Mind The Gap By ‘Leke Adebisi
Let’s talk about age! The widening reach to leadership for the Nigerian youths, especially in public office is beginning to show its cracks. The 2015 United Nations (UN) International Youth Day, has its focus on youth civic engagement, putting emphasis on the importance of young people’s participation in achieving sustainable human development and shaping their own future. In a UN post, some of the youth clamours for the eradication of inequality, an agenda for a better world, that is void of child molestation, suppression of corrupt leadership and child labour. The maxim that ‘the youth are the future’ is an important lead, thus the focus of the United Nations on youth civic engagement put Nigeria under the radar, to reconsider the future of Nigerian youth, their dreams and aspiration, their consciousness for nation building, their orientation for a society that works for all.
Can the world ever forget Mhairi Black? The most current and youngest member of parliament in the United Kingdom. In the 2015 UK election Mhairi, born in 1994, while studying as a final year student at the prestigious University of Glasgow stunned the world by becoming the youngest member of the House of Commons at the age of 20. She defeated Douglas Alexander, a former minister of state and a cabinet minister to become the Scottish Labour Party flag-bearer for Paisley South in Scotland.
Mhairi, at the instance of the International Youth Day is raising awareness and calling on young people in Scotland to participate in nation’s development and leadership, to follow after her example. So what has age got to do with it? Country leadership demands strength, this is easily verifiable by comparing Barack Obama’s photograph at campaign for his first term in office with subsequent images in the second term campaign. The latter showed an aging President Obama with dominance of grey hair, same applied to George Bush, Tony Blair and much more. The role of leadership, especially of countries demands stamina, energy and youthfulness.
Arguably age has a link to maturity. A public office holder must be matured. The recent appointments of Paris Brown (17 years old) as the Police Youth Commissioner in the UK lend credence to the relevance of maturity. Paris resigned over the allegation of racist and homophobic tweets posted when she was between the ages of 14 and 16. Maturity has a lot to do with it. That is the same reason, Nigerians were not bothered about the age of President Muhammadu Buhari, at a time when every facet of the economy needs a touch of discipline, they unequivocally bellowed for the matured and discipline attribute found only in Buhari. The veracity holds that there is no younger Nigerian that fits the bill. Maturity is built in young people through the creation of spaces for them to manifest themselves and over time allow them gain the confidence and knowledge required. The future of Nigeria may depend on the development of youth for continuity of nation building. This is in line with what many countries around the world are doing by taking chances on the younger generations.
It was in 1783, that the first ever prime minister emerged in the British Polity. The appointment of William Pitt the Younger at the age of 24 was a feat unequalled by any other. He led Britain politically during the French revolution and was well recognised and blamed by the French leader – Napoleon Bonaparte for the unceasing nature of the wars and the French leader labelled him a “genius of evil” and thought of him as his most dangerous opponent. William Pitt the Younger left office in 1801 and returned in 1806.
Not at the same scale as William Pitt, at the age of 43-years old, Mr David Cameron became the youngest Prime Minister appointed in 2010 since Lord Liverpool of 1812. Beating Tony Blair’s record by being six months younger in 1997. Nigeria so far has lost the battle of producing a president or head of state in their 20s to rival the record of the like of William Pitt the younger, but can we mind the gap, by encouraging young people into senate or house of representatives in their twenties and thirties?
A quick research showed that among the leaders produced to date in Nigeria, either as a President or Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon was the youngest, he became the Head of State at the age of 32 in 1966. The age gap is widening as the year progresses. The military Head of State seems to be the youngest in age at the time of becoming leaders of the country post independence – Aguiyi Ironsi (42), Yakubu Gowon (32) Murtala Mohammed (37), Olusegun Obasanjo (39) Muhammadu Buhari (41), Ibrahim Babangida (44), Sanni Abacha (50) and Abubakar Abdul Salaam (56). The statistics became grim when we factored the non-military leaders in Nigeria, starting from Shehu Shagari (54), Ernest Shonekan (57), second coming of Olusegun Obasanjo (62), Goodluck Jonathan (53) and finally the second coming of Muhammadu Buhari (73). Unfortunately, the third and fourth republic failed to produce any president in their 30s or 40s. This also reflects to a large extent the upper and the lower houses of parliament.
Following the recent long awaited ministerial nomination in Nigeria, most Nigerians reckoned that the list sprung no surprise, the same recycling of old politicians dominated the roll call, with a few new names here and there, over 85% of the names were known for one thing or another in the Nigerian terrain, either as a past military administrator, past governor and a few known technocrats. Unsurprisingly though, throwing a dart in the dark, the average age of these nominees is nothing short of fifty years or more. We run a great risk as a nation if our polity will continue to emasculate the future of the youth and indeed underrate the vigour and innovativeness required to move a country forward.
The better part of leadership experience is gained on the job, as we look forward to 2019 when Nigeria will be due for another election, will it be possible to influence and give the stage to more youths who have made a significant effort in participating in the last election? Giving them the opportunity to show their relevance and strength of engagement in a quest to lead our great country.
Let us make a back seat reservation to the older folks, make room for them to advise and build the younger generation, while allowing the infusion of youthful zeal and energy into the resuscitation of Nigeria, enabling her to compete with the world, having laid a strong example for Africa. It is time to have a ‘Mhairi Black’ of Nigeria, Senators and House of Representative leaders in their 20s. Yes, we can!