The whole discourse on the “youth bulge” and the projections indicating that Africa will be the only region still experiencing substantial population growth after 2050, presents a continent which will more or less determine the future of the world. While being devilled by poverty, violence, unemployment, bad governance and corruption, the continent remains richly blessed in both natural and human resources, coloured with a beautiful cultural heritage and strengthened by a resilient people. In the light of these, the African Union developed the Agenda 2063 as a people-centred roadmap for development in Africa with youth engagement for development a major point in Agenda 2063. The idea being to refocus the discourse on youth to critical forms of engagement that enable the continent harness the vibrancy and viability in its youth population for the development of the continent.
Accordingly, 2016 is celebrated as the year of human rights with a major focus on the rights of women and regional youth consultations held to provide young Africans the opportunity to contribute to the 10year human rights strategy for the continent. The consultation in the West African region had rich participation with both online and offline engagements on issues of Young women’s rights, Governance, Peace, security and Migration, Inclusion, Diversity Management and Popular participation, Employment and mobility. Alongside other initiatives in the region, Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth and advancement (YIAGA) showcased the undying efforts of Nigerian Youth in demanding for inclusion and popular participation through the advocacy for the passage of the #NotTooYoungToRun Bill.
#NotTooYoungToRun Bill is a child of a consistent engagement of the constitution review process in Nigeria by YIAGA and her partners for the reduction of the constitutional age limits for elective offices which is now a national movement led by a critical mass of dedicated young Nigerians. The Bill seeks to on the one hand reduce the age qualification for the office of the President from 40 to 30years, Governor and Senate House from 35 to 30years, House of Representatives and State Houses of Assembly from 30 to 25years and to introduce independent candidacy for elections. Both proposals are founded on the belief that democratic development can only be achieved through inclusion, population participation and providing equal opportunities for all to have access to government in order to achieve an equal result. The presence of age limits are at first instance discriminatory against the excluded population and when the Constitution enforces age limits that represent huge gaps between the voting age and eligibility age in a young voting population, it becomes a conspiracy to keep young people out of office. In addition, considering our flawed political party system in Nigeria, where parties neither have ideologies nor internal party democracy and where well-meaning Nigerians cannot run for office because they don’t have enough money and power to buy their way through the top parties, independent candidacy becomes an option to give more people especially women and youth, the opportunity to aspire and run for office.
#NotTooYoungToRun is gradually garnering the support of different stakeholders including lawmakers in Nigeria. Beyond Nigeria, #NotTooYoungToRun is interestingly gaining popularity as more young people across the continent, Africa Union, ECOWAS and International partners gave their support to the Bill during the African Youth West African Youth Consultation. The bill became popular at the Consultation not just because of its catchy name but because it also re-echoes the African aspirations for 2063 either in building a prosperous Africa based on inclusive growth and sustainable or in building an Africa whose development is people driven…especially in relying on the potential in its women and youth. Achieving the Africa we want requires countries in Africa to lead a people-centred sustainable development agenda and develop a legal framework to enable inclusive governance while building strong institutions to lead democratic development. African youth join their voices with the youth in Nigeria to demand inclusion and with #NotTooYoungToRun Bill in Nigeria, more nations will learn to create space for their young people.
Inclusion and Participation are not just political desires but human rights which can no longer be ignored. #NotTooYoungToRun is an affirmation of the indispensable role of youth in democratic development.
Cynthia Mbamalu is the Project Manager at the Youth Initiative for Advocacy Growth and Advcancement. She writes from Abuja.