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How military coup stalled youth participation

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Muhammadu Buhari

Quite a number of prominent Nigerians, not least among those who would want incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari to be kicked out by all means in 2019, have been grandstanding on the issue of youth participation in politics.

They call on the youth to take over the reins of governance from older politicians who have messed up the nation.

The way they go about their advocacy is like there can be a “Youth Political Party of Nigeria”- one that can defeat established political parties and pave the way for very young people to assume positions of authority.

To the disappointment of those whose utterances tend towards this position, I say democracy does not work in their simplistic way.

Democracy is like an organisation where those who seek to get to the top do so by climbing the ladder.

Some get to the top much quicker than others, but this would be because of performance or connections rather than because of a sense of entitlement.

The politicians of pre- independence and those of immediate post-independence Nigeria were relatively young men and women.

They were more or less the first generation of educated Nigerians from most of the communities making up the federation. They fought against colonialism and achieved independence from Britain. Prominent among those politicians were Herbert Macaulay, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Ahmadu Bello, Obafemi Awolowo, among numerous others.

A prominent politician who moved the motion for independence, Anthony Enahoro, had been Editor of a political newspaper, the Southern Nigerian Defender, in 1944 at the age of 21. Matthew Tawo Mbu was Federal Minister of Labour from 1953-54, being Nigeria’s youngest minister ever at the age of 23.

Quite a number of his colleagues were equally young, in their late twenties and early thirties.

To appreciate what the stage of education generally was in the 1950’s and 1960’s, prominent politicians of that era who campaigned for electoral support in regions other than their own engaged the services of interpreters.

One was privileged to have witnessed the campaigns of Azikiwe, an Igbo, in Yorubaland as a testimony to what is being said here. The situation might have changed considerably in the Nigeria of today, as interpreters are hardly required by those who address audiences elsewhere.

English is the language that binds the various Nigerian ethnic nationalities together.

However, the coup of January 1966 which resulted in 13 years of military rule stalled what would ordinarily have been taken for granted regarding youth participation in electoral politics.

It cannot be exaggerated that military involvement in politics underdeveloped Nigeria and its democracy. The surviving class of First Republic politicians took over the reins of governance when the military withdrew to the barracks in 1979, although there were some new recruits into their ranks.

The key politicians of the Second Republic were the same politicians of old. For instance, the governors of the states constituting the old Western Region were loyalists of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, erstwhile premier of the defunct region from 1952-1959.

Similarly, most of the key politicians that kicked off the Fourth Republic, 1999 to date, were mostly those who had waited patiently for 16 years while another round of military intervention persisted from December 1983 to May 1999.

Most of their new recruits were those who dared to operate undergrounds along with them.

Now that we have had close to 20 years of uninterrupted democracy starting from May 1999, one can only hope that democracy as an idea has come to stay in our polity.

The youth can make their entry into the political process and grow in it just as it is the case in the established democratic nations of the world.

The Nigerian youths, reasonable and ambitious species that they are, have embarked on what real democrats will advocate-lower the bar of entry into elective offices so that young persons can make their early entries into the governmental process.

To restate what was said in the introduction to this essay, democracy can be likened to an organisation where promotion to the upper echelon is expected to be as a result of hard work.

There are very young men and women in democratic positions in the Nigeria of today. What one is prepared to advocate is quality and patriotism on the part of those who seek to replace them in the near future.

Those who seek to make positive impact in their political careers, just as those politicians of the early era we have continued to positively reference,  would have to work hard in order to achieve their objectives and live in the history of our nation.


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