As all elections of popular and powerful countries usually do, the recent election in France which threw up the country’s new president, 39 year-old Emmanuel Macron attracted attentions world over and was made subject of various discussions around the globe.
Some discussed the election from the angle of political ideology and manifesto of the candidates and opined that a Macron win is a win for freedom and equality against Trump-like, far-right, Le Pen. Another argument was about the age dichotomy between the new president and his wife, but what actually attracted the attention of most Nigerians, especially the youth is the age of the new president. Nigerian youth are of the opinion that they have been shortchanged by their elders, who they accused of recycling power among themselves in total disregard to the ability of the youth to hold leadership positions in the country.
The sudden general whining will make one to ask whether Nigerian youth are just realizing their innate potentials to hold positions of authority. If that is the case, then we have to congratulate ourselves as youth for this new discovery because, the leadership of the youth has been experienced since time immemorial. Take for example from the religious angle: Prophet Muhammad (May Peace be upon him) led people since childhood; became a Prophet at about 40, and spread Islam and died at 63. Also, Jesus Christ (May Peace be upon him) spoke at infancy; led his people and work to fulfill his mission in his youthful age. Looking at pure politics, Napoleon Bonaparte ruled French people at the age of 30; Fidel Castro became the prime Minister of Cuba around the age of 33; and democratically elected President of America, J.F. Kennedy assumed office at 43. Narrowing to our Nigerian polity, the youngest Head of State, Yakubu Gowon assumed office at the age of 31. Come to think of it that Azikiwe, Balewa, Sardauna, Awolowo, Akintola all became politically relevant in their early 40s and 50s. Why is the case of the contemporary youth different?
Most of the discussions and outcries by the youth in Nigeria at the wake of Macron win were only pointing to a single direction that the elite, the “old folks”, as some people chose to call them, dominated everything and left no chance for the youth to prosper.
To be fair and frank with my fellow youth, one, may agree in part with this argument because, even sections 65,106,131,177 of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria (as amended) make it a requirement that a person cannot be a Senator, Member of House of Representatives, State Assembly, the President, or a Governor in Nigeria except he/she is at least 35, 30,30,40, or 35 years old respectively. Indeed, this sections are discriminatory to the youth especially when compared with sections 39, 44 and 61 of the 1960, 1963 and 1979 Constitutions of Nigeria, which made a person of 21 years old qualified to be a member of Parliament; and under which we got people like Alhaji Yusuf Maitama Sule as members of the then Parliament in their early 20s. This is the only tangible point that the youth in Nigeria can present as a spanner that the framers of the 1999 Constitution, who may also be regarded as part of the “old folks”, have in the wheel of progress the youth in politics. Any argument other than this one, is in my opinion baseless. But can we say that this point is enough to account for the poor involvement of youth in Nigerian politics? Certainly no!
One cannot deny the fact that we have so much youth actively contributing in various sectors of the Nigerian economy and the polity, but even to define youth in Nigeria is a difficult thing because, it is possible to see a 50 year old Nigerian battling to become the leader of a “youth” organization. Imagine if you ask this type of person when does he hope to contest for President of Nigeria, he may probably tell you that will be when he is 60 or 70 years old. Think about it and ask yourself how many 30 years old Nigerians had been bold enough to come and contest for at least Reps, State Assembly, or Chairman of their local government. These are the kinds of youth that we have today! How many of us can be bold enough to contest an election against our teachers, as 24 year old Alhaji Yusuf Maitama Sule contested against his teacher Malam Aminu Kano and won? Even though we constitute the highest percentage of voters, we have today agreed to be sycophants running through offices of politicians begging for money and we call ourselves “enlightened” or “politicians”.
Most youthful politicians probably think that to survive in future politics, they have to worship and remain in bondage of their masters from whom their daily bread comes, until they give them a nod to come out. Well, contrary to how some wrongly interpreted the law of “never outshine the master” , you can actually work to achieve your best, even above your master, as far as your respect for your master remains intact. I remember, our Vice Principal, Mal. Lawal A. Wunti would always declare during assembly that “no teacher”; he would then rephrase and say “no GOOD teacher” “ wants his student to fail”. Similarly, when we were in Bayero University,Kano, our Jurisprudence lecturer, Dr. A.M. Bello used to invite students to the podium to make presentations and when he finishes his mentoring in advocacy, he usually said that he was training us to be great lawyers; in his words: “when you graduate and meet me in court, DEAL WITH ME! Or if you cannot deal with me I will DEAL WITH YOU! And when we are out of court you must come and bow and hold my books for me because, I am still your lecturer”. His declaration is usually followed by applause and salutations. He was and he is still a darling to us as his students. Whether our leaders, especially our politicians, like it or not, the youth that are engineering their campaigns and voting them to power are their affiliates; and there is no good leader that will want his subordinates to fail. But are we bold enough and resourceful as youth to take steps? The blueprint to the way out of the youth predicament in Nigeria is to believe in our “dignity” our “worth” quoting from the speech of Martin Luther King Jr. But where were we when the political trumpet was blown? What impact do we make while we are on drugs or while we are wasting our time on unnecessary ventures? To cut a long story short, the major hindrance to youth participation in politics, is from the youth. So, when next any youth in Nigeria asks you what prevents him from participating in politics, you may be apt to tell him that “it is YOU”.
Hussaini Hussaini is a legal Practitioner, based in Abuja, Nigeria, and can be reached through, firstname.lastname@example.org
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