This is a question that has no definite or clear-cut answer. This is a question that can only be answered when a younger President actually occupies the highest executive office in Nigeria.
This is a question that can be answered by empirical evidence based on performance. A country with persistent demand for a younger President without any experience in governance might be taking a huge risk – a risk that may, in the long run, yield positive results or may bring misfortune to the entire country.
In any position of leadership, an unknown potential leader with little or no experience might be compared or likened to a double-edged sword. He may bring to the office fresh ideas and energy, or he may bring to the office some elements of impulsiveness and recklessness.
In Nigeria, both the current and past presidents have demonstrated positive and the negative sides of the equation.
Considering the present situation in Nigeria, many citizens are wondering if a younger adult as President would be more innovative and vigorous and willing to take calculated risks in order to steer the wheel in the right direction.
The question now is: will an older politician or a younger politician, or even an “outsider”, be that President Nigeria needs at this point in its history?
Recently, I read an interview Mr. Itse Sagay, the Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee against Corruption, had given to a Nigerian newspaper, in which he stated that “there was no evidence backing the claim that youths were better than elders in leadership.” Maybe the honorable Chairman meant “Young Adult” and not “Youth”.
But before we proceed further, I think it would be necessary to understand the difference between “Youth” and “Young Adult”. Youth carries the connotation of childhood or formative years; the period in life when one is very young, especially the period between childhood and maturity. In other words, the early period of existence, growth, and development. If this is the “Youth” Chairman Sagay was referring to, he may be right because, at this period in one’s life, a person is not mature enough to take much of a serious role in public life, let alone something as demanding as a President; hence, Sagay is correct that that there is no evidence that youth, in this sense, make better leaders.
Furthermore, “Youth” also implies that period of transition from childhood to adulthood; and in that bracket, the easiest way to define it is by age. For instance, UNESCO uses the United Nations universal definition of “Youth” to determine who falls into that age group. The United Nations, technically defines “Youth” as those individuals between the ages of 15 and 24 years.
I do not believe that Nigerians are clamoring for a 15 or 20 year old to become their President. I believe they are saying that Nigeria would like to see a “young adult” occupy the office of the Presidency, rather than older adults – which has being the case in the past several years.
Yet contrary to Chairman Sagay’s assertion in the interview that “Nigeria may regret having a youth as president because they would be embarking on a dangerous journey if elected,” that may not necessarily be the case, considering current trends in global politics. (We are assuming, of course, that his conception of Youth also includes Young Adults)
There are many young adult leaders across the globe — from democracies to monarchies, and even dictatorships in Eastern and Western Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. These young adult Presidents and Heads of Government so far have not embarked on a “dangerous journey” with their respective countries. There are about seven younger presidents in the world today, with ages ranging from 28 to 40 years. In terms of the trend in the rest of the world, Africa takes a back seat, as no current leader in the continent is below the age of 40.
These younger leaders are doing very well in their respective countries. So, who says that young adults in Nigeria cannot be President?
Sagay said in the interview, quote: “It is shallow-thinking for anyone to think that if a youth becomes president, he will do better than the older one. It is very shallow thinking because, as I see it, it is the youths of Nigeria today who believe in overnight wealth, who want billions overnight, who don’t want to work for their living and gradually build up their assets and business. That psychology of overnight wealth is almost exclusively a youth attribute.” End quote.
With all due respect, I differ with the Chairman. The older politicians, both military and civilian, were and still are the ones whose names were or are synonymous with “overnight wealth”.
In world politics in recent years, younger politicians are having their moments. Former U.S. President Barack Obama was in his forties when he became the President of United States. President Obama is considered one of the more effective Presidents the U.S. has produced. Next door up north is Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada. He became the leader of his country two years ago when he was 44 years old. From all indications, he is doing quite well. Other world leaders that are young adults (not youths) are: Austria’s Sebastian Kurz, 31; New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern, 37: France’s Emmanuel Macron, 40: North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, 34: Qatar’s: Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, 37; New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern, 37; and Ireland’s: Leo Varadkar, 38.
If, as the quote above suggests, the countries listed above were “shallow-minded”, perhaps these younger leaders wouldn’t have emerged. Yet they are apparently doing very well considering measures like their country’s gross national product, security, foreign exchange, infrastructure, employment, welfare, etc. They are, you could argue, all better than the present state of Nigeria in these sectors.
Almost all of these leaders have similar training in the science and arts of governance, hence, their success.
I believe for Nigeria to get out of the hole that it is in at the moment, young adults, even without a great deal of political experience, might be what the country needs. These young leaders must be highly qualified academically, they must have a great deal of experience in business, legal, international and financial management, including, and not limited to, emotional intelligence.
Those younger leaders like President Obama, Justin Trudeau, Sebastian Kurz and others, are successful because they tend to embrace elements of change typically better than older adults tend to do. They have the courage to make difficult changes, possibly because their lack of political experience causes them to be more optimistic about their proposals for change.
It is also likely that a younger President may know how to get his cabinet energized and excited about doing their jobs. They are not like the older leaders that Nigeria had, and still has, that tend to lay back and are very reluctant to get up-and go, in my opinion.
In short, the kinds of politicians Nigeria has been recycling all these years, due to long service on the field of politics, tend to become complacent and take the status quo for granted, as sufficient.
All in all, I believe Nigeria approaches a point where a change in its political foundations is imminent. Nigeria will have nothing to lose but everything to gain when a new breed of leaders are injected into her political bloodstream, and perhaps then we could have a more dynamic and purposeful style and substance of governance on par with the rest of the world.