Fellow Nigerians, please permit me to discuss the matter of our youth again. I’m truly troubled because of the attitude I see on display today. I wish to state, categorically, that the internet is misleading a lot of our youth. The internet is a giver of false hopes and confidence. I want to believe that the power of the internet is exaggerated and overrated in our dearly beloved country. Everyone who is able to buy some data sees himself as an omnipotent blogger who can install or bring down any government. This delusion of grandeur is not local to Nigeria but is pervasive all over Africa and it is tragic.
Suddenly every blogger is a celebrity. I make it a habit to check the number of followers they command and control. I check their tweets and scrutinise their influence. People with less than 50,000 followers claim to own the heavens and the earth in a country with a population fast approaching 200 million. The sad thing is that those who should know better believe their influence and begin to help the bloggers in peddling what is mostly drivel and sometimes blatant falsehood. What is worse, about 70 percent of the population is largely illiterate or ill-lettered. Ignorance and poverty have also combined to render many of us irrelevant. When some of this illiterate and ignorant population seize upon some of the rubbish peddled by the bloggers, you can imagine the outcome. Distorted and misleading information travels by the jungle express of rumour mongering that Nigerians seem to have perfected into an art form. With the knowledge of the effect that they have, many bloggers have resorted to uncouth language and brazen attacks on whosoever they disagree with. No effort is made to persuade and convince.
Let me posit my thesis right away. Unless Nigerian youths purge themselves of the arrogance associated with the social media, the journey of liberation may be much longer than we think or know. We must all pay our dues before we can begin to flex muscles of greatness and apotheosis. There are no short cuts to these things. Our youths must read and learn the history of revolutions. No matter how commonly available internet data has become, thanks to a company like GLOBALCOM, with humongous investments in submarine cables and state of the art technology, every one of us must still go through the rudiments of political science. And it is not as simple as it seems.
The good news is that there has been so much hoopla about youth participation in the governance of Nigeria. The mantra is simple and easy to remember: NOT TOO YOUNG TO RUN. Very apt and nice. But how are they going to change an age-old habit that has become irremovably sticky? What I see is discomfiting. I see feel-good advocates and crusaders who see their activities as only a means to an end. I see a cockiness that shows me that we think this is a joke or some circus clownery. Nigeria is not going to change overnight just because we have internet and smartphones. Many of our forebears paid the ultimate and supreme price trying to change Nigeria for the better. They were better focussed and ready to suffer the excruciating pains of being non-conformist. Ask Herbert Macaulay. Ask Obafemi Awolowo, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Tafawa Balewa, Sir Ahmadu Bello, Ooni Adesoji Aderemi, Nzeogwu, Odumegwu Ojukwu. Ask Olufunmilayo Ransome-Kuti. Aminu Kano, Balarabe Musa, Moshood Abiola. Ask Wole Soyinka, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, Tai Solarin, Gani Fawehinmi, Kenule Saro Wiwa, Femi Falana. And so many others who passed through the trenches of oppression and repression.
Someone needs to draw attention to false claims to martyrdom by those without any history or record of sustained struggle. Those who sit in the comfort of their homes and think they can influence decisions and elections are only kidding. A political revolution is never a tea party. They can lie to themselves in their braggadocio but not to those who understand the game of power. Ultimately they are not fooling the Nigerian people. Ask the common man today what he feels about the so-called agitators today and you will truly find your answer. The people are not stupid. Show me any youth organisation in Nigeria with a membership of up to one million people. Show me any demonstration in Nigeria with a followership of 50,000 followers that lasted one week running. Yet we saw unrelenting crowds in Egypt, Brazil, Venezuela and other far-flung places. They probably had more internet penetration than us but still did not keep their arms akimbo while awaiting a socio-political miracle. If Nigerian youths are going to make any remarkable difference in the foreseeable future, they must prepare for the long-haul and not the opportunistic and psychedelic joke we see all around us today. The Government too needs to be careful not to elevate charlatans and attention seekers into what they are not. There is at present a growing tendency to do so.
2018 is almost knocking and 2019 will soon follow, yet none of us can say with any degree of certainty the top three youthful and cerebral candidates Nigerian youths would readily support when the time comes. What we are likely to see again is merchandising with smart boys chasing juicy contracts from the highest bidder. Everyone loves money but we must be ready to sacrifice something for our long-suffering country before we can claim the honour and the glory. A man who does not want to get wet should never go near the river. That is why the sacrifice Chief Abiola paid can never be dismissed as little. I’m not sure the “ajebutters” (silver-spoon kids) of today are ready for a “sit-at-home” not to talk of “sleep-in-prison” situation.
