Could this be true? A Nigerian lawyer and leading advocate of the puzzling idea of Godfathers nurturing young ones for political leadership in the country eventually joined others for the real thing – self-help.
For some time, the campaign had been intermittent that old politicians should quit the scene to allow young (actually youthful old) Nigerians assume leadership. The impression was that the self-proclaimed young ones had been disenfranchised. The issue attained shocking proportion when Olisa Agbakoba, himself most certainly on that side of the 50s, called on former President Olusegun Obasanjo to commence nurturing those he called young ones to gradually phase out the old ones. In short, the constitutional right of a group of Nigerians should be asserted by Obasanjo to violate the constitutional right of another group.
Naturally, Agbakoba’s views could only generate controversy if only because of the several wrong reasons on which his views were based, some of them were that Nnamdi Azikiwe formed National Council of Nigeria and Cameroons (NCNC) and that both Zik and Obafemi Awolowo headed regional governments or opposition in their early 40s, as if they both just woke up on a morning to assume their public offices.
We cannot argue on the right of Nigerians to bid for public offices at whatever age. The point of disagreement is the procedure. Whether impliedly or inadvertently, no Nigerian should be specially favoured on grounds of age against another. If old Nigerians (still to be categorised) could nurture themselves to their hotly-disputed political status, the younger ones, for purposes of self-pride, should equally develop themselves to whatever level and, they better believe it, the sky is their limit.
Accordingly, the step taken by Olisa Agbakoba and his group to form the latest political party, National Intervention Forum (notable henceforth as NIM) is more respectable than the disgraceful political desperation that Obasanjo should embark on nurturing youthful political leaders, as if a hen hatching eggs. Obviously, Obasanjo was embarrassed by the unsolicited offer. Hence, he turned it down.
Did Obasanjo ever nurture himself for leadership? On the two occasions he ruled and governed Nigeria, Obasanjo was a beneficiary of his junior military officers. The assassination of ex-Head of State Murtala Muhammed in February 1976 created a vacuum and confusion leading to hard bargaining. More specific details hitherto unknown to the public are vividly narrated by Brigadier-General Alabi Isama in his memoirs.
Again, the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election and subsequent death of the presumed winner, Bashorun MKO Abiola, put Nigeria on the precipice, an alarming situation commandeered by the Gang of Four (also Obasanjo’s junior Army officers) General Ibrahim Babangida, General Abdulsalaam Abubakar, Lt. General Theo Danjuma and Lt. General Aliu Gusau, to foist Obasanjo on Nigeria for the second time. It would, therefore, be an impossible task for him to nurture young Nigerians for political leadership.
For example, Obasanjo might have been a young man (in fact, under 40) when he because head of state in 1976. But by the time he returned to office in 1999 as an elected President, Obasanjo was over 60 years, the very bracket expected to quit the political scene by the self-parading young ones. That demand in itself is an offshoot of a concocted persecution complex borne out of opportunism for short-cut to political office. And Obasanjo would have been vulnerable to accusations of hypocrisy for not quitting the political scene at the age of over 60 for the young ones when he contested in 1999 or when he unsuccessfully attempted to extend his tenure from 2007 for a third term.
There is also this wrong impression that Obasanjo is so powerful or Alfa and Omega of Nigerian politics. He was prominent for that wrong reputation ONLY when he was in office. Before then, in the presidential election in 2009, Obasanjo lost his ward, his local government, his state and his zone. A clever fox, for the re-election in 2003, he lured AD and Afenifere into a trap for a pact in which Obasanjo himself as a President seeking a second term would win throughout the South-West while AD governors would be re-elected. Instead, Obasanjo rigged all AD governors (except Bola Tinubu in Lagos) out of office. Even in 2007, he couldn’t get Nigerian Constitution amended to keep him in office perpetually. Since then, he couldn’t get even a local government councillorship aspirant elected. To, therefore, assume that Obasanjo could nurture young Nigerians for political leadership is an illusion.
Massaging Obasanjo’s ego for the task of nurturing young leaders, Agbakoba made certain wrong submissions. First, it was claimed that Zik and Awo became leaders in government in their early 40s. The impression, therefore, was that both men merely emerged from nowhere. As far back as the 1930s, when both were early or mid 30s, Zik and Awo were locking horns as members of Lagos Youth Movement, later Nigerian Youth Movement. In fact, for a bye-election to the (then) Legislative Council, Zik supported Samuel Akinsanya (later Odemo of Ishara) while Awo backed Ernest Ikoli. In short, Zik and Awo duly apprenticed themselves in politics for over 10 years, especially in agitation for freedom from colonial rule.
