Friday, 22nd September 2023

A case for youth participation in politics

By Adolphus Aletor
07 April 2023   |   4:08 am
Age certainly plays a role in the type of decision that a man makes. All judgments or ventures have a direct or indirect impact. For example, it is a general understanding in financial management that the higher the risk of an incident or decision...

Age certainly plays a role in the type of decision that a man makes. All judgments or ventures have a direct or indirect impact. For example, it is a general understanding in financial management that the higher the risk of an incident or decision, the higher the reward or returns. Conversely, the higher return you require in a venture, the higher the risk you are expected to take. Mathematicians call it a direct relationship. So it is a generally accepted norm that the risk appetite diminishes with age. In other words, people tend to take decisions with lesser risk as they age.

With Politics, there is an observed pattern. Many describe participation in politics in Nigeria to be of high risk. This is so because life, health, reputation, prosperity, spiritual balance, and family life are commonly described as risk exposure when one Ventures into politics in Nigeria. The returns are a lavish lifestyle acquired instantaneously. University of Oxford’s Health Economics Research Centre recently disclosed that current research shows that politicians have an average life expectancy of 4.5 years longer than members of the populations they represent. Amongst other factors responsible for this advantage is remuneration, which gives them access to quality health, unlike the people they serve.
The insatiable appetite for continuous acquisition of material resources once they attain a political position makes it less deserving leading to an uncontrollable behaviour in appropriating their remuneration. Just as in Financial management, there must be a Science in political participation and age. We generally observe that the average age of major players in Nigeria’s political arena is unfavourably skewed.
Nigeria’s politics requires a generational shift in leadership. Nigeria’s politics favour the old, whose age difference compared to the majority of their citizens is profoundly uninspiring. The median age is 17 years in Nigeria. The median age is the age that divides a population into two numerically equally sized groups; that is, half the people are younger than this age, and half are older. It is a single index that summarizes the age distribution of a population. The average median age of an African leader is 63 years.

If this statistic is anything to go by, it means that the difference between the average age of a leader in Africa (63 years) and the median age in Nigeria (17 years) is 46 years. When the young age is compared to our geriatric contenders, we can easily pipe the flow.

Africa has the world’s youngest population. Based on reports from the CIA World Factbook, the top 10 countries with the lowest median age are in Africa. For instance, Niger is 14.8, Uganda is 15.7, and Nigeria is 17. The USA has 33.7 years as its median age against a global average of 30.3, yet its leader’s average age is 55 years giving rise to a difference of 21.3 years. This indicates that the average age of African leaders stands in stark contrast to that of the citizens they represent. The implication of this difference can be obvious and scary.
Sir Mohammed Fathi Ahmed Ibrahim, a Sudanese-British billionaire businessman and philanthropist popularly known as Mo Ibrahim, is the co-founder and co-chair of the Africa-Europe Foundation, established in 2006 to support good governance and exceptional leadership on the African continent. He says, “Political power lies in the hands of ageing leaders who have little knowledge or interest in the ambitions and concerns of younger generations—and sadly even less interest in passing on the reins of leadership.”
The World Economic Forum, African Development Bank, and World Bank issued a joint report that succinctly captures this discussion: “Young Africans represent new ideas and aspirations that could, properly addressed, unleash new economic opportunity. As the continent’s population continues to grow exponentially, African leaders must listen to the needs of the younger generation and energize them to participate in the political process.” But, unfortunately, the gerontocracy leadership rule stays at a disadvantage as the opportunity for foreign direct investment worldwide is lost. To put it more specifically, the opportunity for American investors to help through related government and private investment programs, like the Millennium Challenge Corporation, Power Africa, Prosper Africa, and others, capable of playing an essential role in trade and investment, which is a much-desired help by African leaders that will power the future demanded by African youth, is lost.
To address this issue, The Muhammadu Buhari government signed the #NotTooYoungToRun bill, which reduced the minimum age for a Nigerian to run for political office to twenty-five years from the previous thirty years cap. However, apart from the pump and pageantry, nothing has changed. The entry cost, godfatherism, corruption, poor voter education, conspiracy by electoral officials, unrealistic expectation from the voting electorate, etc., remain significant hurdles for an average youth.
Drawing from the concept of risk and return against the idea of age and type of decision, one should be comfortable to say that a younger president is likely to decide with a higher risk that can translate into higher returns for the benefit of the citizenry. This may explain why more youthful and vibrant leaders have made the major developmental landmarks in Nigeria today and are still in existence. Since the days of the National Theatre and Third Mainland Bridge in Lagos, Ogbestadium in Benin, etc., what the country has experienced is not as challenging. The younger leader is likely to take a futuristic, forward-looking decision. He can likely attract the genuine cooperation and support of third parties. He can be directly involved in developmental discussions without the use of proxies.
In conclusion, infrastructure development is good, but the result of human capacity is better. Build a road at the expense of human development and see the people remove the asphalt for personal use. But build the people, and like in my town of Ubiaja in Edo state, where scarce resources have made government impact nonexistent, individuals do rise to build roads, install street lights, and provide Garri factory among others communal basis. The infrastructure built by the people out of necessity would last longer than the one made for the people out of obligation.
NB: This article does not deride age or longevity, as this is a blessing from God. It does not encourage the government to abdicate its responsibility to the people because they can do it themselves. It is just my inner musings on climbing the fifth floor and a call to the younger ones to leave their place of comfort and grab the bull by its horns.