Age reduction for eligibility into public office: One of a million steps in Nigeria | © Fola Daniel Adelesi

Nobody tastes honey and spews it out. You end up asking for more. If not immediately, the request will still come. I think that’s how we got to the current situation of very many old people clinging tightly to power and leaving very little room for young people in Nigeria to come into public office.

When Nigeria gained its independence in the year 1960, we had so many young leaders. Many of them were part of the movement or agitation for the independence and a few of them led the nation either democratically or as military leaders. The age of many of the leaders before and after independence formed part of the basis for requesting age reduction so that younger people can contest. What was the age of some of the leaders at the time of independence or pre-independence?

Aguiyi-Ironsi was Nigeria’s second head of state who was in office from 16 January 1966 – 19 July 1966. He was 42 years old at the time (he was born in 1924). Yakubu Gowon, the third head of state led Nigeria from 1 August 1966 – 29 July 1975 and was 32 when he took office (he was born in 1934). Anthony Enahoro, born in 1923. He was only 30 years old when he first moved the motion for Nigeria’s Independence in 1953. Abubakar Tafawa Balewa was the first Prime Minister in Nigeria. He was born on October 1, 1912 and ascended the “throne” in 1960. He was 48 at the time.

There’s no doubting the fact that many of the leaders who demanded the Independence that we now enjoy were young, strong and visionary. Even after independence, many more young people got a shot at leading Nigeria at different levels. No it is not true when people say Nigeria hasn’t given a chance to young people. What happened was the young people who got the chance to lead refused to step aside and are now telling the younger generation to fight for a position.

For me, age is not even the real problem that we have in Nigeria. So we may get the age reduction but are we really going to solve any problem? Maybe we will have an active and healthy President but it is not a guarantee that we will have a better nation even where the president has the noblest intentions and pursues same with all the energy in the world. I will come to the bigger issues shortly.

After many years of agitation on the part of young people and a few elderly ones, the senate just passed a bill which now allows anyone from the age of 35 to contest elections into the office of the President. At age 30, young people can now become governor of a state or go to the Senate. When a young person turns 25, the person can now go to the House of Representatives or the State Houses of Assembly going by the image above. That sounds like good news but there are many other issues. That’s why I think the age reduction for eligibility into public office is just one out of a million steps that need to be taken in Nigeria. The number of steps is not even the issue but the fact that each step can take almost a millennium to resolve, if we ever agree to resolve the other issues ahead of the age eligibility.

While the new age eligibility is a step in the right direction, there are many other things that we need to resolve. In fact, if we don’t reduce the age eligibility and we take care of the other issues, it will be easier for us to produce better leaders in this country and enjoy ourselves.

Right now, the issues ahead of the age eligibility go beyond something that a legislation from the Senate or House of Representative can fix. These are issues that have become part of our lifestyle and character as Nigerians even though it surprises some of us and the entire world.

The issues are:

  1. Godfatherism – Till date in Nigeria, you still need the endorsement of some political juggernauts to become the candidate of a major political party or to win the elections at any level. If you don’t know anyone, you simply can’t just wake and decide to contest. You will have to meet with some people and get their approval and when this doesn’t happen, just note that most of what you are doing will be an exercise in futility. We have to get to that level where candidates can contest elections in Nigeria without any endorsement from someone who is seen as a father in any party or in any state. People have to come to platforms for contesting elections on the basis of merit. A Godfather can “anoint” a candidate to see to his interest in the government quarters. So he is not in power as an office holder but has more power than you can imagine because those in office report to him and send some entitlements as agreed. There are too many people who are not in political offices but they control the state treasuries like their personal accounts. This is one of the reasons young people will find it difficult to make it into public office. The godfathers simply use the young people as political thugs to destabilize their opponents, disrupt elections and do any other thing they deem fit in order to win elections.

