The debate on generational shift has polarized the polity. The author examines why the youths have failed to compete effectively with old politicians and wrestle power from them.
The campaign to reduce the age limit for elected offices achieved a significant milestone when President Muhammadu Buhari signed the ‘Not Too Young To Run’ Bill into law on May 31, 2018. Perhaps, buoyed by this development, many youths were elected into Houses of Assembly during the last general elections and some of them emerged as Speakers.
The issue of youth inclusion in politics resonated recently when a group, ‘Progressives in Academics,’ paid a courtesy visit to President Buhari in Aso Villa. During the visit, the group urged the president to start grooming a youth who will take-over from him in 2023. But, the president bluntly retorted that nobody attains power on the platter of gold. He told them that the presidency involves a lot of hard work, adding that nobody can become president overnight. Buhari reminded them that he made three failed attempts to become president.
Political observers have blamed the poor showing of youths in previous elections on poor preparation and lack of political structure. A lecturer in the Department of Political Science, Kaduna State University (KASU), Mallam Aliyu Yero, said youths are not ready to take up the mantle of leadership. He said they lacked the required skills to run for political offices effectively due to poor quality education.
Yero said: “There is no doubt that the future of Nigeria is in the hands of the youths, but young people of today are not like that of yesterday. The literacy rate is low, compared to other developed nations. In as much as there is a need for new ideas, as the world is gradually turning to a global village, the youth must have qualitative education first before running for political office.”
The lecturer said the government should restructure the educational system, for the youth to have access to qualitative education that would make them better citizens. He said: “Education plays a vital role in the development of any nation. Therefore, the government should give priority to qualitative education that will be accessible and affordable. It is the only tool that will reshape and reorient the youths towards developing their nation.”
To Dr Tunji Ogunyemi of the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, Osun State, youths have always been prepared for any kind of leadership. He said those who struggled for Nigerian independence were youths. His words: “How old was Chief Obafemi Awolowo when he was made the leader of the Yoruba? He was barely 40. In fact, he became Premier of Western Nigeria in 1952, at the very young age of 43 years. Now, the sage, was, by every description, a youth even in 1960.
“Just check out the age of Alhaji Ahmadu Bello when he became the Premier of Northern Nigeria; he was barely 40 years old. Check out Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe too who was born in 1904; he was five years older than Chief Awolowo and eight years older than Alhaji Ahmadu Bello. Even, Dr Azikiwe can be said to be a youth in 1960 when he became President of Nigeria at the age of 51.”
Ogunyemi added: “Prof Wole Soyinka had before he clocked 50, the peak of his academic career at the then University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University). He retired from the University of Ife in 1986 at 50. He was a youth. So, Nigerian youths have always been prepared, even well-trained, to take over the reins of leadership in any spheres of life, including economic, intellectual and social spheres. Although the youths of Chief Awolowo, Zik and Ahamadu Bello days were well organized and positioned by intellectual acuity, hard work and political focus to take over from the British colonisers, the youths of today are not so organized. They are only agonizing over being left out of the contest for power. “
On the poor performance of the youths in the 2019 elections, the OAU lecturer said electoral contest in Nigeria is not and has never been sensitive to such social classifications as a youth, gender, colour or level of education. Rather, he said, it has always been sensitive to issues of ethnicity, religion, and such other extraneous considerations to the building of quality personnel as northern versus southern Nigeria, indigene versus settler, rich versus poor contestant and so forth.
He said the fact that someone is a youth and he decides that he will contest for an elective position has no electoral value. He added: “Even the youth to whom he belongs will hardly give him a thought in their voting pattern or choices. It is absolutely meaningless in Nigeria to say that because you are a youth, voters should vote for you. So, those who contested on that self-adulatory criterion knew that, under Nigeria’s political system, they stood no chance. They simply failed because their political base and what they regarded as their unique selling point had no electoral value in Nigeria’s political calculus.”
For the youths to forge ahead in politics, Ogunyemi said they should organize on the basis of their collective neglect by today’s dominant elite. He said: “They can do this by shunning religious bigotry, rejecting ethnicity and focusing on development. They should form a political party based on the ideals of promoting virtues of honesty, patriotism and service to humanity. If they do, they would need too little money to upstage the current generation of leaders.
“Once they do not join in the fray and frivolity of northern versus southern dichotomy, indigene versus settler, male versus female, Yoruba versus Igbo, Hausa versus Birom, Igbo versus Fulani, then, they are set to organize properly and win on the basis of superior ideas and training, using the modern information, communication technology (ICT) skills on which they have the upper hand. Virtually all Nigerian youths today are digital and ICT natives. The youth dominate the entertainment industry; they are in Nollywood, Kaywood, etc. They should leverage these advantages to win political power.”
