Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, “We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future.” The future cannot be designed by omitting the youths; in fact, the youths are the future. I have an unredeemable and unapologetic bias towards the youth. I so much believe and cherish the wealth of experience in old age because I grew up in a kind of culture that accords great respect to the elderly. I believe that we will always need the input and intervention of the elders, but not to the detriment of youth-inclusiveness.
In Nigeria and Africa at large, the dearth of youth participation in governance and policy making is both appalling and pitiable. Nigeria evolved out of the passionate zeal of some youths: Awolowo was (37), Akintola (36), Ahmadu Bello (36), Balewa (34), Okotie-Eboh (27) and Enahoro (27) when they led the struggle for Nigeria’s independence after the death of Herbert Macaulay. Only Nnamdi Azikiwe was 42 at the time.
As you are reading this piece, I have sent a draft of a proposed Bill that I have tagged, #TooOldToRun Bill to the National Assembly. I thought it through that it should be a complementary bill to the #NotTooYoungToRun bill that has been garnering great momentum since last year. I have strongly identified the need for this Bill with special emphasis on the objective, general principle and subject matter of the bill. I believe strongly that there is a greater need for leaders to be mentally and physically fit for the office that they are vying for.
If the truth be told, the overbearing recycling of political veterans is seriously encroaching on the hope of African youths in being contributive players in the running of the economy. I am an ardent believer in the sustainability and continuity of national policies, but not to the extent that it stifles new initiatives and redemptive interventions. The elders are meant to hand over the baton of patriotic service to the youths but it is poignant that the African continent has been ravished by the cankerworm of leaders that have taken leadership privileges as their ‘divine’ birthright. This sickening occurrence has actually plagued the African continent more than the demeaning effect of colonization.
In the 1960s, 1970s and through to the 1980s, the brief democratic dispensation which interjected the military incursion in Nigeria saw the House of Representatives in particular populated by majority of members under 30 years as well as some senators. Even in terms of appointment, under 30s were also not in short supply with appointments. We have examples of MT Mbu who became Foreign Affairs minister at 23, Pat Utomi became presidential adviser at 27, Edoma Egba became commissioner at 23 while he was still in the National Assembly as Senate leader!
It was a sympathetic sight at the Senate chamber some weeks ago when an 82-year-old retired judicial officer, Justice Sylvanus Nsofor, an ambassadorial nominee, told a Senate panel that Information Technology was not meant for people of his age and failed to recite the National Anthem. A frail and feeble Justice Nsofor, who retired from the judiciary in 2005, came in for the Senate screening and virtually evaded questions about his capacity to work when he directed the senators to “go and ask Robert Mugabe who is still working.”
Explaining the rationale behind Nsofor’s disqualification, Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, Monsurat Sunmonu, said the Imo nominee was too old to hold public office. Nsofor is 82 years old. How do you appoint an 82-year-old man ambassador, don’t we have people in their 30s or 40s anymore? Remember, Gowon was head of state at 33; please, let us give youth and dynamism a chance. Steve Jobs once said, “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they tell us what to do.” We are in dire need of smart youths full of renewed passion, vigour and zeal for a new Nigeria.
President Buhari must be cautious of people that will kill revolutionary initiatives; people that will demarcate him from the feelings of the populace; people that will insulate him away from the suffering and realities of the common Nigerians; people that will strangulate innovative and novel ideas; people that will resist change that his government represents. He must diligently search out and embrace ‘’change’’ gladiators. He must vehemently refuse to live in a world that no longer exists.
It is poignant to note that Nigerian youths have been systemically neglected by successive governments in the process of reshaping the nation. The demographic representation of youths across the country is presently pegged at an estimate of 78 million; it is therefore glaring that the youths are significant in redesigning the future.
Every problem is a “thought problem” and the solution is also hinged on our capacity to think albeit differently. It is impossible to change the world by thinking like it. President Buhari must attract and retain people with the ability to think differently from the “common” Nigerians. He should surround himself with youths that can solve problems and are so full of initiatives and passion for a new Nigeria. He must maximize the wealth of network by bringing into his government youths with high intellectual values and avoid intellectual liabilities.
I would like to say it again for the umpteenth time that leaders that are unable to solve problems are liabilities. We must not jeopardize the present dispensation by recycling political loyalists at the expense of merit and professionalism. When a man surrounds himself with people of low intellectual value, his journey to oblivion has been sealed and his agenda is already bankrupt even before commencement.
The president must painstakingly audit his closest associates and vehemently resist those that are powerhouse and agents of classical, malignant, digitalized and sophisticated corruption. We need ‘possibilitarians’ in the present dispensation, people that are keen on finding solutions and not constituting a problem to the Nigerian system. We need leaders who can see and seize opportunities that abound in the present Nigeria. Poverty in a clear term is simply passing over opportunities regularly. We need governors, ministers, lawmakers and special advisers who are rich in ideas.
As a youth coach and specialist of many years, I have come to realise that it is impossible to engage and empower the youths without designing a way of involving and reaching out to them. There are languages that the youths understand and people at the helm of affairs must come down from their lofty heights to feel their pains and provide them with a platform for them to be themselves. The recycling of veterans in the running of the nation is seriously encroaching on the opportunities available to the youths.
Why are we not giving the platform to the youths to get involved in governance? Government should work towards ensuring equal opportunity for the youths, including eliminating discriminatory laws and policies. We must progressively adopt policies that will enhance the inclusion of youths in governance at the federal, state and local levels.
On May 26, 2016, the House of Representatives passed for first reading a Bill seeking to lower the constitutional age requirement for contesting for elections in Nigeria. Hon. Tony Nwulu representing Oshodi/Isolo II Federal Constituency of Lagos State sponsored the bill otherwise referred to as the #NotTooYoungToRun bill. This bill will create the platform for youth inclusion and participation in the political process at the federal and state level. The bill seeks to reduce the age qualification for the office of the President from 40 years to 30 years; Governor (35 to 30), Senate (35 to 30), House of Representatives (30 to 25) and State House of Assembly, from 30 to 25 years. According to an independent research by the British Council, by 2030; “Youth not oil, will be Nigeria’s greatest asset.”
The President should please to infuse young and vibrant minds into his list of masterminds. Old ways won’t open new doors. Albert Einstein said, “Problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them”. We need renewed thinkers as ministers, young innovative minds that will come together to build an economic blueprint for a new Nigeria. When an economy is not youth-inclusive, new doors cannot be opened.
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