 

  1. Bribery and corruption – Corruption is known as the biggest menace in Nigeria and it is largely unaddressed. We have created institutions that have legalized corruptions and we also have a few institutions like the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) that are fighting corruption. The ugly truth is that the institutions that legalized corruption (both government agencies and private sector) are stronger than the institutions fighting corruption. The Judiciary is one strong-arm of government that the Anti-Corruption agencies rely on to bring corrupt people and institutions to book but you will be shocked to see how the current judicial process frustrates the corruption cases. At a point in this country, the Governor of the Central Bank, Mallam Sanusi, who is now the Emir of Kano, raised alarm about twenty billion US dollars missing from the treasury of the nation. His allegation was met with very ridiculous responses from the Presidency and he was eventually forced out of office. Another Minister was alleged to have spent about ten billion naira on private jets. The Senate summoned her to answer questions and to account for some of the funds but the President at the time, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, wouldn’t let her show up. The same minister is languishing somewhere in one of the jails in England today. There are too many cases of corruption that the government is involved in and is not willing to resolve in any way. The government in this cases involves people in the Executive, Legislative and Judicial arm.

 

We now have the legal will to fight corruption but we don’t have the moral will to do so. It is almost impossible to get anything in this country without knowing anyone. You nearly have to pay your way through everything. No matter how clean you try to stay, government officials would have frustrated you at some point to part with money for something that should be your right. Despite requesting services that your taxes should cover, the people you have to deal with still ‘tax’ you. On major high ways, the police officers and officials of the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) are there to also ‘tax’ you. It’s also in this same country that 36 state governors held an election to choose the next chairman of the Governors’ Forum and one candidate had 19 while the other had 16. Interestingly, the candidate with 16 votes was declared the winner. The logic behind the person with lower votes winning the election remains inexplicable. What we know is that there is a preferred candidate in some quarters who couldn’t even canvass enough votes to win clearly. Rather than accepting defeat, the loser forms a parallel government. Until we resolve bribery and corruption, there will always be people who have stolen enough funds to remain in public office and be replaced by their children when they become sick or get tired of public office. This is further worsened by how the law and judicial process gives room for thieves with public funds to roam about flamboyantly.

 

  1. Ethnicity – Ethnicity is ripping us apart. The other issue is the fact that too many of us as Nigerians still bring up ethnicity in the place of work or any other place where we meet and we keep focusing on that as if it has ever saved us from any issue before. There are still too many people out there who cannot marry from other parts of the country because the parents of the intending couple do not speak the same language.

 

When we come together to discuss national interest, ethnicity is always ahead of several other things that should be more important. If we don’t put ethnicity behind us and get things done, we may not progress as a nation.

 

It is the same issue of ethnicity and regional composition that has determined the composition of Nigerian senate and the House of Representatives. Ethnicity comes up in our daily conversations. A President of the Senate cannot be elected without us first looking at the ethnic background of the sitting President and Vice. We are denying it and that’s what we have done for nearly sixty years. That’s what we are still doing today. That’s why we have violence in some parts of the country and too many people can’t sleep with both eyes closed now. The people in Benue today are living in fear. The people in Borno are not sure what will happen to them. The folks in Southern Kaduna are waiting for the government to keep them safe. The Hausa man says something is wrong with the Yoruba man. The Yoruba man feels the same way about the Igbo man. The Fulani feels he’s the most strategic and the only one destined to rule or lead. Every time there’s an election coming up, the subject of ethnicity comes with it. We still don’t see ourselves as one. Many people are calling Nigeria a failed state or a forced marriage. We have had a civil war because some people wanted to break away and still refer to themselves as Biafra. That’s still a burning issue in this country and there are cases in Nigerian courts. Much more than the political interests, too many families, for no justifiable reasons, are still asking their children not to intermarry. A Yoruba man does not want his daughter or son to marry the Hausa man’s son or daughter. The Igbo man will not consider marriage outside his domain as well. There are cases of intermarriages but the couple involved didn’t make it happen without a fight or at the risk of being ostracized by their family members and parents. Only very few of those intermarriage cases have the blessings of the different ethnic families. This ethnicity is a bigger issue than the age of the person who wants to lead us at any level. There are those who don’t want to be led by Hausa or Fulani. Some don’t want to be led by an Igbo or Yoruba man. Our priority should be the competence of the prospective or aspiring leader regardless of the tribe or tongue.

