At 25 years old, most of the youths are struggling to finish from University, Polytechnics or Colleges, those that are lucky to graduate early are struggling to get or create a job. Most of us at this stage, we struggle to get a house, set a family or even buy a car. However, the story is not the same across, the children of our so called leaders know nothing about these struggles, they study abroad, they receive medical care abroad, they shop abroad, they go to holidays abroad, they buy cars and power bikes from abroad, and they have all the money to afford the most expensive politics in the world, the Nigerian Politics. If at the age of 25, a young person can contest for a state or national legislative position, then the children of the well-to-do or the political leaders are likely to take advantage of that. This then makes the political leadership like hereditary. The children of the poor may not even have the appetite to run for election, because they struggle with poverty, lack of quality education and focus.
The biggest barrier in our political system is not that of the age, but money politics. Though, breaking the age barrier is a positive development, but that alone will not make big impact unless we break other barriers especially that of money politics. Despite the recent cost reduction of nomination forms, the maximum cost of nomination form for the office of President, Governor, Senator, and Member House of Representatives is N10 million, N5 million, N2 million, and N1 million respectively. President Buhari himself could not raise N25 million then for his nomination form, he had to take a loan. Even at the reduced cost, it is still on the high side, because political parties are likely to stretch the cost limit.
Even if you have a decent job, how long will it take you and how much will you deprive yourself to save or raise such amount? In fact, the cost of nomination form is just a small fraction of the other cost that you must incur while contesting in this kind of politics. You have to spend for delegates to get a ticket of a formidable party. In fact, these delegates you have to keep watering them till the primary election. Once, you become an aspirant, you will automatically become the ATM of the people, everyone will come asking for money, and if you don’t give them, they will insult you. You also have to pay for the administration of your campaign, you have pay for publicity, posters, billboards, stickers, rallies, party elders, stakeholders and media. As a poor youth who is eligible by age, are you eligible by money?
Like Frank Underwood said in season 3 of the House of Cards, he said “Power is more important than money, but when it comes to election, money gives Power”. I don’t totally agree with Underwood, but you still have to learn the significance of money in politics. The late Hausa Movie Comedian, Ibro was once asked if he has the “sinadarin cin zabe”, i.e. Ingredient for winning election, and he responded by showing some bunches of money.
Poverty is striking so hard now a days, people are waiting for politicians to suck from them, and this makes the politics even more expensive and increases the chances of those with the money to win elections even if they are not competent. The reason why we don’t have good governance is because the criteria for electing leaders are based on Money not ideas. And people are desperate to get money and can compromise on ethics for money because the government failed to provide the basic life requirements for them.
Professor Lumumba once said, “Good guys with no money loose elections, but bad guys with money win elections in Africa”. So, the barrier that we need to fight now is the money barrier. There are other barriers like the cartel barrier and party barrier. There are some circles of big and powerful politicians who monopolize the politics and fix candidates from the pool of their families and friends. As a young person, you have to break these cartels. They will not invite you because you don’t have the money, and they might not want you to take chances of their children. They would rather mobilize you for their political thuggery, use you and dump you. Getting the ticket of a formidable party is another big barrier. To get the party ticket, you have to have money, godfather, and influence in the party. The political parties, especially the big ones, may not be interested on your age, but your money. Therefore, we should not take the Not Too Young To Run policy as a guarantee for youth political involvement. We should not celebrate yet.
Many young people called and texted me telling me that they want to run since the Not Too Young To Run bill has become a law. I jokingly ask them, where are you running to? Just because, you are allowed to run, it does not mean that you have the skills and the capacity of running. With this new policy, we, the young people, we have to organize and unite to take advantage of the opportunity. We have to come together to fight those bigger barriers. If we all contest, then how do we unite our votes, we will split our votes, and the older generation will continue to rule us. The strategy is, we should choose the most competent among us and rally behind them; support them with our money, time, ideas, and energy. We can only fight those barriers if we unite. We should get rid of envy and partisanship. We should not worry about the party, let us consider the candidates only. We should identify prospective and competent candidates wherever they are and encourage them to contest. Most times, the ones that are desperate to contest are not the most competent. We have to identify and force the competent youths to contest in election and provide room for consensus.
We should not be eager to contest, we should be more concerned about building our capacity and personal development. If you are not fully prepared, how can you lead? It is better to be ready and not have the power than to have power without being ready. We have seen cases where some young people were given the chances, but because they lack capacity and professionalism, they messed up. We have to dispel those that doubt our abilities by sending qualified candidates among us, so that people will have confidence in our ability.
Now we can run, but what do we want to do? What do we want to change in Nigeria? Having just a young President or a young Governor or a young Legislator cannot fix our problems. Development has nothing to do with demography, it is determined by genuine intention, capacity and great ideas. Wanting to become President is not a Vision. What problem do you want to solve and how do you want to solve it? That is your vision, and that is why you want the office of the President or Governor or Legislator as a tool to fix that problem. We should not think that the only success we can achieve is by becoming Presidents or Governors. There are many ways we can achieve success. As a young person, if you become President and you can’t solve a problem, you are a failure.
Therefore, if we want to lead this country, we need to develop an agenda for this country. We have to show to Nigerians that we understand our challenges as a country, and how we intend to address them. Do we have that right now? We cannot be ready to run unless we have an agenda. Once we can develop this agenda, then we can influence governance even if we are not elected into political offices. We can still sell our agenda to the leaders, make them work on our agenda and still achieve our vision. So, it is not a must that we must contest before we influence governance, we can still do that even outside politics.
Finally, it is not bad if we can start preparing some few among us for the office of the President in a near future. We have to identify people who have the skills, capacity, influence, popularity, personality, popularity and relative experience in politics and in professional careers. We have hundreds of them that can run for President, everyone can draw his own short list of these caliber of people. I know lots of young people who I think can make a good president, people like Onofiok Luke, Jelani Aliyu, Moses Siasia, Grema Terab etc. If we are not too young to run, we need to be too qualified to run, too united to run and too organized to run. Now, we need to agitate for further reduction of political nomination cost, and strict limitation of political expenses during elections. If we have to attract good candidates into governance, we have to reduce the monetary benefits and luxuries attached to political offices.
Dr. Ahmed Adamu,
Leadership and Development Expert,
First-Ever Global President of Commonwealth Youth Council,
University Lecturer (Economics),