Nigerian Youth As Today’s Leaders By Jeddy Omisore

Apart from Afghanistan, Africa holds the record of having 20 of the countries with the youngest population, with Nigeria occupying 16th place on the table. The youth population on the African continent is projected to double by 2050, which will place more and more stress on already strained resources for the region. With recent estimates putting 50.4% of its 170 million people below 18 years, for Nigeria, the youth indeed represents the most dynamic group in the country.

Ironically, it is the continent of Africa that has more aged leaders. The practice of gerontocracy is steeped in the culture of the people which gives preponderance to people on the bases of age. Gerontocracy, therefore is a form of oligarchic rule in which an entity is ruled by leaders who are significantly older than most of the adult population. A case in point is 92 year old Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, 90 year old Beji Caid Essebsi of Tunisia and 83 year old Paul Biya of Cameroon among many others.

Recently, 74 year old President Buhari referred to 60-year-old Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, as a man who has youth on his side. Since when has a 60- year old become a youth? Except, perhaps, the President was speaking figuratively, if not, one might conclude that he was merely echoing the age perception of the average Nigerian politician. It is worthy of mention that in the current political dispensation, the youngest person to lead the nation is Dr. Good luck Ebele Jonathan who was 54 at the time of his election in 2011.

When compared with 39 year old French President, Macron, there is no gainsaying the fact that youth in this clime still has a long way to go in terms of political leadership. Political isolation of the youth is without doubt a serious challenge in the country. Currently, of all serving ministers, none is younger than 35. More disconcerting is that most of the political parties in the country usually appoint apparently aged politicians as youth leaders.

It is from this perspective that one views the current Not Too Young to Run agitation in the country. This campaign which seeks to reduce the age limit for running for elected office in Nigeria is no doubt a good course. It seeks to reduce the age for running for the presidency of Nigeria from 40 years to 30 years; for state governor from 35 to 30; for Senate from 35 to 30; for the House of Representatives from 30 to 25; and for State Houses of Assembly from 30 to 25.

Though, it began gradually with few people paying attention to the movement, the campaign is now gathering more momentum. Symbolized by the hash tag #NotTooYoungToRun, its ultimate goal is to promote increased youth participation in the global political processes.

Looking at what is obtainable in climes such as the US, UK, Canada and other advanced countries and even some African nations, it will be observed that youth are given a better leverage in terms of constitutional provision for leadership aspiration. For instance, Bill Clinton became governor of Arkansas at 32 and President of the United States at 46. But in Nigeria, existing political system does not really encourage younger ones to ascend the peak of political leadership. This is reflected in all manners of barriers that are in place to deter the youth from seeing through their political aspirations.

It is a universal reality that any nation that denies its youth the necessary enabling environment to enthusiastically participate in nation-building does so at its own peril. This is, perhaps, why many have posited that the large population of idle youths in the country is partly responsible for high rate of negative activities such as kidnapping, raping, ritual killing, insurgency, militancy among others in the country. Since nature abhors vacuum, idle youths would naturally expend their bursting and dynamic youthful energy on other areas, no matter how volatile.

The common cliché that youths are leaders of tomorrow is no longer in tune with present day reality. The truth is that the future never really exists as the only thing everyone is really sure of is today. So, the more everyone grasps the fact that the youths are really the leaders of today and not tomorrow, the better for all. Looking at the example of 28 years old Gbenga Abiola who became the Administrator of Agege Local Government in Lagos state, one is bound to reaffirm that the future is today. Fortunately, Abiola did not disappoint as he covered himself in glory through his spectacular performance. It was therefore not surprising that he bagged an award as the Local Council Chairman of the Year. What is, however, curious here is that if not that he was appointed as a Sole Administrator, Abiola could have been disqualified by age if he had wanted to contest in a Local Government Council election since he is not within the constitutionally stipulated age bracket.

It is, however, important to stress as a top political juggernaut in the country often says that: ‘Power is not served a la carte’. Thus, the youth must rise up and be ready to earnestly contend with all opposing forces in order to take their rightful place in the Nigerian political space. Every legally acceptable means must be used by the youth to ensure that they are no longer taken for granted in the scheme of things.

Rather than being ballot box snatchers during elections, youths must vigorously articulate and demand for youth friendly electoral process. It could be like making the age limit for voting to be youth-inclusive and establishing favourable legal conditions to enable youth to actively involved in election. Instead of giving quit (from a geo-political zone) threats to fellow Nigerians, the youths should start channeling their highly resourceful energy towards fighting injustice and nepotism within the system.

Omisore is of Features Unit, Lagos State Ministry of Information and Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja