One interesting feature of South Africa’s politics is that the country’s two main opposition parties (the Democratic Alliance, DA, and the Economic Freedom Fighters, EFF) are headed by young men in their thirties.
Mmusi Maimane, born June 6, 1980 is the leader of the DA since 10 May 2015, and the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly of South Africa since 29 May 2014. Julius Malema, born March 3, 1981 is the leader of the EFF which he founded in July 2013. He previously served as President of the African National Congress Youth League from 2008 to 2012.
Beyond the growing feeling of discontent in the 105 years old ruling African National Congress, ANC, whose leader is South Africa’s 74 years old President Jacob Zuma, both Maimane and Malema are one of the reasons why the DA and EFF enjoy mass support from South Africa’s youth population.
According to Statistics South Africa’s “Mid-Year Population Estimates” of 2011, the youth population which is between ages 14 to 35 is estimated to be around 39 per cent as at 2016. Out of this number, 47.60 per cent are unemployed, and one can add that they are not entirely impressed with the ruling ANC. The DA and EFF want to fill this gap with faces like Maimane and Malema.
In a continent where the likes of Angola’s President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang Nguema, Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe and Cameroon’s President Paul Biya have all been ruling for over 30 years, the vibrancy both Maimane and Malema have introduced to the country’s politics and political debate is very ‘un-African’.
Unlike South Africa, political parties in Nigeria do not have a culture of grooming young successors to occupy political offices. Both the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC and the slumbering opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP are run by old men with little or no idea of the needs and aspirations of the country’s teeming and restless youth population.
But, there is one man young Nigerians can look up to, same way South Africans regard Maimane and Malema; Rt. Hon. Onofiok Luke. In Akwa Ibom where he heads the state’s House of Assembly they call him the “speaking Speaker” because he does not only speak his mind but that of the people.
Mr. Luke is 39 years old today and it is only important that one pays tribute to one of the few politicians in Nigeria that truly inspires a generation of young Nigerians who one day aspire to a life of public service.
Like in many other African countries, Nigeria’s political space is littered with recycled, old and tired politicians that have refused to retire, and so the excitement when one meets a young and intelligent number 3 citizen of a state such as Mr. Luke can be very reassuring. Knowing him, it becomes easier to imagine Nigeria electing its first youthful president.
For many who have followed his rise in Akwa Ibom politics, Mr. Luke has always been a democrat with a penchant for fair play. A member of the opposition PDP, which is the ruling party in his state, in 2016 he warned against imposition in the PDP if the party wanted to regain its position in Nigeria.
“One of the reforms we are championing in the party is that internal democracy is not only seen to be done, but it must be done to the later. Our position is that let us build a strong institution; let us not allow the whims and caprices of some individual to overshadow the party’s interest,” Hon. Luke told a delegation led by the PDP National Youth Leader, Abdullahi Maibasira.
The outcome of the 2015 general election in Nigeria taught young Nigerians interested in their political future that the youth population holds the ace to who wins future elections. Any serious political party knows it is wise to stop paying lip service to the political aspiration of young Nigerians.
If the PDP is serious about resuming the position of a ruling party at the centre it must take conscious steps and groom young men who can take over from today’s old politicians. One effective way for the party to rebrand is by factoring in young politicians such as Hon. Luke in its succession plan.
One characteristics of Hon. Luke which resonates with the electorate is that the interest of the common man has always been the centerpiece of his legislative engagement. For instance he has sponsored bills such as the ‘HIV/AIDS Control Agency’ and the ‘Physically Challenged Persons Protection against Discrimination’ bill, both of which have been passed and signed into law.
Undergoing legislative processes is the ‘Primary Healthcare Development Agency’ bill, the ‘State Health Insurance Scheme’ bill, and the ‘Social Housing Scheme’ bill. The proposition of these bills and agencies shows a legislator who understands that he serves the people who elected him to office. In a country where many join politics to fill their pockets with public wealth, this is a rare trait.
Each time I meet Hon. Luke I leave with the assurance that one day, maybe sooner than expected, a time will come when fielding young politicians into key political offices will be the new normal. With the successes he’s recorded leading one arm of the Akwa Ibom state government, Hon. Luke has what it takes to stand shoulders high with young politicians across the world.
This is wishing a remarkable young politician, one who inspires a great number of Nigerian youths a happy 39th birthday celebration!
Maduekwe is editor at Discussing Africa. You can follow him on Twitter @Ojo_Maduekwe
Follow us on twitter: @youthsdigest
The Youths' Digest is a specialized youth magazine geared toward entertaining, educating and informing the youths on various issues of interest that are of paramount importance to them and their wellbeing.