Protocols: The conveners, distinguished guest speakers, respected guests, our media friends, Ladies and Gentlemen.
Let me open my brief presentation with my favorite forward thinking quote from Barack Obama a former president of the united states of America. He said…
“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek”
As I understand, this gathering serves a dual purpose; to speak to our teeming youths and liven them to their roles in our national rebirth and secondly, to unveil the LEAD Benue movement.
With regards to the former, I make to say it presupposes that our Nigeria state has descended into the dark abyss as far as functionality of a state goes. To focus on my task today, I ask; what role can the youths play in this rebirth? Think your Ward, Local Government Area, State and of course, Country.
I will also like to dispel a notion that by default is allowed to connote the subject of youth in leadership. In a democratic system such as ours, inclusion of all categories and classes of citizens counts as an advantage. Our discourse today is NOT about a generational war, but rather, a quest for inclusion.
Currently, youths of advanced democracies like Canada, Germany, Britain, France and USA seem to be doing better than those of us here in Nigeria by far. And this is not because they have better college degrees or are necessarily smarter than the rest of us here. It is because their democratic systems are more transparent, inclusive and receptive to quality. They are also highly pro-people, as such, there is zilch tolerance for manipulation against the people’s choice.
Running the USA government is the toughest job in the world, yet Barack Obama at 36 years of age got elected into the State Senate of Illinois, at 44 he was elected as a US Senator, he later was overwhelmingly elected as the 44th President of the United States of America at just 48 years of age. He has already peaked his political career at the age of 56. Look at Britain, David Cameron became member of parliament when he was 35 years old and at 39 became the Leader of conservative party compare that to what we have in Africa. He became the Prime Minister of Britain and honorably resigned at a vibrant age of 50 years. Justin Trudeau the Prime Minister of Canada at just 44 years, he was initially elected into the house of commons at age 37. Emmanuel Macron of France is the latest entry that is on every one’s mind, he became a minster at age 37 and at just 40 years of age he is the popular President of France and look what a smart President he has been thus far! The most powerful woman in the world Angela Merkel of Germany entered the top political arena at 37 years old as a Minister and at 51 till date is remains the super performing Chancellor of a hard-working country like Germany.
Right here in Nigeria, Sir Tafawa Balewa at 40 years of age was considered good enough for appointment as minister and by 45 years, he became the chief minister. Gen. Aguiyi Ironsi at 42 years became president of Nigeria while at 39 years and 41years Obasanjo and Buhari could rule this country as head of states respectively. The same is true of many other leaders of the second and third republic here in Nigeria.
In Benue state, the history of youths’ inclusion is equally heartwarming. At just 26 years of age now Professor Mvendaga Jibo was elected into the national constituent assembly and by 28 years of age he was appointed a commissioner by the then Governor Aper Aku. During the brief administration of Late Fr Moses Orshio Adasu in Benue, Hon Emmanuel Jime, a 30-year-old youth presided as the speaker of the Benue State house of Assembly he had the likes of now Prof Stephen Dugu at 35 as colleagues in the house. That Assembly together with the governor is the reason most of us have university degrees today. Our political Icon JS Tarka at 34 years was a federal commissioner and by 47 years became a senator who was angling for presidency of this country.
In today’s Nigeria, the average age for being a governor is 52 years and 58 for the senate. The African Continent parades leaders whose average age is 62 years. I have no problem with the number but when clearly such persons in their advanced ages refuses to up-date and be in tune with the current realities, they cannot be a solution to the current challenges. My daughter prefers Capri-Sun but my advance in age uncle can only offer her coke not because he cannot afford Capri-Sun, he just doesn’t know it exists and kids today love it more!
This is not a call for a generational ouster, rather it is a pointer to why a blend of both generations is better for our state. Men of yesterday who refuse to update and be informed about today’s challenges should infuse today’s men into their team and see how ingenious developmental challenges will be surmounted.
If evidence abound all over the world of youth inclusion in leadership and governance both historically and currently, why has the case of today’s youth in Nigeria and Benue state become so different? I will give you three reasons why the case of today’s youth is different in Nigeria.
First and foremost is the systemic exclusion placed on the youths constitutionally under Section 131 of the 1999 constitution as amended. No matter how prepared and ready you are, if you are less than 40 years, you are not allowed to run for office of the President or be a Vice President in Nigeria. No matter how sound and qualified you are, if you are below 35 years of age, you are constitutionally disqualified from vying for office as either Senator or Governor in Nigeria. And if you are less than thirty years, you cannot be elected into the Federal House of Representatives in Nigeria. On these counts, youths in Nigeria have been completely excluded from the possibility of being elected into these key leadership positions.
Secondly, the complete absence of viable political parties in Nigeria is yet the other reason that continue to perpetuate youth exclusion from leadership. Back in the day and elsewhere, political parties were very structured and viable establishments that sought for popular mandate, driven by their people’s ideology garnished with candidate’s manifestos. Such political parties therefore, not only proactively attract the best brains and youths who were up to date, but also offered them high profile appointments to ensure they deliver on their promises and remain competitive. Unfortunately, what we have in Nigeria today are election winning cliques and cabals whose lack of capacity perfectly corresponds to their lack of political will to better the society. Simply put; they are not prepared for office. Such an arrangement is not only unwelcoming to new comers such as youths, it is appallingly unattractive for youths with desire to do good. How can Laz Apir who criticizes the non-performance of every Governor since 1999 be appointed a commissioner…sounds familiar?
