The Monday Discourse

Hon. Tony Nwulu’s proposed reduction in the age ceiling for persons seeking political offices in the country is a welcome idea. Shola Oyeyipo and Segun James write

The news, last week, of a bill seeking to reduce the age qualification for candidates wishing to contest for elective offices, was perhaps the most exciting relief in the midst of the confusion that currently dots the turf. The bill, which passed its second reading in the House of Representatives last week, was sponsored by Hon. Tony Nwulu of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) from Lagos and seeks to alter sections 65, 106, 131 and 177 of the 1999 Constitution.

According to the sketchy details of the bill, it seeks reduction for the office of President from 40 to 30 years; office of Governor from 35 to 30 years; the Senate from 35 to 30 years and the federal and state Houses of Assembly from 30 to 25 years. In addition, the bill also seeks to allow for independent candidacy into the country’s electoral process.

In his submission, Nwulu described the process of electing candidates into political office as an important part of democratic practice, saying “Countries like the United Kingdom parliament decided in 2006 to lower their age of candidacy from 21 to 18, which had existed since the Parliamentary Elections Act of 1695,” adding also that “An age candidacy of 25 would encourage greater youth participation in politics.”

The lawmaker also harped on the need to further open up the electoral space to independent candidates. And following a voice vote presided over by the Speaker, House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, the bill was subsequently referred to the ad hoc committee on Constitutional Review.

The need for more active youth participation in the nation’s electoral process has been one constant debate on the horizon for some time. But this encouragement has only existed in the mode of sheer advice without the recourse to some of the legal and constitutional inhibitions that have made it possible for the youths to fully come on board. Such a stiff constitutional position has, however, been described as one of the reasons for the illegal padding up of ages by some of the youths to enable them fast-track their involvement in the electoral process.

Indeed, over the years, Nigeria has had many cases of alleged age falsification by people elected into offices, a situation that directly speaks to the stifling laws inhibiting the youths from directly taking their destiny into their hands and in good time. One of such celebrated cases was that of the former speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Salisu Buhari, who padded his age from 29 years to 36 to enable him contest for election in 1999.

True to his plan, not only did he contest and win the election, he also went on to emerge the speaker of the new democratic experiment in 1999, becoming the nation’s first major democratic test. To further compound his own case, he also presented a forged university certificate from Toronto, Canada in order to up his resume.

Thus, a combination of these ugly circumstances made a mess of his case and the pressure mounted until he stepped from speakership, in tears and with apology to the Nigerian people. But had such an age ceiling been absent, he would have had a successful reign as he was said to have shown leadership in the few weeks of his speakership.

Interestingly, circumstances as these are not peculiar to Nigeria alone, albeit in different contexts. For example in the US, people who are younger than the minimum age requirements deliberately run for offices in protest of the requirements or because they don’t know that the requirements exist. On certain occasions, young people had been elected into offices they did not qualify for or deemed ineligible to assume the office.

In 1934, Rush Holt of West Virginia was elected to the Senate of the United States at the age of 29. Since the U.S. Constitution requires senators to be at least 30, Holt was forced to wait until his 30th birthday, six months after the start of the session, before being sworn in.

Also, in 1954, Richard Fulton won election to the Tennessee Senate, but shortly after being sworn in, Fulton was ousted from office because he was only 27 years old at the time. The Tennessee State Constitution required that senators be at least 30. Rather than hold a new election, the previous incumbent, Clifford Allen, was allowed to resume his office for another term, invoking some kind of doctrine of necessity. But Fulton went on to win the next State Senate election in 1956 and was later elected to the US House of Representatives, where he served for 10 years.

Similarly, in South Carolina, two Senators aged 24 were elected, but were too young according to the State Constitution. They were Mike Laughlin in 1969 and Bryan Dorn (later a US Congressman) in 1941. Interestingly, in their case, they were eventually seated.

On a few occasions too, the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) in the US had nominated candidates too young to qualify for the offices they were running for. In 1972, for instance,Linda Jenness ran as the SWP presidential candidate, although she was only 31 at the time. But since the US Constitution requires that the President and Vice-President be at least 35 years old, Jenness was not able to receive ballot access in several states in which she otherwise qualified. And despite these shortcomings, Jenness still received 83,380 votes.

