Young people, social activism and democratic governance
“Help our youth the truth to know. In love and honesty to grow. And living just and true. Great lofty heights attain. To build a nation where peace and justice shall reign.”
– Excerpt from the second stanza of the Nigerian national anthem.
Two-thouusand years ago, in a little obscure town of Nazareth, Jesus the Son of God and Redeemer of Humanity started a programme of spiritual revolution with deeply felt impact in the socio-political sphere. He brought breathtaking change to the socio-religious landscape, and initiated new teachings about God and humanity. He was only 30 year of age. Today, we are still reaping the fruits of his courageous activism and revolution in world order. Following the example of Jesus of Nazareth, many religious leaders of today are challenging the political order in their communities, societies, and nations. They do this by scrutinising and interpreting the happenings around them in the light of faith and in the light of their prophetic responsibility. Many political leaders too have been greatly inspired by the leadership style of this first century Galilean Jew.
In today’s Nigerian society, many young people are disillusioned with the quality of political leadership. They are becoming impatient with authority and are venting their frustrations against the system. When you look at many of the young people who are at the forefront of social change today, you are seeing combustible materials for social explosion. The many pockets of social restiveness, from the North to the South and from the East to the West, go to show how deep the cynicism and cognitive dissonance is between the leaders of our nation and the youth. But sadly, many of our young people have not been able to harness their energies in a way that will be politically effective. While many of them are indifferent to happenings around them,others have not been sufficiently educated to take their destiny and that of their country in their own hands. They spend a lot of time complaining about Nigeria’s problems than they spend thinking about how to fix them.
When you look at the quality and content of discourse on social media today among young people, you get a good feel of what I am talking about. The dosage of invectives, abuse, foul talk, and venomous vituperation that has become the trademark of many young people’s engagement with social media leaves so much to be desired. Many of these youth spend their time on social media simply insulting their leaders, as a way of venting their frustration against the system. I have always wondered: Are these the sort of young people who will champion the cause of social revolution in our society? Young people desiring to enter into politics and public service require years of loyal and patient tutelage under well-chosen political guardians and leaders before they can assume positions of public responsibility.The decision to enter into politics should be the result of careful, mental, intellectual, psychological and spiritual preparation.
This is so because there is often disconnect between the idealism of politics and the practical reality of political activity – what a Nigerian politician once described as ‘thedissonance between what one anticipates and what one actually finds.’ It has nothing to do with how much one studies something, reads about it, thinks about it, and hears about it. No set of idealismscan substitute for actual experience. But this should not make us underplay the critical importance of mental preparation for public service.
On August 15, 2012, Harvard Law Review published an essay by John Coleman titled, ‘For Those Who Want to Lead, Read.’According to Coleman, poor reading habit is terribly disastrous for leadership. More worrisome is that in spite of its many benefits, reading is still underappreciated today as an essential component of leadership development. “But deep, broad reading habits are often a defining characteristic of our greatest leaders and can catalyse insight, innovation, empathy, and personal effectiveness.” History is littered with great leaders who were avid readers and writers, but also with leaders who believed that deep, broad reading cultivated in them the knowledge, habits and talents to improve their societies.
Coleman outlines the leadership benefits of reading: “Evidence suggests reading can improve intelligence and lead to innovation and insight. Some studies have shown, for example, that reading makes you smarter through ‘a larger vocabulary and more world knowledge in addition to the abstract reasoning skills.’ Reading – whether Wikipedia, Michael Lewis, or Aristotle – is one of the quickest ways to acquire and assimilate new information. Many business people claim that reading across fields is good for creativity. And leaders who can sample insights in other fields, such as sociology, the physical sciences, economics, or psychology, and apply them to their organizations are more likely to innovate and prosper.” “Readingcan also make you more effective in leading others. Reading increases verbal intelligence, making a leader a more adept and articulate communicator. Reading novels can improve empathy and understanding of social cues, allowing a leader to better work with and understand others.”
From the perspective of faith, how can we get today’s young people to aspire towards public office by starting from social activism and volunteerism in their religious groups? I ask this question because religion is increasingly playing a very crucial role in world politics, economy, and governance. At the level of the United Nations, there is the World Council of Religious Leaders, (WRCL-RfP) which is mobilising the peace-building potentials of religion and bringing faith perspectives to bear on issues of global governance. At the level of the World Economic Forum, there is the Global Agenda Council on the Role of Faith (GACRF-WEF). Many of today’s NGOs and CSOs have built faith components into their strategic engagements with society.
This leads us to ask: What role should religion play in the accession to political offices and in deepening the context, content and texture of democratic governance? Let me cite three examples. In the 1980s in Poland, faith activism led to the defeat of Communism. John Paul II, the polish pope played a significant role in this development. In 1986 in the Philippines, there arose a Cardinal, Jaime Lachica Sin, who spearheaded the People Power Revolution that toppled the corrupt regime of President Ferdinand Marcos and installed Corazon Aquino. In 2001, the EDSA Revolution brought down the government of Joseph Estrada, on grounds of corruption too. In the Latin American country of San Salvador, a certain Archbishop Oscar Romero started a social revolution without guns and without an army, but with the conviction that one man’s courage can be the most powerful weapon of all. Although he was murdered in March 1980 while celebrating Holy Mass, his socio-political activism bore rich fruits for his country.
• Ojeifo, a Catholic priest of the Archdiocese of Abuja,