(By Olalekan Odewale)

The average youth wants change. Change in leadership, change in how he is being governed, change from economic mismanagement to economic prosperity, but sadly he is not focused for change. The Nigeria youth is a problem to the change cause. A large portion of the youths are found as agents of the political class. They are the political thugs hired and paid to ferment violence during elections.

IN recent times and more than ever before, there has been an increase in the continuous clamour and agitation for a change of political gladiators in the leadership structure of Nigeria. These agitations were borne out of the unending recycling of the older generation of the political class in the governance of our country. Many have complained of the massive failure of the old generation political class in the governance of the country, which has led to increased social vices, economic failure, mass corruption and infrastructure decay.

  The recycling seem unchecked  and has entrenched itself in the Nigerian political system so much so that it has created a  what can be called “Political Monarchy”, a situation where children of the older political gladiators are suddenly the only choice available for appointments and elective post.

  The scenario is unlikely to change; the cry for a paradigm shift in our political governance structure is loud but not backed with necessary action and an attitude that speaks change. While we all agree that the present generation of ruling class has failed Nigeria with their economic mismanagement and total assassination of integrity, it is also worthy of note that the Nigerian youths, too, is only interested in following the bandwagon call for leadership change but have been unable to take requisite action to back up the call. This has led to my asking this simple question, “Are the youths really asking for change?”

  Recently, during the life of the constitution review conference which was held in Abuja, the President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan mouthed the idea of removing the age limitation for those aspiring for the position of the office of the president of Nigeria. This proposal if approved will enable Nigerians below the age of 40 to vie for the exalted post of president. The proposal, which is clearly in favour of the youths who represent over 60 per cent of the Nigeria population, will also be the beginning point for the needed change.

  Much as contributions to this proposal were welcomed, it was noticeable that the Nigerian youths did not participate, rather, the older generation of political gladiators were more seen largely condemning the proposal.  Many of them chastise the younger Nigerians generation, claiming they were politically immature to run the affairs of Nigeria.

  In the words of Senator Marafa: “Reviewing downward the age limit for presidential aspirants in Nigeria would most likely create certain problems for the entire nation because a younger person might not have the necessary experience and maturity to take some critical decisions.”  He further argued: “It was possible to have Heads of State who were less than 40 years in the 1960’s and early 1970’s in Nigeria but the situation then and what we have now are different.” He advocated the retention of the 40 years age limit giving “the sensitive nature of the office.”

  While the argument was ongoing against the removal of the age limit, the voices of the youth were unheard. The National Association of Nigerian Students made no contribution to the discussion. The over 90 million youths in who head various associations including youth wings of political parties representing them and National Association of Nigerian Students, were silent and unable to join the debate in the public domain. The youths who would be the major beneficiary of this policy change sat in their various comfort zones, refusing to lend a voice to the debate thereby ultimately allowing the recycled political class kill and bury the proposal.

  Only the Trade Union Congress (TUC) advanced argument in support of the removal of the age restriction. Comrade Kiagama said the idea had already been tabled at the Confab but was rejected. He advised the youths to “explore their populace and start from somewhere to demand for this change.” He went on to advise them not to pay lip service to the leadership course and should not be subservient to money.”

  The average Nigerian youth has misplaced his or her priority, this has enabled the older generation ruling class to break into their ranks and manipulate them into doing their biddings. This again has led to the simple question:

Are the Nigerian youths focused for leadership?

  The average youth wants change. Change in leadership, change in how he is being governed, change from economic mismanagement to economic prosperity, but sadly he is not focused for change. The Nigeria youth is a problem to the change cause. A large portion of the youths are found as agents of the political class. They are the political thugs hired and paid to ferment violence during elections. It is rare to see older generations engaging in political violence and other notorious activities. On every major street in Nigeria, youth cult groups are thriving unabated and the political class is taking advantage of these groups for election gains.

  The emergence of various ethnic militant groups witnessed in the pre-amnesty programme era and the Presidential election violence of 2011 are indications of the lack of focus of the youths. With the large number of diplomatic options available for expression of grievances, the youths prefer violence.

  The high level of unemployment has also resulted in the availability of the youth populace as willing tools in the hands of the political class. The late Lamidi Adedibu of Ibadan had large followership who were predominately youths serving as his army of terror. If the youths are ready and focused for leadership would they still be willing to serve as thugs in political situations?

Are the youths ready for leadership?

  Daily, matters of national importance arise; however, their voices and positions are unheard in the public domain whereas they should always have a position on public issues and matters of national importance rather than queue behind the old generation of the political class.

  The youths greatly understand the use of information technology but are unable to appreciate its power. Social media can be used to air strong points on public matters, the objectiveness of arguments and comments can greatly herald points for the younger generation.  The Nigerian youth needs a political reawakening and reactivation of their political consciousness. Issues of national importance should not be left in the hands of the recycled aged political class.

The way forward

  The way forward for the Nigerian youth is narrow, tedious and involves a paradigm shift. No one will give the mantle of leadership to the younger generation on a platter of gold. In order to end the argument of political immaturity and inexperience, the younger generation should as a matter of urgency undertake the following:

Active participation in national discourse: Every young Nigerian must participate in discussions of national interest. Our opinion should be aired in such a way as to influence public policies. It must be well articulated and objective. Every available platform (social media, electronic print and constituted assemblies) must be utilised to voice our opinion.

Participation in the electoral process: The Nigerian youth should ensure greater participation in the electoral process. Elections should not be left for the aged political class to contest alone, while the youth serve as mere spectators. The youth should take up the challenge of elections and vie for political offices given their large population in our society.

Paradigm shift: The Nigerian youths need a paradigm shift, a departure from the thinking of being followers and supporters to a thinking of being leaders. We must aspire to be the head and not the tools of victory for others. The youths should take ownership of the project called “Nigeria” not taking sides with recycled aged class.

Disengagement from violent activities: Time has come for all youths to denounce violence and commence engagement in constructive criticism and argument. Disarmament of all ethnic militant groups, street gangs and political youth movements is critical at this stage. The habit of negative aggression must be discouraged to give rise to habits of constructive dialogue.

  Given the population of the younger generation Nigeria, it can be said that it is easy for the youths to produce the president of change. A president that will truly undertake the economic transformation Nigeria requires.  A president capable of delivering on policies and effectively tackling the challenging problems of Nigeria. However, this can only be achieved if the younger generation works together with common purpose, awakening their political consciousness; shun violence and disengage from being tools of destruction and mayhem.

Odewale is a trainee accountant and bank employee in Lagos.

He can be reached via: Lonelake2001@yahoo.com

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