By Emmanuel Onwubiko
On Saturday, I went visiting a big man who is also an influential public office holder under the All Progressives Congress (APC) and in his palatial and cosy mansion in Abuja, I met over a dozen members of the National Assembly.
There were also about half a dozen political party leaders of the National ruling party who were there to unwind.
During the course of my stay, there were a lot of conversations around the latest developments in the National Assembly and specifically with the refusal of the National Assembly members to pass any of the five pro-Women provisions to be inserted in the soon to be amended Constitution.
Both the host and all his visitors are persons in their early forties and so can be classified as youths just like my humble self.
But I was dumbfounded to discover that these young persons except my host actually voted to nullify the proposed amendments in the Constitution that would have legalised the 35 percent affirmative action.
These young persons were so triumphant in their unrestrained and very loud conversations so much so that they justified their apparently shocking decisions. They actually said they rejected those bills because the Women did not lobby them with as much as $1 million USD. They laughed and made merry. I was so enraged but spoke sparingly.
Well, after a while, I switched my attention off their conversations since I was beginning to get so agitated that these young persons could be this backwards in their mindsets.
I then went for some of the dailies I found in the dining table of my host.
A prominent news story that fascinated me was the report on the social media post that was reportedly made by the former Army chief of staff Lieutenant General Tukur Yusuf Buratai who is now the nation’s Ambassador to Benin Republic.
His post was on the Nigerian Youths and especially it was like sound words of caution for them to stay out of trouble and never to get predisposed to being recruited as armed thugs by politicians seeking for offices beginning from the party primary that will be kicking off in two months time.
As I read this cheering news in about three of the 7 national newspapers I found that night, two things came up in my reflection.
One was the fact that I’m actually seated with a group of young persons who are actually in public life as political office holders but whose mindsets are not progressive.
These sets of youths I sat with that night were strongly against these positive legislations that will constructively promote gender parity in Nigeria or at least pass the legislation to mainstream the practice of affirmative action in the politics of Nigeria.
I then look at the news report before me on the good words of Lieutenant General Tukur Yusuf Buratai to youths to choose life rather than violent deaths.
I also remembered that President Muhammadu Buhari actually supported those other good sets of young persons that championed the NOT TOO YOUNG TO RUN BILL that was passed and the President never wasted one minute to sign it into law few months back.
Yet I have before me, young persons wielding political powers but who prefers the status quo of backwardness and male chauvinistic tendencies.
Let’s read what the former Army Chief said.
The Nigerian Ambassador to the Republic of Benin, retired Lt.-Gen. Tukur Buratai, had advised Nigerian youths not to let themselves be used as willing tools by do-or-die politicians who want to stir up trouble in their communities.
Buratai gave the advice in his message to Nigerian youths, titled, ‘Dynamism in Politics and Nigeria’s Founding Fathers,’ posted on his verified Facebook page on Friday.
He challenged them to instead, embrace the tenets of political dynamism and root out every factor contributing to the democracy deficit in Nigeria, such as voter apathy, ballot snatching, looting, arson, and the likes.
According to him, youths constitute a large percentage of our voting and working population and are also going to be the number one population block that will suffer the consequences of bad governance and incompetent leaders in the future.
“Therefore, you must do everything to safeguard your future survival and welfare in mind. Get actively involved in the democratic process by joining a political party and electing those who will lead you. Remember that voting is a civic duty expected of every Nigerian,” he said.
The former Chief of Army Staff said he spent his entire service life defending the nation and democracy because of his conviction that the political system is most conducive to peace, sustainable development, rule of law, and respect for human rights.
He said that Nigeria’s 22 years of uninterrupted democracy is worth celebrating, saying that elections devoid of integrity could not bring legitimacy to the winners, security to the losers, or public confidence in their leaders and institutions.
This, according to him, weakens polities by encouraging disaffected groups to seek out less constructive outlets for their discontent, saying some people feel that there is no need to commend the Nigerian democratic project because of this challenge associated with all nascent democracies.
“I respectfully disagree. We are evolving, and as you can see, the system is improving daily as a result of our leaders’ periodic enhancements to the democratic system.
“For instance, the 2022 Electoral Act which the President, Commander-in-Chief, President Muhammadu Buhari just signed into law, is a factor that will undoubtedly improve the transparency and acceptability of the country’s future elections and promote democratic governance.
“Democracy remains a universal aspiration because it actually delivers.
“For example, of the 20 countries with highest levels of human development as measured by the UN’s human development index, 19 are liberal democracies.
