by Demola Rewaju
Historically, youths have always been at the forefront of change in the Nigerian society until a certain point in the late 70s and early 80s when the military youths who had seized power refused to vacate the stage. Herbert Macaulay at 44 in 1908 kicked against colonial corruption in Nigeria – the beginning of the first nationalist movement. After his death, Zik (42), Awo (37), Akintola (36), Ahmadu Bello (36), Balewa (34), Okotie-Eboh (27) became the leaders of Nigeria. These men in their youth led Nigeria through independence till the nation became a Republic and the 1st coup in 1966.
By the time of the 1966 coup, their ages were: Zik (62), Awo (57), Ahmadu Bello (56), Balewa (54), Akintola (56) – clearly old men and a youth intervention came in via a military coup. The 1966 coup was led by Kaduna Nzeogwu aged 27, Wale Ademoyega (32), Emmanuel Ifeajuna (32) but Ironsi (42) took over. Then there was a counter-coup which involved: Murtala Mohammed (28), Theophilus Danjuma (28), Ibrahim Babangida (25), Nanven Garba (23), Sani Abacha (23), Shehu Musa Yaradua (23), Gowon (32) – all youths, and Yakubu Gowon became the Head of states.
The following year, a civil war broke out with the major actors being: Yakubu Gowon (32), Odumegwu Ojukwu (33), Olusegun Obasanjo (29), David Ejoor (35), Victor Banjo (37),Adeyinka Adebayo (39).
By this time however, a trend of recycled leaders came into the polity – the second republic was led by politicians who were above 50 and was ended by Muhammadu Buhari at the age of 41, then Ibrahim Babangida took over at the age of 44, handed over to Ernest Shonekan who was kicked out by Sani Abacha who was 50 at the time he became the Head of States.
Frantz Fanon said “Every generation must out of relative obscurity find its own mission and fulfil it, or betray it”. We cannot jettison the fact that the political class who fought for the independence of Nigeria and those who were mentored directly by them as well as the military class that fought for the unity of Nigeria in the civil war feel a sense of entitlement to leadership in Nigeria. Unfortunately, the mindset of many of them is that having fought for the nation, the past two to three decades was their time to reap from the nation – they have an entitlement mentality towards Nigeria.
Those two to three decades when they were reaping was the growing up of a generation – a generation born between the mid 70s and and mid 80s. some of this generation grew up being able to follow TV programmes like Cock Crow At Dawn, Checkmate, The New Masquerade etc only to invent the phrase ‘UP NEPA’ as we watched power dwindle. We saw the first generators imported into Nigeria. We saw fuel prices increase as well as the extinction of the kobo we used to spend. This generation went from the education centred thinking of our parents to seeing that even if you have a degree, you are not guaranteed a job. The paradigm we grew up with was: get an education, get a job, get married, have children but this Nigerian dream was shattered before our very eyes. Many of this generation are still incapable of financially sustaining a family. We’ve watched things go bad but are still denied the opportunity to restore the country to glory, to run with the baton and hand over to the next generation. For those who like to go spiritual or metaphysical – the signal went out to the elements when Chude Jideonwo came out with his work Are We The Turning Point Generation?
But this isn’t about our generation, it is about reclaiming our future so that we can manage to build a future for our children. Even if power is given to us on a platter of gold today, we cannot successfully recreate the past that was plundered from us – but we must try and recover our future so that we can hand it over to our children in their own time. If we allow this cycle of old age is equal to leadership to continue, then we would be in leadership when our own children should be and they would be in power when their own children should be and on and on and on…but it can stop with us and no, we’re not asking for it on a platter of gold but like Nelson Mandela said “there is no easy walk to freedom anywhere and many of us will have to walk through the valley of death again and again before we get to the mountaintop of our dreams”.
One mistake we will not make will be to make this exclusively a PDP affair – granted, the idea started with Rethink Nigeria’s position paper to the national confab but it has grown far beyond them now.
The beauty of #30PercentOrNothing is its simplicity and its all-inclusive template: reserve 30 percent of all political appointments or elective positions for youths across all political parties. The reluctance of the folks on the APC side is understandable but unnecessary: 30% is not only about PDP youths but also the APC which party places very high premium on age, experience and other nonsense to the detriment of the youths who are the party’s most avid loyalists.
