Help, the Future is in Deep Trouble
OUTSIDE THE BOX
BY ALEX OTTI
“Little Johnny goes to his dad and asks, “Dad, what is politics?”
Dad says, “Well son, let me try to explain it this way. I’m the breadwinner of the family, so let’s call me Capitalism. Your mum is the administrator of the money, so we’ll call her the Government. We’re here to take care of your needs, so we’ll call you The People. The nanny, well, consider her The Working Class. Your baby brother, we’ll call him The Future. Now go think about this and see if it makes sense.”
So the little boy goes off to bed confused and thinking about what Dad had said. Later that night, he hears his baby brother crying and runs to his room only to find that his diapers were very soiled.
So the little boy goes to his parents’ room. Mum was sound asleep. Not wanting to wake her, he goes to the nanny’s room. Finding the door locked, he looks through the peephole and sees his father in bed with the nanny. He gives up and goes back to bed.
The next morning, the little boy says to his father, “Dad, I think I now understand what politics is.”
“Good son, tell me in your own words then what politics is” the father responded.
The little boy replies, “Well, while Capitalism is oppressing the Working Class, the Government is sound asleep, the People are being ignored and the future is in deep sh*t.”
This old joke points to the deceit in comments like “the future belongs to the youth”. “The youth are the leaders of tomorrow”. The sad reality is that with the way things are going, there may be no future left for our youth. The other reality is that the future is here. As we take actions that tend to obliterate the future, it is my opinion that it is only the youth that should rise up to the challenge and put a stop to actions that tend to put the future in jeopardy. And what better way to do this than to show more interest in who governs them and how they are governed rather than the docile attitude of fighting in the social media in support and against the ruling class whose interests could be anything but those of the youth.
There seems to be a convention that those in the corridors of power or those that had ruled in the past, whether they did well or not, will continue to dominate governance in Nigeria. The doctrine of recycling in Nigerian politics has become so pervasive that some of our politicians, after they have been National Assembly members, returned to their states to accept commissionership and other lower positions, just to remain in power. The most common is that Governors who complete their tenure of office in their states simply go to hibernate in the Senate, even if they have nothing to contribute in that hallowed chamber. The sole driver of their ambition is to remain in power and continue to benefit from our common purse.
It is instructive that, with the return of democracy in 1999, we had a throwback to the past, where the former Head of State, General Olusegun Obasanjo, who ruled the country between 1976 and 1979, was drafted to contest the first democratic presidential election of the 4th Republic, which he won, and ruled again from 1999 to 2007. Subsequently, attempts have been made by former military leaders like Ibrahim Babangida, to return to power.
Again in 2015, the current President, PMB, who ruled the country from 1983 to 1985 contested and won. As 2019 approaches, veterans like the retired paramilitary officer and one time Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, are warming up to contest. I also read recently that another retired Senior Military Officer, David Mark, a one-time minister of communications in those days when telephones were not meant for the poor, and a recurrent decimal in the Nigerian Senate, serving his 6th term out of 8, was endorsed by Obasanjo to contest the next presidential election. Without prejudice to their rights to vie for any office they wish to, one thing that cuts across most of the Presidential hopefuls against 2019, is that they are all about 70 years and above. Do I have a problem with age? Definitely not.
Do I have issues with the age of ideas? Certainly! For me at over 50, to my discomfort, I find that I am ageing. Some of the things I could do with ease, a few years ago, I find nowadays that I can do no more, even with my very best efforts. Some risks I could take a few years back, sadly, have become impossible today. I may choose to live in denial, but within me, I know the difference. It is therefore in everyone’s interest to yield leadership to people who are not only at the right age but who can dare and take risks. Unfortunately, power is hardly given. It is taken and that is where this intervention comes in. If the youth who should know the right thing to do, refuse to show interest, then just like the saying goes, “they take away their rights to complain when fools begin to govern them.”
Interestingly, many of our past leaders emerged in their youth.Chief Obafemi Awolowo, was 43 when he became the Premier of Western Region. His youthful disposition could have helped him to institute free education and limited free health care delivery in the region. He was able to achieve these in a Nigeria without oil. As Minister of Finance subsequently, he was able to finance the civil war without borrowing. He built landmark structures like stadia, television stations and The Cocoa House in Ibadan, the first skyscraper in tropical Africa. Obasanjo was 39 when he became the Head of State in 1976. Yakubu Gowon was under 32 when he became Head of State. Ibrahim Babangida was 44 when he became Military President in 1985 while Abubakar Tafawa Balewa was also in his 40s when he became the first Nigerian Prime Minister. Buhari was 41 when he became head of State in 1983. Odimegwe Ojukwu was barely 34 when he led the Biafra war. Aguiyi Ironsi was in his early 40s when he became the first Military Head of State in 1966.
On the international scene, many of the popular American Presidents assumed office when they were in their 40s. Barack Obama was 47, Bill Clinton 46, Edward Kennedy 43 and Frank Roosevelt 42 respectively when they became Presidents. Elsewhere, Emmanuel Macron was recently sworn in as President of France at 39. Vanessa D’Ambrosio became President of San Marino, Europe at 29. The current President of North Korea who has been giving Trump sleepless nights, Kim Jong Un, became President at 32.Lee Kuan Yew became the Prime Minister of Singapore at the age of 36. Of course, there were exceptions like Donald Trump and Ronald Reagan both of whom became Presidents at 70.
So, what is wrong with Nigeria? Nothing really, except that our young ones are not only docile, but cowardly, and many of them are largely uninformed. The rest may just be outrightly selfish. They are quick to come up with a laundry list of excuses why they are not interested in politics. The excuses may range from lack of money to fear of being killed. According to statistics, over 70% of our population is below the age of 40. This has been aptly described as “a pot-bellied youth bulge”. For purposes of this discussion, I want to define the youth as that part of the population aged less than 50. To understand how bad it is, in a country of over 180m people, the number of registered voters for the 2015 General Election was 68.83m. If we subtract the under aged, there is no argument that over 50% of eligible youthful voters were not registered. What that means is that this number of youths has wittingly or unwittingly disenfranchised themselves. Because they can neither vote nor be voted for, they probably have little or no interest in the way the country, states and local governments are governed. If you are unable to participate actively, you should at least have a permanent voter’s card and be available to vote. But alas, that is not the case. And it is because of the lack of interest by the youth that the throwback conspiracy stands. Why can’t the youth, through different civil society groups or social media groups, decide that in 2019, one of them would become President? If this kind of decision is made, they would then match it with actions of a vigorous campaign and massive voting and protection of their votes. I am 100% certain that if this happens, they would win the election. As has been written, “One of the penalties of refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors”
Many of the challenges that this country face today are traceable to poor, ignorant and/or selfish leadership. The gerontocratic leadership system that was foisted on us has little or no regard to how its actions, shape or scatter the future and I will just highlight a few and you are at liberty to add to the list. We have had a country that starts its yearly budget providing more than 70% of its spending on recurrent expenditure, earmarking less than 30% to capital expenditure. What this means is that we are not building any foundation nor infrastructure for the future generation. Because infrastructure continues to decay, a silent de-industrialisation of the economy has been implemented as policy. Look around you and tell me if you can see those industries that littered major towns in the past. Because these industries are forced to close shops or relocate, the jobs that were hitherto created have practically disappeared. That is one of the reasons why unemployment has continued to be on the rise. Youth unemployment is close to 30% as per statistics. Who should worry about this? The 80-year-old or the 40-year-old? How come most of the establishments and facilities put in place in the olden days when there was no oil, stood the test of time? In some parts of the South East, there are some 1960-1970 roads that are still useable, even though subsequent governments have been unable to maintain them. The people who built those facilities were young in those days and they were interested in the future. As they show up forty years later to clutter the leadership space, their priorities are bound to be different. Do you hear any leader seriously addressing industrialisation, as a policy of the government? I don’t know about where you come from, but in the state from where I come, either by neglect or simply the absence of mind, subsequent governments have implemented policies that led to the shutdown of factories and manufacturing outfits, established by their predecessors. So when governments talk about job creation, the question should be where the jobs are going to be created from when the same government is pursuing a de-industrialisation policy?
The issue of piling up debts for the future generation is another one that I expect the youth to stand firmly against. There is nothing inherently wrong with borrowing, but the purpose must be regenerative and not for payment of salaries, fat allowances, security votes, pensions of politicians and funding the lavish lifestyle of leaders. Recently, the National Assembly approved dollar loans for some state governments to be repaid over a period of 20 years with 7 years moratorium. I wonder how those loans will be paid and from what sources. Some state governors are already jubilating and the intent is to pass the debts to you the young ones. So, why are you keeping quiet? Do you realise the implication of paying back loans that were used to finance the frivolities and excesses of your parents? Will you be happy to pay back such loans?
There is a lot to say, including the promotion of primordial interests like ethnicity, and religion which keep the youth divided while their oppressors are united in looting the country, irrespective of same divides. Suffice it to add that the youth have shown a strong presence in business and the entertainment industry in this country. So have they also shown tenacity in the information technology space? Unfortunately, the continued survival and growth of these sectors of the economy can only be guaranteed by competent and good governance. One bad policy of government can wipe out all the successes recorded in the Nollywood industry and the creative business.
Finally, I won’t be surprised if some people, out of mischief, give a misleading interpretation to my arguments including implying that the youth is synonymous with good leadership while the more advanced people are synonymous with bad leadership. I have said no such thing. My point is that the youth has more stake in the future than the aged. Of course, I am not unaware of young people that have bungled leadership opportunities both here and elsewhere. I also give credit to experience, maturity and skills. It is my contention, however, that the youth should not sit idly by feeling unconcerned while the older generation destroys and mortgages their future.
We, the older ones who have promoted a situation where the majority of the youth are excluded and have no say in how they are governed, should also deliberately create space and encourage them to take over from us. After all, just like Plato said, “we can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark, the real tragedy of life is when grown up men are afraid of the light”