Nwankwo Kanu has declared to run for presidency in the 2019 general election. Probably because he was a footballer, he chose an unlikely medium-Goal.com, a football magazine to announce his entry. At 41, Kanu is not too young to run. Even without the “Not too young to run bill,” 41 inures him against the extant provision of Sections 131 (b) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), which puts the minimum age requirement for a president at 40, of which the “Not too young to run bill,” seeks to lower to 30.
I am a football fan and clearly not that of politics. May be I would have been both if the Nigerian players in the latter have not made it filthy, mucky and cut-throat. To spell it out clearly, the Nigerian political field is treacherous, bloody and satanic. It is a place where dog eats dog. It does not attract me. My interest in Kanu’s declaration and in the main, the politics he wants to charge into, is its resonance with the new and strident calls for a generational shift in the recruitment process of Nigerian political office holders, beginning with the upcoming election.
It has been a clamour from a vast spectrum of ordinary Nigerians but got amplified in the nation’s consciousness by Olusegun Obasanjo and Ibrahim Babangida, both of whom are octogenarians and ruled the country for a cumulative of 19 years, and not forgetting Olisa Agbakoba, SAN, former president, Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) and co-founder, National Intervention Movement (NIM. Obasanjo made this call once last year and so far this year, has made it twice. The first was in his well-publicised January 23 letter to President Muhammadu Buhari and the second was on Monday, this week, when he received leaders of a political tendency of young Nigerians, the New Nigeria Group, led by Moses Siloko Siasia.
At the occasion, he urged youths in the country to rise to the challenge of bringing about the much-needed new generation of leaders if the country must progress on the path of socio-economic and political development. The old generation of political leaders, whom he sees as power addicts, he said, can only be dislodged from the nation’s power grid by a resolution of the younger generation to grab leadership opportunities by the scruff of the neck.
Speaking to the same group this week, Babangida decried the fact that the old generation of politicians has just refused to let go of power or yield ground to young players with fresh ideas and zeal to steer the ship of the nation. As Babangida puts it, “History has shown that a nation’s development fulcrum progresses better in the hands of younger generation, who is more adventurous and full of fresh ideas. “Some of us assumed leadership at a very young age. The older generation must give way for the new one. We have become analogue but this is a digital age; so the young people should be supported to use their digital knowledge to move the country forward.”
In a letter to Obasanjo last July titled: “Nigeria Needs a Generational Shift in Political Leadership,” Agbakoba solicited Obasanjo’s support in galvanising the political elite towards producing young leaders such as Macron in France and Trudeau in Canada. “I am concerned about the quality of leadership in Nigeria; corruption is endemic; poverty is high, life expectancy is low. Nigeria ranks poorly on all international human development indicators. Chinua Achebe, in his book, ‘The Trouble with Nigeria,’ pointed out that the situation is directly linked to failure of leadership,” Agbakoba said. He believes that Nigeria is held back by the senility that has set in the extant leadership class. He recalled that Obasanjo and General Yakubu Gowon and some others, now of the old generation, got involved in the running of the affairs of the country at a young age.
My worries with this call, out-weigh the sympathy I have for it. Much as gerontocracy is not my idea of the path to governance in the 21st Century, I have a king-size misgiving about the preparedness of Nigerian youths for governance. I state without apologies, that I am yet to chance upon that Nigerian youth who has weaned himself, either through education or association of the primitive mentalities that have ensured that the old brigade kept us where we are. Who is that Nigerian youth that cares less about first being a good Yorubaman, or Igboman, or Hausa-Fulaniman or northerner, etc, before being a good Nigerian? How many of our youths, even among the educated, understand and apply the fact that religion is a personal relationship with God and gets guided accordingly in his dealings with those who worship in a different manner with him or her?
If there are altruistic Nigerian youths who are not driven by the intention of making a killing or to “hammer,” in government, I dare say they are a negligible minority. If the present day Nigerian youth population has not been found of nobler character than the old brigade, especially in terms of embracement of the factors of ethnicity, religion and corruption with which the old analogue class has held the country and the people down, why then should I make a case for their takeover of political leadership of our country? Would it not be replacing six with half dozen?
This is my hang up with both the “Not too young to run bill,” and the thinking that youths would be the ninth wonder of the world in government. It is equally on this ground that found Obasanjo’s July 28, 2017 reply to Agbakoba’s letter, frank and edifying. By way of comparison between the old brigade where he belongs and the youths of today, he said, “Some of us made great efforts with determination, commitment, broad national outlook, integrity and uncommon zeal to shoulder the responsibilities thrust on them.
“The point to ponder is how have the successor generations positioned themselves to lead? I look back at some members of the younger generation and I am miffed at the missed opportunities. “I am equally saddened that although we, the so-called older generation did facilitate, some semblance of infrastructural development, today, the gains made have been mostly pushed down the drain by some of those privileged young people saddled with similar responsibilities in the recent past.” No matter how disagreeable Obasanjo may be as a personality, these perspectives give me cause to pause and ponder.