By the time both men became leaders in government they were well schooled in the complexities of politics and governance. They not only followed leaders but were also followed as leaders without any God-father imposing them on Nigerians.
There was another wrong claim that in his 30s, Nnamdi Azikiwe formed his party, National Council of Nigeria and Cameroons (NCNC). Such claim is not only completely untrue but could only embellish the mischief and ignorance of foreign commentators and their Nigerian collaborators (if those days) that the NCNC was an Igbo party, a ploy employed to undermine Zik’s political popularity ahead of his contemporaries. The NCNC, rather, was formed by Hebert Macaulay, a Lagosian, in 1944, and he was elected the leader while Nnamdi Azikiwe was elected National Secretary.
Two years later, while leading the party on an enlightenment campaign, in Zik’s company, to Northern parts of the country, Hebert Macaulay, aged 82, took ill and died. Zik then became the party’s leader while Abubakar Zukofi became the new secretary.
Equally, Awolowo alone did not form his party. He and politicians with identical interest gathered in Owo, Ondo State, in Adekunle Ajasin’s house to form their party, indicating they were prepared for action on nationalist activities. Hence Action Group, the name of their party. Both men after many years of followership exhibited their qualities for leadership and were duly elected for their purpose on their personal merit.
All over the world, there is nothing sacrosanct about age for political leadership. Over the years, till today, old and young come and go depending on mood and preferences in society. But in Nigeria, that flexibility is being polluted into hustling for a short cut into leadership. Americans had their Kennedys for the 40s Lyndon Johnsons, Richard Nixons, Dwight Eisenhower’s for the 60s, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, George Bush (snr) for the 60s, Ronald Reagans for the 70s, Bill Clintons, George Bush (jnr), Barack Obamas for the 40s and currently the Donald Trumps for the 70s. indeed, if Hillary Clinton had won the American presidential election last year, she would by now be clocking 70 years. So, where do the elderly ones quit the political scene for the younger ones? The political ring is ever open for every willing one into for every hat can be thrown.
Britain? Years after his father’s death, William Pitt, in 1983, became the country’s youngest ever Prime Minister at the age of 24. After him came others like Lord Palmerstone and Benjamin Disraeli in their 60s, William Gladstone who died in office as Prime Minister at the age of 89, Lord Asquith in his 60s, Anthony Eden in his 70s, Harold Macmillan in his 70s, Alex Douglas-Home in his early 70s, Harold Wilson in his 50s, Ted Heath in his 60s, Jim Callaghan in his 70s, Winston Churchill in his 70s, Maggie Thatcher in her late 60s, John Major in his early 60s, Tony Blair in his 40s, Gordon Brown in his 50s and Theresa May in her early 60s.
Reference has been made by the Nigerian agitators to some development in Europe, Canada and New Zealand, where new young leaders have been emerging as if response to the political turbulence on the rivalry between young and old politicians aspiring to public office. Unfortunately, the facts simply nail the agitation in Nigeria. None of the newly-emerged leaders was nurtured by any authoritarian. Second, as young as the new leaders are, all of them went through political apprenticeship.
Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is the son of one his predecessors, Pierre Trudeau, aged 47, elected leader in 2013 when his party was third in parliament with only 36 seats. Results of the elections in 2015 increased the seats of the Liberal party to 136 and he duly earned the Prime Ministership. Nobody nurtured him or rigged the elections for him.
The Austrian Chancellor at 31 is the youngest head of government in Europe. He dared the ruling party with his right-wing manifesto, especially anti-immigration. He was the Foreign Minister in the government.
The new French President, Emmanuel Macron, is even more remarkable. He was the economy minister in the last socialist administration of President Holland. But a year to the elections last April, Macron quit the government after forming a new party En Marche a year earlier. Macron emerged overwhelmingly victorious as the new French President more like Barack Obama than Donald Trump.
Down under in New Zealand, a young lady Jacinda Ardern, at age 37, has just been elected the leader of the Labour Party, expected to form the country’s next government. In short, she is a Prime Minister in-waiting.
She will be the second youngest Prime Minister in New Zealand’s history. The difference is that all these new leaders emerged through their individual efforts and never blackmailed their predecessors or older colleagues out of office.
The National Intervention Movement (NIM) latest political party in Nigeria could, therefore, be more timely and must poise for making history. This will make the 2019 presidential election in Nigeria very exciting as younger aspiring public office holders have the chance to show their altruism. That is what political venture is about all over the world.