Nigerian youths as their own enemies

By Mohammed Abdullahi

Sir: In the aftermath of the #EndSARS protest that has been described as a hurricane, especially with its undisguised achievement of waking up the consciousness of Nigerians about the issues of creating opportunities for young people, the debate about a youth-led political leadership has again been ignited.

Many have suggested for the youths to translate their anger against the perceived mis-governance of the older generation to a political advantage and take over power. The more optimistic among the youths have even announced a determination to kick out old people from politics altogether.

I believe a nation attains prosperity by mixing the energy and determination of the young with the wisdom and foresight of the older people. I’ll therefore not be one to call for a blanket ‘overthrow’ of every man in politics who has grey hairs. No.

For instance, in 1999, the old politicians who have witnessed the brutality of the military, with many of them having just survived humongous jail terms, were skeptical about the transition programme. With the exception of some retired military officers who were part of the pre-1999 political negotiations and their few civilian friends; many politicians were scared of joining what they believed might be another short-lived political experiment. The experience with the aborted third republic was still fresh in their memories.

So, with older politicians unwilling to take the risk, many young people braced up and took the chance to contest elections. This was how Jigawa elected 36-year old Saminu Turaki as governor and Abia elected 39-year old Orji Uzor Kalu in the same capacity. Many other young people emerged in various positions across the country. Mind you, many of these young people only had money and the will to take risk, not that they were prepared for the leadership positions thrust upon them.

Those who emerged subsequently, from 2003 onward were also predominantly products of imposition. The godfathers in different guises chose who will become governor or senator. So, the young people that emerged during this period were also not products of any rigorous process to ensure the best amongst the youths emerged.

In world politics, the youth are having a glorious moment, and I do not see how the performance of some young people who have occupied positions of authority in the past should be the reason for why the campaign for youth political inclusion in Nigeria should suffer a setback.

In Finland, the 34-year old Sanna Marin is the Prime Minister. Ukraine’s Oleksiy Honcharuk is 35, the same age with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.

Like every country in the world, Nigeria is blessed with abundance of highly resourceful young people. The arguments such as the one being promoted about the youth who have had a chance to serve not doing well that have precluded other excellent young people from getting a chance to even try. Instead of using the bad example among the youth as basis for demarketing the demography, the commonsensical thing to do would have been to deliberately hunt for and discover the best among us that we can rally around.

The youths, like one of my mentors would say, are their own enemies. I do not see the sense in someone choosing the very period of renaissance for the youths of Nigeria, when many are believing that the 2023 elections present a fine opportunity for youth to make a mark politically, to draw attention to the past failures of some other youths and how that justifies the incompetence of every other young person. Such an overtly sentimental generalisation, promoted by youths themselves, is the reason why our generation is the most shortsighted.

Yakubu Gowon was 29 when he became Nigeria’s Head of State. His determination and leadership prowess were the reason we still have Nigeria as a single entity.  Babatunde Raji Fashola was Governor of Lagos State at 37, and the popular opinion about his stewardship was that he did well for Lagos State. Why are we not using the best amongst us as promotional tools for what the youth demography can do? Why are the youths always looking for the worst amongst us as example for the rest of us?


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