Youth unbound – The Nation

  • The “Not too young to run” law is a new window for the youth to rewrite history

WHEN Muhammadu Buhari noted to an audience in London that some Nigerian youths did not want to work and earn their living, few thought he was going to do a mea culpa with a new law. Even if the president did not mean it as a sop, a sort of bribe, the Not Too Young to Run law is a significant piece of legislation.

Signed in Abuja, flanked by grinning young men and women, the law is intended to bring the younger generation into our political fray. We cannot escape the irony. Muhammadu Buhari who signed the law is in his 70’s, and was charged with inordinate ambition by his foes who thought he was greedy for the nation’s top office when he should have ceded it to the young. Even the young in contention were not of the generation that the new law accommodates. They belonged to those who are in their 50’s and 60’s.

This law now expands the tent of ambition. Yet, his opponents, especially of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), see it as an act of opportunism, as the desperation of a president who wants to spread his electoral net to the new block of voters. Many of the young have accepted it, even though the president cannot escape that charge.

Nor does he need to. Any effort by law that makes our democracy absorb more people is a counterforce against the air of oligarchy, which modern democracy is turning.

Yet while the law has its brilliant points, we must caution that it is not sufficient to transform the political culture. We witnessed this sort of legislation during one Ibrahim Babangida’s dubious transition programmes branded as ‘new breed’. The young ran headlong into the ring but it turned out to be a marionette show where the old were pulling the strings.

The puppet game is being suspected again this time. This is because two important elements have shown to be invaluable in the success in Nigerian politics. One, money. Few of the young have the sort of funding required to pull the electorate to their side. The bandwagon does not even begin when a young person, in his or her lofty idealism, decides to join the battle for political acceptability.

They understand early that it is not possible. Even the electorate who should benefit writes off the neophyte as light weight, and falls for the old, jejune, corrupt, corrupting and asphyxiating elite of old and sometimes fuddy-duddy.

The other point is the so-called party structure. It is a Kafkaesque nightmare for those who are young who dream to rise early. It is not for nothing that the youth wing is enshrined into the party structure. Why do they not have the adult wing? It is because the party belongs to adults. In the past even when parties were portrayed as for the young, the structure belonged to the adults. The late Tunji Braithwaite’s Nigeria Advance Party espoused the ideals of youth but he was already an adult.

Again, to have a structure in Nigeria means to fund it. It is common knowledge that some of the party chieftains are able to fund the structures from ill-gotten wealth, especially from the coffers of government, the people’s patrimony.

Yet, we should not despair. It is a time for the youth to evince the courage of the imagination, to dare and organise and bring new air and energy to the political society. We also know from our history that a cautionary note needs to be sounded. The men and women that fought for this country from Azikiwe to Awolowo to Enahoro began as youths.

We cannot say the generation saved our nation. Soyinka who belonged in a generation after that described his generation famously as “wasted.” But let this new generation show that history can change.

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