For #NotTooYoungToRun campaign to work
There was a time, when only at the age of 32, former Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon, assumed the mantle of leadership and became Nigeria’s junta leader in 1967. A time it was, in the past, when the legendary Zik of Africa, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe of immortal greatness, at the youthful age of 44, became Nigeria’s first ceremonial president. The memories of the iconic General Murtala Ramat Muhammed, who was murdered in a bloody coup, shall remain fond in our hearts. Needless to say, it was at the graceful age of 37 that providence foisted on his shoulders daunting presidential responsibilities.
Fingers can ‘be pointed’ at Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, erstwhile civilian president, who first piloted the Nigerian ship as Head of State while been a youth. History has it that in 1976, when he succeeded the late General Murtala Muhammed, he was barely 39.
There are still some precedents. President Muhammadu Buhari also belongs to the league of eminent personalities who became Nigeria’s leader in their youthful age. In 1983, the 41 years-old Daura-born Buhari became the Commander in-Chief (C-in-C) of the armed forces after toppling the civilian government of Alhaji Shehu Shagari.
Suffice to say that, it was after the Buhari/Idiagbon junta regime was dethroned that General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, the ‘Evil Genius’, as the former military ruler is derisively called, came into national reckoning at 44. No doubt, they (the aforementioned) all emerged as Nigerian leaders—at different points—through military fiat, and not via ballot box. When I checked last, most of the celebrated nationalists who stoically campaigned and fought for the country’s sovereignty were youths in their 30s and early 40s.
There abounds Nigerian youths who have, and are still making waves, notable fields of human endevour. Back here in the country, just like across the globe, sensational accounts of extraordinary accomplishments by our youths are replete. I will prefer not to chronicle the enviable feats and sterling successes recorded by young, enterprising, resilient, talented and innovative Nigerians in sports, education, business, sciences, literature, ICT and music, to mention a few.
Sadly, the narrative about Nigerian youths in politics or democratic governance—since 1999—is everything but gratifying. Our youths—who desire to be lucky as the Gowons, Murtalas, and Obasanjos of the 70s—wish they are (at the moment) privileged as other global youth leaders. At informal social gatherings, they dissipate their boundless energies discussing how the suave-looking and 39 years-old Emmanuel Macron (now 40), became French president in May 2017. They marveled at the reality of a then 31 years-old Sebastian Kurz emerging as Austria’s Chancellor. It had also baffled them, as to how Emil Dimitriev, born in March 1979, is presently the acting Prime Minister (PM) of Macedonia. It also beggars their belief that the punk hair-styled Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s supreme leader is still in his mid-thirties; while Justin Trudeau was only 43 when he was sworn-in as Canada’s Prime Minister three years ago.
To address the political marginalization of Nigerian youths, the #NotTooYoungToRun campaign, a social movement by a group of youths, aimed at widening the political space for young, charismatic and visionary minds, was birthed last year. Though, an advocacy bill, but perhaps its principle resonated with Mr. President’s reformative mantra of ‘Change’. Thereafter, the bill became a recipient of a deserving presidential assent from PMB at a colourful event in the Villa.
This time around, it was so-much hoped that several young Nigerians will throw their hats in the political ring, with the eligibility age for presidential aspirants now lowered to 35 from 40; that of governorship hopefuls and aspiring federal lawmakers pegged at 30 and not 35 any longer; while that of State House of Assembly contestants cut down to 25, instead of 30 years.
Indeed, the euphoria that greeted the historic assent was indescribable. But it will soon be shorty-lived. Fast forward to 2018; eve of next year’s general election, and the prospects of greater political fortunes hitherto envisaged for the youths became a mirage. The commencement of Expression of Interests (EOI) and Nomination Forms’ sale by the dominant political parties (namely APC and PDP), were greeted with utter indignation. Nigerians of sincere goodwill, in their unison, lampooned the behemoth parties.
Their exclusionary and repulsive nomination fees, they maintained had disenfranchised many competent youths from vying for elective positions. The youths whose eyes were fixated on 2019, consequently perished their lofty ambitions, owing to lack of huge war chest. Soon, it became manifest that the parties do not care a hoot about young and creative problem-solvers—who will proffer workable solutions to the myriads of socioeconomic woes bedeviling the country—but for moneybags and corrupt politicians bereft of sound ideologies. Many analysts have attributed the desperation to retain power by ‘old breed’ politicians to the juicy perks and mouth-watering freebies accruing to their political offices.
The action of Nigeria Consolidation Ambassadors Network (NCAN)—a political group composed mainly of youths—who purchased the APC nomination form for Mr. President to seek re-election, is the most senseless and irritating. Indeed, nothing shows how unserious the youths are than their penchant for crowd funding the purchase of nomination forms for some senators, governors and presidential hopefuls. Meanwhile, civil society activists should rise and advocate for a legislation that will peg nomination forms at reasonable amounts, and within the reach of every intending aspirant.
It is time the youths have a deeper introspection and genuine stocktaking about their role as agents of social change and societal rebirth. This will help them identify their attitudinal and behavioral flaws, with the singular objective of righting age-long wrongs, while also charting a progressive course for the nation. With their remarkable sense of rational thought and judgment, the youths must henceforth resist been turned into political Almajiris (beggars), campaign mobilizers and election-winning tools for clueless, desperate and over-recycled politicians. Like the French, Nigerian youths should see it not only as an obligation, but an article of faith to sponsor and massively support young aspiring politicians with clear vision, requisite expertise, impeccable integrity and intimidating leadership credentials.
These are some salient ways the youths can show that they mean serious business in demanding a generational power shift. Otherwise, their unyielding quests for leadership positions and relevance in the scheme of things will forever remain a very, very tall order.
Mahmud Abdulsalam wrote in from Abuja
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org and 08065262623