Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Dear 'Leaders of Tomorrow'...When is Tomorrow?

To set the stage, who can be called a youth or an adult? UNESCO sees youths as persons aged between 15 and 24 years. There are three classes of adults: the young/early adults who are aged 20 to 40 years, the middle-aged adults who are aged 41 to 60 years, and late adults who are aged 61 years and above. Now to the issue at hand, I often hear my fellow young adults complain about how ‘we’ were deceived as kids to believe that we will be the leaders of tomorrow -a tomorrow that never seems to come. This idea that we were deceived as kids and are currently being denied access to power as adults is a widely held notion which has recently been fortified with the election of a 72-year-old Buhari as President and the appointment of  43-year-old Justin Trudeau as Canadian Prime Minister. At 2 years, Justin met with the then Nigerian Head of State -Yakubu Gowon in 1973. While Justin is now a leader is his own country, Gowon and his mates are still very relevant and in charge in Nigeria.  Truth be told, some young adults have played significant roles in Nigeria at one point or the other. For instance, Gowon was Head of State just at the age of 32 and Obasanjo at 39. Dim Odimegwu Ojukwu was Governor of Eastern Nigeria at 33 and headed Biafra at 34. Aguiyi Ironsi and Buhari were 42 when they became heads of State and Babangida was 45. Today, the average age of Nigerian Presidents at inauguration from 1999 to date is 60, with the youngest aged 52 (GEJ).  Though all these appear to give credence to the assertion that young Nigerians are being denied active participation in today’s government, I have a different opinion and I will tell you why in a bit.

The Nigerian constitution stipulates that to be President, one has to be 40 years at least, 35 years to be a Governor or a member of the House of Senate, and 30 years to be a member of the House of Representatives or States House of Assembly.  In other climes, for instance, Canada and the United Kingdom, 18 years is the minimum age requirement for being elected to the House of Commons, and by extension for being appointed as Prime Minister. In the United States and India, the age of candidacy for a presidential election is 35, it is 18 in France. In Germany, at 18, one can be elected to any Federal, Regional or Local positions but must be aged 40 and above to be President. But these are developed countries and democracies. Bringing it closer to home, In Ghana, one only needs to be 21 years to be a Member of Parliament and 40 to be President; it is 18 in South Africa and in Kenya across the board. The Nigerian constitution is seen as being the prime factor behind the disengagement of young Nigerians from active politics, and there is currently a bill to reduce the age of candidacy for Presidential, Senatorial and Gubernatorial elections to 30, and 25 for members of the Houses of Representative and Assembly.  While I see this as a good development, I do not think it would be the major boost that young Nigerians need to be further involved and engaged in politics.

In my opinion, so many Nigerians in their 30s do not realise that the tomorrow, which they were told as kids that they will lead, has arrived a while ago. It is pertinent to state that though the focus of this divination is on government and politics,  the promise of being leaders of tomorrow wasn’t just about being in government positions. It also refers to leading our families and taking positions of responsibility and authority in our workplaces and in our immediate communities. This is why it amuses me when a 30-something young man, who looks lost in his own milieu, cries that he was lied to as a kid that he will be a leader of tomorrow. How on earth would you be a leader of a tomorrow which you do not realise has come upon you? I remember this popular line “no credit today, come tomorrow”, which was and probably is still being used by shop owners to deter customers who intend to purchase items without paying for them right away. Shop owners who display this notice bank on the notion that 'tomorrow never comes'. While it is true that tomorrow never arrives, it can arrive for the persons who have the balls to change its name to “today” at any particular time.

Truth be told, the present Nigerian constitution as it concerns age of candidacy only disadvantages the youth and young adults below the age of 30.  At 30, you are old enough to be a member of the Houses of Representative and Assembly, at 35 you are old enough to be a Governor or a Senator and when you clock the golden age of 40, you are old enough to be President. So if you are 30 and above in Nigeria, you shouldn’t be complaining that you were deceived into believing you will lead a tomorrow that never comes. That tomorrow arrived the day you turned 30, which for some, may be today, yesterday, some time ago or a long while ago.

