Nze Ronald Ihejieto of Matador Community Forum raises a topical issue which has continued to make the rounds in social media. He observes that Obafemi Awolowo was 37, Samuel Ladoke Akintola and Ahmadu Bello were both 36, Tafawa Balewa was 34, Festus Okotie-Eboh and Anthony Enahoro were both 27 years old when they led the struggle for Nigerian independence after the death of Herbert Macaulay. Only Nnamdi Azikiwe was 42 at the time. He also recollects that the first Nigerian coup in 1966 was led by Kaduna Nzeogwu at the age of 29. That coup was countered by Murtala Mohammed and Theophilus Danjuma, both 28, Ibrahim Babangida and Nanven Garba, both 25, and Sani Abacha and Shehu Musa Yar 'Adua, both 23. The counter-coup brought Yakubu Gowon, 32, and Emeka Ojukwu, 33, into power and also saw Olusegun Obasanjo, 29, and Muhammadu Buhari, 24, on the corridors of power.
Nze Ronald recalls that most of the military administrators who governed the states under successive military regimes, a good number of who are now in government, were less than 30 years old. “The brief democratic dispensation which interjected the military interregnum also saw the House of Representatives, in particular, populated by a majority of members who were below 30 years of age. Some of the serving senators at the time also came within this age bracket. Nor were public office holders whose ages were below 30 lacking. M.T. Mbu became Nigeria's Foreign Affairs minister at 23 and Pat Utomi became a Presidential Adviser at 27. From one state to another, the list could go on and on.”
A visibly worried Nze Ronald now asks and wants to know why young people of today who come within this age bracket still sleep in 3-seater chairs in their parents' homes contented with their fortune. Why does this age bracket today still collect pocket money from parents? Why is this age bracket today still writing JAMB? Why does this age bracket today still sag their trousers? Why is this age bracket today still searching for jobs? Why is this age bracket today no longer qualified even to be leaders of youth wings of political parties? Why is this age bracket today so docile? Why is this age bracket today still incapable of feeding itself? Why is this age bracket today barred by law from even aspiring to certain political offices? Why is this age bracket today incapacitated and unwilling or unable to ask questions? Why are Nigerian youths who fall within this age bracket today incapable of thinking for themselves but would rather depend on some mummy and daddy in the Lord to run their lives?
These are provocative thoughts that will continue to haunt Nigerians until justice is not only done, but also seen and globally acknowledged to have been done, to contemporary Nigerian society. The issue is quite challenging. It is engaging. It seriously demands a national debate. Nigerian secondary schools, colleges and universities should take up this debate. Every student should be involved in this debate. In workplaces where under-40s are employed, this should be the main topic of every day discussion. The concern and the discussion should be everywhere in the air, until the truth sinks deep into the greying marrows of those who created the ugly, precarious and obviously unacceptable situation Nigerian youths find themselves in today.
Yes. Some people have come all out to blame the youths for being docile and uncreative. Some say that Nigerian youths have woefully failed to take their destiny in their own hands. But let us be honest to ourselves. We have mentioned names above of some “glamorous” men who led in the struggle for Nigerian independence. But what would have been the position today, were some of them still alive? What, in any case, is the position today with some of them still alive? We discover that among civilian leaders of the first Republic, Awolowo, Akintola, Ahmadu Bello, Balewa and Okotie-Eboh were among those killed during the first coup. And among the military officers who led Nigeria at the time, those who died in, or in the pursuit of, public office include Murtala Muhammed, Sani Abacha and Shehu Yar 'Adua. Zik and Ojukwu died after some illnesses. Were these men still alive, it is obvious from the look of things that they would still have been visibly struggling with Nigerian youths of today for opportunities. They would have loved to live and die in the seat of power. In their understanding, nothing could have been more fulfilling. That is why, some of them who are still alive today are struggling not only to remain dominantly relevant in the political dispensation, but also to perpetuate themselves in power. They include Babangida, Danjuma, Gowon, Obasanjo, David Mark, and Buhari among others.
Now, tell me: what chances do young greyhorns, lacking in political sagacity and straight from the university have, were they to vie for public offices with these “experienced” men of timber and calibre in Nigeria's vast political terrain? How fair can the playing ground be? What we are saying is that Nigerian youths of today should be allowed to take their own future in their hands. They should be given a chance to map out their own destiny. They should be given the opportunity they deserve to pilot the country in a way that will reflect their plan for their own children and their children's children, instead of simply sitting helplessly at the passenger's corner, busy doing nothing. They should be mentored to take their rightful place in the scheme of things in their country. But that is not the case on the ground.
In one of my articles titled: “Nigeria: 53 years of experiment in Democracy” I pointed out that the first thing to note is that since their country attained self rule, Nigerians seem to have helplessly insisted on having a “recycling system" of leadership. I suggested that it is important for the Nigerian legislature to deal dispassionately with this cog in the wheel of the nation's democratic evolution. “Dispassionately” because some of the people we are talking about here are the very people expected to carry out the exercise of sacking the old political foot soldiers who come, go and come again, intent on staying in control of affairs in the country years and years after holding public offices during which time they accounted for little or nothing to those who gave them the mandate to lead.
