NIGERIA is a country whose people are tired of the gerontocracy practised for decades by leaders. Nigerians and elder statesmen clamour for the replacement of our current set of leaders with technocrats and young people who move with the changing times. When I refer to “youths,’’ I mean every person within the age of 18–40 years. The youths that will turn around the socio-economic and political landscape of Nigeria, must at an early stage be conversant with the political system and the economy, in order to prepare themselves to tackle the loopholes in Nigeria. For the past two decades (after the long period of military rule) since we began democracy, Nigeria has not experienced substantial growth and development compared to nations she gained independence before and within the same time. Some of these countries have overtaken us and a few others are rising fast to lead the way in terms of political, social and economic prosperity. This is attributable to the series of bad leaders the country has had at different times since independence. The situation is worsened by the President Muhammadu Buhari administration under which, Nigeria witnessed a recession in 2016 becoming the world headquarters for poverty according to a reportpublished by CNN.
There has been a rise in the number of grey-headed politicians occupying various elective and non-elective positions across the legislature, executive and judiciary. Many of these persons were elected or appointed based on tribal, ethnic and religious sentiments despite not having the requisite skills, expertise or know-how to manage portfolios or offices they were appointed to oversee. This issue is clearly manifest in the current regime of President Buhari. In the executive for instance, we have many ministers and other government appointees occupying positions they have no qualification for. A lot of them, were appointed based on ethno-religious sentiments and thus ended up looting our treasury and embezzling funds allocated for specific projects and tasks. The Nigerian Senate is a matter for another day. It has become a retirement home for old politicians whose sole objective is to keep amassing wealth and that explains the poor quality of laws being made by them. It is thus clear that these sets of old people are not concerned about the growing decadence in Nigeria’s economy and the polity as a whole. Hence, everyone including some prominent leaders of old is of the opinion that the youths need to be active in politics and vie for elective positions. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo in an interview with AFP on March 29,2019 said that: “The youths will have to snatch power from these ageing politicians.”
The world was surprised by the emergence of President Emmanuel Macron as the youngest President of France. A closer inquiry and research showed that President Emmanuel Macron had equipped himself with so much knowledge, bagging a Masters degree in Public Affairs as well as an undergraduate degree in Philosophy. He served as an investment banker at Rothschild &Cie Bank to learn the art of managing economies and was later appointed minister of finance. The late President of Yemen was also a very vibrant youth who at the age of 39 brought unity and conciliation between the warring Houthi movement and the Yemen administration. Closer home, General Obasanjo, one of the champions of our modern democracy who served as the Nigerian Head of State at the age of 39, brought a lot of reforms to Nigeria, including repairing Nigeria’s image and relationship with countries home and over seas, co-founding the National Youth Service Corp (NYSC), and Operation Feed the nation (OFN) which alleviated poverty during the hardship. Even our late founding fathers of democracy; Alvan Ikoku, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo, Sir Tafawa Balewa, at young ages were walking encyclopaedias of knowledge and having expertise, inspired nationalism by championing the struggle for independence. It is therefore not out of place to say that some of the reasons the youths have been chosen for the onerous task of rebuilding Nigeria are the skills and intellectual prowess that many have acquired which is evident in the display of very creative minds whenever they are properly engaged.
Youths are also known for their strength. It is this strength and energy that keeps them going amidst pressure, and difficulties. Hence, the youths have the stamina and the strength to withstand pressure, and this will give a lot of hope to the Nigerian people they will be leading. Nigeria doesn’t need leaders that keep on falling ill and travelling overseas every now and then for medical treatment. This is because the challenges of governing Nigeria in whatever capacity can be very demanding and exhausting. This strength is very important because we have had a record of Presidents falling seriously ill while in power. Clear instances include the Late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua who was transported to Saudi Arabia for medical treatment before he later died in 2010 and the incumbent President Buhari who in 2017 spent more than a quarter of the year receiving medical treatment in the United Kingdom In addition, majority of the youths are more exposed to changing technologies and innovations than the ageing bouquet of politicians in Nigeria.
