Saatah Nubari: A Case For The Inclusion Of Youths In Governance
The arguments on the role of youths in the politics and policies of governance world over has been an interesting one; it has most times been appropriately stated, save for Nigeria—here, it has been wittingly understated by the lawmakers themselves, legally, in tandem with the 1999 Constitution (Amended or Un-amended).
Defining the term ‘Youth’ has been a byzantine one for reasons best known to its definers. Three definitions will be used here; the definition by the United Nations, that of the African Youth Charter and that of the Nigerian National Youth Policy. The United Nations for ‘statistical consistency across regions’ defines the term ‘Youth’ as those between the ages of 15 and 24 years; the African Youth Charter of 2006 defines it as ‘every person between the ages of 15 and 35 years’, while the Nigerian National Youth Policy defines it as ‘comprising all young persons between the ages of 18 and 35 years who are citizens of the Federal Republic of Nigeria’.
Youth inclusion in governance in Nigeria has been minimal—almost non-existent until recently. This is bad considering the fact that elsewhere on this same planet earth, youths are given greater roles in the governance of their states, cities and even countries. It is a statement of fact when one says half of Nigeria’s population is made up of youths and it is also a statement of fact when one says youths involved in governance in Nigeria at all levels do not account for up to 30% of the total at any level. Putting this in contrast with the population of youths in Nigeria, which hovers around an average of about eighty million people, a percentage of less than thirty is distasteful.
The argument of youth inclusion in governance is a dynamic one. It is one with plausible arguments from both sides of the divide. In as much as I’m an advocate of youth inclusion in governance, I’ll also try to state the arguments from those on the opposing side so as to give my readers a vantage point from where they can make critical analysis and decide.
Experience: this is one major factor opponents of youth involvement in governance have held on to with much fervour. There’s the belief in this circle that youths lack the aptitude, faculties and outright experience needed for governance in a complex state like Nigeria. They believe maturity comes with age and the youths are rather too young or too immature to handle something as complex as governance.
The issue of experience raised by those against youths getting actively involved sounds somewhat plausible, but it can be faulted and will always be faulted. Let me start by stating that, I’m of the firm belief that if I’m old enough to be on the voters register, then I should be old enough to be on the ballot. Nobody was born with a stamp of ‘experience’ on his or her forehead. Experience can only be gotten by chance and opportunity and not by idly accumulating age. The constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria has been and will continue to be a stumbling block to those of us who feel there’s an urgent need to open the political process to the Nigerian youth for them to get involved.
Section 65, sub-section 1a pegs the minimum age requirement for the Senate at 35 years; Section 65, sub-section 1b pegs the minimum for the House of Representative at 30 years; Section 106b puts the minimum age requirement for membership of the state houses of assembly at 30 years; Section 131b puts the minimum age requirement for the Presidency as 40 years; Section 177b limits that of Governors to 35 years. State Electoral Commissions put the age limits for Local Government Chairmanship candidates at 30 years while that for Councillorship is fixed at 25 years.
Ordinarily, this looks appealing. But like I said earlier, it can be faulted and will be faulted. The Nigerian constitution puts the minimum voting age at 18 years and I strongly believe it should also be the minimum age requirement for elective offices in Nigeria. My reason for this is quite simple. I’m of the view that trusting an 18 year old with something as important as deciding who is fit to occupy a political office says a lot. I’ve had arguments with people who believe an 18 year old is too young to hold an elective office, and in as much as the constitution supports this theory, it also contradicts it somewhat. It is contradictory in the sense that an 18 year old is deemed articulate and rational enough to select who should occupy an office, and yet that same 18 year old isn’t articulate and rationale enough to occupy same office. I’m of the view that if the constitution feels an 18 year old isn’t old enough, intelligent enough, or experienced enough to run for the office of the President, I see no reason why that same 18 year old should then be allowed to use his/her young, unintelligent, and inexperienced self to decide who should occupy that office. Going by the assertion of opponents of youth inclusion in governance; that age somehow equals intellect, experience and capabilities, the constitution should then be amended to accommodate their line of thought—which means that 30 years would be the minimum voting age for a LGA Chairman, House of Representatives and Houses of Assembly candidates; 35 years will then become the minimum voting age for offices of Governors and Senators while 40 years would be the minimum voting age for the Office of the President. In all these, it is safe to say that only those who have attained the age of 40 will have the ‘Right to vote and be voted for’. The others from 25-35 years of age, depending on the office, would have to be contended with having the ‘Right to vote (and not to be voted for)’ at some point; while the inarticulate, unintelligent and inexperienced ‘Youth’ between the ages of 18 and 24 years will have to contend with a very nice ‘Right to watch on TV and discuss on social media’.
Looking at the above argument, one can see how flawed and weak it is—its ability to hold water is non-existent. The world over, youths are being given the chance to be a part of governance—to be involved in the politics of government and to contribute/formulate policies. We shouldn’t be late to this particular party. Let me end by the same way I started: if I’m old enough to be on the voters register, then I should be old enough to be on the ballot. We should have that ‘Right to vote and be voted for’, not half of it but all of it.
Saatah Nubari is on Twitter @Saatah
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