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LIFT THE AGE BARRIER: A Case For Myself

by on November 27, 2014
 

“Nations are today in the race for the future and nobody has experience of the future. All experiences people claim to have are experiences of the past. And our uninspiring past cannot be a guide for our future, as we need a clean break from our past. Nigeria should be in a race for the First World and what is needed more than anything else is vision.”

  • Sam Nda – Isaiah; November 4th

I must start today’s note by acknowledging the brilliance of Sam Nda – Isaiah a.k.a. Uncle Sam (apologies to Sam Agha Egwu who must share this name with his party man from henceforth). Although I hear he is neck deep in the habit of owing his staff huge backlog of salaries which I consider an indictment on his ability to lead a federal government which is the largest employer of labor, my respect for him further grew after I read and digested a speech he delivered on the occasion of his declaration to contest for the position of President & Commander – In – Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Even though I do not agree with most of his claims, which are mainly assumptions I must admit that he dared to think outside the box by breaking away from the old empty noise order his friends in the leadership of the All Progressives’ Congress like Alhaji Lai Mohammed, Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi and Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso have institutionalized.

For a man who is third to President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan after Alhaji Atiku Abubakar in terms of big ideas on how to run Nigeria I must clap. Uncle Sam is inspiring and is my perfect idea of what a politician in the opposition should be known for – ideal and achievable alternatives. It is only unfortunate that his politically land locked party will never allow him bear its flag as presidential candidate ahead of the said polls. The reason for this is not farfetched. Old Alhaji Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the South West entered into a pact with an equally old Alhaji Retired General Muhammadu Buhari of the North West for the sole purpose of advancing each other’s desire to rule (not lead) Nigeria. While Alhaji Retired General Muhammadu Buhari is expected to perform the numeric magic with his almajiri under aged voters, his new bride Alhaji Bola Ahmed Tinubu is expected to mobilize as much naira wads as will be needed for this project to work. I doubt if the third and more liberal Alhaji Atiku Abubakar is in this calculation. But for Uncle Sam, he never was and will most likely not be.

The internal configuration of the All Progressives’ Congress is not my business because no normal individual should seek to have a say in a business venture modeled to operate as a sole proprietorship. It is on this basis that I shall cease to further discuss whether or not that party is an exclusive preserve of spent men.

My extract from Uncle Sams’ declaration speech is deep in meaning and it is remotely linked to the participation of younger Nigerians in the governance process. As a firm believer in laws, I’m of the strong view that before any meaningful development can be achieved, relevant laws must be in place to support initiatives that will cause such anticipated development. This is one reason why I consider the All Progressives’ Congress largely fraudulent and irritating because they accuse the executive of failing to wage a brutal war against corruption yet they consider it unnecessary to direct their members in the national Assembly to scale the fence of the complex, force their way into the chambers and hold sittings with a view of repealing obsolete anti-corruption laws that have been identified as a factor slowing down the war against corruption.

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As the 2015 general elections gathers momentum, I must painfully admit that several young and amazingly intelligent Nigerians exist around the world who are desirous of changing Nigeria but have been shut out of the governance process. In the course of my interaction with these Nigerians on the social media as a requirement of my job function I have not only found them to be tremendously passionate, I’ve also discovered that they are immensely capable of implementing their ideas if given a chance because my daily interaction with these young people have shown that they have a full grasp of the challenges at hand and know exactly where and how to deploy each development strategy they have initiated by virtue of their exposure to the west. On the home front, I have always sought to form alliances with like mind Nigerians who like me are in the race for the future and my search have paid off. Today I have as good friends young Nigerians who know beyond criticizing government.

As a group of young vibrant Nigerians full of solutions, innovations and ideas, we have realized that there is a huge challenge before us which goes beyond what every other young Nigerian sees or feels. Few months before now, Nigerians lamented the high cost of nomination and expression of interest forms required to seek nomination as political party flag bearers ahead of the next elections. While the cries went on unabated, I wasn’t bothered because I was (and I’m still) sure the costs of acquiring these documents are and will be the least of my challenges when I decide to seek election into a political office in Nigeria. As a matter of fact I reasoned that any Nigerian truly called to serve who has a good grasp of the challenges of his or her people and has the desired solution should not have a challenge raising campaign funds which is far higher than the cost of the documents I mentioned. For example, if someone seeks to represent my Orumba North Local Government Area of Anambra State in the Anambra State House of Assembly and is unable to convince persons like Dr. Alex Ekwueme, Chief Okey Ezeibe, Asiwaju Alex Enibe, Chief Godwin Okoye Ezeokar, Prof. Charles Chukwuma Soludo, Dr. Okey Udeh, Dr. Chike Akunyili, Dr. Raymond Obieri, and Barr. Tony Madichie etc. on the basis of facts to support his or her ambition/candidacy, such a fellow should urgently reconsider the genuineness of that ambition.

