The answer to Nigeria’s leadership crisis is not the youths
Wait!…. Please don’t shoot me yet. I’ll explain.
The cries currently rending our political firmament is that of giving youth a chance. This is evident in the “Not too young to run bill” that has been passed by the National assembly and the required state assemblies. The Bill, sponsored by Tony Nwulu in the House of Representatives and senator Abdul Aziz in the Senate, seeks to alter some sections of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended). The explanatory memorandum of the Bill is to alter specifically, sections 131, 177, 65 and 106 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) to reduce the age qualification for the office of the President from 40 years to 30 years, Governor from 35 years to 30 years, membership of the Senate from 35 years to 30 years, membership of the house of Representatives from 30 years to 25 years and membership of the state House of assembly from 30 years to 25 years respectively. The Bill also seeks to allow independent candidacy in Nigeria’s electoral process. The campaign, having gained political momentum across the world is symbolized by the hashtag #NotTooYoungToRun.
The general message of the Movement and the Bill is clear as it is important. We cannot really say we are practicing an all-inclusive democracy when the teeming masses(youths) cannot participate in the democratic process. After all, their demographics easily account for over 60% of the population. This bill is a welcome development as it signifies that the youths are ready to receive the baton of leadership from our gerontocrats. Youths play active roles in promoting democracy and national development, aside from being in the vanguard of fighting for Nigeria’s independence from the British through their zeal, energy and virility. However, to the proponents of this bill, all that is needed to put our country back on track is to inject new blood into our political arena and replace old leaders with younger ones. The emphasis is on age. But, is someone’s age the only criterion that matters when vying for a leadership position? Is Leadership now based on age and not ability and responsibility? Are the youths of these days even ready to receive the mantle of leadership? These are compelling questions that desperately need answers. And this is where the proponents of this bill miss the point.
Before you engage any cynicism you may have , I’d like to put it out there that I am also a youth. But I deeply believe that the remedy to our leadership issues is not necessarily embedded in age. What does age have to do with our political and leadership squabbles if unable to confront squarely the contending issues militating against our development? Is the transformation of any nation tied to the age of its leaders rather than ability? Let me remind us that unmentored youth could be a lethal weapon. The bulk of the folks who orchestrated the 1966 pogrom were in their mid to late twenties. At that age, you are full of unbridled zeal and idealism, yet bereft of any institutional breeding or knowledge of history. The result was a fatal civil war. The obsession with youth, with barely no political experience, insight or training of worth, you may recall, is what got us in this pickle in the first place. With our “baby generals”, starting with 29 year-old Gowon who knew even at that young age that “Money is not our problem, but how to spend it”, to Olusegun Obasanjo, Muhammadu Buhari, Ibrahim Babangida, Sanni Abacha and the entire tribe of them – were they not young when they took Nigeria by the scruff, emptied out its federalist bowels, played a bitter game of tribalism, exacerbated our fault lines and looted unborn generation’s patrimony? Lets not even talk about our universities’ student Union. A place that ordinarily should be a breeding ground and training place for future leaders, leaves much to be desired. Everyday, we are saddened with the news of these young leaders messing up Leadership positions. And these are the people screaming “give youth a chance”.
The emphasis should not be on age. Rather, the character contents of a leader, old or young, that enables him/ her to rightly diagnose the nation’s multifarious challenges, prescribe potentially effective remedies and demonstrate the strength of will and Character to apply them without fear or favour.
At this juncture, it is pertinent to note that history is also replete with amazing stories of young leaders that transformed their nations. It will be intellectually disingenuous not to admit this fact. For example, Lee Kwan yew, former prime minister of Singapore (of blessed memory) was just 36 years old when he became his country’s leader. Thoroughly imbued with an unwavering sense of duty, he set out to improve the lot of Singaporeans. He successfully revolutionized the political and economic destiny of his nation, transforming them from a third world country to a first world country. But before we get carried away with the age factor, it’s important to note that Lee Kwan yew’s Sense of justice, dedication and political will were the propelling impulse that drove the vehicle of his successful Administration. Not age. Age is beside the point. But capacity and accountability are indispensable.
In conclusion, the wave of young people being elected into Leadership positions is sweeping across the globe. The Emergence of 39-year old Emmanuel Macron as the President of France is testament to this fact. But as argued above, Age was not the main factor that won him the presidency. His capacity and capability were the factors that won him the presidency, although his youthfulness made him more appealing to the public. There are some factors that have to be in place before we can produce our own Lee Kwan yew. Quality Education, Political mentoring, and political parties with unshakable ideologies. Education plays a vital role in the development of any nation; therefore, priority should be given to access to qualitative education that will make our youth better citizens first, before running for Political offices. It is the only tool that will reshape and reorient the youth towards developing our nation. Further, young people aspiring to run for any political office must first seek guidance and mentorship from experienced hands vast in Nigerian history and politics for effective leadership. Political parties also have roles to play in moulding the leadership skills of our youth. By having ideologies, ethos and proper vision for their party, it will be a fertile place to breed young leaders and align them with those ideologies.
Finally, the bill is a welcome development. But the train does not stop here. Emphasis should be rightly placed on the contents of an individual’s character, his capacity and his vision for the country. If the youths can add these weapons to their arsenal, our political future looks promising. But if the emphasis is on age alone, the prognosis is not inspiring! I end with the immortal words of Chude Jidenwo ” Nigeria’s problem is not the age of our leaders, but our leaders of any age.”
Patrick Emmanuel is a 500 level law student of Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife.