The recent #ENDSARS protest by the youths threw up a number of issues in Nigeria. One of the issues on the front burner is that of the position of youths in the political equation in the polity.
I have followed with interest the course of the protest and the demands of the youths but I have restrained myself from making hasty comments ever since for obvious reasons.
Although, the cause of the protest is not just about youth but about the bad governance, official high-handedness, human right abuses, neglect of the masses and the economically vulnerable group among others, yet, the attention is on the youth because they are the group that led the revolt.
Without doubt, the youth segment of every population is unarguably the most active and productive. The youths are adventurous and mobile. They are usually the catalyst for development and progress in every society and hence every country that wants progress usually put in place structures for youth development.
Even in our traditional societies, there are youth development programs. In Igbo land for instance the age-grade system is a platform to galvanize youths into productive ventures.
Nigerian government especially in this regime has not done enough to empower the youths. Unemployment is on the upward swing and systemic failures have driven many youth into social vices.
However, much as the government has not done enough for youth development, Nigerian youths on their part have not effectively utilized the platform provided by the global interconnectivity to develop themselves and the nation.
Nigerian youths have not risen to the occasion. Ignorance, economic hardship, ethnic and religious biases, apathy, together with poor political education have always been a distracting factor militating against the youths playing their deserved role in the scheme of things.
For us Diaspora Nigerians, we can attest that Nigerian youths are among the best in the world. They can compete with the rest of the world in every area of human endeavors. Nigerian youths have distinguished themselves among their peers globally.
But unfortunately, the energy and creativity of the Nigeria youths do not reflect at home. This is because Nigeria operates a system that stifles creativity and glorifies mediocrity.
And everybody is guilty of this including the youths themselves that have remained inactive politically and allowed themselves to be used to do the biddings of unscrupulous individuals.
Some of our youths have misdirected their energies and creative potentials in unproductive ventures. Many have taken to crime and other illegal activities in their inordinate quest for wealth.
Therefore, what Nigerian youths need now is a re-orientation to be alive to their responsibilities to the society and the nation. Handing power to the youth just like that as they demanded would not only be counterproductive but catastrophic. Giving power to one who is ill-prepared for it as the country is experiencing at present is clearly an invitation to anarchy.
Indeed, I find the request by Nigerian youths to be given power truly amusing. A critical look at the Nigerian political history shows that Nigerian youths have always been at the corridors of power since independence both in the military and civilian regimes.
A look at the profiles of those in power at present shows that the bulk of them are in their fifties and many of them have been there since 1999 when the current democratic experiment began, meaning that they started in their youths.
But what difference have they made? Have they been able curb the cancer of corruption ravaging the nation? Have they been able to provide the basic necessities to the masses? Even the palliatives meant for the vulnerable group amongst us they hoarded away.
So clearly, the problem is not about being a youth or aged. It is about the system. It is about mindset. It is about wrong values. Leadership skills or quality does not reside in any particular segment of the population. It is about the individuals’ orientation and will.
President Donald Trump of America and Senator Joe Biden are all octogenarians but Americans with their vibrant youth population are not complaining about the age of these presidential candidates because they have a workable system and strong institutions. The youth should insist of restructuring the system and developing strong institutions.
If members of the youth are desirous of political leadership, they must as a matter of necessity undergo mentorship in the hands of the statesmen, committed democrats and patriotic leaders.
The youths must hone their leadership skills. Leadership is much more than occupying position of authority. It is about influencing actions and policies necessary for the pursuant of a common goal.
This requires wisdom, experience and maturity. Immaturity, youthful exuberance and impetuosity have tended to make youths in position of authority act with impunity and reckless abandon.
Rather than ask for paradigm shift as it is called, the youth should seek to get themselves sensitized and mobilized for positive social change through advocacy, public enlightenment, and political education.
This will make them play more active roles. In so doing, they will hold those in leadership positions accountable, remove apathy among the youths. It will also make the youths to avoid being used as instrument of violence and electoral malpractices.
When the youths realize that they are the most populous segment of the population, they would then be aware of the potential power they wield to vote in or out any government.
To me the request to exclude the seasoned politicians as proposed by the youths is disagreeable and unnecessary. I am not by any means saying that any youth desirous of seeking any political office should not do so but to seek to put a blanket ban on some people for no crime of theirs is undemocratic.
Rather the youths should use the power of the ballot papers to effect the change they desire in the country. Politics is a game of number. Power can only be transferred legally through the electoral process. Part of leadership function is succession planning.
Without peaceful succession to political office stability and sustainability may be difficult. Be that as it may, the youths need the tutelage of the seasoned politicians and detribalized Nigerians and many other well-meaning Nigerians with progressive mindset to be able to shoulder the responsibilities of future leadership to our dear country.