With the issue of funding off my list of challenges, the only barrier that stands till now is the age ceiling. The 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria stipulates that besides the position of a councilor, 30 years remains the least age an individual must attain before being eligible to seek elections into other offices. Words with which to describe how devastated I was when I realized this barrier existed are lacking. My hope was further dampened when Hon. Uzo Azubuike, House of Representatives Committee Chairman on Public Petitions confirmed to me during a telephone discussion that the just concluded amendment of the 1999 constitution did not deal with the section of our laws that created this barrier. Perhaps, I was late. He however disclosed his willingness to assist in the area of drawing the attention of the House of Representatives to a need for that section of our laws to be appraised at a later time. I shall not disclose further details of my discussion with him at this stage but I must admit that his suggestions and inputs were very helpful and assuring.

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Back to the age ceiling issue, the youth of Nigeria have been discovered to be its most treasured asset before the deposits of crude oil that lie beneath our soil. These groups of persons fall between the age bracket of 18 – 45 but in reality the ages of persons that can be called youth who occupy political offices in Nigeria start from at least 36 years. What does this hold for Nigeria measuring by my extract from Uncle Sam’s declaration address?

I verily believe Uncle Sam’s assertion that Nations are today in the race for the future and nobody has experience of the future. If this school of thought is anything to go by then it is only logical that as a nation, we take deliberate steps to ensure that by virtue of our laws, persons who are essential to speeding up our race for the future are not shut out of the race itself. Recently, Honorable Abdullahi Mai – Basira, the National Youth Leader of the Peoples’ Democratic Party acknowledged that the social media have emerged a potent platform for information sharing and exchange. In line with his acknowledgement, I dare add that the average Nigerian youth (this writer inclusive) have gained so much knowledge and capability leveraging on the various opportunities provided by the social media but of what use are these information and knowledge if the law bars me and persons in my age bracket from deploying them effectively in my country till we clock 30 years when our contemporaries in Europe have been deploying theirs while they were yet 20 years?

As I write, only very few Nigerians who haven’t travelled outside Nigeria have no idea of what an ideal society should be. Technology has made it easier for solutions to be developed, tested, certified and shared in view of our peculiar challenges as a country. In my view it will be an act of grave injustice to deny me and my age mates in Nigeria an opportunity to break even in leadership till 2023. If there exists a young Nigerian who has won the trust of persons in his community, why should such a person (like me) be suffered to wait for another six years before he or she qualifies to contest an election? My brand of politics is hinged on ideas, innovations and solutions but I wonder why I’m being suffered to wait till 2023 before I’m deemed qualified to contest an election in my home state on account of provisions of the 1999 constitution as related to my age when I already have a grasp of the challenges my people face and can tackle them head on with a view of ending them? Why should I be suffered to sit and watch while someone who is less skilled in the art of governance lead my people in a manner that is far from modern trends in advanced economies?

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Recently in Sweden, my attention was drawn to 29-year-old Gabriel Wikstrom who was appointed health minister and placed in charge of one of the world’s most expensive industry. This is perfect example of competence above anything else. Even though I am aware that Nigeria once had senior government officials within this age but like Uncle Sam rightly pointed out “All experiences people claim to have are experiences of the past.” We must replicate this trend. The big question here is thus; shall we continue to sit back, watching and applauding wildly when young people impact the world elsewhere while we operate a law that forbids our own young people from impacting Nigeria positively till they clock 30 years? This is not the way to go and this law must be repealed.

If indeed the future belongs to the youth who are fast emerging the next generation of leaders then there is no basis whatsoever for Nigeria to have laws as these governing us. What I seek is what is best for my country and I see no harm in the next National Assembly and/or the next federal and state executive councils parading competent lawmakers and officials who are 25 years. Leadership is an art that requires tremendous energy and drive, which no other category of persons other than the youth has and can sustain. The advent of new technology has caused the business of leadership to become more about innovation than any other thing. Who can be said to be more innovative and inquisitive than a youth?

Although people exist in the Nigerian youth community that are most interested in the cost of forms but the case I’m making for myself is beyond the cost of purchasing forms or the high costs of deploying an effective campaign strategy. It’s time we stopped holding our country down. The 30 years age ceiling for political positions above that of a councilor must be reduced to at least 25 years to reflect the trend in advanced democracies.

Remove the age ceiling and leave me to worry about the cost of forms and deploying my campaign infrastructure. This is the only way to ensure that only they who the cap fits wear it.

 

Ezeani, Chukwunonso Elvis is the South West Zonal Director; Communication, Research & Strategy at the Peoples’ Democratic Party National Youth Frontier. He can be reached via @ NonsoEzeani1

 

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