There are of course those who wonder whether #30PercentOrNothing isn’t just a platform to get political appointments for one or two persons and while one cannot in any honesty rule out that possibility among fellow political animals, I would go further insist that the platform is already bigger than any single individual. Understandably though, individuals will run with this movement in the places where they have leverage. If for instance one person finds an opportunity to get a political appointment in Osun for example, it’s a step forward by any means. #30PercentOrNothing is not an end in itself but a means to an end and our accusers should note this; once a public declaration by both political parties and their elected officers is made and the position is adopted, the real struggle will start – youths will run with that public policy statement and use it to gain political power: at the Federal, state and local government levels. The onus will then be on us collectively to present our best materials in any political space we find ourselves in but on each of us as individuals to domesticate or localise that declaration and enforce it anywhere our political ambition might find expression: from local to federal government.
Youth is not a guarantee of political sagacity but neither is old age; as a matter of fact, the age of Methuselah has nothing to do with the wisdom of Solomon. I would be happy to see Gbenga Olorunpomi as the next commissioner for Information in Osun State just as I would like to see Ohimai Amaize become the minister for Information in President Jonathan’s cabinet or Michael Orodare as the LP deputy gubernatorial candidate in Ondo or Arinze Igboeli running for governor on the platform of APGA for a senatorial seat in Anambra. These sights are really hard to see without #30PercentOrNothing – I doubt that any of these gentlemen have the finances to purchase their party nomination forms or run an extensive campaign with all it entails. Even if any of them does or finds someone to bankroll their ambition, I doubt that their political parties will not ask them to step down for one old man somewhere.
One mistake we will not make will be to make this exclusively a PDP affair – granted, the idea started with Rethink Nigeria’s position paper to the national confab but it has grown far beyond them now. This is about our generation and movers of this idea will continue to engage other youths as we’ve been doing in private fora and in online engagements as well. The plan right now as I see it is to make much noise about it on the internet and in the media then make actual representations to power brokers in all parties across the federation – this can only be achieved if our APC brothers embrace this as I see some of them are.
William Shakespeare in his Julius Ceasar said that “there is a tide in the affairs of men which taken at the flood leads on to fortune, omitted, all the voyage of their lives is bound in shallows and misery”. I believe no time can be more auspicious than now to make this putsch: we have an opposition party struggling for any form of leverage in the polity, a ruling party struggling hard to remain relevant and the largest bloc of voters are naturally ‘the beautiful bride’. No politician will want to be on the wrong side of an organised and popular youth movement and I make no bones about saying this publicly and loud enough for them to hear because we are not fighting against another generation but fighting for our own hand.
Therefore to those who would rather kowtow to the wishes of the gerontocrats, to those who would rather betray their own generation in the foolish hope that someday when they’ve worked hard enough to make some millions, the godfather might say “Oya, it is your turn” and turn them into the puppet-leaders they seem destined to be; to those who out of fear of being seen to be rocking the boat who rather keep quiet; to those who would abstain simply because they were not consulted before such a movement dared to surface online, to them I say with Dante, Martin Luther King Jr. or John Kennedy (all of whom have this quote attributed to them), that “the hottest part in hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in the time of great moral conflict”.
And one would do well to add: that this train has left the station already and will not be stopped – the website www.30percentornothing.com launched last week hit 100,000 registrations in the first week it went live which was last week, the same week when Ali George and others were invited to discuss the movement on Al-Jazeera which had noticed the trend when the hashtag climbed up to top twenty in the world. My joy is that it was made popular by thousands of twitter handles with 200 followers here and 500 followers there, not a pyramid structure of ten overlords with an average of 60k follower on twitter – this is a mass movement. That website was designed at no cost by Ahmed Maghem – a fine Gombe gentleman whom I met for only the second time at Bar Enclave in company with other youths from different sides of the political space to discuss their misgivings about this noble but misunderstood campaign. We remain open to such engagements and hope that our accusers will eschew personal animosities or misgivings and discuss with us rather than flaying us publicly just to be seen as politically correct or sagacious.
Have a great week, no matter what.
Demola Rewaju tweets from @DemolaRewaju
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.