Nigeria: A young country for old men

President Buhari, (left) 76 will face his strongest challenge from Atiku Abubakar, 72

President Buhari, (left) 76 will face his strongest challenge from Atiku Abubakar, 72

In our series of letters from African journalists, editor-in-chief of Nigeria’s Daily Trust newspaper Mannir Dan Ali looks at why a country where more than half the population is under 35 looks set to get another septuagenarian president after next year’s election.

On polling day, the two leading candidates in Nigeria’s presidential election, President Muhammadu Buhari and opposition leader Atiku Abubakar, will have a combined age of 148.

This seems a far cry from the burst of optimism that accompanied the passing of the “Not Too Young To Run” law in parliament in May, which lowered the minimum age to run for the highest office from 35 to 30.

Perusing the list of more than 76 candidates, it is true that there are some who are at the more youthful end of the spectrum, like 46-year-old businessman Fela Durotoye, online news site Sahara Reporters publisher Omowale Sowore and newspaper columnist Tope Fasua, both of whom are 47.

But we all know that come February, it will be a contest between Mr Buhari of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), who is turning 76 in December, and Mr Abubakar, the flag-bearer of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), who will be 72 next month.

The old political networks are too entrenched and the cost of running for president too high for a candidate from outside the two main parties to stand a chance.

More than half of Nigeria’s registered voters are under 35 and when the Not Too Young To Run campaign was launched in April, it was hoped that it would encourage the peoples’ representatives to look more like the people themselves.

According to the electoral commission, full-blown campaigns will start in mid-November.

The campaigns, like previous ones, will be more about creating a carnival-like atmosphere than to debate key issues, like the high level of youth unemployment, or the money that will be needed to fund promises around, for example, the development of Nigeria’s infrastructure.

With the old guard still dominating, the joke doing the rounds these days revolve around the fact that you may not be “too young to run” but you are “too poor to make an impact” – rumours are rife that during party primaries, delegates walked away with fists full of dollars.

In the race to become the APC’s candidate, President Buhari was the only person in the running. -BBC

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