Nigeria’s political system favors the old rich

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Although young people make up the majority of Nigerian voters, the country’s politicians are mostly old and wealthy.

Campaigning is in full swing in Nigeria as the June 9 deadline approaches for Nigerian political parties to choose their presidential candidates for the 2023 elections. The main opposition party, the People’s Democratic Party, or PDP, has already nominated a 75-year-old man as a presidential candidate. Business tycoon Atiku Abubakar, a former vice president, has won the presidential ticket five times. Considering his advanced age, many believe this could be his last shot.

Abubakar is unlikely to be the only politician over 70 on the ballot. Bola Tinubu, a former Lagos governor who entered politics some 30 years ago, hopes the ruling All Progressives Congress, or APC, will select him in its primaries. Aged 70, Tinubu is almost ten years younger than current Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari. The 79-year-old incumbent, who is ineligible to run in 2023 due to presidential term limits, is also deeply entrenched in national politics, having run for president five times since 2003.

Young voters, old politicians

Just over half of Nigeria’s 84 million registered voters in the 2019 elections were between the ages of 18 and 35. But young citizens, many of whom face rampant unemployment and entrenched poverty, often feel the political old guard is out of touch with their needs. This may be one of the reasons why just over a third of registered voters voted in 2019, a low turnout by global and West African standards. But the political system is proving difficult for young people to navigate and many feel they are left out of decision-making processes.

Big obstacles to entering politics

Ngbejume Ugochukwu, who lives in Benin City in the south of the country, dreamed of entering politics. But Ugochukwu, 32, had no powerful patron or “godfather” to help him pull the strings. “To become a politician in Nigeria, you first have to be extremely loyal to someone who is already up there…and then pay years of service to be loyal to that person,” said the scientist and mentor of the youth. DW in an interview.

The country’s politics also require deep pockets. Simply registering as a 2023 presidential aspirant with the two major political parties, APC and PDP, required nomination form payments of 100 million naira ($242,000 or 225,000 €) and 40 million naira respectively.

Being a wealthy candidate is also important “as nominations often have to be bought off by bribing party delegates”, according to a 2021 analysis by the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, a German foundation, of how the ruling elite of the Nigeria clings to power. For the 2023 PDP party nominations, some delegates would have been paid up to $50,000 for their vote, said sources who attended the party’s primaries held over the weekend. DW. In a country where the minimum wage is $68 a month, this puts politics out of reach for most Nigerians, especially women, and is fueling growing resentment among young people.

“Young people don’t have millions to throw away like our fathers [the older, wealthy politicians] done; purchase [a nomination] form for 100 million naira and paying millions of naira to delegates,” said Freedom Chukwumezie, a law firm secretary in Delta State. “Young people can’t afford it,” he says.

Rise of “money-cracy”

Political analyst Solomon Opara says his country’s reliance on “money politics” means most young people don’t bother trying to get into politics. “No young man would want to invest such a [sums] in a business he’s not sure of because it’s become a matter of the highest bidder,” Opara said. For the few who venture into politics, the huge sums of money needed make it difficult, if not impossible, for young people to land leadership positions in established parties, he said.

Kinsman Alabribe from Owerri in Imo State says the young people are completely disillusioned with the whole process. “The average young person believes that no matter how much work they do, they [the political elite] have to manipulate it in their favor to make sure they win,” he said.

Too immature?

But there are those who believe that young people are excluded from politics because they are too immature and inexperienced to qualify. The idea that older people have more experience simply because of their seniority is deeply rooted in the culture of the West African nation.

“Among the young people currently in the limelight in Nigeria today, which of them would you seriously think could be given the job of Speaker of the Senate?” grassroots activist Geoffrey Noriode, from Warri in Delta State, asked DW in an interview. Noriode says the student leadership policy shows young people are not ready, warning that because of their inexperience they could be used as “pawns” by more experienced power brokers.

Go forward

In 2018, constitutional reforms lowered the minimum age for presidential candidacy from 40 to 35, while those who are at least 25 can run for a seat in the House of Representatives. But the average age in the House of Representatives was 55.7 when MPs were sworn in after the 2019 election, according to the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung report.

Chido Onumah, a rights activist and coordinator of the African Center for Media and Information Literacy, an Abuja-based NGO, believes that the electoral commission should establish some guidelines to achieve greater youth representation. On top of that, the government and, in particular, its electoral commission must find a way to reduce the importance of money in Nigerian politics. “Nigeria is a democratic country but in terms of the building blocks of democracy, we are missing a lot,” he said. DW.


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