When we make comparisons between different societies, it is important that we do not take things at face value. It is attractive for anyone who argues for a generational change in political leadership (not-too-young-to-run) in Nigeria, for instance, to point at Britain where David Cameron became Prime Minister at the age of 43, or the United States where Barack Obama was President at 46. A more critical evaluation of leadership in Britain and America should focus on the grooming of the individual for the role that he or she will play in the future.
Not the least due to factors that are not unconnected with their stage of educational, political and economic development, children in some societies tend to achieve maturity much earlier on than in others. In Britain, for example, the age of consent is 16. When a child has attained the legal age of consent, he or she becomes responsible for their omissions and commissions. At 18, a child is assumed to have become ‘independent’ of his or her parents. By 21, it would be in exceptional or curious circumstances that one would still want to live under the same roof as one’s parents. Parents in Britain do demand and collect rent from children of working age who choose to live at home. Of course, it must be admitted that Nigerians of means do take care of their parents in their old age.
The British society is so structured that when a child tells you of his or her age it would be more than mere guesswork to know exactly what stage of education he or she has attained. It is an age group thing; those who have chosen to attend university would have started their degree programmes at the age of 18 and finished by 21. Those of them who, for instance, want to go into politics choose relevant subjects for that call. At Oxford and Cambridge, for instance, future politicians are most likely to be studying Politics, Philosophy and Economics or Law. Most identify with political parties based on viewpoints and they do voluntary or paid work in their local constituencies, particularly at election time. They imbibe the culture of rigorous debating during their apprenticeship. Your degree in biology or zoology, even when at the doctoral level, may not have prepared you adequately for a career in politics.
The point one is trying to make here is that the David Camerons and Barack Obamas of this world made their choices quite early in life. Although they might have become leaders at relatively young ages, their experiences in politics could have been that of about 20 or more years. The suitability, or otherwise, of a candidate for a leadership position becomes important from records of past behaviour.
Obama knew very early in life what he was aiming at. Even at a very early age he told one of his teachers that he wanted to be the President of the United States. Prior to becoming state senator at Illinois and first-term senator in the American Congress, he had engaged himself in various community activities. His books spoke clearly for his future intentions. One is still looking around for that book in which any of our presidential aspirants may have told us about his or her background and their vision of society.
The general poverty in the grooming of our political leaders suggests that we lack a capacity to engage counterparts elsewhere in coherent articulation of economic and political issues. We are deficient in the understanding of the history of our nation, as well as in the cultures of our diverse peoples. Future political leaders must be brought up to understand the different cultures and religions and evolve a new society where prejudices no longer predominate our ways of life. Our politics exists only at the elementary stage and this can change if future leaders are deliberately and properly groomed to assume important roles in our society.
Dr. Anthony Akinola,