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Leadership: Age is not our problem

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President Muhammadu Buhari (middle) and representatives of Nigerian youths in 36 states of the Federation, during the signing of the Not Too Young To Run Bill at the State House, Abuja…yesterday. PHOTO: PHILIP OJISUA

The signing of the Not too Young to Run bill by President Muhammadu Buhari is a positive development representing a classic constitutional amendment that not only satisfied the desires and aspirations of young Nigerians but also sailed through within a reasonable time frame. How good and pleasant would it be if other burning issues that Nigerians crave for are given the same treatment by the National Assembly?

The issue of restructuring, for instance, has not received the needed attention at the National Assembly. Rather than be treated as an issue of great national importance, the lawmakers are playing politics and paying lip service to it. The Not too Young to Run bill shows that there are times when the wishes of the populace cannot be ignored. There is people power that that can move mountains and shake foundations.

Certainly, the law represents a positive development, politically, if only the right structures needed for it to flourish are put in place. For, except the right structures are there, the law won’t make any difference showing that the age of leaders is not the problem. There are fundamental problems that need to be addressed to make things work in this clime. The issue of corruption has to be sorted out.

From this angle, there should not be too much optimism that the age of leadership has been reduced as if age is our problem. I am afraid that if a 30-year old becomes the president today, nothing will change under the existing political structures. We have had young military officers as leaders who failed to perform partly due to the extant political structures. The age amendment bill should be seen as one successful step taken in the quest for democratization and good governance. All the other issues must be sorted out for us to reap the full benefits.

There are reasons for the commendation being given to the new law. Recent happenings in which our sitting president – the late president Umaru Musa Yar’Adua was indisposed and had to travel abroad frequently for medical attention and his eventual demise provoked sentiments against having elderly people as president.

And as if that was not, not long after he assumed office on May 29, 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari started traveling to London for medical treatment. In 2017, he stayed away for a long time and returned after 104 days (3 months) in London. Earlier in February that year, the president traveled to London on medical vacation and spent 50 days. The polity was heated up with little or no governance, not until the president came back. The thinking was that having a younger person would spare the country the trauma of contending with an ailing president. The development made people begin to crave for a young president, which is understandable.

But that is not an end in itself. There is wisdom in old age. Perhaps, what we should lament is that our elderly leaders don’t manifest wisdom in governance. Impunity reigns and they don’t care about the people.

Around the world, there are countries with leaders aged above 80 years. They include Beji Caid Essebsi of Tunisia (88), Abdul Halim of Kedah, Malaysia (87) and Sabah al-Ahmad of Kuwait (85). These old leaders are doing well because of the well-establish structures of governance in their countries that they follow, without introducing their own ad-hoc policies.

These leaders are selfless. They don’t pursue sectional interest but focus on issues that help to build their countries. For instance, under Essebsi’s stewardship, Tunisai remains the sole Arab Spring country to have been steered towards a course leading to democracy and security. That gives credit to old age, wisdom and maturity, which a youth leader would not have been able to manage.

That, however, does not rule out what the younger generation could do. The youth is full of energy, vibrancy, power and exuberance that could be channeled into productive governance. But the youth may not have the requite wisdom to govern a complex society like Nigeria. The old generation that may promote them will also mislead them.

In biblical times, young people who assumed positions of authority were mentored by older people who closely advised and directed them on useful course of action. The Jewish wise King Solomon frowned at young people becoming leaders. He cried and exclaimed, “Woe to thee, O land, when thy king is a child, and thy princes eat in the morning! Ecclesiastes 10:16. Child in this context connotes immaturity, recklessness and lack of wisdom.

Solomon contrasts the above by saying “Blessed art thou, O land, when thy king is the son of nobles, and thy princes eat in due season, for strength, and not for drunkenness! Ecclesiastes 10:17. The immature child or youth is contrasted with the noble prince that possesses high ideals or excellent moral character. A reckless youth leader lacks noble character that is needed to govern well. The son of nobles is nurtured for leadership.

Around the world, there are eight youngest leaders from varied political systems – democracies, monarchies and dictatorships in Europe, Asia and Middle East. They include North Korea’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un (33), Volodymyr Groysman, Ukraine’s youngest ever prime minister (39), Jüri Ratas, the new prime minister of Estonia (38), Macedonian Prime Minister, Emil Dimitriev, (38); Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, became the fifth king of Bhutan at 26; Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, 36, the Emir of Qatar and Vanessa D’Ambrosio, the only woman in the list who is serving a six-month term as the captain regent of San Marino. These young leaders are doing exploits in their various countries. The North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, in particular, has continued to brutally repress opposition within the closed-off country and escalate testing of its nuclear missiles to the chagrin of the world.

At this juncture, I must stress that no country allows a youth who has not been groomed for leadership to assume authority as leader. All the aforementioned youngsters ruling in their countries have been groomed in one way or another for leadership position. Allowing a nonentity, who has not been prepared for the exalted office of leader to assume authority would be disastrous. Such could spell doom for a country as King Solomon lamented.

For instance, in this political dispensation, apart from President Buhari who is above 70 years, the average age of all the governors, lawmakers and local government chairmen across Nigeria is about 53. These are youths so to speak. Why has none of the governors performed extraordinarily well to distinguish their state? That is why I said the problem is more fundamental than age.

After President Buhari signed the new bill into law, he asked the youths to hold on and be patient till after 2023, when probably, he would complete his second term if he wins the 2019 elections. If Nigeria really wants a transition to youth leadership in the country, the system must begin now to groom potential leaders by way of special education to equip the identified youths with the requisite knowledge for leadership.


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