Again, in 2004, the same party, SWP nominated Arrin Hawkins as its vice-presidential candidate even though she was only 28 years at the time. As expected, Hawkins too was unable to receive ballot access in several states due to her age.

Therefore, sometimes, the poor participation of youths in the political process might not be their doing and the tendency to want to obtain by hook or crook often makes a mess of the process and further paints the business of politics as intrinsically filthy. This is why the move by Nwulu has largely received commendation across the country as a majority of the people sees it as one of the positive credits that might go with the present session of the National Assembly at the nick of time if eventually passed into law.

youths

 

The Debate Starts Now

For young Linus Idahosa, an entrepreneur and an international media consultant of repute, who is already enjoying the support of a lot of people in Edo State to inject freshness into the state’s body polity by urging him to join the 2016 governorship election in the state, the proposed bill is a pointer to the need to get the younger generation actively involved in leadership.

“We often forget that Jesus Christ is our biggest example of a youth leader, who at 33 was done and had raised disciples, who centuries later are still influencing and gathering billions of adherents the world over.

“My take has always been and will continue to be that wisdom, leadership and the capacity to chart a path to a desirable and prosperous nation by laying the foundation for a continued, sustainable but organic growth path, is not and cannot be the exclusive preserve of those on the plus side of 40 but an inherent quality that providence bestows on one and the challenges of life help to enhance, refine and sharpen in one.

“At any rate, no man lives forever and failure to deliberately, conscientiously and willingly transfer power to succeeding generations in their prime is an aberrant life cycle unknown to nature and trust me, nature always corrects itself.

“It’s one thing for the bill to be passed; it’s another thing for the Nigerian youth to rise to the occasion because the system as presently constituted is not designed to give it to us on a platter; instead it prides in creating a generation of special assistants (SAs). It’s entirely up to the Nigerian youth to activate and enforce the strength of its number”.

Former chairman, Ejigbo Local Council Development Area (LCDA), Lagos and currently, a ‎Special Adviser to Governor Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos State on Communities and Communications, Mr. Kehinde Bamigbetan feels that the amendment being proposed by the lower chamber of the National Assembly is in line with the democratic principle of majority having the say.

“I agree with it entirely because when you look at the statistics, 65 per cent of the Nigerian population is under the 40 years age grade. If we are practicing democracy, which is government of the people, by the people and for the people – if you are following the majoritarianism political philosophy or agenda that asserts that a majority of the population is entitled to a certain degree of primacy in society, and has the right to make decisions that affect the society, we should ensure that younger people are also able to freely seek elective offices.

“We have a lot in history to show that the youth had the opportunity to lead the country in recent past. Former military head of state, Gen. Yakubu Gowon became the president of Nigeria at about 31 years old. Alfred Diete-Spiff was the military governor of the old Rivers State, from 1967 to 1975.

“He was also a member of the Supreme Military Council (SMC) under General Yakubu Gowon’s administration, he was only 25 years. Ganiyu Dawodu, when he became the chairman, Lagos City Council less than 30. Enahoro became very relevant in national politics at a very young age. Ngige was 25 when he became what Alhaji Lai Mohammed is today; he became the National Publicity Secretary of the Action Group.

“My position is that once you are able to vote, you should be able to be voted for. There is no reason why you should benefit from my vote when I cannot be voted for. Let the people say that I cannot be president and don’t use a gerontocracy principle to deny me.

“Recall that Anthony Enahoro was still a teenager when, in the early 1940s, he became the chairman of the Lagos chapter of the Nigerian Union of Students. By the time he turned thirty, the Kings College, Lagos alumnus had edited two newspapers, published a third, gone to prison thrice, founded a political party (The Mid-West Party), and won election into the Western Region House of Assembly.

“Enahoro’s activist leanings were deeply inspired by famed nationalist Herbert Macaulay, who founded the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP), Nigeria’s first political party, in June 1923 just a month before Enahoro’s birth.”

