‘Problem of youth leadership in Nigeria is elite conspiracy’
Prof. Ango Abdullahi, an academic, politician and elder statesman, saw it all in his days as a youth, having served in different leadership positions. The former Vice Chancellor, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria shares his experience and suggests the way forward for Nigerian youths in leadership.
What were your youth days as it concerned leadership responsibilities?
I did a lot for the country. I was in position of authority at the age of 32. That was when I became a commissioner in the old North Central state. I became the vice-chancellor of Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria at the age of 39. In later years, I was involved in the formation of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and served in Chief ’s government in 1999 as a minister. So I was quite involved in governments at various levels in the country.
Personally, all my life, I have been in very productive positions until I retired. I cannot look back and say that I failed in any assignment given to me.
Some say your stewardship in ABU was marred with controversy? Which vice chancellor will not have controversy with students, especially in a university full of students and lecturers’ activism with radical lecturers like late Dr. Bala Usman and others?
It is expected that there will be engagements and debates between the university authority, students and lecturers. Yes, it is true that the university witnessed a very lively period then which was part of educational development.
I enjoyed my tenure of eight years at ABU as a very young man. I was the longest serving vice-chancellor of the university after Prof. Ishaq Audu.
Today, those who were undergraduates in ABU during my stewardship are testifying about my contributions to the development of the university. I am happy about it and I have no regrets for my actions while there.
Looking at Nigerian youths today and the youths of yesteryears, what can you say is the difference in leadership qualities?
In our youth days, we did very well in leadership roles. I graduated from University of Ibadan in 1964 and I joined the service of the Northern Nigeria in 1965. Sir Ahmadu Bello was our leader and I saw it all. For those of us who studied outside the North, we saw and learnt a lot from late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and others. Obviously, there is a lot of difference between the founding fathers of this country and those of us who call ourselves leaders and youths of today.
In those days, there was trust and brotherhood among Nigerians. The leaders who were mainly our nationalists were youths. They were selfless and patriotic. They were committed to the cause of the country, despite their differences in religion and tribes. They succeeded in leadership. It took them only 10 years to get independence for the country. They actively took the country away from the colonial masters. This was in view of the fact that they did not have sufficient manpower then because the expatriates were everywhere with few tertiary institutions in the country.
In 1961, there were only 2500 undergraduates in the country’s universities. So you can see the challenges then in terms of manpower development. That is one aspect. These leaders depended only on agriculture as means of national resources. That was the only resource they had, but they took the challenge of building infrastructure. The entire railway system in this country was built before 1966.
For those who come from the North with Kaduna as its capital, there is hardly any significant addition to what Ahmadu Bello built. They include Ahmadu Bello Stadium, NDC building, the State House, Bank of the North, New Nigerian Newspaper, textile industries and others. This is where the issue of management, trust and accountability come in.
Why has the country continued to recycle the same set of leaders that have failed, instead of allowing the youths take over?
It is the same problem of the elite. They do not want to leave the corridors of power. Elites persuade people in power to create offices for them to occupy, even when such offices are not contributing anything to the system.
The culture of impunity and fraudulent acquisition of material wealth has not changed. The problem of the country is multi-dimensional, but the greatest of all is the elite conspiracy. If you go to market in Aba for example, you will see people from different ethnic groups relating and doing business well, but we the elite in our enclaves are conniving, plotting and conspiring on how to divide our people for our own selfish advantage.
We are the same people lording it over the rest of Nigerians. Today, only few of us are running the affairs of the country, cornering our common patrimony. You will agree with me that about 10 per cent of Nigerians are controlling the commonwealth of the country and they are the ones creating problems for the country. Today, if there is any national issue at stake, the appeal will be on tribal, religious and primordial sentiment.
No one is seeing things from broader and objective perspectives anymore. These leaders are in connivance. Immediately they see ordinary Nigerians coming after them, they close rank. Political parties platform are being used as enclaves for operation by the elites. These are problems Nigerian youths must look into if they want to make a headway in leadership.
What is the way out of these problems?
The solution to these problems is, at what point will Nigerian youths arise against their leaders? Nigerians have had bad leadership, but they have survived because the leaders have been able to divide them along tribal and religious lines.
Until the classes are clearly defined and identified, the ones currently at the top will continue to weigh down the ones below. What is required now is to mobilise and motivate Nigerians to see things for what they are. What they are is that the elites are the problem of the country. There is need for political re-awakening of Nigerian youths to push off the elites and breathe the air of freedom.
Are you calling for revolution from Nigerian youths?
All human societies are going through one form of revolution or the other for change. Some of the revolution is gradual and peaceful. A situation where people know that there are a lot of resources, but poverty pervades the land, obviously there is need for action.
The people’s action could be through election. My worry is that there are no much differences in the political party membership compositions. They are the same people of yesteryears still running things the same way. There may be some individuals that are good, but not all of them. The difficulty will always be that the good ones among them are in minority. Something has to happen. Nigerians should work for peaceful revolution to transform the country and take it away from elite conspiracy.
Choice of candidates in election should be based on track record of the candidates, not on party platforms, money shared or religious sentiment. To my estimation, if we continue in this way, the country may not survive for long.