AGE OF CANDIDACY is the minimum age at which a person can legally qualify to hold certain elected government offices. In many cases, it also determines the age at which a person may be eligible to stand for an election or be granted ballot access. In Nigeria, many youth groups view current age of candidacy requirements as unjustified age discrimination.  Sometimes ago, the Nigerian Senate approved some amendments to the 1999 constitution. A part of these amendments was the reduction in the age-limits on some political posts. The minimum age-limit to contest for the highest office in the land, the Presidency, was brought down from 40 to 35, while the age qualifications to run for a governorship seat and a seat in the House of Representatives were reduced by five years-to 30 and 25 years respectively. As expected, the news of the amendment generated a lot of excitement with many people, especially the youths, expressing optimism about the positive effects the age amendment would have on youth participation in politics.

Although, Nigerians especially the youths are clamouring for reduction of age in securing a position politically, but there is more to this.  It is found that the Nigerian youth lacks veritable platforms to acquire and hone his leadership skills. In many of our universities, student unionism is frowned at; and where it exists, the leadership of the union is no more than the appendage of the school management. How then can the nation's youths be sufficiently imbued with the right leadership skills to make them active participants in the nation's politics when they study under regimented  academic  climate,  where  dissenting voices are stifled and contrary opinion are shouted down? But our universities administrators would have the nation believe that her future is in good hands with such unquestioning and politically inept products.

Where the platform exists, the Nigerian youth has not proved to be a better politician than the geriatrics he loves to blame. At the moment, the umbrella body of Nigerian students, the National Association of Nigerian Students, NANS, is factionalised owing to disagreements arising from the election of her leaders. One would have thought that a student body like NANS would be immune to the topsy-turvy characteristic of Nigerian politics. Sadly, this is not the case. In fact, those involved in the leadership of the student association have become the resemblance of a Nigerian politician, employing all sorts of political lies to perpetuate themselves in office. If the youths cannot provide purposeful leadership within their sphere of influence, how can they be trusted with greater political role?

The few youths who have occupied or at the moment occupy public positions have also not acquitted themselves creditably. The House of Representatives is known to be home to a number of young lawmakers. But what have these young lawmakers done to enrich the quality of debate on the floor of the House other than shouting 'ayes' and 'nay' when issues are put to vote and 'padding' the national budget? In fact, there was a time in the nation's political history when a young Dimeji Bankole became the Speaker of the House of Representatives at the age of 37. Many had hoped that with Bankole's election as the Speaker, the youths were ready to alter the course of the nation's history and take their rightful place in the leadership of the country. Their hope was however deflated when Bankole began to swim in financial malfeasance; and, despite his good education, showed acute symptoms of leadership inadequacy. At the end, so awful was Bankole's performance in office that his constituency, Abeokuta South Federal Constituency, failed to elect him for another term in the green chamber in the 2011 general elections, preferring an unknown and older Femi Williams to him.  At the moment, one of the North Central states has a relatively young governor at the helm of affairs. The young governor, who came into office by accident, has not brought the vigour and energy expected of a youth into the administration of the state. Rather than this, he has dissipated his energy on fighting real and perceived enemies. These examples only buttress the fact that many of the nation's youths are not mentally equipped for leadership.

A close look at the history of Nigeria shows how much the youth have featured prominently in political leadership and governance. But in recent times, the story is not exactly the same.  Shehu Shagari became a Federal Legislator at the age of 30 and a Minister at the age of 35. M.T. Mbu became a Minister at the age of 25 and Nigeria's High Commissioner to the United Kingdom at the age of 26. Richard Akinjide became Minister of Education at the age of 32. Maitama Sule became Oil Minister at the age of 29. Audu Ogbeh was a Minister at the age of 35. And the list goes on.  In contrast, today's reality is a polity where Nigerian youths are used as election consultants, social media battalions, and political thugs. Many have blamed the new trend on a conspiracy of the elite class who just cannot stand the idea of vacating the scene for the younger generation creating a system that makes it impossible for young people to emerge and succeed in politics and governance. While this perspective is not entirely incorrect, there are more than enough premises to validate the argument that Nigerian youths are their biggest problem.

Looking at the concept of political participation and the way forward, it is instructive to note that Nigerian youths must wake up and face the reality that their votes on election day gives them enough power as youths. It is a necessary first step but it is more complicated than that.  If you observe critically, you will discover that what most young voters are able to achieve on election day is to validate the options presented to the electorate by political parties. What this means is that the voter is not really the one who wields political power but the party people who decide the candidates we all vote for on election day. The far-reaching implication of this is that when party A and party B give us bad candidates, whichever candidate the majority decides ends up being a bad leader anyway.

Going forward, the key to effective youth participation in politics and governance is to begin to get involved at the political party level. That is where all sorts of characters we disdain as leaders first emerge. If we are not involved at the level of the parties where decisions are taken on the candidates presented to the electorate, the youths, despite their demographic majority, are unable to effect real change. It is to be noted that the advocacy for more youths in politics and governance does not automatically guarantee good governance. A corollary to the earlier context is the fact that there are young people who are incompetent, dishonest and corrupt.  In Nigeria, we don't look at track records anymore. We need to start really looking at people's track records, what they have done and where they are coming from.

Packaging and social media followership is the language of today's generation, but it does not qualify you for leadership. Young people must start asking aspiring leaders, especially fellow youths: what have you done? Show us your resume. We must also encourage young Nigerians to build capacity first before parading themselves as superstars. There are no short cuts. A good number of our elders may have stumbled on leadership at a very youthful age, but increasingly, today's reality requires competence and hard work.  All youths cannot go into politics but many of them; the competent ones with character and integrity must get in there. And their fellow Nigerian youths must encourage and not demonize them. Enough of this politics of APC versus PDP that has turned young Nigerians who were once friends into public enemies. This is the only way we can begin to win and change Nigeria together.

God Bless Nigeria!!!

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