“No one is born a good citizen; no nation is born a democracy. Rather, both are
processes that continue to evolve over a lifetime. Young people must be included from
birth. A society that cuts off from its youth severs its lifeline.”
— Kofi Annan
Nigeria’s 2015 general election was a watershed moment in the country’s political history. Nigeria’s robust youth environment and increasing youth population makes her one of the most youthful populations in the world. With over 60% of the country voting population dominated by young eligible voters, youths constitute the largest percentage of registered voters.
The National Youth Policy defines youth as all young persons of ages 18 – 35. Nigeria’s burgeoning youth population provides a huge social, economic and political capital required to drive socio-political and economic development.
Youth participation in government in Nigerian political space is subject to the legal requirements for various political offices. Section 65 (1)(a) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) provides that an aspirant to a senatorial office must have attained the age of 35 years, while section 65(1)(b) provides that those aspiring for the House of Representatives seats must have attained the age of 30 years. The age requirement for the state house of assembly seat under section 106(b) is 30 years. Likewise, aspirants for the office of president and vice president must have attained 40 years while sections 177(b) and 187(2) stipulate that one has to be 35 years of age to contest for governorship or deputy governorship position.
Youth are excluded from contesting for the offices of President, Vice-President, Governor, Deputy Governor and Senate, subject to the legal requirements for these offices. These requirements leave only a small margin for participation of those who have attained the maximum age of 35 years in the youth bracket. Therefore, only the House of Representatives and State Assembly positions allows for youth candidacy.
Key findings from YIAGA’s Youth Candidacy in the 2015 General Elections in Nigeria stress that as Nigeria pushes forward towards deepening democracy and broadening participatory and electoral democracy, it must deliberately create space for its teeming youth population to participate in the electoral process. A critical component of that process must be increased opportunities for the youth to vote and be voted for.
However, the dimensions of youth political participation in the general elections extend beyond participating as candidates, as YIAGA’s Youth Participation in Nigeria’s 2015 Election Report, highlights youth political participation in 2015 as electoral officers, the use of NYSC members and students of higher institutions as polling officials, as party agents, as election observers, as security agents and as media personnel.
As we mark one year since the 2015 general elections, this milestone presents an opportunity for us to reflect on the gains or losses of the youth demography based on their participation in the political processes in the period under review.
Political participation by young people has emerged in recent years as a crucial new focus of efforts to enhance democracy. Youth political participation in governance and decision making processes is a clear indicator of a country’s democratic development. Democracy thrives on the ability of citizens to enforce their rights by participating in decision making; young people must be given the opportunity to contribute to the development of their communities through political participation that grants them access to structures of governance where decisions are taken. That access and opportunity to participate must be provided as a matter of right and not a privilege.
Nigeria’s greatest asset lies in its youthful demography, yet, there have been little or no gains towards furthering the youth agenda and harnessing the energy, resilience and commitment of Nigeria’s youth after the 2015 general election.
Engaging young people in democratic governance process is critical to ensuring that the gains of youth political participation in the 2015 general election are not lost in the post-election phase. Young people must organize and hold elected leaders accountable to their campaign promises, as well as effectively engage elected leaders to be responsive and take action on behalf of citizens. Political participation must be meaningful if youth participation must be sustained within the electoral cycle of a political system. Political participation become more meaningful when youths are able to express their preferences, aggregate their interests, and influence public officials and public policy, using avenues and opportunities in the political system towards helping to maintain government accountability and demanding government transparency and responsiveness.
Ibrahim Faruk works at the Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth and Advancement (@YIAGA). He tweets @IbrhmFaruk