While I commend the bill, and see that it has a 60 percent advantage for the country and its youth, over the 40 percent disadvantage, I will urge the youth to also put up a fight for better fiscal responsibility, for Nigeria’s commonwealth to be better used so that they can find jobs (not everyone will become and entrepreneur), and so that when they start businesses people will have money to buy goods and services from them.
I was discussing with one of my legal luminary friends, yesterday, who informed me that the next step after the Senate harmonises its position with the House of Reps regarding the proposed constitutional amendments, is that the bill will be sent to state Houses of Assembly where the same two-third votes are expected before the amendments – the ones that have scaled the process in Abuja – could be adopted and become law. Phew! What a process. How many years do we set aside for that? And given the disconnect between the so-called ‘representatives’ of the people, at the state and national levels, are we to expect any amendment that favours the people and not them personally?
And so I began to wonder whether the ecstasy that accompanied the Yes vote, especially for the #NotTooYoungToRun bill was worth it. You see, I am not one to rush to celebrate. It is always better not to be blindsided by some of these issues. However, it is pertinent to be able to unpack the issues and point us exactly to what is important and how the people can maximise the accruing benefits. Of note is that the amendment which would promote restructuring did not scale through at the Senate. Again, for restructuring, I believe that we should be extremely careful not to create stronger state governors, without being sure that they will not complete the liquidation of this country. Already state governors are super powerful and have the power of life and death in their hands. Whatever restructuring we are proposing should give power BACK TO THE PEOPLE. That should be the irreducible minimum and if we have to spend more time thinking about HOW to achieve that, we had better take the opportunity. I believe we are always too focused on who gets the money in this country, at the expense of even more important considerations. The clamour for restructuring is therefore premised on who gets what allocation and who benefits from what resource. We may wish to remind ourselves that this country is not split into six geopolitical zones, or tribes, but simply into the haves and have-nots; and that the gap widens daily between the two.
But back to the #NotTooYoungToRun bill.
A few vibrant young ladies and gentlemen came together to give teeth to this idea and they have been successful so far. They have also been irrepressible, to the extent that the National Assembly got the memo and may have reversed an earlier unspoken decision to ignore or step down the bill. All of a sudden, every member of the National Assembly wanted to make it clear that they were in support. It was clear that if they had done otherwise they would have incurred the wrath of the young and especially social media-savvy Nigerian youth. Or perhaps they say something else that we all failed to see?
The Tokenism Trap
My message today to the youth of Nigeria comes from one of Heavy D’s songs (I think someone did the song before him); it goes – “Now that we’ve found love what are we gonna do with it?!!” I am assuming that the milestones achieved will lead to the youth getting what they desire. The last attempt at constitutional amendment was stalled though. So we also stand the risk this time, of going round and round in circles and not achieving anything. But if the youth get this done, what do they intend to do with it? What will they do with it that they cannot do now? I am of a view that our young people should think bigger and never fall into the same trap of the underachievement that their forebears have found themselves in for decades.
Yes, we are a country of tokenisms. We leave the leprosy and theorise on the ringworm. I have always said at any forum for the youth that I attend that their competition is not with themselves here but with the rest of the world. So they must benchmark their achievements with their colleagues from other countries; not only in the age limits before those ones get into leadership positions, but also in terms of tangible achievements. I shall explain this shortly. I tell them how they can do better than sit here and fight little wars, while young Americans and Europeans build the apps that solve problems for us. The fact is, having younger leaders may help our youth to be more vibrant, more productive and more involved, but that is if they recognise this opportunity, and if they cooperate and don’t pull each other down. The opportunity is really about SERVICE not about power or money. So, if we are pushing to reduce the age from which one can contest for elections because of power or access to money, then like the adults ahead of us, we would have embarked on another journey in futility.
It Is Not About ‘You’
Another issue that must be raised is the benchmark ages. How were they arrived at and how was it determined that the new cut-offs are widely accepted? For example, five years was chipped off the ages for a presidential or gubernatorial candidate. Why five years? Why not 10 each? Or the youth themselves believe that at some age someone can be too young to run for the presidency or governorship? So perhaps the bill is wrongly named. A more subtle title may have been better but it doesn’t matter so long as the aim is achieved anyway. One needs to be sure though that it is not an agenda pushed by someone whose age range fits the bill. If the bill is delayed for say two years, some people who are around 35 years old today may have become too old to be represented by the contents of the bill. And one day, a 33-year old person may complain that he is statute-barred from contesting for the presidency. Did the proponents consult enough?
