It is amazing, even amusing, how Nigeria pops up in the global oddity chart. The country is one huge mass of paradoxes. Imagine a nation barbed on one end by the Atlantic Ocean and innervated by two rivers (Niger and Benue) with pockets of other water bodies yet imports fish, has no functional public potable water system; a nation with a huge youth population but run by geriatrics, men and women with atrophied bones and jaded ideas. That’s Nigeria for you. At a time, a particular political party (PDP) ordained a 60-year-old man as the leader of its youth wing. That beggars belief, really.
All of this is happening in the 21st century, the iconic century when the youths have taken over elsewhere and are setting very high standards, from governance to industry, sports to science. This might explain the giggles and guffaws in some quarters over the passage of the Not Too Young to Run Bill by the Senate. The bill seeks to make it possible for persons in their 20s to contest elective positions in the country. If the bill becomes law (Act of Parliament), a 25-year-old person can take a shot at legislative position in any Nigerian parliament. But the victory at the senate is just one rung in a long tortuous journey for the bill. It will require the nod of two-thirds of 36 states Assemblies (24) and a Presidential assent to metamorphose into law.
Just wondering! Isn’t it weird that in a century of the youths, Nigeria is debating whether to yield the public space to its youths? Should this really be an issue especially in the face of the monumental failure of the geriatrics since 1999 when the nation’s democratic life resurrected from the ruins of military despoliation? I shudder to believe that any serious nation would be debating whether to yield the public, even private, space to its youths given the exploits of men and women of youthful age on the global circuit. This is clearly the age of the youths and Nigeria must consciously shove aside the likes of Olusegun Obasanjo, Tony Anenih, Audu Ogbeh, Muhammadu Buhari, Bola Tinubu, and all those that have systemically engrafted themselves into the public space and have refused to quit despite their colossal failure. The world is moving with the dictates of youths complete with their burst of energy, zest, zeal and innovation.
A few examples will suffice here. This year, the world witnessed the emergence of a maverick politician, Emmanuel Macron, as the President of France at just 39. Charles Michel became prime minister of Belgium in 2014 at the age of 38. That feat placed him as the country’s youngest leader since 1840. Have we forgotten the stunning story of Alexis Tsipras? He became the prime minister of Greece in 2015 at the age of 40, making him the youngest Greek leader in 150 years. A confident Tsipras inherited a Greek economy steeped in recession. He quickly turned the screw and pulled his country out of economic murky waters. We won’t forget that. Just as we won’t forget that a certain Justin Trudeau was only 43 when he took office in 2015 as the prime minister of Canada, shocking political pundits and bookmakers across the world.
In Britain, our ‘benevolent’ colonial master, David Cameron was just 43 years old when he became prime minister in 2010. He left office in 2016 on principle after Brexit vote, which to me was an ill-advised referendum to leave the European Union. Today at 50, Cameron is a political retiree, in a manner of speaking. Lest we forget, Cameron became a Member of Parliament at the age of 35. He did not go into politics to amass wealth. He hails from a wealthy family. He spent his youthful years serving the British people.
In the United States, our own dear Barack Obama was elected to the Illinois State Senate at the age of 36, elected into US Senate in 2005 at age 44 and became 44th US President at 47. Now at 55, he is a retiree who spent his youthful years serving the American people. Going further back in time, examples abound of men and women who served their nations at the prime of their lives. Benazir Bhutto became Premier of Pakistan in 1988 at the age of 35, while Laurent Fabius was French premier in 1984 at just 37.
Former US President Theodore Roosevelt was 42 when he took office as the 26th President in 1901 while John F. Kennedy was 43 when he became the 35th President in 1961. Leadership even from ancient times has been a game for the strong and dynamic which is what the youth embodies. In all the nations cited above, the people were the better for it. Note that the list does not include those youths who shot their way to power via the barrel of the gun. Now, juxtapose the ages of these leaders, living or dead, with the ages of African leaders and you will realise why Africa drags on all fronts.
From Nigeria to Cameroon, Ghana to Equatorial Guinea, it’s government by the geriatrics; gerontocracy in its purest form. And from such gushes forth a fountain of incompetence and administrative lethargy. Some African leaders on account of old age cannot stand the rigours of meetings; cannot sit through an executive briefing without dozing off; some close for work as early as 3pm daily; some work from home or so they claim; some are perennially on medical vacation.
Nigerian youths must arise and break this evil cycle. The new bill offers a window of opportunity. But they should not expect the oldies to voluntarily yield the space to them. Never! The youths must consciously aggregate their energies, network their capacities and build bridges among themselves. Rather than use new media to perpetuate scam (Yahoo-Yahoo) and foster philandering, they can use the social media space and internet to rev up a momentum that would see them occupy much of the political space from councillorship to the Presidency in no time. It is possible. It is feasible. Democracy offers them such opportunity to build their tomorrow today. When the new Bill becomes law, and I hope it does, the youth must take advantage of it. You are never too young to lead but you can be too old to lead. Rather than whine and pine over the state of the nation, the Nigerian youths must take their destiny in their own hands; that is the essence of the new bill. With the introduction of independent candidates via constitutional amendment, the barriers are off and the boulders are broken.
You are never too young to take charge, even in the private sector. Remember Evan Spielgel (Founder of Snapchart); David Carp (Founder of the popular website Tumbrl); Elizabeth Holmes, founder of the blood test company Theranos in 2003 and Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) among others all became CEOs in their teens ad twenties. That is the spirit and strength of this century. It is the century of the youths; of those who will dare, who will innovate and who will ask questions. The over 60 million Nigerian youths should begin to dare, to ask the right questions and take expedient actions. The odds favour them, given their sheer number. Over to you guys!