Source: The Guardian
When Olusegun Obasanjo became Nigeria’s president in 1999, the people celebrated. After years spent under repressive military juntas, democracy was a welcome relief.
Obasanjo, a onetime military head of state had gone through the same turmoils suffered by the average Nigerian within a space of three years, three months and three days. He also understood the systems of government and agreed that democracy was best suited for a nation who had just seen the worst times since the colonial lords handed over.
He became a modern-day Matthew – the Biblical exploitative taxpayer who changed his ways – to his name.
But the succour many thought will be ushered into the country remains: politicians plunder the country’s resources, institute retrogressive policies and borrow copiously from military strongmen’s playbook.
One of the very sins of the immediately past military juntas that preceded Nigeria’s return to democracy in 1999 was the massive looting of the country’s national purse. A BBC report put the amount looted by General Sani Abacha at an estimated $2-5 billion.
A democratic government that came in 1999, with its very viable vestige of military incursion into government tried to smother over the horrible image that Nigeria represents in the coming of nations. However, it became apparent that there was little or no difference between the men in the military fatigue and the agbada when it comes to looting Nigeria blind.
Soon, Nigerians called for a change of government and another new face. Nigerians guided by the belief that someone who had been involved in the military government can only solve the rate of corruption declared openly their support for Muhammadu Buhari, another one time-head-of-state who proclaimed himself the change agent and messiah.
By the second year, Nigeria’s ratings dropped to 148 out of 180 in the 2017 Corruption Perceptions Index by the Transparency International (TI) and its administration was ridden with instances of corruption and irregularities.
Defending itself on the Index, Garba Shehu, senior special assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, concluded: “in the end, this whole episode may turn out to be just a political distraction, given the strong views some of TI’s patrons have expressed against the Buhari Administration”.
However, by its third year, the Brooking Institute projected that the giant of Africa had become the poverty capital of the world.
With these workings, Nigerians, obsessed with the call for a new face sought for a bill that will enable energetic people with fresh innovative ideas to call for the reduction in age under the #NotTooYoungToRun campaign.
Given the dominance of the two major parties PDP and APC, who continue to parade the same old faces and see the office of the presidency as a retirement home, the signing into law the age reduction bill in June 2018 was a breath of fresh air.
Soon enough, younger presidential hopefuls began to emerge. Some of them formed a group, the PACT ((Presidential Aspirants Coming Together) to choose who will contest the elections against these two parties. No sooner had they formed that the PACT became divided against itself.
Members pulled out with accusations of corruption causing the likes of Kingsley Moghalu, a former deputy governor of Nigeria’s central bank, to state that the in-house election “produced an outcome that has left many Nigerians expressing surprise and disappointment”.
He who dines with the devil must be ready to pay the price?
“It is shallow-thinking for anyone to think that if a youth becomes president, he will do better than the older one”- Itse Sagay, Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption.
When Dimeji Bankole, a vibrant young, enlightened young man, came into power as the speaker of the House of Representatives in 2008 at the age of 37, he was seen as a voice of reason and an enlightened youth who will make the House an enviable one. But Bankole’s tenure was mired in corruption and the youth, who was thought of abeacon of hope for millions of Nigerian young people, became a symbol of how not to trust young people with power.
The many allegations of misrule against the youthful governor of Kogi State Yahaya Bello, who became a governor at the age of 40, have not made him a stellar example either.
On the other end of the spectrum is Peter Obi who became a governor at the age of 45. The former governor of Anambra is remembered for giving the facelift to the once the dirtiest state in Nigeria and clearing its debt to save $156 million.
“In as much that I support the #NotTooYoungToRun campaign, I believe people should be able to judge what they have been able to do in their own personal space,” said Bamikole Omisore, SA International Relations to President of Nigerian Senate. “You can have a 25-year-old legislature do better than a 50-year-old and it is more about how prepared they are for the position.”
While there is an existing argument that youths in the real sense of the word have never ruled Nigeria, one must be careful not to translate age for success.
Segun Awosanya, an activist, says that “Leadership is more about competence, capacity and capability regardless of how old you are. In a sane society, leadership is inter-relations between the wisdom of the old and the energy of the youth”.
Although it is applaudable that the #NotTooYoungToRun has enabled that new faces and the youths contest for office, with the projections of the PACT event, one can also question if a person who resides within a corruption enabling society such as Nigeria will efficiently lead the country.
“It is very shallow thinking because, as I see it, it is the youths of Nigeria today who believe in overnight wealth, who want billions overnight, who don’t want to work for their living and gradually build up their assets and business. That psychology of overnight wealth is almost exclusively a youth attribute,” Prof Sagay once said.
But the problem, Awosanya, notes, cannot be totally blamed on the youths. Lack of perfect leadership models is a problem that runs deeper than usually acknowledged.
He says: “I don’t think that our youths have learnt enough. For you to say you have learnt your lessons, who are your teachers? “The leadership example that most of the youth have is the military rule, that is why they looked for strong men to rule over them, people who can suspend the constitution can do the unthinkable and people who can exchange their votes for crumbs to people who can guarantee your future”.
“There are a lot of youths who do not know what they can do, they are waiting for an agenda on social media from a politician to tell them what to say, agitate and assigned and emasculated opinion they can spread on their space.”
The right time?
Regardless of who is at the helms of affairs, Nigerian leaders have continued to fail the populace in their delivery of good governance. Most often than not, people with proven track records are disinterested in joining the government. A disinterest which stems from the belief that the ‘cabals’ continue to frustrate our efforts in the search for excellence by presenting candidates whom they believe can win elections and sustain their hegemonic state rape as against those who have the ability to deliver.
But allowing the disinterest to fester does not solve the problem.
“I believe that there is no better way to transition from tokenism to meaningful inclusion than to utilise this law [Age Reduction Law] by running for office,” said Rinsola Abiola, a former aide to current Nigeria’s speaker of the House of Representatives and African Democratic Party’s House of Representatives aspirant for Abeokuta North/Odeda/Obafemi Owode Federal Constituency.
The solution to Nigeria’s problems does not reside in a new face but more participation in government by the people who can actually make a difference. There is, therefore, a need to review the past, query the present in order to take better decisions when it comes to electing leaders.
We must understand that for us to truly practice democracy, then the government must truly be ourselves and not an alien power over us.
The Nigerian voters must, therefore, understand that advocating for new faces is not the solution Nigeria necessarily needs. To get to that Eldorado we continually yearn for, we must first seek a reorientation of those who become our leaders because the mentality of the bulk of those who lead the current has not helped.