• Monday, May 27, 2024
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Age not cause of Nigeria’s governance challenge, but leadership deficit


One issue that kept reverberating during and after the recent Nigerian youths ENDSARS nationwide protest was the need for leadership change from gerontocracy to young ebullient Nigerians below the age of 50 years. Proponents of this school of thought are of the view that leadership and governance failures in Nigerian post-independence were attributable to the old holding tight to the realms of power.

But critical analysis of the Nigerian situation as well as inferences from other democracies indicates that the governance challenge has more to do with leadership deficit than age. As it is popularly said, age is a matter of numbers. It is not age that determines or makes good governance, but the individual’s capacity and capability to deliver.

In political circles, there have been divergent views about the role of age in good governance. While some political eras favour younger leaders, others prefer the experience of age. The popular statement “we get better at life as we get older,” by which it is meant that age brings with it a certain amount of maturity, perspective and thus self-knowledge, which might help us rethink and reconsider our long-term goals and priorities, is a pointer here.

If age makes better leadership and good governance, Nigeria would today have been better off as most of its former and current leaders ascended their leadership positions at tender ages. At the National Assembly, especially the House of Representatives, States’ Houses of Assembly and local governments, there is preponderance of people below the age of 50 years.

The same applies to a good number of Ministries, Departments and Agencies of government as well as the private sector. The current state governor’s age is below 50, but the report from the state is nothing to jubilate about despite his youthful age.

Nigeria has a population of 180 million, 60 percent of whom are between the age of 18 and 35. Yet the country has been unable to translate the energy of its young population into development. Even members of the recently disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), who brutalized and killed fellow youths, were themselves youths.

In most Nigerian cultures, starting from the family, roles are assigned based on age. In the political arena, the country has been through periods of being run by young men. In pre-colonial Nigeria, young people acted as the vanguard by providing security for their societies and serving to check or remove tyrannical rulers.

President Muhammadu Buhari became governor of the North-Eastern State in 1975 at 33 years. General Yakubu Gowon became Nigeria’s Head of State in 1966 at the age of 32. M.T Mbu became the Minister of Labour in 1953 at the young age of 24.

A year earlier, he represented Ogoja in the Eastern House of Assembly and House of Representatives. Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu was 34 when he became the leader of Biafra in 1967. Anthony Enahoro, one of those who fought for Nigeria’s Independence in 1953 at the age of 30 move the first motion for Nigeria’s Independence, eventually granted in 1960.

The post-colonial environment gave rise to young people in military uniform taking over government through a series of coups. These post-colonial coup beneficiaries were mostly under 40. They included Aguiyi Ironsi (42), Yakubu Gowon (31) , Murtala Muhammed (37) and Olusegun Obasanjo (38).

The signing into law in 2018 of the ‘Not-too-young to Run’ bill was widely applauded as a step aimed at democratising the political space. But the facts contradict this. The law reduces the age for contesting for president from 40 to 35; governor from 35 to 30; Senator from 35 to 30; House of Representatives membership from 30 to 25 and State House of Assembly membership from 30 to 25. On the other hand, the National Youth Policy of Nigeria and the African Youth Charter pegs the age of youth between 18-35 years of age.

But there’s no consensus on this in practice. Most political parties are much more interested in experienced, versatile and loyal mobilisers. They are less interested in age than they are in candidates who have passion, energy and show enough enthusiasm and have political capital.

In the pre-2015 presidential campaign, Nigerians were asked to choose between Goodluck Jonathan, who was 58 at the time, and Buhari, who was 73. Advertisements were placed in newspapers warning against voting for an older person, pointing to the challenges of ill-health and inability to understand and cope with demands of modern governance.

During the 2019 general election, 18 young people indicated interest in the presidency. Ranging between the ages of 33 and 46, they came both from the Diaspora as well as from within the country. Two of them, Fela Durotoye and Omoyele Sowore, moved around the country to test the ground.

They even expressed distrust in the Buhari leadership and promised to edge him out of power. But despite their age, the youths failed to vote for them. Just like Nigerian women do not vote for fellow women, Buhari who was the oldest among all the contestants won by landslide. The rest today is history.