JONATHAN NDA- ISAIAH in this piece X-rays the youth inclusiveness in governance amid clamour for a generational change
Since the return of civil rule to Nigeria in 1999 following the exit of the military from the arena of government and governance, Nigerian youths have continued to clamour for a space in the leadership sphere.
The youths, by far the country’s most populous demographic, rightly feel that if Nigeria must actualize its manifest destiny and pride of place among the comity of nations in this 21st century, then they must be allowed to drive the process and sub-processes of governance at the highest level.
After 21 years, the question begging to be answered is whether the struggle by the youths for more inclusiveness in national leadership has paid off? Well, the jury is still out on that but since progress is measured in steps, no one can downplay the importance of the advocacy itself. It has led through a tortuous and winding path to the passing of the eloquently named ‘Not Too Young to Run Act’ (NTYTRA) in 2017 by the 8th Assembly. When President Muhammadu Buhari assented to it on 31 May 2018 it joined the nation’s body of laws and, for a while, provoked euphoria and an enhanced interest in partisan politics by younger players.
The NTYTRA was a landmark achievement in the history of political struggle in the country. When President Buhari assented to it sorrounded by specially invited youth representatives from the 36 states and the federal capital territory, he was recognising the advocacy for it and those he considered its advocates.
Ultimately, the President himself deserves accolades for so readily signing the bill taken into law considering that his generation has been longest at the game of hoarding the very positions needed by Nigerian youths to showcase their leadership talents and capacity for good governance.
All said and done, a law is as good as when its implementation. Conversely, when ignored and left to mildew in the law books from unuse a law is as good as lost in a coma. Luckily, the Not Too Young To Run Act is finding voice and expression in its unofficial ambassador and the one person often referenced the most whenever there is a discussion on NTYTRA.
Interestingly, in pre-colonial Nigeria, young people acted as the vanguard by providing security of their societies and serving to check or remove tyrannical rulers.
The post-colonial environment gave rise to young people in military uniform taking over government through a series of coup. These post-colonial coup beneficiaries were mostly under 40. They included Aguiyi Ironsi (42), Yakubu Gowon (31) , Murtala Muhammed (37) and Olusegun Obasanjo (38).
His Excellency, Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State was the youngest state executive when he took office for his first term several months to his 40th birthday in 2016. He remains the youngest Governor in Nigeria at the moment, having been sworn in for a second term on January 27 this year.
With the average age of his appointees hovering between 35 and 40 since 2016 and that of his Cabinet around 45, Governor Bello, unarguably, remains the Governor who has given the most accommodation to youths in the governance process, maybe since the ’70s when President Buhari’s generation shot to power. But for Bello, the Not Too Young to Run Act would probably be as dead as the dodo by now.
Apart from the ostensible opportunity created by the NTYTRA, another question, and one which is even more important than giving Nigerian youths access to governance, is whether they are living up to expectations?
Policy experts are generally agreed that any outcome from the Bello experiment in Kogi will be the yardstick for measuring the capacity of young people to govern. On this note alone, Governor Bello has a lot on his neck because he is practically carrying the collective burden of a generation and he must not fail them.
As expected, there is a lot of emotiveness around Bello’s performance so far, but again, his template for governance, as controversial as it is effective, has produced sufficient empirical substance for an unbiased conclusion that with the right environment and freedom, Nigerian youths will excel in government and governance, some pundits aver.
Reacting, a political analyst based in Abuja, Ibrahim Ahmed, said “for one, there is renewed life in Kogi, the Confluence State. The sleepy and sedated air of stupor which pervaded the state throughout the several decades since it was created has been rudely shaken off. The newfound freneticism alone has injected optimism for the future in Kogites. New frontiers are being built, age-long ethno-religious prejudices dismantled and the quest to make things work revitalised as Bello races to redefine governance with the vibrancy mined from widespread involvement of the youth in his administration.“
Proponents of youth inclusiveness in governance argue that Governor Bello got it right from the outset of his administration when he decided to populate the political space in the state with capacitous youths.
Ibrahim continues, “That singular act turbo-charged his first term in office with a surplus of energy and strategy, giving him the critical edge over political opponents. His line up of youthful, useful and tireless players enabled him to overcome a multitude of attacking vested interests, run rings around their experienced gatekeepers and score critical goal after goal in governance.
“In Education, Bello has built or renovated over 360 classroom blocks in primary schools (State records), dropped incidence of out of school children to 13% according to the World Bank and ranks in the top 7 in universal basic education performance (UBE Commission records), amongst many other wins in the sector.
“Secondary schools and tertiary institutions across the state have the same story of infrastructure growth, enhanced learning resources and improved academic outcomes to tell. As a result, several tertiary institutions in the state have achieved accreditation for long outstanding courses. The Confluence University of Science and Technology (CUSTECH), Osara was founded and the College of Agriculture, Ochaja was upgraded to diploma awarding status.
“Since Governor Bello took over in 2016 and began revamping the health sector the state routinely ranks in the top echelons of health sector performance ratings in Nigeria.
“For instance, Kogi State ranks lowest in infant and under-five mortality after years of poor performance in the area, according to a study by USAID/National Population Commission/Federal Ministry of Health. There is also concurrent improvement in maternal mortality figures and overall health infrastructure and indices.
