By Donald Duke
Expectedly, the launch of the Coalition for Nigeria Movement, shortly after former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s open letter to President Muhammadu Buhari, has elicited a diverse array of commentary. From excitement that something is at last happening in the polity that reverses the bore, to hope, confusion and of course condemnation. Good enough, hardly indifference, for then it would have been a failure. There are also those who proffer neither ideas nor solutions, but seemingly have the answers to all that is right and wrong in our country.
This missive is not about convincing anyone about the merits or otherwise of the coalition, its aims, objectives or its founders. No, it is about the urgency of NOW! One thing we all can agree on, regardless of our diverse backgrounds, privileges or circumstances, is that we could do a lot better than we currently are. That our nonchalance, selfishness and greed is eclipsing our collective futures and thereby threatening our very own survival to an extent we can hardly fathom.
There are those who endlessly criticize, yet do nothing, perhaps condemning us collectively to the ranks of irredeemability and there are others who hope that somewhere, somehow, someone would arise to lift the despair and desperate situation that is Nigeria. And, a tiny few who are ready to pick up the gauntlet. Literally take the bull by the horns knowing that there must be a resolution, either in favour of him or the bull. First caveat, I am not here to give a character attestation on anyone, least of all former President Obasanjo, he is too well known and varied that whatever one may say is perhaps a shade, indeed a slight shade of the man.
There are those and there are many, me inclusive, that believe he ought to take a back seat in the polity and be the Statesman that we would want to define him be, at least until things get awry, then we wonder where he is to marshall our collective complaints and speak on our behalf. I, like many others have my grudges too, but for now, all this talk of Obasanjo is diversionary. The kernel of our discuss is our collective existence.
The talk today is youth participation in our polity and then charitably women. After all, their demographics easily account for seventy percent of the population. Have we, the so called ruling class earnestly considered handing over the baton of leadership? Let us consider the recent PDP primaries, the same old guard turns up, the average age of the aspirants is no less than 60 going on to 70. Have we considered that a child born at the advent of this republic, 1999, is a voter today and one ten years old then is likely a parent, now saddled with concerns of the future of his or her offsprings, the answer is an emphatic no. At its last convention, the PDP lost an incredible opportunity to redefine itself.
She could have head hunted a breed of younger, urbane and forward looking leadership of both gender at a parity and accordingly rebranded herself as the new PDP, taking a leaf from the UK labor party of the 90’s that was out of power for about 15years, rebranded herself as the new labor, with a centrist manifesto and brought to the fore the then dashing duo of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. The optics were great. But for the PDP, no. The dinosaurs unable to breed and refusing to quit, extinguish the entire land. The APC fares no differently. Hardly any room nor scope of replenishinold blood with new.
Before we get carried away with youth, let me proudly proclaim that I too was once branded youth and seen as a member of the vanguard of a new generation. At 30 a state commissioner, at 34, a member of the National Economic Intelligence Committee and concurrently a member of the National Economic Council and at 37, state governor. At 45, I was done and pensionable.
The point is, there is nothing unique here, except that I was fortunate to be mentored, whereas, the bulk of our current young persons are not consciously being politically mentored, thereby creating a huge lacuna in the leadership structure going forward. Without digressing too far, let me remind this audience that unmentored youth could be a lethal weapon. The bulk of the folks who orchestrated the 1966 pogrom were in their mid to late twenties. Full of unbridled zeal and ideals, but hardly any institutional breeding or knowledge of history. The result was a fatal civil war. Catastrophically, we still deny ourselves the knowledge of history, so we seemingly are on the verge of repeating it.
Over the past couple of months I have met with and spoken to dozens of young people about the importance of participation in the polity. The level of apathy and disenchantment is frightening. For every hundred urban youth, not more than 20% possess a voters card with an alarming indifference that it matters for nothing. Whereas, European societies with an older population are witnessing youth participation and electing younger persons to office, the reverse is the case in Nigeria and indeed Africa, with a younger population. Until the forceful retirement of Mugabe, the average leadership age on the continent was about 75, it may have dropped to 65 with his departure and the coming on stage of Gambia’s Adama Barrow and Liberia’s George Weah. But then, are we not shortchanging ourselves of virility? Muhammadu Buhari himself has admitted that age is a constraint to his performance in office, I needn’t say more.
But young Nigerians, political power is never handed over as an inheritance.You plot and seek it as an entitlement. Our forebearers in the first republic did same from the British. It’s not a moral obligation to handover and or step aside, it is a grab. Between 1996 and 1999 when we assumed authority in Cross River State, we plotted with like minds to overthrow the status quo and they fought back, but with our numbers, careful and skillful calculus we prevailed. Above all, we sought office for the right reasons. Society like all else is dynamic and moves with the times. Today we ascribe it as analogue and digital. The ways our fathers operated certainly cannot be the way we should, that would be stagnation and retrogression.
Every four years or so there is much made of youth participation in politics, it’s an attractive sound bite, the difference this time is that there is no longer time. Young people urgently need to get a grasp of the issues and appreciate that it is their future that is at stake. Participation from the ward to the federal levels is imperative. A young 27- year -old impresses me in this regard. His name is Bukunyi Olateru Olagbegi. Certainly not accepting the status quo of his age grade, he goes about setting up a political party called the Modern Democratic Party to create political space for his ilk. That is consciousness and activism and should be encouraged. We need more of his type in the political sphere to an extent that they can no longer be ignored.
Back to the Coalition for Nigeria Movement, if all it achieves is to rekindle and galvanize the entire strata of the population to becoming politically active, it would, in my opinion, be a huge success. In that quest, all hands ought to be on deck, the good and not so good, for the weight is great. I would be gladdened to see a President Buhari, Jonathan, Obasanjo, Abubakar and as far down as Gowon join the movement. Let not Obasanjo alone enjoy the limelight of the all knowing, more than ever, their experiences ought be brought to bear.
It is apathy that encourages the governing class to govern with contempt, with the belief the electorate is too docile and disenchanted to scrutinize or have oversight of their performance. And largely this is true. That it takes an eighty something year old to awaken us to the foibles of governance, perhaps through the experience of his own shortcomings, for me, regardless of his personal reasons, says there is a vacuum somewhere that he wittingly fills. Should we on account of that begrudge him, for me, that is a firm NO.
Rather, let us fill the gap that he recurringly exploits so expertly and adroitly by ensuring that the leadership no longer takes governance for granted, knowing there is an intolerant electorate out there. Then attention will be paid to job creation and not foreign exchange affordability, herdsmen nor retaliating communities will dare not ransack lands, maim persons and destroy property with reckless abandon without fear of repercussion from authorities, where empathy and compassion will be the yardstick for governance and not hard heartedness and high handedness, appointments to offices will reflect the diversity of the nation and IDP camps would not be the new horror chamber.
That budgets will be presented and passed on time and there would be consequences for failures to perform in government. That we cease to live in fear of our personal safety and rather lookout for the wellbeing of each other. There is no doubt that ours is a broken society and this is no time to sit back and criticize, no matter how self satisfying and alluring it maybe. Let us save that energy for things more vital and urgent. Obasanjo is transient, Nigeria will certainly fare longer. There is clearly an urgency of NOW!.
For a better society