On Tuesday (May 29), during a national address to mark “Democracy Day,” president Muhammadu Buhari, 75, confirmed he will assent a bill to reduce the age limits across political offices, including the presidency. Passed by Nigerian lawmakers in July 2017, the “Not Too Young To Run” bill will reduce the presidential age limit from 40 to 35 and, for governorship positions, from 35 to 30. The move is timely too: polls show that Nigerians will prefer to vote for a younger president during next year’s elections.
While lowering the age limit is one thing, getting into political office is quite another and will likely be an arduous journey for young Nigerians. Some of the major hurdles they will have to overcome include the high cost of political campaigns and maneuvering “old boy” establishment networks. But there are numerous advantages to having young people in decision-making positions, chief among them being the formulation and implementation of policies that reflect their generation’s aspirations.
Beyond Nigeria, age limits are a common barrier to young people seeking political office in Africa as only six countries—Guinea, Uganda, Kenya, Mozambique, eSwatini and South Africa—have the same minimum age limit for voting and seeking office, according to the International Parliamentary Union (IPU). While only 2% of lawmakers(pdf p.7) globally are under the age of 30 even though 51% of the world’s population is under 30, in Africa, the mean stands at 1.2% (pdf p.9). Indeed, high age limits are one reason to explain the reality of old presidents on a continent that is home to the world’s ten youngest countries and with a median age of 19.5.
The success of the “Not Too Young To Run” campaign in Nigeria caps a wave of youth-led advocacy across the continent alongside campaigns such as #FeesMustFall in South Africa and #DumsorMustStop in Ghana. And it’s not just a thing in Africa: last year, Oxford Dictionaries picked “Youthquake”—defined as “a significant cultural, political or social change arising from the actions or influence of young people”—as the word of the year.