Now this age matter is extremely critical and bears a lot of explanation here. At a recent event with some Political Science students of the University of Abuja, I was taken aback when they explained that they don’t care about having Permanent Voters’ Cards because they don’t want to be ‘used’ by adults just to vote, while the constitution holds that they are still too young to be voted for. Get this. Some of these students are just 18 years. They have disconnected from society as at now because they believe there is ‘nothing in it for them’. It’s unfortunate. Though I did not start voting until I left university (the first time being in 1993 when I was 22), I wasn’t that cynical, and I also believe that the suffering that these students are now going through should have pushed them to do the needful and get involved. How can they accept N2,000 bribes from politicians and mortgage four years of their lives? How can they allow themselves be used as thugs instead of exercising their franchise? And is it not unfortunate that we have become a nation where people do nothing for others, or for God and country except they benefit directly, especially monetarily? Is it about me, me, me all the time? Is it about fame and superstardom? Must your face be on the ballot before things begin to make sense?
The issue may not even be about age, as young people have always gotten into positions in Nigeria. In 1999, perhaps 40 percent of political office holders were under the age of 40. What became of that? The problem is that the same guys NEVER left politics and are today squeezing their own children into politics wherever they can.
So if 18 year old students are disconnected from the political process, how do the proponents of #NotTooYoungToRun bring them on-side and explain the importance of getting involved? Are they engaging with that segment of the population at all? And, of course, the only explanation for such young people is to point them abroad. The youth in the UK, USA and elsewhere are not saying that they will not vote because at 18 they cannot be voted for. They are also not limiting the exercise of their franchise to their own age mates. In fact American Millenials (born just before year 2000) are regarded as very politically-involved today.
This country is in such dire straits that we cannot afford some of these types of tendencies. I tell the young people I meet that 17 is the new 40. If people like Zuckerberg could conquer the world from their university dormitories, our own youth should start aspiring to greater things and think big. The starting point is that they must get involved in nation-building. Their challenge is not to aspire to be as rich as Zuckerberg, but to try and influence their society positively, like Zuckerberg, who started off by creating an app that would keep his university community in constant touch. Today, that app has become a global phenomenon. Nigeria has a plethora of opportunities for our youth, and those opportunities lie in the jagajaganess of our country. If the youth don’t open their eyes and find how they can straighten out this country, then they will achieve little even with all the political power, and the foreign youth will come and benefit from the opportunity of ORGANISING our society. So, young dudes and babes, it’s not about you. It’s not about getting in the limelight. Don’t get it twisted at all. It’s about service, passion, compassion.
It’s Not About the Age. The Youth Have Always Been Involved
There is a psychology that needs to be explored here. Perhaps a higher percentage of young Nigerians got involved in the political process decades ago, than those who do so now. Why? The Nigerian youth have become less patriotic and less Nigerian. And more distracted, not only by existential issues, but by things like gadgets, the internet and the whole information overload. But if they open their eyes, they will see the challenges around them which only they can solve, and for their own good. Those of them who have lived abroad may now attest to the fact that Nigeria – being our original country – presents the best chance for us to live fulfilled lives as we get involved in solving a tough puzzle. But we have to recognise that opportunity.
The young people of Nigeria should know that nation-building through the political process goes beyond social-media influence. It does not demand as much money, as it demands thinking. And integrity must be 100 percent if this country is to forge ahead.
The issue may not even be about age, as young people have always gotten into positions in Nigeria. In 1999, perhaps 40 percent of political office holders were under the age of 40. What became of that? The problem is that the same guys NEVER left politics and are today squeezing their own children into politics wherever they can. Nigeria’s economically disenfranchised youth must think! And while at it, they should understand that the urgency of now precludes them from disenfranchising themselves politically. I tell my youthful audiences that this universal right to vote is something great men like Martin Luther King Jnr, and Nelson Mandela lived and died for, and so they must understand the enormity of the right they possess.
I also tell them the meaning of a franchise. If we weren’t allowed to vote by government we would usually say we are ‘disenfranchised’. When we are allowed to vote and we refuse to, then we have ‘disenfranchised’ ourselves. Now if one had a franchise to represent MacDonalds in Nigeria, that means that one has the support of MacDonalds to make money using its set standards. That means one is family to the company and one is assured of a good life from that association. That means you can benefit greatly from the GOODWILL of MacDonalds and while doing that, add to that same GOODWILL. Nigeria has given franchises to its citizens once they clock 18. But most of them ignore that franchise, sometimes forever. They lose, the country loses, even unborn generations, as Nigeria’s Goodwill remains in the negative.
So, an important consideration here is that when people get into politics in Nigeria, they hardly ever leave. Many get in young, and stay in till they die. Perhaps the African DNA loves the connections and the power. What is obvious now is that many Nigerian politicians are creating dynasties. Are the poor youth of Nigeria just being a tool in the hands of these politicians?
Our youth must also understand and appreciate the beauty of building something of their own, and of having a long term vision. It is more dignifying to create our own platforms than to go cap in hand begging the status quo for some space. We are princes, not beggars. However, many of us show beggarly traits. They are envious and never cooperate.
But we have to commend the under-35s for their initiative. It is people of my generation (between 40 and say 55 years old) that I pity. If indeed the 1940s/50s generation (who are our fathers) have sat put in the political space since they got there in their 20s and 30s, it is my generation that failed to take initiative. Well, I have done my part to start a process, but it was among my generation where cynics said we didn’t need any initiative. They said we should join the structures of the older generation! These under 35s are standing up for themselves and they will get somewhere. It is my generation that should worry about being ‘wasted’.
