Is Obasanjo finally agreeing with Nigerian youths?

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo was 37-years-old when he became Nigeria’s Head of State. He was 62 when he became Nigeria’s first democratic president. Before then, he played a senior role in combating Biafran separatists during the Nigerian Civil War and accepted their surrender in 1970 at 33. Obasanjo has been described as one of the significant figures of the second generation of post-colonial African leaders. From the numbers, this greatness was achieved in his prime.

Away from that, the current president, Muhammadu Buhari, was 41 when he was installed as military head of state in Nigeria between 1983 to 1985. He, like Obasanjo, was not satisfied and started campaigning to be president starting 2003. The two stories seem like Aso Rock is a retirement home for old politicians who once served the country in their youth. And, there are more in the line up for 2023.

The conversation on leadership used to lean on experience – “We need people who know the country’s history and systems to take up political positions. For the presidency, it should be someone who has been in the system,” which is a good idea, but that disposition enables the country’s slow growth.

The narrative has changed to giving the mantle to the younger generation who are perceived drivers of growth and positive development. A narrative discussed every other day on social media, at political forums, in whispers on the ‘streets’ but is almost impossible at the polls.

The older generation understand the system so much that they will manipulate it to suit their own narrative.

At every election, it is the same old people who contest – a cycle of the same people who have been in the system since the country’s independence and have done close to nothing to fast track the country’s development. Their interest is usually building roads that should have been built fifty years before, providing free education, free healthcare, infrastructure that should have been in place fifty years before, and an agenda that causes worrisome questions five months into their time as leaders.

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But Obasanjo seems to want to change that system. On January 22, 2022, he declared that he has retired from partisan politics, after receiving national delegates of the People’s Democratic Party [PDP] in his residence in Ota, Ogun.

On Monday, February 21, he called on the old generation of Nigerians to give way for the younger generation to build a prosperous nation.

According to him, rather than compete, the old generation should collaborate with younger people and provide them with the requisite knowledge and experience to transform the country.

Obasanjo, in a veiled reference to the old generation of politicians jostling for the Presidency in 2023, was responding to the lecture by Fayemi that he was in primary school when the late Murtala Mohammed directed the affairs of the country.

He said, “We need to have an intergenerational collaboration. Fayemi said he was in primary school when Murtala and Obasanjo were there. So, if people of the Murtala/Obasanjo era are competing with you as governor, then, something is wrong.

The Murtala/Obasanjo group should be stepping aside. Whatever experience and knowledge we have, we should be able to give it to you and you should be able to give it to those coming after you, so that whatever you have, you are passing it down to those who are coming behind and not to start competing with you, but to make you have access to what will make Nigeria better.”

There is already a surge of Nigerian youths taking up leadership across the country, especially with the passing of the NotTooYoungToRun (NTYTR) law in 2018. But, Nigeria’s political space is still dominated by the old generation and god-fathers, who determine who is put in what position and when.

There is a general belief that Nigeria may get to a better place if the old generation played advisory roles instead of running around trying to retire at Aso Rock.

Obasanjo’s position is clear, but the need to enhance the political participation of Nigerian youths especially in the formal spaces ahead of the 2023 general election cannot be over-emphasised.

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