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Mentoring Nigeria’s next generation for leadership


Unarguably, Nigeria’s primary failure has been leadership. The leadership crisis has gone on for long so much that ineffective leadership has become systemic in nearly every aspect of the national life. For this reason, the seeming consensus among the enlightened public that the country is in dire need of a reinvention which some aver would require a revolution in order to bring it at par with other realities is incontrovertible. As we approach the third decade of the millennium, there is therefore a need to take a critical look at the readiness of the next generation of Nigerians especially as it concerns leadership. How ready is the next generation? Is there actually a nexus between the present generation and the youths that could enable seamless political leadership succession as it happen in organized corporate settings? Has the Nigerian youth been rightly mentored, primed and empowered for leadership responsibilities? Are Nigeria youths ready for leadership? These are some of the questions that a team of experts and youths intelligentsia will interrogate at the Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy (ISGPP) August 2018 to hold at ISGPP, Bodija Estate, Ibadan, when we take on the Not Too Young to Rule Act of 2018.

The Not Too Young to Rule bill was recently signed to law by President Muhammadu Buhari. With all the advocacies that heralded the law, very few are tempted to say this is uhuru for youth participation in leadership. However, not a few people also have jolted us to rethink our assumptions. Some realists have argued that political leadership, just like any other form of leadership requires more than proclamations and enablement of the law, and they reckoned that the Nigeria youth has not shown itself to be ready for this.

This is not an exercise in trading blames or cascading guilt. It is important to address this head-down. The first point would be to look at leadership, as obtained in today’s Nigeria. Leadership is not a title or a position. Leadership is defined as the ability of an individual or groups to influence and guide followers or other members of an organisation. It involves making sound and sometimes, difficult decisions, creating and articulating clear visions, establishing achievable goals, and providing followers with the tools and knowledge for achieving these goals while at once playing high politics which, more often than not, could be rough and dirty and do require investing ‘bags of money’ to manage the Nigerian way including the servicing ‘stomach infrastructure’. Based on this definition, we can conclude that our past leaders have not fared too well in nurturing a political sociology that is inherently developmental or cultured. This are the values around which there is a conspiracy of silence, and which elders can ill afford to coach and mentor younger ones on, leaving them to muster the audacity to unravel as black box by themselves.

Secondly, it is evident that what has been missing, among a few other factors in the Nigerian equation, is effective mentoring, especially in preparation for public service and roles. Effective mentorship affects and influences the processes and outcomes in leadership including succession.

Mentoring produces leaders that ensure continuity and maintain the culture and values of the institution because such leaders have not only been taught but also groomed and nurtured. They climb on the shoulders of giants and therefore are far more effective and visionary in administration.

Mentoring is not to be confused with godfatherism, which is exploitative and destructive in the long run and self-serving. Unlike godfatherism, mentoring is a power free relationship based on mutual respect and value for both mentor and mentee. Mentorship is ‘earned’ by reputation and integrity of purpose.

Consider the following essential questions that bear out this reflection about the state of the youth in national mentorship consideration: How many political parties in Nigeria have a youth wing that contributes to internal party policy? How many civil society groups are committed to youth development beyond the mere lip service to their significance? How many religious organisation, for that matter, look to the spiritual rejuvenation of the youth beyond the mere number that attends the church or the mosque? How many organisations are dedicated to youth empowerment in Nigeria? In what sense have the youth been integrated into national decision making process? Are there any longer active student movements that would challenge national injustices and political brigandage in an organised manner?

The Nigerian youth category has consequently been rudderless for a long period. Though, the early Nationalists and founding fathers of the nation had opportunities thrust at them at young ages, present day youths in the country have suffered exclusion from responsibilities. The old guards’ tight hold on power has been strangulating, and has nearly incapacitated the youths, leaving them in a self-destructive mode.