Nigerian women rights activist and President, Women Arise for Change Initiative and the Campaign for Democracy (CD), Dr. Joe Obiajulu Okei-Odumakin said, “It is a welcome development. We cannot always allow Nigerian youths to be followers. It is time for them to take the lead. They are no longer of tomorrow, but of today. They should mobilise their colleagues to support and ensure that it is passed.

“It is a new dawn. But we hope that they won’t kill it; the septuagenarians who want to die in politics. The youths should make strong appeal. They should use what is available to their generation, the social-media until they hold the hands of those gerontocrats and twist it back.”

As far as lawyer and former deputy director-general of Governor Ibikunle Amosun campaign organisation, Chief Bisi Adegbuyi is concerned, it is putting Nigeria on the map of global best practices.

“It is what is obtainable in jurisdictions, where best practices are obtainable. We should be involving the youths. We would be taking the wisdom of the old and combine it with the energy and youthfulness of the young. In some other climes, leadership usually emerges from the youth – they usually place emphasis on leadership at youthful age. People in secondary schools and university; they train the youths in the act of leadership and governance. I think if we subscribe to it, Nigeria stands to benefit immensely from it.”

Like most other commentators, the President, Arewa Youth Consultative Forum (AYCF), Alhaji Shettima Yerima, who is also a human right activist, also agrees that the bill is good for the Nigerian politics.

“To me, it is a welcome development. I remember in the PRONACO, in the draft constitution, since 18 years is qualified to cast a vote, he or she should also be allowed to vie for offices. Though we were also mindful that 18 could be very young, but at 30, one is matured. Some of the leaders we see today were already prominent at 20. Some have been ministers at a little above 20.

“So, for me, it is good for the youth. That will enable them vie for offices without anyone hindering their chances,” he opined.

Former House of Representatives member for Kabba/Bunu/Ijumu federal constituency, Hon. Duro Meseko feels it is a good bill that has strong reasons to become law.

“I do not see anything wrong with the bill. It seeks to promote universally acceptable norm of giving the youth equal opportunity. When Clinton was president of America at 43, he was also rated as one of the best presidents ever. I support the bill in totality. It is in line with global best practices,” he said.

He, however, advised that the affected youth should take possession of the bill and do the needful to ensure that it sees the light of the day.

“Before a bill is passed, there will be public hearing, so different youth groups should prepare position papers to prove that if you give them the chance, they will live up to expectations. The facts are there. Gowon, Enahoro, Bola Iga – they all performed well. So, these facts are available to facilitate the actualisation of the bill.”

Abdulahi Abdulmajeed of the Centre for Public Accountability said: “It can bring about more inclusiveness. It will reduce agitation and make people feel that they have what it takes to offer themselves for service. It is time to tap into the capacity of the citizens while in their prime. It will bring back the era of Tafawa Balewa, Ahmadu Bello and Gowon, who became national leaders in their 30s and that has been the best period in the history of Nigerian development.

For Abuja-based Ekiti State born young politician, Mr. Falebita Omoniyi, who is the executive director, Track and Shield Ltd., “It is a good idea. I am fully in support of it. What the youths should do is to mobilise themselves to show solidarity and support for the bill”.

But despite the rather general approval of the bill, lawyer and senatorial candidate of the All Progressives Congress for Abia North in 2015, Nnenna Lancaster-Okoro, was skeptical about the development.

According to her, “That age is really young, because from what I have seen, a lot of our young people are immature and they are in a hurry to get rich. Quite a few of them take time out to learn and get the experience they are to bring to the table. It is not about age; it is about expertise. We need to go back to the drawing board,” she suggested.

But Mr. Tajudeen Falowo thinks differently. According to him, the problems of Nigeria are beyond the youths. He wondered what experience the youth would draw from to justify being able to handle the myriad of problems the country faces.

This was also supported by Chief Kayode Ajiboye, who said the proponents of the bill are simply playing to the gallery. He said even the age as enshrined in the constitution was wrong as the age for the president and the governor is too low. He insisted that the positions required maturity, which a 40-year-old president does not possess, and which a 35-year-old governor does not have.

