During the fifth edition of “The Bola Tinubu Colloquium” held as part of activities marking the 61st birthday of the former Lagos State Governor and National leader of the All Progressives’ Congress (APC), an “altercation” ensued between Asiwaju Tinubu and the former Central Bank of Nigeria Governor, Lamido Sanusi Lamido; now Emir Mohammed Sanusi II of Kano.

When called upon to make a contribution after listening to youth leaders presenting eloquent positions on the leadership question and how Nigeria can make progress, Sanusi was convinced that the answer lies in the youths forming their own political movement which can later transform into a full-fledged party. Sanusi charged the youths present to take their destiny in their hands because they have the numerical strength to chart a new course for the country. He noted that the country has drifted for too long and there’s the need to try fresh ideas.

Tinubu, being the political strategist that he is, countered Sanusi when given the opportunity to speak. He appealed to the youths to join forces with then emerging APC which will have a firm political structure in place. “I disagree with my brother and friend Sanusi Lamido Sanusi who says youth may form their party. Politics is not economic policy where you can change a bank note. If only to merge, some people are already forging names, and trying to prevent the creation of APC (this was before the party was registered). You can imagine what you will go through.” He said.

No doubt, both Tinubu and Sanusi made credible points; Sanusi was convinced that the answer lies in the youths forming their own political movements. On the other hand, Tinubu who has been in the “field” for years knows all the tricks in Nigeria’s political play books; it may not be as easy as it sounds; especially in an environment like Nigeria where different strange – and sometimes unbelievable – factors interplay.

Perhaps I need to add that this was during the epic battle for the registration of the APC. Recall that a party, the African People’s Congress with party flag and office was formed – out of the blues – to checkmate then emergence of APC. Has anyone tried to find out what eventually happened to that “party” and its founders? This is one of the strange happenings in our political landscape.

The point I’m trying to make with these stories is that you must participate in a movement to benefit from victory when it comes. I am a firm believer in youth participation in governance. But it would be naïve for anyone to believe they can just ‘stroll into power;’ it is far more complex than we think.

The bottomline is this: to participate and benefit, you must be part of a struggle. There are two options available here. You either follow the Sanusi option of forming your own party or the Tinubu option of aligning with an existing party and walking your way through.

The challenge in the second option is that the youths find it difficult to walk their way through. Equally too, immaturity often hamper their progress as some lack the capacity to understand and interpret our unique political landscape. This often lands them in the murky waters of ethnic and religious politics with all its divisive tendencies. Their inability to break from this negative past has arrested or curtailed their ability to be in leadership positions.

I see this paly out in the micro level while dealing with student unionism. The same strange happenings you see in mainstream politics are “there for the picking” in student activism as well. A good place to gauge this is to peep into the affairs of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS). I have written severally about NANS and will not bedevil the issue here; but suffice to say that if they are the face of the much touted “leaders of tomorrow” then Nigeria is doomed. Their leadership capacity and capability has long been arrested.

A few days after the late General Sani Abacha seized power from the controversial contraption called the “Interim National Government” led by Chief Ernest Shonekan, Julian Marshall, a British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) news anchor asked the late Chief MKO Abiola a tough question. A paraphrase of the question goes thus: Chief Abiola, are you expecting General Abacha, after planning a coup, to call and congratulate you and say ‘Chief Abiola here is your presidency?’

The point the reporter was trying to let late Chief MKO Abiola – who we all knew won the June 12, 1993 election squarely – was that the late general risked his life by plotting a coup to install himself in power and not to revisit the annulled election or an intention to revise the decision taken by the then Provisional Ruling Council under which he was a very senior and active member. The anchor wants to know if there were other avenues to pressure the military to respect the wishes of Nigerians.

In the August 1985 coup in which General Ibrahim Babangida came to power, two majors of the Nigerian Army, Abubakar Umar and Abdulmumini Aminu were made Military Governors of Kaduna and Borno States respectively. They were appointed governors even though there were hundreds of senior officers that could have been so appointed. What made the difference for these two young officers in their thirties? They put their necks on the chopping block by joining the putschist and they were rewarded for the risks they took.

Beyond Nigeria, the issue of youth and governance has always been a contentious one. In a March 2015 paper titled “Does a politician’s age matter for policy?” researchers Alberto Alesina, Traviss Cassidy and Ugo Troiano started with this: “In 2012, the average age of European parliamentarians was 53 years. In the US, the average age of current Members of the House of Representatives is 57 years, and the average age of current Senators is 62 years.” With this research based figures Nigerian sceptics should know that they are not alone; even those we copied democracy from are passing through the same problem.

They added: “Motivated by the concern that aging electorates would increasingly select older politicians, the Foundation for the Rights of Future Generations advocates a right to vote from birth, exercised by parents as surrogates until the child reaches a certain age. Such a proposal reflects the conventional wisdom that a politician’s age influences policy choices. But does a policymaker’s age really matter? This is an empirical question which until recently had not been explored.”

They concluded with this statement: “it appears that political ambition – rather than ability or patience – drives the different policy choices of older and younger politicians.”

Even with an arrested leadership, I believe we still have young people with great perspectives and ideas. By allowing them to voice their opinion we could be opening and moving the political world forward. This will not only be good, but necessary for our society. If our youth don’t engage in politics, even if it is through pressure groups, there would be many issues with our political establishments in trying to keep policy fair and sustainable for future generations.

Partaking in social organisations is prime opportunity for a young person to get involved. But how many of them are involved in good and conscience based causes that would provide opportunities for them to interact with those in power and through that understudy the intricate nature of politics? Most are in the “market” waiting to be hired to demonstrate for a politician they know deep down is corrupt. They should also realise that active citizenry is equally a huge part of politics.

I will recommend that our youths borrow a leaf from the United Kingdom where youth parliament is open to 11-18 year olds who wish to use their voice in creative ways in order to bring about social change. This is both exciting and informative, as well as being open to everyone. Getting involved in these sorts of schemes is necessary if they wish to engage further with politics and get a deeper understanding of its complexities. What stops a well guided youth organisation from taking this as a cause and approaching the National Assembly to get their buy in and make such possible?