“By virtue of its terminus position in the movement of humans, goods and services between all parts of the country, Kogi usually records inordinately high infection rates for many diseases endemic to Nigeria, like Lassa and yellow fevers. Before Bello took office all cases of Lassa Fever had to be referred to the Institute of Lassa Fever Control, the leading treatment and research facility for the disease located in the Specialist Teaching Hospital Irrua, Edo State. Many patients succumbed to the ailment before arrival at the Irrua centre,” he said.
In 2017 Yahaya Bello set up the state’s Lassa Fever treatment Centre. Since then Kogi State has recorded no fatality from the disease in all her state-owned health institutions. As unbelievable as it may sound, that cure rate is unmatched in the country, not even by the Irrua facility.
Also, Kogi is the only state which publishes an annual compendium detailing type, location and stage of completion of projects. The Compendia started at the end of Bello’s first year and has continued unabated year on year since then. A cursory glance will reveal a multitude of infrastructure and utilities across the three Senatorial Districts of the state.
Job creation and youth engagement is another huge priority for the Bello Administration. It appears that between her own measures and assiduous partnership with the National Social Safety Net Programme (formerly the Social Investment Programme) of the Federal Government, Kogi has done very well indeed. In her 2018 Labour Force Statistics, the National Bureau for Statistics (NBS) recorded Kogi State as one of only nine states in the federation which reduced unemployment at a time the rest of the country sank deeper into it.
Bello’s strides in combating insecurity and securing the lives and properties of his people are no longer in dispute. From the kidnap capital of the nation to some of the fewest incidences nationwide as well as other crimes, Kogi which shares boundaries with 9 other states and the Federal Capital Territory has remarkably improved. Under Bello the state has been rated the second safest in the country and the safest in the north. The NBS records that Kogi had the second lowest crime incidence. Security is a continuing war, but as of today, Bello is not slacking at all.
It is in the light of the foregoing in addition to wins in other areas that a preponderance of citizens, especially youths saw in Governor Yahaya Bello as their own and rallied to give him a second term in office.
Bello’s 2019 reelection as Governor of Kogi State enjoyed a statewide spread hitherto unseen on the Confluence and the margins were so historic and unimpeachable that the Supreme Court recently dismissed all opposition challenges to it as lacking ‘a scintilla of merit’.
Bello is a contemporary leader, in tune with modern trends in governance including, but not limited to, affirmative action. His two terms have reflected sensitivity to gender, the handicapped and diversity in governance. The governor, right from his first term in office, has women as his Secretary to the State Government, Head of Service and Aide de Camp.
Some people may have forgotten, but Bello remains the first governor in the state and maybe Nigeria to appoint a female chief press secretary in his first tenure in office. Truth is, any political leader who wants to succeed must give the youth and women a place of pride in his cabinet.
Besides Bello, some other young persons holding political offices are current speaker of the Oyo House of Assembly, Debo Ogundoyin born 18 February 1987 and commissioner for youths and sports in the same state, Seun Fakorede born May 22, 1992.
Underscoring the import of the matter, former secretary-general of Commonwealth, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, while speaking at the annual lecture series on good governance held in Owerri, Imo state, on October 3, 2019, stated that the fate of the Nigerian state and the Nigerian youth is intertwined.
According to him, one cannot survive without the other.
“For both to survive we must begin the task of evolving and deepening a national philosophy, a national ideology and a national value system that harnesses the positive mindset of national exceptionalism but without the limiting circumstances and negative attributes of essentialist thoughts.
“If we develop these attributes in our political parties and social and cultural unions; and if we mainstream them into our political governance model and national developmental strategies Nigeria and her youth stand a chance of surviving the future- not a great chance given the level of meaningless decay and national drift that daily confronts us- but at least a fighting chance to escape the trap of history occasioned by the monumental wastage of the contemporary ruling generation,”
Political analyst, Charles Ibrahim posits that more youths in governance at all levels from the presidency, governorship, National and State Assembly would speedily drive growth and development.
“I think it’s time the youths take over the mantle of leadership in all spheres of governance in the country. We have good examples for now, a young deputy governor in Zamfara, young speaker in Oyo and even the current governor of Yobe and caretaker chairman of APC is just 52,” he said.
Funding is a major challenge with young candidates across board,” says Rinsola Abiola, who’s contesting to become a federal legislator under Action Democratic Party. “We don’t have the kind of resources that the older generation does and politics here is notoriously expensive.” Much of the campaign-related expenses are rooted in the culture of vote buying, on the campaign trail and on election day, which sees politicians offer food and money as incentives for votes.
Instructively, Nigeria turns 60 years of age in her sovereign voyage come October 1, 2020. Analysts aver that now is the time to begin the push for people below 60 years of age to take the reign of power at all levels of government. The Kogi experiment ably coordinated by Governor Bello comes to the fore as a standard reference for every state to embrace and domesticate.
Going forward, as Nigeria begins to find a new template for governance at the centre that will engender inclusive growth and development regardless of ethnicity, tribe and religion, it is not out of place to recommend The Bello Template in Kogi State.
Although it is too early to make a scholarly and definitive submission on things, but if morning tells the day, as we say in this part of the world, then it is not out of place to say that it is a template that will work well in the overall interest of all Nigerians. It is therefore highly recommended.