Also, Mr. Gbenga Ahmed, a reporter with the Independent Television in Warri, Delta State, considered the move by the House of Representatives as a proof that majority of the members have not much work doing, hence such preposition.

Ahmed traced all the problems of Nigeria from independence in 1960 till date on the door step of the youths and wondered what they are still asking for when they have being in power for almost 50 years of the nation’s 56 years as an independent country.

According to him, none of the nation’s leaders as at the time of independence, including Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Chief Obafemi Awolowo and the Sadauna of Sokoto, Alhaji Ahmadu Bello was up to 60 years when the nation attained nationhood. They are qualified to be called youth.
“Barely five years into nationhood, politicians were overthrown by some youths led by Major Chukwuma Nzeogwu, a soldier, who assumed they know better. But they couldn’t do anything as another youth, General Thomas Aguiyi Ironsi, who was just a little above 40 years, took over.
“But he was soon overthrown in a coup led by a 30 year old Yakubu Gowon, another youth, who was nine years later removed from office by Murtala Mohammed, a youth also in his 30s. As it was with Ironsi, another set of youths led by Bukar Sukar Dimka planned another coup that failed six months into the Mohammed regime. This led to the emergence of General Olusegun Obasanjo, another youth also in his 30s.”

Ahmed stressed that although Obasanjo handed over to an elder in the person of Alhaji Shehu Shagari, he was however overthrown in another coup by the youthful Muhammadu Buhari, who assumed he could do better than his elders. Barely 20 months into his government, a palace coup led by his Chief of Army Staff, General Ibrahim Babangida soon replaced him.

He said it was the situation of coup and countercoup that led to the coming of Generals Sani Abacha and Abdulsalam until the coming of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, the only other elder after Shagari and now President Muhammadu Buhari that have ruled Nigeria.
He said both Umar Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan were also youth as they were less than 60 years, when they became leaders of the nation.

“So, what is the shout about the youth taking over all about? They were the ones that messed up the country, yet they are the ones crying. Check all the governors, tell me how many are up to 60 years? Even the Governor of Kogi State is 40 years and that of Cross Rivers State is about 46. Governor Rotimi Amaechi is just clocking 51 years, but he was Speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly 17 years ago. Remove that from his age, then you will know what I am talking about.

“The youths have wreaked havoc on our national psyche, yet, they keep blackmailing the elders. As for me, the constitution should be amended to ensure that nobody less than 55 years is allowed to be president and that of the governor should be jacked up to 45 years. Those positions required people who are responsible not babies.”

Ahmed, who is 54 years old, insisted that governance is a serious business that should not be left to youths who are not responsible.

But Mr. Kola Oredipe, the chairman of the Correspondent Chapel of the Bayelsa State council of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), said the move is a welcomed development. According to him, reducing the age would give aspiring young men the opportunity to get elected and contribute their quota to the development of the country.

Oredipe wondered why the youths, most of whom are already university graduates by the age of 20 are being shut constitutionally out of positions which required mere attendance of secondary school attendance.
“Are you saying that those young graduates do not have what it means to lead? We are in the digital age. We hope that those old men in their 70s and 80s, who have been in power for so long will give way for the youth to contribute their quota. My prayer is that the amendment is quickly done so that it can take effect by 2019.”

Reminded that young men had ruled the nation since independence than the old men, Oredipe insisted that the military era cannot be classified as the leaders came through the guns. He stressed that the situation now is of the constitution, which he prayed must be done as soon as possible.

 

The Case in Different Climes

Australia

Any person 18 years of age or older may stand for election to public office at federal, state or local government level. The youngest ever member of the House of Representatives was 20-year-old Wyatt Roy, elected in the 2010 federal election after the Electoral Act 1918 was amended to reduce the age of candidacy for that office from 21 to 18.

Austria

A person must be 18 years of age or older to stand in elections to the European Parliament or National Council. The Diets of regional Länder are able to set a minimum age lower than 18 for candidacy in elections to the Diet itself as well as to municipal councils in the Land. In presidential elections, the candidacy age is 35.