The third reason for the lack of youths’ inclusion is unpreparedness of youths occasioned by their offensive apathetic gait. Certainly, a youth who has paid their dues getting prepared for leadership will not accept things as they are and carry on. They will definitely seek a way around it, this I believe is why this gathering is holding today. It sure has cost implication but the convening youths are rather focused on making a positive impact; to go counting excuses they cannot be involved. Equally, those of you attending as participants are focused on the goal of a functional state to be elsewhere…I sincerely count it a rare privilege to be in this hall with you. There is no other place I will rather be because I firmly believe in the words of Frantz Fanon in the ‘Wretched of the Earth’ when he said “Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfill it, or betray it in relative opacity”. My thinking is that our date with apathy is over and standing to be counted is our new hobby.
Several other reasons abound why youth exclusion is the order of the day but for want of time I will shift gear to what we can begin today to do differently.
As to the systemic exclusion as upheld by Nigeria’s constitution under Section 131, every well-meaning and broadminded Nigerian should reach out to their elected representative in the State Assembly, House of Reps and Senate to demand of them support for the #NotTooYoungTo Run bill that seeks to lower the ages for contesting elections. It has passed second reading at the Green Chamber, but the Senate and State Assemblies have very important parts to play before it is made a law in Nigeria. If the judgment to vote right for an 18-year-old is constitutionally guaranteed, why will the same constitution not guarantee a 30 years old prepared adult the opportunity to Govern a State?
Historically and currently, most of the youths who broke records to emerge as leaders had a hand in the formation of political parties that were well structured with sound ideology and manifesto. If the 29 political parties that are already registered in Nigeria have refused to transform and embrace the youths, nothing stops the youths from mobilizing themselves nationwide and floating a political association that is viable to challenge for the presidency of this country. It is all about strategic leveraging of the youthful population which is arguably the highest in the country today.
Interestingly, records show Nigerian youths excelling academically in US and UK even moving into top notch professions in Westerns countries. Five Nigerians make Forbes list of 30 most promising young African Entrepreneurs. Unfortunately, our polity has remained unattractive and murky, given how dirty politics has been played so far. Truth is that the dirty players know not how else to play the game, unless and until the clean players join the game and bring sanity, it will remain a dirty game.
Finally, youths have to consciously prepare themselves for leadership and several opportunities abound for this. Legislative interns as we have in the Western countries is a sure way youths in Nigeria can also demand and push for such roles. Volunteerism has proven as a viable way of learning for fresh from school youths. Volunteer man hours in a school, for an organization or for a cause and get that experience of how things are done. There is also the opportunity of mentorship. Many youths today do not have mentors and that is really bad for growth. Since my secondary school days, I signed up on Rev Fr Kenneth Agede as my mentor and today I make bold to inform the entire world that my hard stance on the right thing to be done is credit to that wonderful Man of God. I have other mentors like Barrister Terence Vembe, Prof David Ker, Madam Oby Ezekwesili, Peter Obi and several others. Some of these I only follow by reading and listening to their reasoning, they don’t have to know you in person before they can mentor you.
Among my peers, I can confirm many that have exhibited diligence beginning at very younger ages. Charles Uko Agwu since 26 joined the banking sector and has been a consummate banker for te last thirty years. Aver Chahul at age 27 was managing finances for a defence contractor and holding fruitful meetings with defence chiefs…more recently, no Benue youth has impressed me more than Atom Lim who is about the best closer in this country today. He works very closely with Obasanjo and has met no fewer than 20 world leaders, negotiated and closed deals for his principal with many serving governors and former captains of industries. So yea, few youths have been preparing but are also getting busy being neglected by presidents and governors in Nigeria.
When they say readers are leaders, please believe it, no good leader there is; that isn’t a reader. And most of the terribly poor leaders we have around here haven’t read a book in the last two years. They are too preoccupied scheming to loot our common wealth. And don’t get me wrong, it is not just about reading, the quality of books you read matters. Find out what your role models are reading and do same.
“One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by inferiors” – Plato. Therefore, in conclusion, I will like to tell you youths here and those who may make time to read the transcript of my speech later that apathy solves nothing! Get involved; it’s your future! Justin Trudeau of Canada, Emmanuel Macron of France and Right Hon. Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State understands this…look where history has placed them. You have to invest your time, intellect and energy.
Here is my pledge; make it yours!
The future rewards those who press on. I don’t have time to feel sorry for myself. I don’t have time to complain. I’m going to press on. -Obama
Let us therefore match on from today pumped up in faith that we are sufficient to press our cause and have seats around the table because if we have faith we are twice armed (apologies to Plato). Of course! Democracy is about inclusion.
Thank you…thank you…thank you.