“Among the top 40, 36 are liberal democracies. And even the citizens of poorer democracies live, on average, nine years longer than citizens of poor autocracies, because they have better access to health and education.
“Democracies are also less vulnerable to famines and conflicts,” he said.
He continued, “It was the Greek philosopher, Aristotle, who said, ‘Man is, by nature, a political animal.’ It means that a man is born, lives, and dies as a member of a community, and the affairs of that community are therefore his and vice-versa.
This is why since my transition back to civilian life from the Army, I have continued to participate in every civic activity I could to promote peace and strengthen our democracy. It is the reason I decided to send this message to all Nigerian youths.”
Buratai also urged Nigerian youths to take the critical issues of participation and a vibrant democratic system in Nigeria as sacrosanct, and embrace what he termed political dynamism.
He defined political dynamism as vigorous political activity that is geared towards progress, and strength in the polity usually characterised by patriotism, service to the fatherland, and youth inclusivity.
According to him, youth can be a creative force, a dynamic source of innovations, and they have undoubtedly, throughout history, participated, contributed, and even catalysed important changes in political systems, power-sharing dynamics, and economic opportunities.
“However, young people also face poverty, barriers to education, multiple forms of discrimination, and limited employment prospects and opportunities.
“This is a global challenge although it differs across countries, and it is why the youth must take the issue of electing their leaders very seriously,” he said.
Buratai hailed the dynamism exhibited by the founding fathers such as Nnamdi Azikiwe, Ahmadu Bello and Obafemi Awolowo and offered an inclusive impression that all the regions had a say in the formation of the country
He said that President Buhari had laid a foundation for a new Nigeria, adding that he had kept faith with his vision and principles in spite of the myriad of challenges.
He urged youths to carry the vision and principles beyond the current administration and protect the legacies for a greater Nigeria and formidable future generations. (NAN).
Let us also have a mental recollection of what took place when President Buhari signed the revolutionary Bill into law to abridge the age limits for seeking important national and state political offices in Nigeria.
This then brings me also to the kernel of the words of General Buratai to youths not to get involved in being employed as armed thugs by politicians and to even endeavour to constructively seek for political mandates to serve their communities. The opportunities for young persons to get into important political offices were made possible by the bill on not too Young to Run which President Muhammadu Buhari signed into law enthusiastically.
President Muhammadu Buhari had achieved this feat just shortly before the 2019 election. So if Buhari was thinking like the politicians I sat with on Saturday night as aforementioned, he will be selfish and not append his signature to make it possible for young persons to run for key political offices and to possibly dethrone the old brigade off the political scenes for the younger persons to take over power.
But the president was so generous to the youths when he signed the bill inside the Council Chamber of State House Presidential Villa, in the presence of selected invited youth from across the county.
Mr Buhari had previously assured Nigerians that the ‘Not too Young to Run Bill’ will be signed into law in a few days’ time.
However, in a brief remark after he signed the bill, Mr Buhari told his audience comprising representatives of young persons from the 36 states and Abuja that “You can aspire for President but Please postpone your campaign till after 2019 election.”
Mr Buhari disclosed in his Democracy Day speech which aired then that at “In few days to come, I will be joined by many promising young Nigerians to sign into law the “Not Too Young to Run” Bill.”
The new law is aimed at relaxing some of the stringent and discriminatory provisions of the constitution.
The bill was passed by the National Assembly last year to alter Sections 65, 106, 131, 177 of the constitution. It was to reduce the age qualification for president from 40 to 30; governor from 35 to 30; senator from 35 to 30; House of Representatives membership from 30 to 25 and State House of Assembly membership from 30 to 25.
The president, however, said in the bill presented to him for assent, there was no reduction in the age requirement for the office of senators and governors, indicating that age would still be left at 35.
He said he hoped it will be looked after eventually.
Lawmakers also approved independent candidature in the new law. It was part of a wider constitutional amendment process which the National Assembly carried out last year.
Since its passage in July 2017 by the National Assembly, about 25 states, representing more than two-thirds of the country’s 36 states, had adopted the bill as at March ending.
As Walter Raleigh said-: “Use your youth so that you may have comfort to remember it when it has forsaken you, and not sigh and grieve at the account thereof.”
Youths if Nigeria let’s listen to Genetal Buratai because “Youth’s the season made for joys, love is then our duty”. So let’s love and choose life and not death.
*Emmanuel Onwubiko is head of the Human Rights Writers Association Of Nigeria (HURIWA) and was National Commissioner of the National Human Rights Commission Of Nigeria.