Belize

Here, a person must be at least 18 years old to be elected as a member of the House of Representatives and must be at least 30 to be Speaker of the House. A person must be at least 18 years old to be appointed to the Senate and must be at least 30 to be President or Vice-President of the Senate. As only members of the House of Representatives are eligible to be appointed Prime Minister, the Prime Minister must be at least 18 years old. A person must also be at least 18 years old to be elected to a village council.

Brazil

The Brazilian Constitution defines 35 years as the minimum age for anyone to be elected President, Vice-President or Senator; 30 years for state Governor or Vice-Governor; 21 for federal or state deputy, Mayor or Vice-Mayor and 18 for city Councilman.

Canada

Any person 18 years or older may stand for election to public office. But to be appointed to the Senate, one must be at least 30 years of age; must possess land worth at least $4,000 in the province for which he or she is appointed and must own real and personal property worth at least $4,000, above his or her debts and liabilities. These restrictions were most recently enforced in 1997.

Chile

The minimum age required to be elected President of the Republic of Chile is 35 years. Before the 2005 reforms, the requirement was 40 years and from 1925 to 1981, it was 30 years. For senators, it is 35 years (between 1981 and 2005 it was 40 years) and for deputies it is 21 years (between 1925 and 1970 it was 35 years).

Cyprus

In Cyprus, the minimum age to be elected president is 35 years.

Denmark

Any adult 18 years of age or older can become a candidate and be elected in any public election in Denmark.

Estonia

In Estonia, any citizen 18 years or older can be elected in local elections, and 21 years or older in parliamentary elections. Minimum age for the President of Estonia is 40.

France

Any citizen 18 years or older can be elected to the lower house of Parliament, and 24 years or older for the Senate. Minimum age for the President of France is 18.

Germany

Also, in Germany, any citizen 18 years of age or older can be elected in national, regional or local elections. The only exception is the Landtag election in Hesse, where a minimum age of 21 is required. Minimum age for the President of Germany is 40 by constitution.

Hong Kong

In Hong Kong, a person must be at least 21 to be candidate in a district council or Legislative Council election. A person must be at least 40 to be candidate in the Chief Executive election, and also at least 40 to be candidate in the election for the President of the Legislative Council from among the members of the Legislative Council.

India

In India a person must be at least 35 to be the President or Vice President, Governor and Lieutenant-Governor of the States as specified in theConstitution of India; 30 to be a member of Rajya Sabha (the upper house of Parliament of India) and a Vidhan Parishad (the upper house of a State Legislature, in those states, where the legislature is bicameral).

A person must be 25 to be the Prime Minister, Lok Sabha Speaker, Union Minister, Chief Minister, Vidhan Sabha Speaker, Minister in the State Governments. Additionally, to be a member of Lok Sabha (the lower house of Parliament of India) and a Vidhan Sabha (the lower house a State Legislature in the States of India.)

A person must be 18 to be the Mayor, Chairman, Head and a Member (Members are variously called Corporators/Councillors/Ward Members according to the type of their respective local bodies) of a Nagar Nigam (Municipal Corporation), Nagar Palika (Municipal Council), Nagar Panchayat (Town Committee), Gram Sabha (Village Council) and Gram Panchayat (Village Committee) respectively.

Indonesia

For Indonesia, a person must be at least 35 to be President or Vice-President as specified in the Constitution of Indonesia; 30 to be Governor or Lieutenant Governor, as specified in the 2004 Regional Government Act; 25 to be Regent, Vice Regent, Mayor, or Deputy Mayor, as specified in the 2004 Regional Government Act and 21 to be Senator or Representative in both national and local parliament as specified in the 2008 Election Act.

Israel

Israel pegs 21 for anyone to become a member of the Knesset (Basic Law: The Knesset section 6(a)) or a municipality.

Italy

A person must be at least 50 in Italy to be President of the Republic, 40 to be a Senator, or 25 to be a Deputy as specified in the 1947 Constitution of Italy. The constitution also pegs 18 years to be elected member of the Council of Regions, Provinces, and Municipalities (Communes).

Iran

A person must be at least 21 years old in Iran to run for president.

