politicians in 2019, but not because I have more experience than them, or more money than they do,” she said.
There are fears fewer women will participate in the 2019 elections because of increasing political violence that has marred previous votes.
The country’s political campaigns also require a lot of funding that most female politicians can’t muster.
“Funding is an issue, however, I am hopeful that ordinary Nigerians will soon start backing me financially now that they start to see from where I am approaching the 2019 presidency. For now, the competition is badly tilted against me, however, I am very hopeful,” Atuejide said.
As younger people blame older politicians for the country’s woes because of unfulfilled electoral promises.
Political parties in Nigeria must select their candidates for the election between August 18 and October 7. Most political parties have in the past chosen veteran candidates.
“The older politicians keep power because the younger generation refused to rise up and take responsibility. However, it has now become glaringly clear that there is a need for evolution of the new generation to replace the old because their policy proposals are not working,” Adamu said.
Advocacy groups are campaigning to reverse the trend by getting younger people into elected posts.
“We’ve got over 50 million young registered voters behind us. We will mobilise them to vote against any party that doesn’t give tickets to young women and men,” Itodo said.