Not Too Young to Run
Leadership is influence, while influence is quality and substance. Looking at the age reduction bill, and how that will reshape Nigeria’s political space, Nigerians would need to ask themselves, is the plan to kick out the old people because they are outdated, and replace them with the young ones because they are perceived to have the capacity to do better?
It is good to mention that giving the opportunity to participate does not guarantee success or real participation – for example, despite the era of Civil Rights ending formal segregation for African Americans, there remained segregation based on price of access. Applying this scenario to getting into political office in Nigeria is likely to produce the same result. To compete favorably in this “industry”, young people will need to have substantial amount of money, and the will and ability to compete aggressively with the industry leaders that have extensive connections and experience. The “Not too Young to Run” bill is by itself not sufficient, because it does not solve a lot of problems. What the country needs is a type of bill that will limit the participation of people who come into politics with stolen money. If the political space is fair and open, then somebody who has been employed for 10-12 years and has for instance managed to save N20 million ($65,402) that he can commit to an election will be sure he has a chance. But as it is in the country currently, what happens at the election is that, only people who have worked usually in or connected to government and have amassed a significant amount of money will come into the electoral race and then just buy the election.
The first problem that young people are going to have is common to anyone who is not wealthy already – only a few people have the money to go into an electoral race either for the Senate, House of Representatives, Governorship, or the Presidency. The role of money cannot be understated, starting from the nomination ticket fee which now costs N10 million ($32,701) for the Presidential election, according to the newly passed Electoral Act No. 6 2010 (Amendment) Bill 2017. This amount does not include the money used to buy the delegates’ cooperation. Even if we must assume that the candidate would be able to crowdsource for election campaign funding, for the candidate to secure his or her votes on the election day, at least one paid agent per polling unit would need to be employed to observe the process. Let us assume that N5000 ($16.35) is paid to each agent for their service at the 119,973 polling units across the country, and this will add up to N600 million ($1.96 million). This shows how expensive Nigeria’s elections are, hence the small chance that someone in his 30s and who is an outsider to the process can raise such an amount of money. It is for this reason that the promoters of the “Not Too Young to Run” bill need to consider how to crowdsource the needed funds for the election race, as money does matter.
For the sake of argument, let’s assume that the promoters of the bill can present and fund a young candidate for the presidential position in Nigeria. Since this is the season of election, age, and performance, and we cannot categorically argue the correlation between age and good governance, it then becomes necessary for us to look at the available evidence to see whether the younger leaders steal significantly much more or less that the elder leaders. Secondly, do the younger leaders perform better in office than their older counterparts? And is there an alternative to the never too young, or “Not Too Young to Run” bill?
A gerontocracy in the making
There are two major arguments on age; the first one, as partially argued above, is how difficult it is to become a leader in Nigeria, and evidence from 1999 reveals that this difficulty is increasing. In 1999, the country had the youngest Governor, Ibrahim Saminu Turaki, who was 35 years old. It became even more difficult in 2003 even though Turaki was still in government, and arguably still the youngest; however, at the age of 41, Bukola Saraki became the youngest among the new set of governors. So, the country had moved from a junior governor that started his political career at the age of 35 to one that started his at the age of 41. In 2007, the age of the youngest governor had increased by 2 years to 43 years old. And, by 2011, the age had even increased further to 44 years old, and 46 years in 2015. Benedict Ayade, the current Governor of Cross River State since 29 May 2015 (then 46 years old) was the youngest governor until 27th January 2016 when Yahaya Bello (then 41 years old) was constitutionally declared winner of the 2015 Kogi State gubernatorial election after he was chosen on the platform of the All Progressives Congress as the replacement for the late Abubakar Audu who originally won the election. This primary argument of the supporters of the “Not Too Young to Run” bill has, therefore, been proven valid – it is becoming tougher to find a young man/woman who is a governor.
The second argument of the supporters of the bill refers to the Presidency, and the evidence also shows that it has indeed become tougher for someone in his or her 30s and 40s to become the president. The age range of the Heads of State in the first Republic was 32-39 years old. Meanwhile, the narrative is different when we look at the current trend from 1999. The current President did not only get into office when he was 73 years old, he is in fact the oldest President, Prime Minister, or Head of State Nigeria has ever had. Let us look at another fact – when the current Vice President Yemi Osinbajo got into office, he was 58 years old. This also put him as the oldest Vice President of the country. And their combined age is also the largest.
Is youth really the answer?
Meanwhile, are Nigerians really interested in the age of the President? Or is his/her ability to perform more important?
The Nigerian Bureau of Statistics has augured that what Nigerians complain most about are the high cost of living, unemployment and corruption. So, the next question that needs to be answered is whether there is any correlation between age and performance. When the United States citizens talk about John F. Kennedy, they mainly talk about his performance, and not the fact that he was the youngest President they ever had. So, Nigerians should bear in mind that, if it is good to fight for the right of the younger generation to emerge as leaders of the country in various capacities, it will be better to make a case based on the capacity to perform.
If we are to look at Nigeria’s forgotten history, it was the young people that gave the country dividends of good governance, even in the military era. But then, a careful examination of what the class of 1999 governors, Ibrahim Turaki (36 years), Donald Duke (38 years), and Orji Uzor Kalu (39 years) are remembered for today might give us a clue on whether age matters. Let us start with Turaki. A quick web search of his name does not return a result of him as a mentor to youth, facilitator of empowerment, winner of awards, or representative of the country on the global stage, rather a public notification of him being wanted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in connection with a case of criminal conspiracy, theft, money laundering and misappropriation of public funds to the tune of N36 billion ($99.72 million). This is not however to say that he is not innocent until being proven guilty by the court of law. What about Donald Duke? He is a bit different even though he does not have any EFCC case on him. He was an overly cautious and conservative governor during his time in office as a governor. In 2007 when he led Rivers State, the budget of the state was the lowest (N39 billion or $327.6 million) in the South-South region. Compare that with the current overly ambitious governor of the same state (Benedict Ayade), who has declared a budget of N1.3 trillion ($35.9 billion). Even if we look at Orji Uzor Kalu, another governor below the age of forty when he was governor, the EFCC is also after him for an alleged fraud of over N3.2 billion ($8.8 million). So, we can clearly see that the country has leadership problems not based on age, but mostly based on performance.
Thus, even though I totally agree with the promoters of the “Not Too Young to Run” bill, I would rather encourage them to change the conversation to “Not Too Young to Perform”.