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Top Presidential Candidates In Nigeria Are In Their 70s, Despite Young Population


On the eve of key elections in Nigeria, authorities in the state of Kaduna say more than 60 people including women and children have been killed in what appeared to be communal clashes and reprisal attacks. Despite the troubles, Nigerians are choosing a president, lawmakers and governors tomorrow. The presidential frontrunners are both in their 70s in a nation where the median age is 18. From Abuja, NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports how young people regard what's going on.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: There's been much talk about the youth vote in Nigeria this year. It's being called the youth boom or the rising generation. One of the groups spearheading the campaign to get younger Nigerians elected to public office is Not Too Young To Run. Last year, the campaign got a bill into law reducing the age of who can run for what office. Twenty-eight-year-old Maryam Laushi has been instrumental in that effort.

MARYAM LAUSHI: It's not even up to a year later, but youth candidacy in Nigeria has grown from 6 percent to 27 percent. That's a great jump, and we're hoping for a bigger impact.

QUIST-ARCTON: Nigeria is Africa's most populous nation and top economy and skews young. Yet many young people say politics and elections favor the old. The two leading presidential candidates, President Muhammadu Buhari and the opposition frontrunner and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, are both in their 70s. At 39, Eunice Atuejide is the youngest of five female candidates among more than 70 contenders chasing the presidency. She's a beneficiary of the Not Too Young To Run law.

EUNICE ATUEJIDE: I am now old enough to contest the presidency. It's been reduced from 40 to 35. And all the old people that are there - are they actually doing a better job than I could? I doubt it.

QUIST-ARCTON: Campaigner Maryam Laushi she says that one of the major impediments for Nigeria's young candidates is money. Millions of dollars are needed to finance any serious presidential run and criss-cross the large country campaigning.

ATUEJIDE: We've had support from the most unusual places. Going to some of these towns and villages and approaching some of these very traditional men and women and getting them to say we support you; we like you was very encouraging.

QUIST-ARCTON: A powerful voice came to the defense of young Nigerian aspirants this week. The emir of Kano, a revered religious and traditional leader, called on established politicians to open up the political space to younger candidates.


MUHAMMADU SANUSI II: It is extremely important for the older generation while they are alive to hand this country over to the next generation and...

QUIST-ARCTON: Youth campaigner and first-time voter Maryam Laushi would likely applaud, too, but right now she's got a problem on her hands. Nigeria's Independent National Electoral Commission has failed to deliver her permanent voter's card. She's checked three times, she says, in vain, which means she doesn't get to cast her ballots.

LAUSHI: It broke my heart to know that I couldn't vote. It's a single vote, but it means everything to me because I feel like that's the power of the young people. So I'm really heartbroken.

QUIST-ARCTON: But she's not giving up. Laushi says she's an observer in tomorrow's crucial elections and is encouraging other young people to vote en masse. Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Abuja. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is an award-winning broadcaster from Ghana and is NPR's Africa Correspondent. She describes herself as a "jobbing journalist"—who's often on the hoof, reporting from somewhere.