[Analyses]–The 2014 recipient for the Nobel Peace Prize, Kailash Satyarthi, couldn’t have said it better when he said that “the power of youth is the common wealth for the entire world”. Going further, he added that “the faces of young people are the faces of our past, our present and our future. No segment in the society can match with the power, idealism, enthusiasm and courage of the young people”. And while Satyarthi was no less agreeable with Benjamin Disraeli who concluded that the Youths of a nation are the trustees of posterity, the Nigerian youths are still largely underrepresented at the table where their future is being decided.
Less than a year ago, the world was greeted with the election news of the youngest President in the history of France, Emmanuel Jean-Michel Frédéric Macron, who assumed power at the age of 32. Few months after, Kenya elected its youngest member of parliament at the age of 23 just a year after a 22-year old female law student — Francisca Oteng-Mensah — won a parliamentary seat in Ghana. These cases in addition to the governance catastrophe being currently perpetrated by the older generation have refreshed the conversation of youth inclusion in governance in Africa, most especially Nigeria. In championing this campaign, a non-profit organization, Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth and Advancement, YIAGA, has been canvassing for a reduction in the constitutional age requirement for running for political office in Nigeria coordinating the campaign with the hashtag #NotTooYoungToRun. The bill seeking to reduce the age qualifications for interested candidates to contest for the positions of President, Governor and Lawmakers in Nigeria to 30 years among other amendments has since scaled through both the House of Representatives and the Nigerian Senate. It was also reported in February that twenty-four state houses of assembly of the thirty-six states in the country have reportedly passed the #NotTooYoungToRun bill. While the bill still awaits the President’s assent before it becomes a law, it is pertinent to re-examine if the reduction in age qualification will be the solution to youth exclusion in the political circle. Can the youth really be the face of our present and our future? Much more important to ask: are the youths ready to lead?
The 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended provides for the age qualification for citizens aspiring for various positions in the country. A citizen aspiring to be president or vice-president must have attained the age of 40; 35 to be senator or state governor; and 30 to be a member of the house of representatives and state House of Assembly. While the laws of the land provide for these, it is still shocking and sad that since the coming back of Democracy in 1999, we have not produced a president or vice president of 40 years neither have we produced a state governor or a senator of 35 years old. If our cry is as good as our determination, then we need to be faithful in the little things the constitution has granted us before we start calling for more. If we are ready to take charge the reins of leadership, we should at least exploit what the law permits. It is a pity that we are like the man who is calling for a bigger mattress and yet is clueless as to find a room to put it.
Even if the age qualification for presidential aspirants is reduced to 25, would we still be able to produce presidential aspirants at that age? And can we have a 25-year old aspirant having the worth, experience and training to win against older aspirants? Do we have capable youths to deliver our political dream as a country? Yes, I am not oblivious to the fact that many of our youths are building amazing startups, ventures and businesses within and outside the country to solve our everyday problems and to make life better for people of the world. Yes, I know youths like Seun Osewa of Nairaland, Iyinoluwa Aboyeji of Andela, the duo of Adebola Williams and Chude Jideonwo of Red Media, Temie Giwa of LifeBank and many others who have demonstrated how amazing Nigerian youths can be if given the opportunity to build. But then, I will be doing myself — and you my reader — a great disservice if I — like others — get fixated on the dangerous notional path of this single story. First, we need to come to terms that there is a great difference between the business of governance and the governance of business. Making money is different from managing peace and truth. Anybody can make money but it takes extra intelligence and training to aggregate a million differing voices and still stay sane. We also need to know that for each of these Nigerian youths mentioned above, we have a million others wasting away on the street failed by the Nigerian system and condemned to perpetual social jail term of lack of basic social amenities, poor education, massive unemployment and every social misfortune you can ever imagine including ethnic violence and terrorism. These social misadventures have contributed in no small measure to kill the youths’ political correctness, derail their moral consciousness and make them totally indifferent, if not averse to nation building. And that is why we have many of our youths on the streets chasing their survivals behind Molues and commercial buses; wasting away on the internet all in the name of Yahoo Yahoo and socialising; finding relevance being political thugs; and generally receding to the basest social instincts of the society.
