Joshua Onuekwusi Esq.*
For France, 7 May, 2017 will remain a historical date for a country that prides itself in its great history and enlightenment. Emmanuel Jean-Michel Frédéric Macron, a 39 year old relatively unknown political figure hitherto never elected to a political post has been saddled with the momentous responsibility of dragging a nation out of the brim of hostile Islamist insurgency and terrorism, a failing economy and a youthful population that yearns to play a greater role in its national affairs.
The lessons of this political development can be quite enriching to our contemporary Nigeria where in their forties the vast population of its citizenry still questions their role in a society that has self-perpetuated men of yesteryear at the helm of affairs even amidst constant failures in every segment of the fabric that makes up the nation. There has always been the case for youth inclusion in politics and governance. Ironically, while the youths control the majority of votes cast during elections and events leading up to elections, they are actually left with nothing when elections are over.
However a close reflection on Nigerian history will show that the youth has not always been at the back seat of political vehicle in Nigeria. But down recent memory lane, the story is not exactly the same. Yakubu Gowon became a military head of state at age 31, Richard Akinjide became Minister of Education at the age of 32. Audu Ogbeh was a Minister at the age of 35. He is still serving today as a minister of Agriculture under the Muhammadu Buhari government who himself served as a petroleum minister at the age of 35.
Overtime the arguments by powers that be remains largely that the youths of today Nigeria has failed to prove themselves worthy of taking over the mantle of leadership. Surprisingly, the older folks who pride our political space today have confidently failed and continue to perform abysmally in national duties. On the other hand youths in the last few years have engaged and excelled in various start-ups, creating jobs and contributing to the economy of the country. In academic, literature, entertainment, ICT, manufacturing and service industry, Nigerian youths have made tremendous efforts to carve a niche for themselves despite unfavourable and unfriendly government policies entrenched by a system that continue to favour and preserve the status quo as set out by gerontocrates desperate to enter the other side of life with political relevance.
Does the Nigerian constitution support our argument for youthful participation? Sadly no. Of course we can understand the composition of the drafters of our national guiding document.
A comparison of constitutions of other African and non-African countries to the Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) presents a contrast so telling.
In nearby Ghana, one need not reach 30 or 35 years to be in the Parliament. Ghana must have realized that wisdom is not necessarily conterminous with numerical age, hence in its section 94 (1) (a) 21 year age qualification was provided for. The United States ‘Constitution in its Article 1, clause 2 provides for 25 years to be in the Parliament. The South Africa’s constitution is the most admirable in this regard. Section 47 (1) of the South Africa’s constitution provides that every citizen who is qualified to vote for the National Assembly is eligible to be a member of the National Assembly unless precluded by any other consideration outside of age. To be qualified to vote section 46(c) of the constitution provides for a minimum age of 18 years.
Political participation by youths means that youths must face the reality that their votes on Election Day give them enough clout as youths. And the key to effective youth participation in politics and governance is to have an open mind on debatable issues and begin to get involved at the political party level.
Without holding brief for Nigerian youths, it is expedient that we understand that the entrenched systems cannot pave way by itself, concerted effort must be made through learning, character building and value placed on integrity as this is the only way we can convince the larger populace that we have woken up to our responsibility to champion a better life for all who are willing to work and create a lasting impact on future generations. Without doubt, some of the challenges that have constrained the Nigerian youth to the fringes of political headship range from the question of integrity, capacity and a wave of intolerance with a growing prevalence in our youths. Greed, selfish ambition and lack of genuine competition are some of the factors that has colluded to weaken the ability of Nigerian youths to collaborate effectually as a cohesive front that advances the well-being of young Nigerians.
We must also challenge young Nigerians to develop capacity as a prerequisite before throwing their hat into political space. There can be no short cuts. As short cuts as evidenced by a good number of our elders who tripped on leadership at a very youthful age has yielded regrettable results. Most crucial today though is that progressively, the evolving present reality demands vision, competence, integrity and hard work. We must examine track records of people who aspire to be leaders, what they have achieved and where they are coming from. Social media activism, patronage and followership does not qualify youth solely for leadership. Unarguably, all youths cannot engage in active politics, or say showbiz, academic, sports and entrepreneurship, but many of them; the competent ones with character and integrity must get in there.
Frankly, Nigeria cannot move further if we continue to toe this line; where leaders are elected or selected because of their involvement in Nigeria civil war fought in 1967 or by recycling people whose imagination cannot fashion the tool needed to counter future challenges. Neither will our cause be helped necessarily by associating and identifying with the existing political arrangements that have failed to establish ideological and intellectual harmonization of pragmatic solutions to various national woes.
*Joshua is a regular contributor to this blog. Read his other works here