Prior to the recent ‘youths revolt’ in the country which got the young Nigerians once described as ‘lazy’ busy on and off the social media platforms and led to alignment and realignment of opinions as well as resulted in the proliferation of leadership related associations, I have had the opportunity to read with rapt attention about the danger of building a nation without the youths, written by some prominent and well foresighted Nigerians on one hand and relatively controversial citizens as well. It was against this backdrop that this piece stems to among other aims examine and weave together the spiraling counter, trans, cross opinions by these public affairs commentators particularly as their comments in larger context, surprisingly points to the fact that as a nation, we are faced with an urgent responsibility of nation building.
With the above highlighted, let’s focus on specific arguments. The first school of thought argues that since may 1999 when democracy reemerged on the nation’s political sphere, only the like of the incumbent governor of Kogi State, Alhaji Yahaya Adoza Bello, and former Governor of Lagos state, Babatunde Fashola (SAN), have been able to emerge state governors at a relatively youthful age. This they argued is not a sign that Nigerian youths are not matured politically enough to be saddled with critical political positions. But simply because the nation is unfortunately blessed with a huge number of ‘coercive’ and selfish leaders as against truly ‘democratic, pacesetting and coaching’ leaders Leaders who believe that they are laced with the wisdom of Solomon, feel they are more nationalistic or patriotic than other citizens.
Yet, cannot accommodate coach or invite the youths to start learning leadership via a sincere political apprenticeship and do not believe in groaning of the youths. They (leaders) lack the idea of community organizing and are also deficient in emotional intelligence that is needed for providing good governance. While noting that today, youths lacks leadership experience because they have not been given the opportunity to participate and learn what leadership is all about like the Obasanjos and Gowons of this world that had that opportunity at their very youthful stage, these Nigerians with critical minds submitted that Nigeria will continue to build on weak foundation until the present crop of leaders recognize that naturally, any nation that fails to accommodate its youths, those that will provide the future leadership of the nation, will continue to encounter difficulty in nation building and national development.
In the same vain, others rued that the inability of Nigerian youths to occupy political or leadership positions in the country, be it elective or appointment should be blamed on the nation’s inglorious departure from politics of ideas to money politics or what is currently referred to as the politics of the highest bidder which the youths have no financial muscles to partake in and therefore settled for the easiest option at their disposal which is praise singing or what is referred to as ‘’Otinkpu’’ in Igbo local parlance. Responding to the allegation by some that in today’s Nigeria, and in politics, both the adults and the youths in politics are bonded by a common denominator: corruption and abuse of public office, these pro-youth commentators again described such allegation as baseless as corruption knows no age, gender or tribe and is not limited to the youths but cuts across all spectrums.
To further validate their argument in defence of the youth, they pointed out that without the youths in the present government, corruption has become even more entrenched as scandal upon scandal have completely laid bare the anti-corruption stance of this administration and those who were initially deceived by the present government’s alleged fight against corruption has come to the conclusion that nothing has changed. Whatever the true position may be, in order to take the right part, choose the right values and adopt the right perspectives, there are some facts that need to be underlined about the nation’s leadership imbalance.
First is that in this clime, “youths are the leaders of tomorrow’’ has become a form of a mantra, a sermon by our leaders that we can describe as a gospel without the truth. They preach this without taking pragmatic steps to develop or design strategies that will help it see the light of the day. While the mantra rends the political wavelength, this category of political office holders remain in leadership positions till they are well above 70. It becomes more of a slogan or anthems for the political parties. It lasts as long as the electioneering period and fizzles out as soon as the winners emerge. Youths are never assured again that they are “the leaders of tomorrow” till the next campaign. And the cycle goes on and on. This has been the grim fate and burden which successive generations of Nigerian youths have grappled with since 1960.
Secondly, the youths that hitherto watched their nation’s political and leadership affairs from the political gallery are however, beginning to view public office holders’ tales and narrative as one sided especially when it is coming from our present crop of leaders. It has become a tale that revolves around a particular plot constructed around electioneering, with the sole aim of achieving electoral victory. Meanwhile, as a failout of the above coupled with recent happenings round the world’s political arena as regard emergence of some youthful Presidents occupying exalted positions in their countries, have served as an awakening of political and leadership consciousness among Nigerian youths. Heightened youth agitations around the country have become a hot topic for national discourse and have taken the centre stage around the world.
Apart from the just ended #ENDSARS protest, supporting the above assertion is the recently held youth dialogue themed “Towards A Peaceful and Prosperous Plateau” jointly organised by Global Peace and Life Rescue Initiative (GOPRI) and Plateau Intelligentsia Development Initiative in Jos, where youths according to media reports, again sought active involvement in governance, deploring the ‘sit-tightism’ of the older generation, whom they argued were “closer to their graves.”, While the young Nigerians at the event argued that they have untapped fresh ideas to govern the country for “dynamic leadership” to crystallise, they noted that it was time for youths to chart the path for the nation’s greatness, citing instances from both developed and developing countries and submitted that they were not afraid to speak the truth to power.
This time the warning in the opinion of this piece should not be ignored. This is the time for those who see and understand and care and are willing to work for the progress of this country to internalize the words of Chinua Achebe that true leadership is using knowledge, power and authority to ensure the living standards of the people are improved. And acknowledge that great leaders are characterized by their ability to create positive impacts on the lives of their subjects by the way they place heavy emphasis on the understanding that the economy would look after itself if democracy is protected; human rights adequately taken care of, and the rule of law strictly adhered to.
And their nation’s affairs centrally planned over a period of time with actions spelt out for both normal and contingency conditions. Finally, aside from leaders identifying that public order, personal and national security, economic and social programmes and prosperity is not the natural order of things but depends on the ceaseless efforts and attentions from an honest and effective government that the people elect, it is also imperatively urgent for Nigerian youths to develop a pragmatic collaboration which will represent a set of values that encourage constructive views as well as provide support for leaders with the interests of moving the nation forward.
• Jerome-Mario Utomi is the Programme Cordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social And Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos.