The bill also provides for 25-year-olds to legislate in the national and state assemblies.
The campaign to support the bill was driven by a coalition of 80 Nigerian youth organisations, motivated by the UN’s #NotTooYoungToRun global campaign launched in 2016. The issue has been given momentum by the election as France’s president of 39-year-old Emmanuel Macron, whose appeal was apparently his youthfulness and the prospect that he would have new ideas to stir up the stagnant political pond.
The UN campaign recognises the demographic shift to a much younger population, with people below the age of 30 forming the majority age group in many countries. They are allowed to vote but not hold political office in many countries. In Nigeria, this group is about 60% of the overall population.
Goodluck Jonathan, 53 when he assumed office, has been Nigeria’s youngest president. Current leader Muhammadu Buhari is 74, while the average age of the Nigerian cabinet is 53.
In Zimbabwe, there is some momentum in this direction, with youth groups challenging the constitutional provision forbidding anyone younger than 40 to stand for president.
They are also asking for a maximum age of 70 for political office bearers — 23 years younger than their current leader.
The trend is pervasive. In 2006, the UK lowered the age of candidacy to 18.
In Africa, many countries legally allow young people to stand for political office but their participation is precluded by the de facto structure of politics: candidates need deep pockets and a strong network of political connections in current structures — and perhaps more moral ambiguity than principled youthfulness might allow.
It seems easier for opposition leaders to energetically climb the political ladder at a younger age — Julius Malema and Mmusi Maimane are about four decades younger than President Jacob Zuma — but it is also difficult for them to get into office as African political systems are weighted in favour of incumbent parties.
Neglected by ageing political elites, many young Africans are losing interest in national politics. They are largely excluded from political life in an environment dominated by political power-broking that has little time for transparency and accountability. The African political landscape surely needs a rigorous shake-up to give greater voice to people who will inherit the continent.
However, it would be naïve and simplistic to see a flood of young people into political positions as a silver bullet for deepening democracy and building accountability.
Younger men and women might be just as susceptible as their elders to the temptations of using political power to enrich their family and friends. And they do not have the tempering hand of life experience to guide them in wise decision-making.
As in all things, balance is needed.
But Africa needs to make a start in moving towards such balance by drawing bright young things into the social compact. Mugabe-esque political quagmires are history in Africa.
• Games is CEO of business advisory Africa @ Work.