Today, the Nigerian youth is almost politically irrelevant, only good as a mass body for violence, electoral frauds and malpractices. They are seen and used as ready agents of destabilization and conflict. This desperately and helplessly unemployed army have developed and perfected the art of begging with a huge sense of entitlement. Though they are highly educated and intelligent and when rightly harnessed they can be the best in the world, the resourcefulness of a bulk of youth demographic are mostly employed in heinous vices like cultism and gangsterism, armed robbery, drug abuse, kidnappings and cyber crimes. The morality of this important category of our nation’s population is hugely compromised and they are unduly focused on entertainment and easy life. They are politically and civically inactive with a near total disdain for nationality, only desperate to escape the country.

This is the crisis of youth irrelevance and national development the Nigerian nation faces today. The Nigerian youths are caught in between the crisis of leadership development and the failure of mentorship. A system without mentors; the engine that the younger generation looks up to for inspiration and boost, will struggle with growth, efficiency and development. There seem to be a general crisis of poverty of spirits among the older generation in the country. It is a formidable challenge. There is dearth of men and women of integrity in the country; making it difficult to have mentors who will be looked upon as role models and agents that will motivate, energize and mobilize the younger generation as the needed change and ethical revolution in the country.

Over the years, the leadership system has failed in its responsibilities of changing the society for the better. The youths are the cornerstone for societal development. They are the wheel, which drives development. These members of the society represent the most active category that should be mobilized, mentored and motivated for leadership.

Unfortunately, the old guards have refused or failed to pave way for the youths to contribute to development and actively participate in governance. These active members were left without protection and guidance. This has seriously impacted on their mental and physical contributions to the development of their country.

There is need to forge a synergy between the younger and the older generations, as both are vital to the development of the country. While the younger generation should be mobilised and trained in the art of leadership and given the opportunities to excel, the older generation can serve as guardians for these young emerging leaders with their wealth of experience and knowledge. Such synergy is vital to the development of the country.
Leadership development is a critical management practice needed to ensure an organization or system’s long-term survival and competitiveness. At minimum, mentorship should be in practice. When rightly challenged, youths are typically interested in finding a mentor. They believe that their ideas are important and valuable, because they were taught so from a young age. They crave opportunities to learn, because they had access to it from a young age. This passion for lifelong learning is a tremendous strength.

However, lifelong learning doesn’t look the same as it has traditionally. It is not all about classroom-based leadership training. They will respond much better to approaches that allow them to practice and ritualize new leadership behaviors without leaving the context of day-to-day life.
Just as most top private sector firms and organizations have found out, young people don’t rely on one mentor. After all, they have access to many different forums, like the social media and other platforms, which provides immediate access to industry professionals from around the world, and they leverage on this to advance their influences even across virtual spaces. Same way, the public sector including leaders should know that they are all possible mentors to youths who should provide guidance, support and encouragement.

In political economy, mentoring programmes aren’t hierarchical or time-consuming. Senior leaders have invaluable knowledge that demands to be shared, but so do youths. Every generation has something to learn and something to teach, which is where ‘reverse mentoring’ comes in. In reverse mentoring, younger people mentor older ones. This trend has a double-sided benefit: The older generation stay on the pulse of trends important to young people, while the younger ones feel more connected and invested, because they are contributing to the improvement of the society at the different levels.

Another form of mentorship is micro mentoring. There are even apps and online platforms dedicated to micro-mentoring communities. Micro mentoring allows professionals and leaders to have many mentors for brief periods of time and is usually designed to help improve a very specific skill.
There is need to work together and identify sustainable solutions to the problems facing the youths. Cultivating cohesion and active exchange between younger and older generations could be the single most important ingredient for realizing the full social, economic and political potentials of Nigeria and build a hopeful, positive future for today’s youths.

As we continue with nation building, and our human capital shifts to a younger majority, we owe it to our collective futures to invest in leadership development. We need to mold a generation of leaders who can effectively adapt, continually learn, think outside the box and confidently lead us forward. We need our leaders to pass the baton, invest in mentoring and training others and adequately prepare the next generation of leaders. Now, more than ever, we need to prioritize leadership development.

Olaopa is Executive Vice Chairman, Ibadan School of Government and Public
Policy (ISGPP) Ibadan

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