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Not Too Young To Run: Taking on Nigeria’s political elite

The “Not Too Young To Run” movement last year succeeded in securing a reduction in the minimum age limit for candidates to seek election.

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Zainab Yusuf is standing for parliament to represent her native Kaduna in northern Nigeria. At 29, she’s one of the youngest candidates in this weekend’s election.

“It’s been extremely challenging,” she told AFP. “But we’re fighting and doing well, getting our message across. People can see we’re here campaigning to improve life.”

There are 91 political parties in Nigeria but just two dominate — the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

Together, they account for almost all of the seats in both chambers of the National Assembly and with back-and-forth defections common between the two, many see them as one.

But Nigeria has one of the youngest populations in the world and now the mostly-elderly men who have dominated politics for so long are coming under pressure.

House of Representative candidates debating

Yusuf, from a little-known party called the National Rescue Movement (NRM), feels a younger generation of lawmakers is needed to connect with the increasingly youthful country. 

She is among the youngest generation of candidates to run for office in Nigeria after a change in the law.

The “Not Too Young To Run” movement last year succeeded in securing a reduction in the minimum age limit for candidates to seek election.

But while age is no longer a barrier for entry into politics, other, more formidable challenges remain.

When first Yusuf decided to run, she was a member of the APC in Kaduna state. 

To contest in party primaries, prospective candidates had to pay 3.0 million naira ($8,285, 7,400 euros) — a huge sum unaffordable to all but a small upper class.

The APC promised to increase the number of female candidates, making tickets free. But Yusuf said: “They don’t want women to run because they will get less money.”

As such, women who don’t come from rich, elite political families, have an uphill struggle.

“They told me, ‘It’s not my time’, or that I should pay at least half to get a ticket, so we left,” she said. 

Eventually she moved to the NRM after realising that trying to change Nigeria from within through belonging to an established party was too difficult because party democracy was non-existent.

Political “godfathers” often impose candidates on the party. Many of them are elected or previously elected figureheads who want greater control in their region.

In the southwest state of Ogun, for example, one would-be candidate said APC parliamentary hopefuls were told the governor had chosen the list weeks before the primaries.

“I wanted to run in a fair primary but he had other ideas,” said one of those who missed out. Even a senior party official said the process had been “compromised”.

Nana Nwachukwu, a lawyer and activist for “Not Too Young To Run”, said political elites have tried to block new candidates since the minimum age limit was lowered. 

“They have resorted to bullying or intimidation or cajoling” to discourage them from taking part and “enable the old gang to retain and recycle power,” she said. 

Many young candidates face threats to rein in their aspirations, forcing them to join smaller parties, where governance may be more transparent but resources are scarce.

“The campaign would have been smooth but for the thugs,” said Yusuf. 

“They’ve broken my car windscreen, vandalised my office, my equipment, it’s not easy.” 

She blamed opponents but also disgruntled local youths, who have grown used to cash handouts from wealthy politicians, annoyed that her campaign is not benefiting them financially. 

“I’m trying to find the funds to keep the campaign running well but it is a struggle,” she said.

Money rules in Nigerian politics and with 87 million people living in extreme poverty and millions more struggling to get by, campaigning has become a source of income.

Politicians are typically expected to spend millions of naira to attract supporters and pay campaigners. 

Manufacturers of rice and other food items that are often distributed at rallies have come to rely on the big-spending parties for pay days.

Yusuf said she expects to have spent 6.0 million naira by election day this weekend. 

Some of her spending priorities were “unfortunate but necessary”, she said. That includes paying the local media for coverage, agents to canvas support and monitor votes.

“They will even sleep at the collation centres to monitor votes so make sure they are counted. It’s a lot!” she added. 

The larger parties far outspend her campaign “but we are connecting to voters, winning their support where we can”, she said.

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North Africa Politics

Abdel Fattah al-Sisi denies allegations of corruption

Sisi told a youth conference in Cairo on Saturday the accusations were “lies and slander” designed to “break the will of Egyptians”

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Abdel Fattah al-Sisi denies allegations of corruption

Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Saturday flatly denied allegations of corruption made by an Egyptian businessman, assuring he was “honest and faithful” to his people and army.

Videos posted online from outside the country since early September accusing Sisi and Egypt’s military of graft have gone viral, sparking rare debate about the army’s growing economic empire. 

The man behind them, 45-year-old construction contractor Mohamed Aly, claims that authorities have misappropriated millions of Egyptian pounds in public funds. 

He also alleges the military owes him hundreds of millions of pounds for projects his company was commissioned to build, including palatial residences for Sisi.

Sisi told a youth conference in Cairo on Saturday the accusations were “lies and slander” designed to “break the will (of Egyptians) and make them lose all hope and confidence”. 

Quoted by local TV, Sisi said he decided to speak out despite “calls from all state bodies” for him not to respond. 

“Your son is honest, faithful and loyal,” he added.

Aly — who says he has fled to Spain — has not provided evidence to back up his claims and the Egyptian armed forces declined an AFP request to comment.

In the footage, released in instalments, Aly mocks Sisi – a former army chief – and lambasts the military.

In the first video, posted on September 2, Aly blasted Sisi, without naming him, saying: “You say the Egyptian people are very poor and that we should tighten our belts.

“(But) you are throwing away billions and your men are wasting millions.”

In a speech on Egypt’s economy two years ago, Sisi had said “We (Egyptians) are very poor”.

The reality is different, according to Aly, who says that some of the projects the military asked him to build included a luxurious guest house for Sisi in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria and a palace in Cairo.

“People must know how their money is being spent,” Aly says in one video.

For decades, the military has played a key but opaque economic role, producing everything from washing machines to pasta, alongside building roads and operating gas stations.

Since the arrival of Sisi, who toppled his Islamist predecessor Mohamed Morsi in 2013, the army’s economic involvement has been more visible amid austerity measures and rising prices.

The army spokesman said recently on a popular TV show that the armed forces oversee rather than “manage” some 2,300 projects nationwide, employing five million civilians. 

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189 Nigerians repatriated from South Africa after xenophobic attacks

More than 600 Nigerians are expected to return from South Africa this week, the Nigerian government has said

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189 Nigerians repatriated from South Africa after xenophobic attacks
People disembark from a plane as a first group of Nigerians repatriated from South Africa following xenophobic violence arrives in Lagos, on September 11, 2019. (Photo by PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP)

Almost 200 Nigerian migrants were repatriated from South Africa on Wednesday following a wave of xenophobic violence that swept through the country and sparked sharp exchanges between the two countries.

A flight carrying 189 Nigerians landed in Nigeria’s commercial capital Lagos, with some of those onboard punching the air and singing their national anthem while waving pictures of burnt shops.

“I ran for my life, they would have killed me,” said Samson Aliyu, a clothes seller who lived in South Africa for two years.

READ: Police arrests several shop looters in South Africa

“They burnt my shop, everything,” he added.

189 Nigerians repatriated from South Africa after xenophobic attacks
Air Peace flight attendants hold placards to denounce xenophobia as a first group of Nigerians repatriated from South Africa following xenophobic violence arrives in Lagos, on September 11, 2019. (Photo by PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP)

More than 600 Nigerians are expected to return from South Africa this week, the Nigerian government has said.

“We were expecting 317 but from the information we have 189 are on board,” said Nigeria’s minister for diaspora affairs Abike Dabiri-Erewa.

“There was about a five-hour delay courtesy of the South African authorities who actually frustrated this return of Nigerians,” she said, blaming authorities in Johannesburg for failing to help Nigerians without travel documents.

READ: Nigeria plans to repatriate 600 citizens from South Africa

“There was a lot of frustration in getting them back home but we’re glad that they will be here,” she added.

Leading the returnees in singing the national anthem, Dabiri-Erewa promised the government would provide financial support.

Chairperson and Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission Abike Dabiri-Erewa speaks after a first group of Nigerians repatriated from South Africa following xenophobic violence arrived in Lagos, on September 11, 2019. (Photo by Olukayode Jaiyeola/NurPhoto)

Johannesburg and surrounding areas were rocked by a series of deadly attacks on foreigners last week, including many directed against Nigerian-owned businesses and properties.

At least 10 people were killed in the violence and hundreds of shops destroyed while more than 420 people were arrested.

READ: South Africa vows to tackle xenophobic attacks against foreigners

No Nigerian was killed but the violence led to condemnation across Africa, particularly in Nigeria, fuelling diplomatic tensions between the continent’s two leading nations.

The violence also prompted reprisal attacks against South African firms in Nigeria and the temporary closing of South Africa’s diplomatic missions in Lagos and Abuja.

READ: African migrants seek refuge amidst xenophobic attacks in South Africa

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Nigerian court upholds President Muhammadu Buhari’s February election win

The opposition party says it will head to the country’s supreme court to appeal the ruling of the lower court

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Nigerian court upholds President Muhammadu Buhari's February election win

A Nigerian court on Wednesday upheld President Muhammadu Buhari’s election victory earlier this year, dismissing a request by opposition parties to overturn the result over claims of voting irregularities.

Buhari, 76, won a second term with 56 per cent of the February poll, which was long-delayed.

Former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar of the main opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP), who came in second with 41 per cent, immediately called the result a “sham”. Opposition parties lodged a legal challenge against the result in March.

Abubakar, 72, said he had been cheated of the chance to lead Africa’s most populous state after a conspiracy between the electoral commission INEC and Buhari’s ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).

However, on Wednesday, the presidential election tribunal found there was no evidence of the opposition’s claims.

“This petition is, hereby, dismissed in its entirety,” judge Mohammed Garba said on Wednesday.

The ruling was widely expected, with Buhari’s government taking office last month.

Buhari has insisted that the election was free and fair, claiming the vote was “another milestone in Nigeria’s democratic development”. 

In a press statement reacting to the verdict, the opposition party says it will head to the country’s supreme court to appeal the ruling of the lower court.

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