Youths count gains as under-40 make speakership in Houses of Assembly

When campaigners for Age Reduction Bill, popularly known as ‘Not Too Young To Run,’ led by Samson Itoto and Cynthia Mbamalu-inspired Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth and Advancement (YIAGA Africa) started out in 2016, perhaps not many took them seriously. Nigerian youths had never taken a stand and seen it to its logical end without the usual compromises. But as time progressed, the campaign began to gain momentum and elders bought into it.

But when both Hon. Nwulu and Senator AbdulAziz Nyako simultaneously sponsored the bill in both chambers of the 8th National Assembly, it became evident that the young people would match their words with action. They were merely heeding the popular precept that ‘youths are tomorrow’s leaders’ which is mainly practised in breach as young people get perennially ignored and sidelined in important matters concerning governance.

But not anymore, as they seemed to have taken their destiny into their own hands, with no less than four of them recently sworn-in as Speakers of states’ House of Assembly across the country. This is no mean feat considering that the bill was signed into law on May 31, 2018 by President Muhammadu Buhari shortly before campaigns started for the last elections. The new law emboldened many young people across the country to throw their hats into the political ring and recognition came fast.

Today, Hon. Aminu Abdullahi Shagali of All Progressives Congress (APC) is the Speaker of Kaduna State House of Assembly. His is 39 years old and represents Sabon Gari state constituency. The lawmaker was re-elected Speaker of the fifth state assembly, where he had presided from 2015 to 2019.

Another victory for political empowerment for young people arising from the Age Reduction Act is 31-year old Hon. Nasiru Magarya from Zurmi Local Government Area of Zanfara State, who also emerged Speaker recently. Zamfara’s recent chequered political history is gain for youth inclusion in the governance process is worth celebrating, as Peoples Democratic Party got thrown into the fray when All Progressives Congress messed itself up. Ironically, Zamfara State was among the three states that failed to endorse the bill but which has become one of its first beneficiaries. Others are Lagos and Kano States.

Representing Jos East constituency is Hon. Abok Izam, 33, who also emerged the new Speaker of Plateau State House of Assembly on the platform of APC. Izam is still a law student even as he takes the exalted position of Speakership of a House of Assembly.

From Ibarapa East constituency is Hon. Adebo Ogundoyin, who has taken office as Speaker of Oyo State House of Assembly. Also, Hon. Chinedum Orji barely crossed the under-40s mark by a mere three years, as he also emerged Speaker of Abia State House of Assembly. He had been Majority Leader of the 6th House. In fact, he had long heeded the need for ‘Not Too Young To Run’ before it gained currency and has been at its vanguard as a commendable forerunner.

The campaign for Age Reduction Act (Not Too Young To Run), which promotes ‘inclusive governance,’ was spearheaded by YIAGA Africa, which was formed in 2007 and has had its Not Too Young To Run campaign gain a hashtag #NotTooYoungToRun and global recognition. Inspired by Nigeria’s YIAGA Africa, a global campaign by the United Nations Forum on Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law took place at the UN, Geneva office in 2016.

At the forum, Executive Director of YIAGA Africa said, Itodo, the Executive Director of YIAGA, said: “Any country guided by the principles of inclusion, freedom, equality and justice must ensure the full participation of young people in the electoral process. The passage of the #NotTooYoungToRun bill in Nigeria is the first step towards ensuring democratic consolidation and sustainable development.”

While signing the bill into law, Buhari had said, “You, the young people of Nigeria, are now set to leave your mark on the political space, just as you have done over the decades in entrepreneurship, sports, art, media, entertainment, technology, and several other fields. You are undoubtedly Nigeria’s most important resource “not oil, not agriculture, not solid minerals “but you and all of us. Your energy, intelligence and talent are what will drive and develop Nigeria, long after we are all gone…

“Thus, it may be tempting for you to think of this as the end of the journey. However, it is only the beginning; there is still a lot of work ahead, towards ensuring that young people take full advantage of the opportunities provided not only by this constitutional amendment but also through Nigeria’s boundless prospects.

“You should inculcate the spirit of self-help. Those who complete their training should not just sit down and wait for government or private sector to employ them. You should be innovative and turn your hands to any legitimate work that will enable you to sustain yourself.”

However, Buhari expressed surprise that the age limit for senators and governors was not affected in the new law, adding, “Surprisingly, the age limit for senators and governors was not reduced, as originally proposed by the sponsors of this Bill. This is an issue that may need to be addressed going forward. Nevertheless, your focus and contributions have now successfully increased the quality and maturity of Nigerian democracy and expanded the playing field for youth participation in politics.”

Also, former Senate President, Bukola Saraki, who praised the law as the beginning for youth inclusiveness, said: “More than half of our over 180 million population is made up of people under the age of 30. Today’s signing of the #NotTooYoungToRun Act represents many years of hard work and signals a new era of youth inclusion and participation in our governance.

“Now more than ever, as young people across the country bask at the moment and celebrate the signing of this Bill, they must not see this as the final destination. It is one thing to be able to run, but it is another thing entirely to be able to serve.

Nigeria needs the energy and innovation of our young people. On this note, I congratulate the Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth & Advancement (YIAGA), and all other groups that championed this cause for more youth inclusion. I also commend my colleagues in both the Senate and the House for making sure that this Bill passed its first milestone during the Constitution Review Process.”

Also another young politician, Prince Adeyanju, commended the young lawmakers who have risen to the challenge and have become speakers in their respective states’ Assembly.

According to him, “Competence is not about age. Politics is not about age but competence. Everything must be based on competence and young people can be as competent as the occasion demands. This is a good development for Nigerian youths”.


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