By Ochereome Nnanna
NIGERIAN politicians will always seize every opportunity to grandstand even on issues that ordinarily should be beyond politics. If there is anyone who can legitimately claim credit for the Not Too Young To Run Act, NTYTRA, signed into law last week by President Muhammadu Buhari, it is Hon. Tony Nwulu. He was elected on the platform of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, by the good people of Oshodi/Isolo Federal Constituency, Lagos State in 2015.
This law was one of his campaign promises. He pursued it with uncommon commitment not just in the National Assembly but also by creating sensitisation platforms to help popularise it. But, as we all know, nobody can singlehandedly bring a Bill into an Act, especially this one that required not just two-thirds of votes in the two chambers of the National Assembly but also approval by four-fifth majority in 24 states of the Federation. It also required a presidential assent, in line with Section 9 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (As Altered).
That this historic Act successfully passed through the eyes of the proverbial needle, scaling the Houses of Assembly of 34 states (except Kano and, surprisingly, Lagos) shows how hugely acceptable it is. I don’t know why Lagos, which is usually associated with progressive ideas, slept off over this. Some say it was because of the author, Hon. Nwulu, who broke all ethnic and political party barriers to represent Lagos in Abuja, but that may be mere idle speculation.
President Buhari also could not resist the temptation of bathing in the political klieg lights of the success of the NTYTRA. He put it as a promissory item in his 29th May 2018 Democracy Day national broadcast. And when he signed a couple of days later, he brought a posse of young people to witness the event amidst a flash-photo paparazzi funfair. But he tore the moment soon after by telling the young people to shelve their ambition till 2023 when he would no longer be eligible to run for any political office! It did not matter whether he said it in jest or humour. That statement flowed against the euphoric atmosphere. How can you sign a bill and ask those who will benefit from it to wait for another four years?
Beyond all this, there is the residual matter of whether the NTYTRA 2018 is applicable or a waste of time. I have read from at least, two senior lawyers (Chief Anayo Uwazuruike and Mr. Jibril Sampson Okutepa, SAN) who have issued statements saying that as an Act, the NTYTRA cannot override the existing constitutional provisions to grant the young people their hearts’ desire. Perhaps, it was either they did not look at Section 9 of the constitution which the Act has fully complied with or they were not aware that the NTYTRA has gone through the mill. Perhaps, they thought it was treated as a mere bill. The truth is that the NTYTRA has come to stay. It is a valid Act, and it will apply accordingly.
But, how wholesome is this Act? That is another matter altogether. President Buhari referred to a glaring anomaly in it when he said: “surprisingly, the age limits for senators and governors were not reduced as originally proposed by the sponsors of the Bill. This is an issue that may need to be addressed going forward”. The President is right, but before going further to justify this assertion let us look closely at bill.
It was passed by the two chambers of the National Assembly in 2017. The original bill altered Sections 65, 106, 131 and 177 of the constitution to reduce the ages candidates have to attain to contest for the National Assembly, State House of Assembly, Presidency and Governorship respectively. The presidency was pared down from 40 years to 35 years, governor from 35 to 30; senator from 35 to 30; House of Reps and House of Assembly from 30 to 25. However, by the time the bill had gone round the federation the ages for governor and senate were returned to 35 years. Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, claimed the age for senator was retained at 35 “to correct the disparity between the age for president and senator”.
While some of us bask in euphoria over this bill, it is far from conforming to the aspiration of the proponents that the youth are not too young to run. Once a person reaches legal adulthood, he or she should be eligible to vote and be voted for. It is up to the parties and the voters to decide if they believe a person offering himself or herself for any office is matured and experienced enough to be supported for their bids.
Besides, the youths of today have been downgraded from what the youths of the 1950s colonial Nigeria freely enjoyed. There were no such age limits for aspirants in colonial Nigeria. This made it possible for Dr. MT Mbu to emerge as a member representing Ogoja in the Eastern Regional House of Assembly (ERHA) in 1952 at the age of 23. Also, Dr. Sam Gomsu Ikoku defeated his father, Dr. Alvan Ikoku, and emerged as the Leader of Opposition in 1951 at the age of 24 also at the ERHA. Alhaji Maitama Sule also became a member of the House of Representatives at 25.
These were among the founding fathers of Nigeria. Over sixty years later, their grandchildren, citizens of the computer age, have to wait and wait! Our grandfathers not only got the chance to stand for elections early in life, they also became part of government at very tender ages and quickly gathered experience which helped them work for their people while they were young and vibrant.
The NTYTRA, certainly, is an unfinished business.