Opinion: Nigerian youths as beggars of mediocre political appointments

In Nigeria currently, it is almost unheard of that someone below the age of 50 is entrusted with an important public service position.

Today, the average age of the ministers of President Buhari is 54, but the negligence of such a pivotal demographic in our political map did not just start with president Buhari. Just like everything in Nigeria, there was a time when it worked. So where did we get it wrong?

Firstly, during the struggle for independence and few years afterwards Nigeria was led by energetic young patriotic set of youths. Both Nnamdi Azikiwe and Obafemi Awolowo where in their early 40s when they started holding important public positions. Nigeria once had a 26-year-old as a foreign affairs minister while having a head of state at 32.

However, the predilection of the current crop of leaders to turn our democracy into a gerontocracy is bewildering.

A country where a 60-year-old will be a youth leader of a major political party, where a 58-year-old is a youth minister and an 82 years old was made Chief Executive Officer of Nigeria Railway Cooperation in 2014 and you still wonder why our trains are so slow and still run with steam engine.

As a well cultured child I would love to thank the few old men who have steadied the ship of our nation to this state, but it is time to bow out gracefully. I know recycling is great for the environment but recycling old and tired hands is suicidal to our growth as a nation.

Secondly, as a young person I have asked myself if it is not because of bad leadership that makes us clamour for youth inclusion, but a quick look at some developed countries will help. In Europe, Sweden leads the pack with a vibrant and young set of leaders, Swedish Education Minister, Gustav Fridolin became a minister at 28 and guess what- he is not a professor.

You don’t need a professor to build libraries, you don’t need a professor to know that our public schools urgently needs a change,a transformation and a breath of fresh air all at once. In Italy, they lead the pack by having the youngest prime minister in Italian history. Matteo Renzi became Italian prime minister at 39, at that age in Nigeria he is not even “old enough” to be a youth leader in Nigeria.

In North America the stories are not different. The United States elected Barrack Obama a 48-year-old African American as her president in 2009. Canada is not left out either, having the second youngest member of the G7 and a prime minister Justin Trudeau at 43.

The list of countries that have decided to hand over the mantle of public service to the youths continues to grow, but Nigeria seems to be recycling tired, retired and exhausted hands. But is the youth ready for leadership?

Thirdly, the readiness of youths in handling the responsibilities that comes with leadership in the public sector have been called to question, most prominently by the ebullient and letter writing former president Olusegun Obasanjo, who posited that the young people of this generation is neither ready nor capable of handling important government positions.

Inasmuch as I would like to disagree with President Obasanjo’s position on this, I respect his opinion on the matter and I have done a retrospection and have concluded that he might be right after all. Before the emergence of Social/New Media, young people where restricted to positions like special adviser on entertainment, tourism and youth affairs.

But since the advent of these new forms of media young people have been relegated to social media propagandists masquerading as Special Advisers on New Media. This generation have effectively turned itself to what I call a #hashtaggeneration. We campaign for the old and recycled men while secretly hoping that when they win they will be magnanimous enough to “give” us some scrums from the table.

Inopportunely, in the words of one of the greatest political juggernauts in Nigeria, Bola Tinubu “power is not given to you on a slate/plate”. Is it not befuddling and laughable that a demography with the highest number of voters are now beggars of mediocre appointments?

The first and best step is for young people to participate more in the electoral process, during the 2015 general elections I conducted a nonscientific online poll to get a rough estimate of young people on Twitter that belongs to a political party. I was shocked by the result, out of 3000 respondents, only 14% are registered members of a political party.

In conclusion, as long as we continue to abstain from politics we will remain well wishers and beggars of appointments, but if we participate and contest elective positions we will be a step closer to eradicating this democratic gerontocracy.

Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija

Nwagwu Everest, a writer and medical practitioner in Lagos, can be reached via @mrprezident007 and at [email protected]

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