I recall an article I read in one of our national dailies in 1982 of a citizen lamenting over the dominance of our political landscape by the “old brigade”. They were men who have fought for our independence and were major actors in both the pre and post-colonial government of our country. He said the late Chief Nnamdi Azikiwe visited his primary school in the 60s and told them that they were the leaders of “tomorrow”. He said they were addressed thus as university undergraduates in the 70s by Chief Obafemi Awolowo. “Today, President Shehu Shagari assured my generation that we are the leaders of tomorrow”, he announced and then queried, “When shall tomorrow ever come”?
However, I do not hold it against this class of people for being where they were or are. There seems to be a strong misconception regarding the current youth and their capacities. Sometimes they (the young) even indulge in self-pity when faced with accusations of being lazy and lying on their father’s sitting room couch. Some unrealistic charges get thrown at their faces. “Balewa, Sardauna, Zik, Awo, were so, so ages when they became this or that…Gowon was 32 when he became Head of State, etc.”. People tend to forget that those leaders were the first set in almost everything from where they came from. And as they grow in age, so also in affluence and reach. All that comes after them have to play catch-up for it is not in most people to stand down or aside for others even if more capable.
Frederick Douglass (February 1818 – February 20, 1895), a former slave was an American social reformer, abolitionist, orator, writer, and statesman. On August 3, 1857, he delivered a “West India Emancipation” speech at Canandaigua, New York. It was an address on the history of British efforts toward emancipation as well as a reminder of the crucial role of the West Indian slaves in their freedom struggle. It was there that he delivered one of his most famous quotes, “If there is no struggle there is no progress…Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did, and it never will.”
Nonetheless, it should not have to be a struggle between the young and the old but a conscious handover of the baton to the young by the elderly. All those vying for Nigeria’s presidency above 70 should attempt to put their confidence in those younger. They should take part in scouting around for credible hands and give them the necessary guidance, considering their rich experience in life.
They should not be patronising; it is not enough to shout themselves hoarse about how they will take care of the youths. What the upcoming need and deserve is mentoring.
They should accept God’s favour to them and be to the nation the fathers they ought to be. Every good father wants his child to do better than him, meaning that all good fathers train their children to take their place and outperform them. Many good fathers, therefore, at some stage in their children’s lives, take a back seat and guide their children. Patriotism demands that from them.
Our past leaders should thank God for the opportunity He gave them to serve, out of many who were capable.
In passing, though, unarguably, Nigeria’s developmental strides were always firmer and more evident under a head below 70 years of age, whether military or civilian.
The beauty of having a young leader is that he would have the benefit of guidance from a crop of educated and experienced politicians.
When Shehu Shagari became president at the age of 54, many older northerners could have muscled their way to one of them becoming president himself. They didn’t, but that meant he had elder statesmen to guide and give him the necessary advice, both formally and informally.
The national chairman of Shagari’s party, the National Party of Nigeria (NPN), Chief Augustus Meredith Adisa Akinloye, was 63 years old and being a lawyer and an experienced politician. The president had great respect for him. They did wonderfully well, considering that Nigeria was practising presidential democracy for the first time.
Whether Nigeria would have been better off by now if the marching jackboots had not truncated the Second Republic is an academic discussion for another day. Without a doubt, it is an indictment on Nigerian youths for not stepping up, hiding behind the false excuse that “the old cargoes don’t want to give us a chance”.
While keeping in mind Fredrick Douglass’ assertion, those who know say that a boy who washes his hand can eat with kings. In the current dispensation, we have youths who believe in one Nigeria and therefore by temperament they are uniting. They are just, fair and level-headed and believe that everyone has the right to be treated justly and fairly. They have broken out from the crowd, some putting their parties or states in great shape and they have become the faces of regeneration and hope. It will therefore be sad for anyone above 70 who thinks Nigeria cannot move in the direction desired without him as president. How has he failed to groom successors?
Nigeria has had a leader who was in his 30s and leaders in their 40s, 50s and 60s. Still, it appears that those older trot about with a ‘messianic mentality’ that tells them they are the only ones who can make Nigeria great again. They don the toga of a Moses sent to lead his people to the ‘Promised Land’, but events have shown they are not. Is it accurate or fair to assume that no youth in a country of 180,000,000 people can fight corruption, bring the economy out of the woods and make Nigeria work again?
Except if perhaps they are holding the fort until their wards come of age. Afterall in another ten years or so after they might have bowed out, their children would be the new tormentors in town.
Educated in the world’s best, Ivy League schools, speaking through their noses, wearing their trousers on their buttocks, having elite international connections and with bank balances spilling out of bank windows, these spoilt brats, involved in all known vices, will be the ones these sit-tight leaders might be willing to unleash on the country. Nigeria has become their private firm or farm and all the rest of us their workers.
More proof that the best years for any temporal leader are before the age of three scores and ten.
Dynamism belongs to the youth and when tempered with the wisdom that comes with age, society thrives.
The elders who have Nigeria at heart should be sad, really sad, that there is a “dearth of leadership material” among those coming after them. They should be concerned about grooming leaders for the country. At the same time, it should make them happy to see that they are leaving the country in safe hands while alive. They would be satisfied meeting their Lord knowing the country is in safe hands.
But it is a shame that they consider themselves the only ‘anointed saviours’ in a country that gave them so much. They got their chances under patriotic leaders who bent over backwards for them, overlooked their deficiencies and thrust them up at an early age.
We saw how Shehu Shagari deferred to Akinloye, because of his age, education and experience. The Sultan then and indeed almost all the nation’s paramount rulers were his seniors in age. Some of them even in worldly affairs. Many of the elders had been in politics, the military, public service and the private sector to who Shagari could defer.
How many of those who have been in the public service, private sector or politics are still around and in good mental and economic condition and capable of advising leaders who are above 70 years of age. These leaders have buried their seniors and are now pushing their contemporaries into the grave?
Which party chairman can walk up to any of them and tell him the truth? Those who should be able to advise them were wearing shorts when they were running state affairs. Do you honestly think they would listen to these ‘saucy kids’?
The temptation to argue that even in America and Europe, they produce leaders of above 70 may be rear its head. But what we should not forget is that Africa, or indeed Nigeria, is not the USA or Europe. There, they have strong institutions while here our institutions function at the mercy of the leader. If it were in Africa, Donald Trump would have annulled the recent election in his country, disbanded their electoral commission and hauled the “usurper” Biden into jail.
Now, as we approach 2023, the call. Let our leaders in the different parties sit together and identify suitable materials for leadership who could either be in their parties or outside their parties. They should saddle them with such responsibilities, finance their campaigns and give them the necessary guidance. The guidance ultimately would be for the nation’s benefit.