Lagos, Nigeria (CNN)Many called Chike Ukaegbu’s bluff when he announced he was running for the highest office in Nigeria at the age of 35. The New York-based tech entrepreneur was entering a world largely dominated by older politicians with deep pockets. Popular wisdom suggested he stood no chance at the polls.
A year ago, he would not have been able to put up his candidacy.
Politics in Nigeria was closed to younger candidates up until the Not Too Young To Run bill — championed by a youth movement — succeeded last year in lowering the ages for elected offices.
Ukaegbu is part of the new cohort of young aspirants taking advantage of the eligibility law to demand their seats at the table.
President Muhammadu Buhari first ruled Nigeria in 1983 as a military head of state. He returned as a democratically elected president in 2015.
The 76-year-old president is standing for re-election in February 16, and his main challenger is Atiku Abubakar, 72, Nigeria’s former vice president, who has also been long in the corridors of power.
“What I am doing is not unprecedented in Nigeria. It was 29-year-old Yakubu Gowon that led the country out of a civil war,” Ukaegbu said.
“The only problem is that our generation of millennials has not seen any young dynamic leader in Nigeria, and it’s now an anomaly for us when we see a young person going into politics, and it should not be.”
The dominance of the old guard is deeply rooted in corruption, Leonard Raphael, Nigerian political commentator and research fellow at the University of Sussex, told CNN.
Only candidates with deep pockets and wealth amassed from the nation’s resources have emerged victorious in past elections, Raphael said, shutting out younger aspirants and newcomers without a “war chest” to finance their campaigns.
To rattle the older order, young contestants need to “sell themselves to the populace” and those building their political presence from scratch often do not have the resources.
“Electoral violence and rigging, vote buying and money politics have been the negative trend since 1999 and by previous leaders. The ‘do or die’ attitude to elections has been the bane of…