Ireland

The 1937 Constitution of Ireland requires the President to be at least 35 and members of the Oireachtas (legislature) to be 21. Members of the European Parliament for Ireland must also be 21. Members of local authorities must be 18, reduced from 21 in 1973. The 1922-37 Constitution of the Irish Free State required TDs (members of the Dáil, lower house) to be 21, whereas Senators had to be 35 (reduced to 30 in 1928). The Thirty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Age of Eligibility for Election to the Office of President) Bill 2015 proposes to lower the presidential age limit to 21. However, this proposal was rejected by 73% of the voters.

Japan

In Japan, a person must be at least 25 to be the Member of Parliament of the House of Representatives with Japanese nationality; 30 to be the Member of Parliament of the House of Councilors with Japanese nationality; 25 to be the Member of metropolitan, prefecture, city, town or village with valid vote rights; 30 to be the Governor and 25 to be the Mayor.

Korea, South

President here must be 40 years; Member of National Assembly, 25, Governorand Mayor  too 25.

Malaysia

In Malaysia, any citizen 21 years of age or older can become a candidate and be elected to the Dewan Rakyat and Dewan Undangan Negeri. Minimum age for the Senator is 30. As of 2015, Malaysia is not considering lowering the age of candidacy to 18. Since 2015, anyone not less than 18 years and not older than 30 can become a candidate and be elected to the Youth Parliament of Malaysia.

Mexico

A person must be at least 35 to be President, 25 to be a Senator, or 21 to be a Congressional Deputy, as specified in the 1917 Constitution of Mexico.

Netherlands

Here, any adult 18 years of age or older can become a candidate and be elected in any public election.

Nigeria

A person must be at least 40 years of age to be elected President or Vice President, 35 to be a Senator or State Governor, and 30 to be a Representative in parliament.

Norway

Anyone 18 years or older can become a candidate and be elected in any public election.

Pakistan

In Pakistan, a person must be at least 40 years old to be President.

Philippines

  • President and Vice President: 40
  • Senator: 35
  • Regional governor: 35
  • Member of the House of Representatives: 25
  • Provincial-level elected official: 23
  • City-level elected official: 21
  • Municipal-level elected official: 21
  • Member of the regional legislative assembly: 21
  • Barangay-level elected official: 18
  • Member of youth councils: 15

Poland

  • President: 35
  • Senator: 30
  • Mayor/Wójt: 25
  • Poseł: 21
  • Member of the European Parliament: 21
  • Councillor: 18

South Africa

Section 47, Clause 1 of the 1996 Constitution of South Africa states that “Every citizen, who is qualified to vote for the National Assembly is eligible to be a member of the Assembly,” defaulting to Section 46 which “provides for a minimum voting age of 18 years” in National Assembly elections. Sections 106 and 105 provide the same for provincial legislatures.

Turkey

The 1876 constitution sets the age for parliamentary eligibility as 30. This remained unchanged until 13 October 2006, when it was lowered to 25 through a constitutional amendment. The ruling Justice and Development Party, proposes to further reduce it to 18, same as the voting age. The Prime Minister of Turkey has to be a member of the parliament hence it has the same requirements as parliamentary eligibility. The age of candidacy for the President is 40.

United Kingdom

In the UK (other than in Scotland) a person must be aged 18 or over (16 in Scotland) to stand in elections to all parliaments, assemblies, and councils at the European, UK, devolved, or local level. This age requirement also applies in elections to any individual elective public office. The main example is that of an elected mayor, whether of London or a local authority. There are no higher age requirements for particular positions in public office. Candidates are required to be aged 18 on both the day of nomination and the day of the poll. This was reduced from 21 by the Electoral Administration Act 2006.

United States

In the United States, a person must be at least 35 to be President or Vice President, 30 to be a Senator, or 25 to be a Representative, as specified in the US Constitution. Most states in the US also have age requirements for the offices of Governor, State Senator, and State Representative. Some states have a minimum age requirement to hold any elected office (usually 21 or 18).

Venezuela

A person must be at least 30 to be President or Vice President in Venezuela, 21 to be a deputy for the National Assembly and 25 to be the Governor of a state.

 

Source: ThisDay Newspaper