When we achieve this glory of #NotTooYoungToRun, if those who will run this country are the youths running the National Association of Nigerian Students or the lots of them currently leading their fellows in other youth associations then I am afraid to say that we are on an expressway to political suicide for this lot sees governance principally as a poverty alleviation programme and an invitation to take one’s share of the national cake at the expense of the people’s welfare. And if we are lucky enough not to have the first category of youths above rule us, we will be unfortunate to have the second category who are mostly comprised of youths who are children of the political elites who have gone to study in the best universities around the world. Yes, for this category of youths, they are vibrant, well-educated and in tune with global trends in terms of development and governance but apart from the fact that they will be extension of the current political enslavement culture as offspring of the elite class, they will also not be in tune with the people they are governing for they have stayed too much in the elitist sphere to have any meaningful feelings, and to reasonably relate with the yearnings and needs of the teeming masses they are to govern. This is the category that will destroy all the ghettoes to build shopping complexes and amusement parks. Either way, it is the people’s funeral having any of these categories of youths taking the reins of power.
Some political pundits while welcoming what seems to be a new wave of youthful interests have argued that we need the wave to checkmate the decay in the political philosophy of our current leadership saying that the more the merrier but the truth remains that we can’t deliver this nation by over concentrating our attention and resources at the apex position in the country as we have seen a good number of our young persons declared their ambition towards the coming 2019 elections. Apart from the fact that this move is desperately exposing our lack of strategy, it is also showing our stack ignorance about how the system works as we overrate the presidency at the expense of other lower positions suitable and having better prospects for the implementation of people-driven programmes and policies. Only if we knew that the more we go down the ladder the rottener, maybe we would have thought differently that our current approach is in fact the more the messier.
Two weeks ago, I was privileged to meet Chris Uwaje — popularly known as the Oracle of the Nigerian IT Industry and who pioneered the conceptualization Framework and content drafting strategy for the establishment of the National Information Technology Development Policy for Nigeria amongst other amazing accomplishments —at the Delta State Innovation Hub, Asaba where he was about to give a mini lecture on Artificial Intelligence and the 4th Industrial Revolution. In a one to one pre-lecture chat— more of a mentorship counselling though — he lamented about the division amongst the youth and according to him, the youths are no close to achieving any meaningful political progress because they have been partitioned and divided along various interests and until they learn to overcome this they will always be #NotTooYoungToRun nowhere. I am sure Chris Uwaje must have had in mind the likes of Fela Durotoye, Omoyele Sowore, Ahmed Buhari, Kayode Bello, Prof. Kingsley Moghalu, Chris Emejuru and a host of others —comprising both young and old technocrats—but who have decided to run the supposed race of liberating the people on very different tracks with divided resources and next-to-clueless strategies against a system of politicians who are always united in their common interests for power.
Being ready and capable means we must know of the strategy to employ if we must win in our run to deliver our fatherland. It means we must know that showing credentials is critical to the acceptance of youth candidature. It means we must demonstrate sufficiency in our knowledge and understanding of our political terrain. It means we have to come to terms with reality that in this race for a new Nigeria, our options are not that many: we must either resolve to reform the system from within running with the status quo or without by running against the system. If we choose the former, we must know that patience is our magic wand and if we choose the latter, we must be ready to pay for what it takes to start on a clean slate. No matter the choice we make out of these two, we must never deceive ourselves that we can win the soul of this nation in a twitter campaign or that we can deliver the future by simply asking for it. If there is anything nature has taught us, it is that every new birth requires force — and sometimes a little bit of aggression and more force.
Our unpreparedness as youths is only bested by our lack of will and resources to govern. George Orwell must have had the Nigerian youths in mind when he submitted that the proles will not be conscious until they rebel and they will not rebel until they are conscious. We cannot be ready until we have what it takes to govern and steer the affairs of a nation in terms of knowledge, training, discipline and emotional intelligence. And we cannot start cultivating the resources to have what it takes — knowledge, training, discipline and emotional intelligence — until we are ready and serious about taking charge. Yes, it is a chicken-egg problem and we must figure it out somehow to emerge. The youths have led us into — one of our darkest nightmares as a nation — a civil war; they have led us into the worst recession, they started the most reckless economic flamboyance culture, through their exuberance, they led us in and out of different ugly military dispensations and if we don’t want to go back in time living these hellish memories all over again, we must allow a youth leadership culture evolve naturally out of a solid education system–an educated electorate makes educated choices. It must evolve out of a system where majority of the youths are gainfully employed – that means citizens will no longer see politics as a poverty alleviation scheme. It must evolve out of a nation where there is deliberate inter-generational trust and confidence. Youth leadership culture must evolve to emerge; it is like a fruit that’s sweeter when allowed to ripen and fall. We should not force it to avoid us living our nightmares all over again.Please Follow Us @ThePageNg