‘Elders’ have rarely governed Nigeria
Debate on the effectiveness of governance in Nigeria and who should shoulder the blame for its systemic failure has been on for years but the issue is regaining prominence with the protest on EndSARS by the youths in the past one week. In the generational stratification, the youths hold the elders firmly accountable for all the woes that have befallen the country since independence in 1960 and therefore demanded to be allowed to mount leadership rostrum to provide alternative strategic governance.
This narrows the multidimensional sources of the problem to the belief that those on the drivers’ seats like governors and presidents or head of state are major contributors to the myriads of problems that had befallen the country. It is indeed unfortunate that even elders have become a victim of their own shadows by agreeing with this untested hypothesis to the detriment of the larger society. The question is “Who amongst the two has been the predominant governor of Nigeria?”
These two constructs, namely, “Elder” and “Youths,” though not necessarily dichotomous must be operationalised if we must properly situate our argument. Who is a youth? Once we know who a youth is, then it should not be difficult to know those in the category of elders.
The World Health Organisation placed the age range of a youth as those in the ages of 10 but below 25 years. The African Youth Charter defined youth as “any individual between 15 and 35 years. This is similar to the Nigerian National Youth Policy which placed the age range of a youth as those between age 18 and 35 years.
The reality, however, is that the convention in Nigeria is for anybody below age 50 to regard himself as a youth, hence, Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State who was born on June 18, 1975 ( which makes him 45 years of age) is widely regarded as a youth. Governor Seyi Makinde of Oyo State, who was born on 25th December 1967 (which makes him 52 years) is seen by many as a youth and even the older ones like David Oluwafemi Adewunmi Abdulazeez Fani-Kayode, despite his almost 60 years of age (he was born on 16th October 1960) still touts himself and is also regarded by many as a youth. Therefore, it is no surprise that you find many of the protesters on the street today in the age categories of 20 to 45. In one word, Nigerians seems to use the concept of youthfulness to replace definition of “youth.”
Judging by the demography and statistics of political leaders in Nigeria, one is tempted to conclude that Nigeria is in a prostrate position because it has rarely been ruled or led by elders (those above 45 years) therefore, the wisdom, intelligence and patience required to consolidate the gains of nationhood is completely denied and absent.
Let us take a cursory look at the age of some acknowledged national leaders. Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe was born in Zungeru November 16, 1904. He became the Secretary General of the National Council of Nigeria and the Camerouns (NCNC) in 1946 at age 42. In fact, he co-founded the NCNC with Hebert Macaulay in 1944 at age 40 years. One can decipher from this statistics that Azikiwe became a national leader as early as age 40. He became the Premier of the Eastern Region in 1954 at age 50 and Governor General of Nigeria in 1960 at age 56 and President in 1963.
Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa was born in Bauchi in December 1912. He was elected into the Northern House of Assembly in 1946 at age 34 and Legislative Council at age 35 in 1947. He became the Prime Minister of Nigeria in 1960 at age 48. Therefore, one can conclude that Balewa became a leader of Nigeria at age 34 years.
Sir Abubakar Ahmadu Bello was born on June 12, 1910. He became the Premier of Norther Nigeria in 1954 at the age of 44 years. He became a member of the regional House of Assembly in 1952 at age 42.
Chief Jeremiah Obafemi Awolowo was born in Ikenne on March 6, 1909. He became Premier of Western Nigeria on 1st October, 1954 at the age of 45 years. He was the first leader of government business and Minister of Local Government and Finance of the Western Region in 1952. In one word, he came into national prominence at age 43. His deputy, Chief Ladoke Akintola was born on July 6, 1910. He became the Minister of Labour of Western Nigeria in 1952 at the age of 42 and Deputy Leader to Chief Obafemi Awolowo in 1954 at the age of 44 years and later Premier of Western Region.
Major General Johnson Thomas Umunnakwe Aguiyi- Ironsi was born in Umuahia on 3rd March 1924. He became General Officer commanding the entire Nigerian Army in 1965 at age 41 and Head of State in 1967 at age 42. The group of Principal Officers who toppled the government of Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa in 1966 were predominantly youths. They are Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu, who was 29 years, Emmanuel Arinze Ifeajuna was 31 years, Adewale Ademoyega (age not known), Victor Banjo was 36 years.
Another member of that block is Chief Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu who was born in Zungeri on November 4, 1933. He became the governor of Eastern Region in 1966 at the age of 33. General Yakubu Gowon was born in Kanke on October 19, 1934 and he became Head of State in 1966 at the age of 32 years.
General Murtala Ramat Mohammed was born in Kano on November 8, 1938 and became Head of State in 1975 at the age of 37. He was already a Lieutenant Colonel and Inspector of Signals in 1966 at the age of 28.
Olusegun Aremu Obasanjo was born on March 5, 1937. He became the Head of State of Nigeria in 1976 at the age of 39 years.
Alhaji Sheu Usman Shagari was born on February 25, 1925. He became Federal Minister of Commerceand Industry in 1958 at the age of 33 years and President of Nigeria in 1979 at the age of 54 years. He was already an acknowledged Nigerian leader at 33. General Muhammadu Buhari who took over from Shagari was born in Daura in Katsina on 17th December 1942. He became the Head of State in 1983 at the age of 41 but he was already the governor of the North-Eastern State, (made up of today’s Bauchi, Borno, Adamawa and Taraba states) on 1st August 1975 at the age of 33 years.
He was later to become the first Governor of Borno State on 3rd February 1986 at the age of 36 years.
His successor, Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida was born in Minna on August 17, 1941 and he was already a member of the Supreme Military Council of Nigeria as at 1st August 1975 at the age of 34 years. He later became the Head of State in 1984 at the age of 43 years.
Chief Ernest Adegunle Oladeinde Shonekan was born on Mayn 9, 1936. He was appointed as Head of Government in 1993 at the age of 57 years. The man who overthrew his short lived government was General Sani Abacha who was born in Kano on 20 September 1943. He became Chief of Army Staff and later Minister of Defence in 1985 at the age of 42 years and Head of State of Nigeria in 1993 at the age of 49 years. After his sudden demise, General Abdulsalami Abubakar emerged as the Head of State. Abdulsalami was born in Minna on June 13, 1942 and became Commander 3rd Mechanized Brigade of the Nigerian Army in 1982 at the age of 40 years and Military Secretary to the Army in 1986 at the age of 44. He was sworn-in as Head of State on June 9, 1998 at the age of 56 years.
Dr Goodluck Ebere Jonathan who was born in Ogbia on 20th November 1957. He was already Deputy Governor of Bayelsa State on 29th May 1999 at the age of 41 and he became governor of the same state in 2005 at the age of 48, Vice President in 2010 at the age of 53 years and President of Nigeria in 2010 at the age of 53.
The above analysis absolved the so-called elders from the blame that they are responsible for the predicament of our society because Nigeria has always been governed by her youthful members of the population. If these are the people who ruled the Nigerian nation from independence, then the protest that the youthful ones should be allowed in government becomes uncalled-for and unnecessary.
Prof. Ojikutu wrote from Faculty of Management Sciences, University of Lagos.