The fact that Nigeria has many educated and disciplined sons and daughters has never meant anything to them. Most of these eminent but silent Nigerians currently serve foreign governments and foreign interests. At home, some unqualified and half- educated public office seekers are encouraged to busy themselves killing each other in their insatiable quest for public offices. It becomes pertinent to ask what exactly the old brigade of public office holders still wants on the corridors of power, shooting their “beloved” nation in the leg. Is it the money? Or is it the fame? They already have both. So what else are they looking for? Is it to sanction the country from having the best of leaderships – those younger, highly educated and disciplined potential leaders serving abroad instead of serving the impoverished citizens of their own country?
Since their fathers and mothers have refused to yield grounds and offer them even windows of opportunity to manage affairs in their own country, and since their parents have decided they are the ones to get and the children (at 30+) are the ones to sit back and spend, what do we expect Nigerian youths to do?
Those who have wielded the string of “leadership” for the last half a century and still long to remain in power should be ashamed of themselves. They are the reason Nigerian youths cannot move forward. Take what is fast becoming routine in the Nigerian political landscape for instance. State governors now gun for the Senate after their 8-year tenure as governors. Many senators have been there for three or more tenures. The same goes for members of the House of Representatives. They get in at 29 and hang on until the figures are reversed, and they are 92. So, what chances have the youths got?
The impression many people inside and outside of Nigeria have is that these politicians wrestled independence from the British purely for the economic benefit of their private families and not for their love of Nigeria or Nigerians.
When I was living in Nigeria, I had a good job as Features Editor of one of the government-owned newspapers. My wife was a senior nursing sister at the Federal Medical Centre (then called General Hospital). We were supposed to be on good senior staff salaries. But the authorities never paid salaries in time. Sometimes we were owed salary arrears of up to 8 months at a stretch. We were living from hand to mouth, sometimes forced to buy foood for our family on credit. It was painful, but what could we do? The men at the top who were supposed to pay us would rather put our salaries into fixed deposit accounts in their own names and spend the interest on that huge amount on their families while hundreds of other hard-working families like ours were left to die in hunger and penury. Most painful of it all is that I remember that for the 24 years I worked in Nigeria as an editor, I never ever had cool N5,000 in my bank account in any one month. At the height of my suffering, I decided to relocate to the UK. I saved my first N1 million (£4,000) in my first two years of working as a Traffic Warden in London! Today, when I reflect on the sufferings I innocently passed through in Nigeria, I still feel the pain. It has indeed taken me a sense of great belonging to the land of my birth to forgive and still try to struggle to put things right, so that my children's generation will not suffer the way I did in my days.
Danjuma, Babangida, Gowon, Obasanjo, Buhari, David Mark and rest of them ex-military officers now in long flowing gowns still controlling public offices should realise that it was they and their ilk who created the mess in which Nigerian youths find themselves today, no matter how they try to disguise the facts. They should retire to their villages with military despatch now, and for their experience, remain to be consulted on matters of governance by the younger and upcoming generation. Creating or helping to create this culture of sit-tight leadership is the reason all the space is still taken up by the same old brigade and their proxies who purportedly “fought” for Nigerian independence. Nigerian 30ish citizens of today have, or seem to have, no option than to sleep comfortably in 3-seater cushions in their parents' homes, contented with their fortune. The insistence of the Nigerian society on condoning a system of recycling leadership is the reason this age bracket today still collects pocket money from parents. It is the reason this age bracket today is still writing JAMB. It is the reason this frustrated age bracket today still sag their trousers. It is the reason this age bracket today is still searching for jobs. It is the reason this age bracket today no longer qualifies even to be leaders of youth wings of political parties. It is the reason this age bracket today is so docile. It is the reason this age bracket today is still incapable of feeding itself. It is the reason this age bracket today is barred, as it were, by law from even aspiring to certain political offices. It is the reason this age bracket today seems incapacitated and unwilling or unable to ask questions. It is the reason Nigerian youths who fall within this age bracket today are incapable of thinking for themselves but would rather depend on some mummy and daddy in the Lord to run their lives. Simply put, those who wrestled power from the colonial masters failed Nigerian youths!
But Nigerian youths can still do some thing to salvage the seemingly hopeless situation. The debate on this inadvertent insistence of the Nigerian society keeping and funding a recycling system of leadership must now become the preoccupation of every school, every college, every university, and every workplace in Nigeria. The space must be created for Nigerian youths, and Nigerian youths must get ready for a rough ride because the pleasures of power are never relinquished with ease. The ball is now in their court. So, let the debate begin.
*Mr Asinugo is a London-based journalist and editor of Trumpet newspaper.