In fact, while some are complaining that the tomorrow that they are supposed to lead never comes, their mates are already leading today. Last year, two Senators emerged at the age of 40 (Senators Dino Melaye and Mustapha Sani). From the data made available by Premium Times, there were 42 members of the House of Representatives elected at the age 40 and below. Out of these 42, 32 were aged below 40 years and the youngest was 33 years old (Hon. Irom Michael from Cross River State). Alhaji Yahaya Bello emerged Kogi State Governor aged 40 years to be the youngest Governor since 1999. At 33 years, R. Hon. ally Sabiu Muduru is the Speaker of the Katsina State House of Assembly. Dimeji Bankole was elected into the House of Representatives at 33 years and became the Speaker at 37. Under Goodluck Jonathan, 33-year-old Nurudeen Mohammed was appointed the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs. Governor Obiano of Anambra has recently appointed 30-year-old Mark Okoye as Commissioner for  Economic Planning, Budget, and Development. While these may not be widespread, they are proof that young Nigerian adults have started taking positions of leadership in today’s Nigeria and should serve as a wake-up call for those who think that the ‘tomorrow’ has not yet arrived.

Furthermore, how would you be a leader of tomorrow if you haven’t made an effort to lead? In politics, power is mainly taken and rarely given. As there is usually no cap on the maximum age allowed for political office seekers; power is there for the taking by anyone who is qualified, whether young or old. For instance, even in the United States where a 35-year-old could be President, a 70-year-old has just been elected. Therefore, the young adults in Nigeria who think that they are being denied access to power should realise that they have to go all out for it as it wouldn’t be presented to them in the comfort of their beds. If you are a Nigerian aged 30 and above and you are apolitical, you jump from one beer parlour to the other drinking away your life, or you act as a stooge to the old generation of politicians, then the promise of being a leader of 'tomorrow' wasn't really for you... you should stop crying that the tomorrow never arrives.

Even though I believe that young Nigerian adults are largely responsible for their low level of participation in today’s polity and government, I am not oblivious to other contributing factors like the exorbitant amounts at which party nomination forms are bought. For instance, in the last election, it cost  PDP Presidential aspirants N22 million to get the party’s nomination form, N11 million for gubernatorial aspirants, N4 million for the Senate and N2 million for the House of Assembly. It is still fresh in our memories that Buhari claimed he took a loan from a bank in order to pick the APC presidential nomination form which cost N27 million. In a country like ours, not many young people can afford such. Compare this to the United Kingdom  where Mhairi Black, a 20-year-old student who had a part-time job in a fish-and-chip shop,  emerged as a member of parliament. This was possible because the nomination form cost her only £500 (less than a month's wages) which is about N200,000. This price is standard in the UK and not determined by political parties. Like I said earlier, though the new bill to reduce the age of candidacy is welcome, if young Nigerians are to be truly encouraged to participate in politics, then the cost of picking party nomination forms must be standardised and affordable. There is no use telling an average 30-year-old Nigerian that he can contest for Presidency then asking him to purchase a nomination form at an unaffordable price, which may require painstaking savings for 20 years or more. 

Finally, an important question remains: will Nigeria be better off with the younger generation in power? Honestly, the signs don’t look good…I have discussed politics and governance with some of my mates and the predominant attraction is the riches that come from being in power. Young Nigerians seem to have given up on the country; to them, it is no longer a country that has to be nurtured but a public cow that should be milked at any given opportunity until it dies. Similarly, if the seed of tribalism and division was sowed by our colonial masters and nurtured into a tree by  the older generation, the current generation isn’t pulling this tree down, rather they are watering it and planting similar trees. This is very evident on social media where every issue is tribalised. I have hoped that the mistakes of the older generation would be corrected by my own generation and it is a hope that I still hold on to. Therefore, I will want to see  young Nigerians coming together to decide what the future Nigeria should be because, come what may, the reins of power will PREDOMINANTLY be ours in a few years. But make no mistakes, the ‘tomorrow' that you were waiting for has since arrived; wake up and take control lest it passes you by in your slumber.

The Oracle has spoken!!

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