Ogunyemi disagreed with the suggestion that political parties should reserve a certain percentage of political offices for the youths to encourage them. He said: “It would encourage rapacious ‘godfatherism’ and deny the youth the ability to organise based on their talents and comparative advantages. Rather, the youth should struggle for power and gain it by the sheer force of their youthful strength, intellect, political socialisation and the deployment of modern communication technology. Power is never handed out; it is struggled for and won.”
The OAU teacher blamed political apathy on the part of the youth on lack of organisation. He said: “Since the youths have failed to organise, there was no need to come out to vote. Vote for what and for who? On whose ideology and conviction would they vote? You mean they should vote for unemployment and failed infrastructure? The starting point is in the organisation, not in voting. Voting will come later after the youths are well organized.”
A political scientist, Professor Sylvester Odion-Akhaine, agreed with Ogunyemi on the poverty of preparation. He said the youth need to organise themselves to make relevance in politics. Ukraine, a lecturer at the Lagos State University (LASU), said the youths need adequate ideological orientation and organisational building. He said: “As former President of Ghana, the late Kwame Nkrumah, would say, the organisation decides everything.” He advised the youths to organise themselves to capture political power which he described as a trust for the public good.
On the poor outing of the youths in the last elections, Akhaine said: “The ground is not even. There is a dominance of incumbent state actors who have monetized the entire political process. Youth relevance will take time but through continuous mobilization.”
He said the youths have the voting strength. Nevertheless, he added that the current political arrangement does not favour them. He said: “The whole process is packed full by warped politicians. My advice to the youths is: organize, don’t agonize. Power concedes nothing unless pushed.”
A youth activist, Mr Ita Offiong, said the clamour leadership by youths is an exercise in futility. He said despite their numerical advantage, they lack cohesiveness to mobilise for national integration to achieve unanimity of purpose.
Offiong said: “An average Nigerian youth would like to be recognized based on his ethnic affinity, rather than national disposition. Ethnicity is rather stronger in the national psyche than nationalism. Apart from this, the present economic situation in the country where most young men are still battling to find their feet in the face of unemployment and under-employment does not help matters. These ugly realities which have taken tolls on them have turned many of them into toothless bulldogs. They only scramble for the crumbs which politicians dole out. They are made personal assistants, not to understudy their principals, but as political settlement.”
The activist added: “Where will the youths have the pre-requisite experience or the financial muscle to wrestle power from the old guards who are not in any haste to leave the stage? The cost of nomination forms of the dominant parties for elective positions put the youths at a disadvantage. Only the youths whose fathers have benefitted from treasury looting can afford such nomination fees. In that case, their fathers would be recycled back to power by proxy.”
A youth leader, Dayo Alebiosu-said the youths are not prepared for leadership positions. Alebiosu-Bush, who is the National Chairman of Young Alliance, a pressure group, said: “I disagree with the notion that Nigerian youths are not ready for leadership. If there is an enabling environment, youths will come on board. Besides, the fact that the whole world is talking about youths running things, youths are getting more organized and they are coming up.”
Alebiosu, however, said the time is not yet ripe for them to become president. Rather, he advised youths to start from the parliament and acquire the necessary experience before aspiring for the highest office in the country. He said: “We have seen the likes of Barak Obama and Bill Clinton, who started as parliamentarians, to get enough experience before moving up to become president in America.”
A youth activist, Ohimai Amaize, said the key to the effective participation of youths in politics and governance is to begin to get involved at the political party level. He said: “If the youth are not involved at the levels where decisions are taken on the candidates presented to the electorate, they won’t be able to effect real change, despite their numerical advantage.
“Nigerian youths must wake up and face the reality that their votes on the day of election give them enough power as youths. What most young voters are able to achieve on voting day is to validate the options presented to the electorate by political parties. What this means is that the voter is not really the one who wield political power, but the party people who decide the candidates we all vote for on the polling day.
“The youths scrambling for a leadership position must be young people with character, integrity, pedigree and a track record. In this country, we don’t look at track records anymore. We should start really looking at people’s track records; what they have done and where they are coming from.
“We must also encourage young Nigerians to build capacity first before parading themselves as superstars. There are no short-cuts. A good number of our leaders must have stumbled on leadership at a very youthful age, but increasingly, today’s reality requires competence and hard work.”
Source: The Nation Newspapers