In his famous treatise, ‘The Prince’, Niccolo Machiavelli wrote, “there is nothing more difficult and dangerous, or more doubtful of success, than an attempt to introduce a new order of things”.
I was a teenager when I started advocacy, pushing for reforms that would impact people's lives. I was driven by my passion for helping people and improving the status quo.
However, right from the early days, I witnessed what Machiavelli described in that book: the difficulty of change. As I write this, it’s been over ten years since I started advocacy. During this period, I have written several articles, organized advocacy campaigns and debates, mobilised people to support groups and meet stakeholders, engage the Press to amplify our activities, and so much more. But the highlight of this journey is my involvement in the #NotTooYoungToRun bill that became law in 2018.
As the 2023 elections draw near, the influx of young people interested in various political offices has been a delight to me. But it has also been a reason for some reflection.
Pushing for a constitutional amendment in Nigeria is an arduous task. The process is frustrating and will have you reconsider your position. In the case of the #NotTooYoungToRun, the votes of the House of the National Assembly are required. After this, the resolution must be approved by not less than two-thirds of the Nigerian states.
Nigeria has 36 states, which means 24 states represent two-thirds. Once this approval is complete, it is presented to the president for their assent. But all that is history now.
Not many people are aware, but the #NotTooYoungToRun campaign started in 2012. It was organised by young Nigerians who formed a coalition of 30 groups under the Youth Alliance on Constitution Review and Electoral Reform (YACOR), which I was a member. It was during this time that I travelled to Abuja for the first time.
We hosted conferences online to get more people to participate in the process. A memorandum was submitted to the National Assembly to lobby them to eliminate age restrictions in the country’s constitution. Unfortunately, it couldn’t fly.
By 2017, five years later, I was already 24. I had become more exposed after attending several local and international conferences, participating in more advocacy campaigns, building a network of people who are changemakers and positioning myself for more opportunities. So, when the #NTYTR was brought back in 2017, I was equipped with the
necessary skills and experience to drive the advocacy in Kwara State.
However, the campaign came with a lot of discouragement. It was overwhelming, from cheap blackmail to claims that it was an impossible feat. I remember some saying the law will only favour the children of the rich. I was accused of working with the then-Senate President to install his sons. On social media, there were tons of opinions to rubbish our efforts.
Despite these verbal and written attacks, I was unfaced. Change is unfamiliar territory, and people have natural tendencies to resist it. Also, they are quick to criticise something they don’t understand or feel won’t benefit them.
After the National Assembly passed the bill, it was the turn of the state parliament. I mobilised my team in Kwara to lobby the leadership of the state parliament. We also met the then-Senate President, Senator Abubakar Bukola Saraki from Kwara State to help lobby his colleagues. Our efforts were successful as Kwara State Assembly became the first to pass the bill in Nigeria. This was a great achievement that earned us accolades from our colleagues in other states. It also set the pace for other states to follow.
Today, the law has taken full effect and has enabled more young people to show interest in political offices. But, for an advocacy that started ten years ago, seeing the fruits manifest in my lifetime gladdens my heart.
I am also pleased that Kwara State continues to make giant strides in ensuring young people are engaged at all levels. The current administration in Kwara boasts of young people in government. It also appointed the youngest commissioner in the country.
As the 2023 elections approach, I look forward to young people clinching many elective seats across various political parties. I encourage t em to prioritize competency and capacity building – a trait that is lacking among many of our current politicians. They must also be of impeccable character as it reflects the quality of their person. This will set the pace for more young people to get involved and help us drive the desired change.
On a final note, I encourage people advocating for a cause or the other aimed at improving the status quo to keep at it. Those who mock you today will celebrate you when you win, and they will also be beneficiaries of the outcome.
Olasupo Abideen is a Good Governance, Youth Investment and Public Policy enthusiast. Abideen serves as the Kwara State Coordinator of the NotTooYoungToRun Movement and the Executive Director, Brain Builders Youth Development Initiative. Please send comments and feedback to [email protected] . He tweets @opegoogle.