By Afe Babalola
“The reduction in age limits is a welcome development. Any measure which will bring about more inclusiveness in political participation will augur well for the enthronement of democracy”.
On the 9th of May 2018, I wrote about the need to bring about more inclusiveness in political participation in the country by increasing opportunities for women to run for political office. Some days later, a group made up of female members of Houses of Assembly of the States visited the President and made the same request. In his remarks the President jocularly stated that the job of the Vice-President was on the line. This was in response to the request of the female parliamentarians that the President picks a female running mate during the 2019 elections. This visit which represents increased awareness for participation in politics is a welcome development.
However, another welcome development is the signing into law of Constitutional amendments reducing the age by which Nigerians can contest election into public office. The bill, popularly referred to as the Not-Too-Young-To-Run Bill reduces the age qualification for President from 40 to 35; Governor from 35 to 30; Senator from 35 to 30; House of Representatives membership from 30 to 25 and State House of Assembly membership from 30 to 25.The National Assembly had passed the bill last year, altering sections 65, 106, 131, 177 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (As Amended). The bill was first read at the House of Representatives and was passed with votes of (86-10) in the Senate on July 26, 2017 and 261-23 in the House of Representatives on July 27, 2017.. From available reports, the Bill garnered wide support across the Country as it was supported by 33 house of assemblies with Zamfara, Lagos and Kano being the only states that failed to support it.
According to the proponents of the bill, reducing the age at which Nigerians can contest elections into political office will afford the youth better opportunities to contribute to nation building though public service. It was argued that in recent times, despite making up the larger percentage of the population, limited opportunities have existed for young people to participate in politics and that reducing the age limit would go a long way in correcting the imbalance noticed overtime. Furthermore, it is felt that the youth owing to their age are not only more likely to be imbued with ideas needed to move the country forward, but are also likely to be more energetic or more embracing of a hands on approach to governance.
It does appear that the issue of age or aging politicians seeking elective office or remaining in political power is not unique to Nigeria. Concerns about putting a cap on the age of political office holders have been raised even in countries with more developed political systems than ours. On the 18th January 2018, the WEEK Magazine ran an article titled ‘Should there be an age cap on Political Leaders?’ in which it was stated as follows:
Time for a younger generation?
If the 68-year-old Labour leader wins an election in 2022, they point out, Corbyn would be the oldest UK prime minister ever to assume office for the first time, with a promise to voters that he’d still be in Downing Street five years later… But with age and health questions swirling around not only Corbyn but also 71-year-old US President Donald Trump, is it time political parties considered an age limit to make room for a younger generation of leaders?France debated an age cap after a 2015 government-backed report concluded that an upper limit would open politics to more young people,Newsweek reported at the time. France recommended banning politicians over 70 from standing for election, but the prospect provoked accusations of “ageism” from French MPs.Bernard Debre, then a 70-year-old Republican MP, told public broadcaster Europe 1 that an age cap would be a “denial of democracy”, Newsweek said, noting that such a ban would have prevented Charles de Gaulle and Winston Churchill from taking office in their day, as both served in their 70s.
Events in countries such as Zimbabwe where President Mugabe held on to power until he was forced out and Uganda where the President has been in power for ages certainly make providing a cap on age of political leaders a matter to be given serious consideration. However Nigeria appears to have approached the issue from the other end, which is by reducing the age limit.
While there have been many studies as to the relationship between age and leadership, there appears to be little consensus as to whether age really plays a part in bringing about effective leadership. In article titled “How does age affect leadership style?’ Scott Thompson wrote that:
“A 2011 thesis presented at the University of Queensland School of Psychology studied the relationship between age and wisdom among older leaders. The study defined wisdom as a combination of relevant knowledge, understanding of context, tolerance for different views and values and the ability to deal with the inevitable uncertainties of life effectively. The study found that leaders who were perceived as having these traits were also seen as being the most effective leaders and that those who were adept at handling uncertainty were considered especially effective. However, despite the correlation between wisdom and effective leadership, the study found no link between age and wisdom or between age and leadership skills. Some older leaders demonstrated higher levels of wisdom and more effective leadership skills while others did not. The Queensland study did not provide support for the idea that leaders become wiser with age.
A welcome development
Whatever the case is, I feel that the reduction in age limits is a welcome development. Any measure which will bring about more inclusiveness in political participation will augur well for the enthronement of democracy. However the government must do more to address other issues affecting the youth in Nigeria and their participation in politics. There is little point in reducing the age limit if it will not translate to real opportunities to the youth to truly participate. One area which readily comes into mind is the huge role that money plays in politics in Nigeria today. As I stated a few weeks ago, the authorities must be alive to their regulatory duties in ensuring that the caps placed by the Electoral Act regarding campaign finance are adhered to. I do not see how a 25 year old, who perhaps is just a few years out of the university and who aspires to membership of a state house of assembly, will be able to match another candidate who has a godfather with unending access to funds to run his campaign. Furthermore, more attention should be made to ensuring that parties comply with their own constitutions in the process of selecting candidates for elections so as to ensure a level playing field for all, youth, women, old and all. Without these guarantees, efforts to give increased political opportunities to the youth and other disadvantaged groups may remain just that; efforts without any commensurate effect.