 

  1. Cost of elections and remunerations for political office holders – Even though INEC has its laws and political parties should sponsor an election or a candidate, we all know that’s not the case in Nigeria. The other issue is the fact that it is too expensive to contest an election in Nigeria. In the 2015 general elections, presidential aspirants on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC) paid twenty seven million naira (N27,000,000). There is an unconfirmed report online that the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) and All Progressives Congress (APC) made 3.8 billion from the sale of forms to presidential and gubernatorial aspirants. There is a bill still sitting in the National Assembly in the build up to the 2019 elections and that bill is seeking to peg the sale of nomination form at 10 million naira. That is still outrageous in my opinion. There must be other ways by which the party can raise funds for the campaigns that have to be conducted. Another unconfirmed report talks about having between 3 to 5 billion naira to be spent on elections just to become a governor of a state. Well, I must say that the cost has also factored in the godfathers that have to be appeased with money and several influencers across different levels whose loyalty must be bought. Before the 2015 general elections, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) in a single dinner raised 21 billion naira. The same party had previously raised 6 billion naira supposedly for the building of a secretariat which is yet to be completed four years after. We have to resort to crowd funding like it’s done in saner climes and make the politicians accountable for every penny raised from the public. We still don’t seem to admit that one of the big issues at hand is how a politician raises money and funds his campaign. When campaigns are self-funded, we shouldn’t expect these ‘investors’ to think about the people much more than their pockets when they get into office.

 

Some political office holders are known to have borrowed huge sums just to make it to the office. The risk is a calculated one and all they need to do is to choose the right party and win the primaries. The election is most likely going to be a walk over with the aid of money. We have yet to be confirmed information that a senator makes around 30 million naira on a monthly basis. None of them will admit this. When confronted, they only show us the meagre official salary that they earn. But we all know that they collect constituency allowances that they don’t declare or account for at any point in time. A former governor came out, after the revelations about the allowances of the senators, to say we are crying foul about figures that are insignificant compared to what the governors take home. He told us we would be shocked if he revealed what the governors were taking home. If we want the right people in political offices in Nigeria, we have to make political offices unattractive. We have to take the remuneration down to the level where only those who are willing to serve will aspire to political offices. We must ensure that school drop-outs don’t see politics as their only hope to make it in life. People shouldn’t turn politics to an investment where you put in some millions or billions and you already know you are sure to make much more in return. These are the more critical issues for us in Nigeria.

 

  1. Federal character – Federal character in Nigeria is simply a term that legally plays up ethnicity above competence when appointments need to be made and jobs have to be given to people. Because of federal character, we talk about ensuring people from all parts of the country are represented in an organization or a system of government but we place less emphasis on their competence and experience.

 

While I understand the issue of federal character was supposed to ensure no part of the country feels left out, we are under more burdens than blessings because of the federal character issue. At any point in time, the person who can deliver the job should always be more important than the state the person associates with. There is hardly any president who hasn’t been bashed for nepotism. President Goodluck Jonathan was accused of appointing too many people from South South and South East into office. President Buhari is currently being accused of appointing too many people from the North into political offices. They all come up with their defence but the thing is the federal character is not helping us the way it should. We are further dividing ourselves instead of bringing ourselves together and proving there is some fairness in the appointments made into political offices. The age of the president will not fix the federal character issue. We just need to come together and agree on what works and follow it. There should also be consequences when someone makes it to office and wants to disregard what we agree on.

There are six geo political zones in Nigeria namely:

  1. North Central
  2. North East
  3. North West
  4. South East
  5. South South
  6. South West

The Image above shows the northern and the southern part of Nigeria and you can see that three of the six geo-political zones are under the Northern region. The implication of the image above is the fact that the size of the North will always play up in any election, appointments and employment especially when it is to be done by the Federal government because of Federal Character clause. When this is done, people from other parts of the country will feel aggrieved and will most likely protest the ‘unfairness’ of the government. I’ve met with and also had cause to argue with a few who don’t agree that the northern part of Nigeria is bigger than the South. Some claim that the north simply boasts of a vast land and cooked up figures. We must come to terms with the truth. The north is the biggest region and all the indicators are there to prove that.

 

 

  1. State of origin – The state of origin needs to be expunged immediately from all the forms we fill in this country, especially those of the government. It is like the younger brother of federal character in a different light. This needs to be replaced with state of residence. There are too many people who live in one state but say they are from a state that they’ve never visited and may never visit in their life time. A few others even visit their states of origin once in a year and the visit stops when their old loved ones pass away.

 

Visiting the state that a Nigerian claims he or she originated from is not even the big deal but the fact that a Nigerian citizen can’t get something from another state where he lives, works and even pays taxes just because he is not an indigene of that state. A citizen impacts more on the economy of the country based on where he or she lives compared to where the person originated from or claims as state of origin.