Where do we go from here? There are certain basic ground rules that we must establish and regulate well ahead of the 2019 general elections. The first criteria that must be sorted and settled as a matter of principle is that of age. We’ve tested the young, the middle-aged and the aged and most have wobbled and fumbled. What we need therefore is to insist that no matter the situation, Nigeria needs men and women of strength and stamina henceforth. Our infrastructure deficit makes it imperative for us to search, seek and support our best eleven. We can no longer afford to have musical chairs and seat-warmers for God’s sake. Enough of crawling snail-like at a time the rest of the world is moving at supersonic speed. Anyone above 65 has passed retirement age and should please spare Nigeria the agony and anguish of weak and ineffectual leadership.
The priority of Nigeria in 2019 would no longer be the war against corruption since Mr Magu has already declared victory over the malignant cancer that has almost killed our country. That is the main reason many people had no choice but to vote for a man we considered old but strong enough to drive the fear of God into our recalcitrant looters. While it is the right of every Nigerian above forty to contest Presidential election, it is also the right of Nigerian youths to reject any aspirant or candidate above retirement age. This is the reasonable thing to do but if we fail to establish this principle as early as possible, we should stop lamenting like the Biblical Jeremiah.
The next principle that must be critically reconsidered is the issue of zoning system. If Nigeria does not kill zoning, zoning will kill Nigeria. I do not care where the President of Nigeria comes from but I care about the age and competence and stamina of my President. Nigeria is well endowed with some of the brightest brains in the world but zoning promotes mediocrity as well as corruption. While the original idea of zoning was to promote a sense of belonging, it has since been bastardised to engender a sense of negative and destructive competition. Zoning is now a formula of rotating thievery and roguery. It is clear that in today’s Nigeria, whichever tribe attains power would always thrive better than the others. And this has generated too much tension in the land. It is one of the reasons many are agitating for restructuring right now which may eventually lead to implosion and explosion. There is no justification for this. Careful national planning is all encompassing. No tribe should feel that it would be neglected if its “person” is not in power. Visionaries do not think like that and they do not engender such a feeling. Government is not about the sharing of positions but the development of the infrastructure and of the populace.
There are practical ways we can tackle the urgent needs of Nigeria. Our present system is too slow and sluggish. In 2010, I approached Mallam Nasir El Rufai to be my running mate which he politely declined. My aim was to have a combination of similar minds from the South and the North. But something positive came out of that attempted synergy. He told me that he and a group of like minds were thinking of assembling a star-studded team and the idea would be to have like a shadow cabinet that can be sold jointly to Nigerians to give a preview of what their government would look like. For me, that remains a brilliant idea. It would be fantastic to be able to visualise what our next government would promise Nigerians in terms of personnel and content. If we had this type of arrangement before the election, it would have given us an idea of the type of leaders to expect. This would also save the political parties of acrimonious primaries. This is the beauty of the British Parliamentary system which we can adopt, even in our Presidential system.
Let each of our parties showcase their team instead of showing us only one strongman and a weaker Vice. APC would be forced to present a formidable team if they see that PDP has gathered some much brighter and tested team instead of an ill-assorted bunch of politicians foisted on the nation only by godfathers and political expediency. I will be too excited in the next dispensation to see such names as Yemi Osinbajo, Donald Duke, Nasir El Rufai, Babatunde Fashola, Godswill Akpabio, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Rabiu Kwankwaso, Akinwumi Adesina, Charles Soludo, Oby Ezekwesili, Fola Adeola, Jimi Agbaje, Rotimi Amaechi, Peter Obi, Aminu Tambuwal, Bukola Saraki, Yakubu Dogara, Nuhu Ribadu, Pat Utomi, Bolaji Abdullahi, Akinwunmi Ambode, Tony Elumelu, Ibe Kachikwu, Awwal Tukur, Kayode Fayemi, Ibrahim Dankwambo, Seidu Mallami, Wale Babalakin, (not in any particular order) and so many other distinguished Nigerians at home and abroad joining hands with our up and coming young Turks to move our economy and society in the right direction. The next President of Nigeria must have substantial and sufficient educational qualifications for the job. Experience in politics is not necessarily a sine qua non. Note that most, if not all, of those I have mentioned have national appeal and are detribalized to a large extent. I do not say that the President or his deputy should come from their number. Only that it would be nice to see them in a future government that has a mix of youth and experience. Divide and distribute them to different political parties and select President and Ministers from them, it won’t matter if any of them is from the North or South.
If the youths don’t insist on those principles and do everything possible to enforce them, nothing is going to change. We are going to wake up the day after the election and discover that someone closer to 80 than 60 would have won again, largely assisted by those under 40.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.