As of this late 21st century, we have a lot of young scholars and entrepreneurs undergoing further studies in their respective fields overseas. We have those going for Masters programme, doctoral programme and business courses in the U.S. U.K, Canada. A lot of them are experts in various fields and thus have acquired exposure to science and technology as well as innovation at its peak. This is something that a lot of old politicians were not able to do in their time and are not interested in even now.
Deducible from all these, is that the youths must be politically minded and conscious. In doing this, the minds of the youths must be re-oriented and well informed to foster popular participation.
I hear people say: ‘if only we have a better president’. Nigerians implore the youths to vie for federal posts and offices so that the whole country will experience growth and development. They want the youths to contest for the House of Representatives, Senate, Governorship and even Presidency thereby encouraging the wrong notion that the youths cannot help an emerging Nigeria without becoming a federal appointee, a president or a member of the National Assembly.
The work of bringing about a new Nigeria is the duty of all levels of government. What does this tell us? It tells us that there are roles to be played in the federal, state and local government levels and that when we focus on the federal government positions, we are only looking at one out of the three governmental roles youths can serve in.
In my view, even if we have a good president with good initiatives, he will need efficient local and state governments to bring about the overall growth and development needed.
While it may not be a bad idea to aspire for federal elective positions, it is also important to note that there are a lot of renovations and innovations to be done at the state and local levels as well. Thus, instead of remaining silent and hoping, we could start from somewhere to engineer social and economic change. The growth and development we desire can also start from the bottom and gradually get to the top.
I do not rule out completely those looking for federal appointments or to contest for federal offices, but I look at it from the standpoint of the numerous youths who do not have the influence but are looking for a way to participate in turning around the socio-economic situation in the country. Since we know that not everyone can be fortunate to have federal appointments, the youths therefore may need to drive political and economic change from their local governments and constituencies.
In advanced countries like U.S.A and Britain, the municipal governments are the second most powerful governments in their polity. They direct and influence a whole lot of things we admire. In these developed states, the county governments have grown and waxed in eminence that they even have ‘ the county police’ which maintains law and order in the locality and neighbourhood.
For our nation to progress, we need to have accountable and responsive local governments. One would ask me why? This is because the local government is the closest organ of government to the people. They are the grassroot government. The same goes for the state governments.
Once the people can have their basic needs met by the various local and state governments, we can safely say that the nation is doing well as a whole. This is because the measurement of a government’s success is in the standard of living of her citizens and the level of comfort they enjoy.
An advantage which popular participation at local and state level brings is that it helps us train the youths to have the vision, idea and capacity to take on higher offices of wider jurisdiction in the country. A youth having received proper education and who has begun to participate in progressive governance from the local and state government will overtime develop the skills, capacity and all that it takes to manage and direct the lives and properties of people. Thus, the local and state governments will serve as a training ground for the youths making them equipped in all ramifications.
Furthermore, when the youths participate in governance in local and state levels and excel, they give the polity a lot of confidence as the people see what they can do with the little area of authority given to them. We will be sure that our youths are able to engineer social and economic change when they perform optimally at local and state governments.
Let’s not forget that playing these highlighted governmental roles clears a pathway for the upcoming generation, as it helps them understand that we are pursuing an innovation which is worth it. They therefore know that we are not contesting for offices and positions which are already corrupted and sold out. Hence, they are positioned to adopt a new political culture, which has been tried and tested, and which can stand the test of time.
Therefore, the youths that will transform Nigeria can begin active participation and competition for local government offices such as local government councillors, chairman as well as seats in the state houses of assemblies, members of state executive council and others and over time the federation can have the desired overall growth and development. When the youths do this, they can take their place as the leaders of today, not tomorrow.
- Esom lives in Lagos