 

When budgets are planned, the planning is based on the number of people living in that state and no one goes around asking who is not from the state but lives in the state. Sadly, when it comes to the issue of employment or getting contracts and appointments, the issue of being an indigene of a state pops up and the more productive people can be sidelined on the basis of which part of the country they originated from even though they live in the state. So this issue of state of origin is constantly denying them of opportunities they should have access to since they live in that state.

 

In fact, when people want to get into schools, the issue of state of origin plays up and those from other states have to pay more compared to those who claimed to be indigenes of the state where the school is situated. For this reason, I have seen people make the extreme move of securing affidavits and claiming to belong to a state just so they can make it into a school and also pay less. Some go as far as changing their names to fit into the perceived names and pictures of indigenes from a state.

 

If we are really going to move forward as a nation, we have to move past state of origin because it is a great impediment to the growth of the states and the nation as a whole. There are only a few states who have appointed into political offices people who are not from their states. Lagos State once appointed Ben Akabueze as a commissioner in Lagos. Many other states don’t ever consider people from other states regardless of their competence and the value they will bring on board if appointed into offices.

 

  1. Intelligence versus popularity – I recently wrote a paper titled From paper to pragmatic politics: Where the intellectuals and good people need to integrate to address the issue of intelligence in Nigerian politics and that can be found on this link – https://foladaniel.wordpress.com/2017/04/26/from-paper-to-pragmatic-politics-where-the-intellectuals-and-good-people-need-to-integrate-fola-daniel-adelesi/

 

For so long, the really smart or intelligent minds in Nigeria have stayed away from politics. A few of them have attempted politics with very little success. The others that got into the spotlight in politics where actually given political appointments and only an insignificant figure has done well in Nigerian politics among the intellectuals.

 

When you show up in a political meeting as a smart or intelligent person and you start talking about your ambition for an office, the most likely thing that will happen is that people will laugh at you. When you talk they simply say you are blowing grammar – which means they don’t even understand what you are saying. When you are done talking, they expect you to bring out money to be shared among the principalities in the community and when you don’t have money to share, you should just forget the ambition. You’ll recall I talked about godfathers and endorsements. You may even have money to pay and still not get the endorsement. Your money goes down the drain… sorry… it goes down the throats of some people.

 

The way politics is played in this country is just different. It looks like it is in the other countries of the world that intelligent people impress the crowd or citizens. Here in Nigeria, intelligent people can’t even gather a good crowd needless to talk about impressing them. We all know that Gani Fawehimi was a good man when he was alive but he couldn’t even win a state that was his main domain. I don’t even remember if he clearly won a local government in his presidential ambition. We all knew he stood for integrity and he was one of the best lawyers of the country, yet we knew he wouldn’t win the election.

At best, the smartest people become commissioners or ministers only to be messed up by their principals who have the final say in everything. We have seen technocrats who were supposed to perform wonders but couldn’t event move a feet. We don’t need technocrats to prepare the papers that politicians are not ready to follow. We need smart and intelligent people as political office holders and as the technocrats who develop and execute the government policies.

 

  1. Religion – Religion seems to be the worst of our problems instead of being the solution to many of the problems that we have. There are Christians being killed on a daily basis in the northern part of the country. I mentioned the terrible killings in Southern Kaduna which is still going on. That’s a clear case of Christians being targeted and being gruesomely murdered. Churches and mosques are being burnt on regular basis. There are too many religious extremists here and there who are also inciting their followers against people of other faith. Some people are getting their appointments on the basis of the faith they identify with. I also heard of a tertiary institution in Nigeria where students who don’t belong to a certain faith can’t gain admission. You have to bear the name to show that you identify with a faith before you are admitted. I was also in the northern part of the country for a year and saw how religion was a tool of victimization for some people. Those of another faith who were already senior government officials refused to promote or equally reward junior officers who didn’t identify with their faith compared to how their colleagues of the same faith were treated.

 

We are supposedly a circular state but we can’t count how many people have been killed or are still being killed on the basis of religion. When parties are making decisions on the candidates to put forward in an election, they keep talking about a Muslim/Christian ticket. When people are doing their permutations and combinations, you will hear them say that come people can’t possibly emerge because they will make either a Christian/Christian ticket or a Muslim/Muslim ticket. So our candidates in any election reflect a Muslim/Christian ticket at the Presidential level and in some states. The other thing is that the candidates must be from different parts of the country. I think it is interesting how we agree to come together on religious basis for an election but find it difficult to truly tolerate ourselves on the ground of religious differences.

 

  1. Political ideology – When I was wrapping up my thoughts for this text, I went online to check the political ideology of the Republican Party in the United States and I found words like ‘Conservatism, Classical Liberalism, Neoconservatism, Liberal conservatism and Libertarianism.’ I also checked the ideology for the democrats and found ‘mordern liberalism.’ What is the ideology of APC, PDP, ADP, ADC, APGA and other political parties in Nigeria? It seems to me that many of our politicians are clear capitalists parading socialist manifestoes that they don’t intend to keep. Until the issue of ideology is clearly defined, we will keep forming new parties and merging parties to suit interests without moving the nation forward. Why do we keep forming new parties before every major election in Nigeria? Lack of ideologies is one of them. The godfatherism that will not allow eligible and competent candidates emerge is another one. Endorsement and moneybags deciding who should rule is the other reason parties find it difficult to agree on a candidate and the aggrieved party members move to other parties or simply form a new party if they think they have the weight to move the crown into a new platform.

 

  1. Vision – What is the vision of the person who want to become our President? What is the vision of the person who wants to become the governor of your state or the representatives and federal and state levels? What’s the vision of your senator? That’s the bigger problem that we have. Just as America today is seen as arguably the most powerful nation of the world, China is beginning to reposition itself and taking over the African market from the western world. This didn’t happen overnight. You are probably reading this text from a device made in china. Some people don’t like to hear that but even the high tech devices and the very expensive ones are simply designed in US, UK, Finland and other countries whose names we want to hear but the products are manufactured in China. Now China offers loans to Africa and is also looking for ways to ensure other countries that trade with it can do away with the American dollars and ask for the Yuan directly. These actions and economic policies are results of carefully thought out visions. China strategically repositioned itself and other nations are doing so. We have heard and some have seen what happened in Singapore which can happen anywhere else in the world if any leader is serious. While party platforms are needed to get people into office, the more important consideration after the ideology of the party should be the vision of the leader. That’s what manifestoes are supposed to address but when Nigerian politicians come to campaign, they simply make promised that are not even written down and forget them before they even win the election. And sadly, no one holds them accountable and we also don’t recall members of the national assembly who are misbehaving. A vision to reposition Nigeria beyond the tenure of any administration or individual is what we need. The clear roadmap to reposition us as the giant of Africa in words and in deeds is what we need and this can come from either a young or old candidate. I think Nigeria should be on the path of giving aids to other African countries rather than borrowing from the Western world. We need the vision that makes Nigeria the go to place for manufacturing in Africa. Nigeria has enough rubber to supply tires and plastics to the entire world. Nigeria had an assembly plant for automobiles until the craze for imported cars went up. We can move on to building our own cars like Innosun is current doing and supply cars to every African country to start with. We can ensure that every Nigerian child gets free education from age 0 – 19 which is a period when any Nigerian should have completed primary and secondary education. On the global scheme of things, how do we want to be known compared to the fraud that our country is currently known for? We need to have a clear vision on the global, national, state and local levels. That is far more important than the age of the person in office.

The issues raised above are the more critical issues that we must address for Nigeria to become a better nation. I am not saying we have to wait for these issues to be addressed before younger candidates emerge in our current democracy. I am simply saying there are bigger issues than the age of the people leading us. Once we don’t deal with the bigger issues, we will keep deceiving ourselves and we can change leaders as often as we want to but we will not make any progress as a nation.

We certainly can change this nation radically. I believe that. I am optimistic about it and I look forward to a changed nation but this nation will not be changed by young people. Neither will it be changed by the old people. So how will the nation be changed you may ask? Our elders say that Ile-Ife was established through the wisdom gleaned from both the elders and the young ones. (The proper proverb in Yoruba is ‘Omode gbon, agba gbon ohun la fi da Ile-Ife). They also say, ‘Owo omode ko to pepe. T’agba ko wo keregbe.’ That’s loosely translated as the hands of a child are not long enough to pick something from a shelf and the hands of the elders are too big to go into a gourd. So when the child wants something from the shelf, the child needs the elders. When the elders need something from the gourd, the children are called upon. Since they say a word is enough for the wise, I rest my case on these words from the elders.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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