We Overdo Everything
As I concluded this article, I went to the barber and on leaving, entered a provisions shop. I saw an interesting primary school notebook and took a picture. It was a notebook shared out by a student of a posh private primary/secondary school in Abuja who was ‘contesting’ to be chief whip of the school SUG. I didn’t know private schools now have Student Union Governments. While some Nigerians are saying they are excluded from the political process, we have already indoctrinated our children into the funny politics of our time. Why on earth are little children bribing their ways into ‘political’ positions? Is this not how politics of ‘gifts’ graduate into politics of ‘garri and groundnut’ and little bags of rice? Are we not wiring these little ones to know that politics is entirely about manipulation? If a child’s parent cannot afford to buy exercise books for students (voters), will such a child win an election? What are these students selling to their fellow students? Will some parents not also go further by buying gifts for the teachers who will oversee the elections? So, again we are overdoing politics already, as we usually do in Nigeria. Some say that is the way it must be; that politics is about manipulation, gerrymandering and horse-trading. I say we are good at politics, no doubt, but what we don’t have a clue of, is nation-building.
What the Youth Should Work On
Finally, the under-35s should work on their maturity. Again 17 is the new 40, so it is not too early for them to aspire to lead their country. However, leadership takes a whole lot more than passion. Sometimes, unbridled passion can be destructive. Recall that PASSION IS THE SIN OF YOUTH. So, leadership takes balance. It takes emotional intelligence. It takes at least some experience. And yes, a bit of money will help. We have young people who are busy wishful-thinking all over the country. They tell how they’ve never worked before because the country has been unfair, and how they’ve never tried to do business as well. Then they start to nurse this huge political ambition, believing that politics will be their route to endless money and fame (it has ‘worked’ for people like Dino, but I don’t envy him). Without being able to print a few posters yourself, and also going hungry, I don’t see how you can play politics except you sell your soul to some devil. And there are many devils around. Let us figure out exactly what we want to achieve with this bill, otherwise the sponsors will talk of regret at a future date.
It is interesting that in Kwara State, they said the Senate president is changing the rhetoric, and favoring the ‘youth’. Meanwhile, Seni his son just graduated from London School of Economics at the age of 23/24. With our extant constitution, he may have to wait six years before being able to aspire to the State House of Assembly. But with this amendment coming up, he can get in by 2019! The minimum age for contesting, with the amendment, is 25. After about one term in the House of Assembly, the young lad, who also cameos as a rapper, can contest for the state governorship, and since the state is still under the lockdown of the Sarakis, I don’t know which poor young upstart can upstage him given the politics of money we have now entrenched.
While I commend the bill, and see that it has a 60 percent advantage for the country and its youth, over the 40 percent disadvantage, I will urge the youth to also put up a fight for better fiscal responsibility, for Nigeria’s commonwealth to be better used so that they can find jobs (not everyone will become and entrepreneur), and so that when they start businesses people will have money to buy goods and services from them. The majority of Nigerians are still excluded from the larger economy, and are living in unimaginable poverty.
Our youth must also understand and appreciate the beauty of building something of their own, and of having a long term vision. It is more dignifying to create our own platforms than to go cap in hand begging the status quo for some space. We are princes, not beggars. However, many of us show beggarly traits. They are envious and never cooperate. If the youth are truly 65 percent of this population, they should be the ones calling the shots already, but as we have seen, they are often so myopic, they don’t see why they should be involved. At other times, every discussion on youthful forums easily descends into curses and insults. A cursory look at many comment threads will tell us the kind of psychology we are talking about. And talking about the ‘now now’ mentality, we must know that life is not like that. It is a fact that the visionlessness of our leaders have taken us to this point. Other societies ensure order and emphasise the happiness of their citizens. But Nigeria is a place of ‘hustle’ instead. Everyone wants to be a billionaire immediately, and yes, they believe politics is the fastest route to this. Our youth must know that on too many occasions, you have to start stuff, and dutifully follow up and ensure your project does not split until you achieve success. It is childish indeed the way we expect things to drop on our laps as if life is all about us. Life is what we make of it instead. Our greatness, again, lies solely in our sacrifice for humanity, and not much else.
It is a bit agonising for me. In the political organisation I lead today, we are still trying to let the youth see the sheer opportunities open to them. Many are without financial means, but don’t even see why they have to sacrifice anything to secure their spaces in the organisation beyond frequent chats and comments. We have however determined to hold things down for them until they get their epiphanies. In short, the Nigerian youth need ECONOMIC POWER, first, in order to give teeth to the political power that they seek. Otherwise children of rich people – many of who have stolen the commonwealth – will be the only ones benefiting from this quest. Those one, and the poor youth who will sell their souls to the rich corrupters and go on to loot to their own fill. Is this what we have achieved?
Now I have to go. The rich kids are coming…