As John C. Maxwell rightly said, “Everything rises and falls on leadership”. Suffice it to say, the ripple effect of good leadership impacts positively on the collective progress and development of a people and their society at large. On the flip side, a nation that suffers from bad leadership is doomed to fail. Inferring from the fact that youthful age (ages of 15 to 35 years) is an apogee of strength, innovativeness, and fast intellectual reasoning, the influx of youth in leadership is considered the cleverest and most effective strategy for promoting and reaping the dividends of pragmatic leadership. Casting back to the eras of people like Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Africanus Horton, Edward Wilmot Blyden, Ahmed Ben Bella, Julius Nyerere, Kwame Nkrumah, Thomas Sankara and many other great men of yore; one fact stands out—they were all youth when they made formidable leadership impacts that changed the history of their country for good. The current dispensation is also not a sacred cow. Examples of youth leadership exploitation abound across the globe.
Sadly, however, for a long time in Nigeria, the sit-tight attitude and unending recycling of the older generation politicians has systematically barricaded the youths from taking the lead. Hardly do political or decision-making positions given to them. From the president, governors, law-makers, the country’s ambassadors…down to local government chairmen, pinpointing a youth in such position is as hard as seeing a white tiger in the wild. This menace has impeded Nigeria’s bulging youth population from unleashing their political potential and has inhibited the country’s progress in no small measure. Despite being endowed with abundant human and material resources, and having been driven by 60 years of self-governance, waves of underdevelopment still blow heavily in the country. Issues of corruption, widespread poverty and its attendant frustrations, insecurity, religious and tribal crisis, electoral violence, human rights abuses and dwindling economy are perceptibly deep-seated. The misery surrounding this pervasive underdevelopment resonates with the legal dictum, “nemo dat quod non habet” (no one gives what they do not have). Nigeria’s grey-haired leaders obviously lack the daring energy, ingenuity and prudence needed to play critical leadership roles capable of curtailing the country’s multifaceted problems. With this reality, therefore, the need for maximum youth inclusion in leadership is not mere wishful thinking but a matter of necessity. Nevertheless, the ultimate poser is: what can be done to ensure that youths take the lead?
I agree with Albert Einstein who long ago defined insanity as “doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result”. Copious research on the dearth of youth engagement in Nigerian politics, more often than not, heaps the tasks of changing the status quo of the government. I will beg to differ! Our over-aged leaders are not, and will likely never be willing to take proactive measures that will ensure the influx of youth in leadership. They are enjoying mediocrity. And they have nothing much at stake. Thus, I have a strong conviction that to change the current precarious narrative; we, the youths, must take the bull by the horn. After all, “Freedom is not given, it is taken”. In view of this, the following recommendations are proffered:
Firstly, every Nigerian youth must shun political apathy and get interested in the business of leadership in Nigeria. Political apathy creates a comfort zone for the sit-tight attitude of our old politicians. Anyone up to 18 years old must get voter’s card and vote credibly during elections. On the same pedestal, we must shun and denounce political thuggery and bribery so we can stop being a politicking tool in the hands of our oppressors. Most importantly, in our littlest leadership chance, we need to do everything humanly possible to leave positive landmarks.
Secondly, any youth who takes a bold step to contest for a leadership position must not be left to suffer humiliation at the poll. Hence, we must begin to support and throw formidable solidarity to any young person vying for a leadership position. For instance, Yul Edochie, a popular Nollywood actor and youth activist, contested the governorship election in Anambra state. Notwithstanding that Anambra state have a booming youth population; it was heartbreaking that he scored very low. In other words, he was betrayed. Another striking case is when Omoyele Sowore, a youth activist and #RevolutionNow convener, was detained by the DSS, possibly to truncate his blazing advocacy for youth leadership. Only an iota number of youths protested for his release. However, when a singer and known drug addict, Naira Marley, was arrested for an alleged internet scam, youths trooped out en mass to campaign for his release. Attitudes like this are like one chasing a rat while his house is on fire. Until we begin to support our fellow young people, our craving for maximum inclusion in leadership and decision will not be actualized. In fact, if we can unify and jettison tribalism and religious sentiments, the Nigerian youths have what it takes to produce a young president.
Thirdly, it is high time we begin to mount irresistible pressure on our lawmakers to map out certain important leadership quotas exclusively for the youth. In the same vein, the continued practice of appointing elderly people to serve as ministers and commissioners for youth affairs is a dastardly act we must begin to challenge. Alas, the recent #EndSARS peaceful protest has once again reaffirmed that when determined, youth voices can lead to meaningful governmental actions.
Again, we need to squarely and legitimately gain financial freedom. Although not many people talk about this, it is paramount if we are to take a pride of place in leadership. Our politicians have taken the advantage of endemic youth unemployment in the country to cage the youths and turn many into errand and political hallelujah boys. Of course, he who feeds one controls him. For our integrity to remain unshakable and for our voices to translate into a meaningful cause, we must at least be able to feed ourselves and pay our bills. And we know, acquiring a skill is the surest way individuals can break out of the shackle of poverty. Often-taken-for-granted skills like carpentry, tailoring, bead making, barbing, plumbing, phone repairing, painting, creative writing etc. are all extremely veritable sources of income one can monetize and be free from poverty. Moreover, with the advent of Information Communication Technologies (ICT) and the internet, there are volumes of soft skills that can be learnt even in one’s comfort zone. we need to develop an acute appetite for skill acquisition.
Furthermore, the need for a proactive lifestyle cannot be overemphasized. We need to put an end to defamatory and cancerous attitudes like cultism, drug addiction, arm robbery, rape, etc. After all, to purge a vice, virtue is needed.
Finally, voracious reading is a sure arrow in the quiver. “Leaders are readers” said Harry S. Truman. Sadly, the Nigerian youth of today detests reading. Part of the reason for our leadership failure is because many of our leaders are bereft of innovative ideas. We, the youths, cannot lead with the same sense of ignorance. We need to seek knowledge with unassailable passion. And the surest way to do that is by reading.
In conclusion, let me state emphatically that maximum youth engagement in leadership is a tested and trusted mechanism for propelling sustained and sustainable national development. Youths have the energy and electrifying ingenuity to make positive impacts. The maximum influx of Nigerian youths in the country’s leadership and decision position is the panacea to the multifaceted challenges bedevilling the country. However, as I warned, waiting for the government to do the needful is a dead-on-arrival idea. The onus is on us, the youths, to champion every political, institutional, and moral measure that will liberate us. As Edward Everett Hale will put it, “Coming together is the Beginning, Staying together is progress, and Working together is Success”.
Ogbaga Sunday Thomas, a student of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria is interested in Education, Leadership, Social Entrepreneurship and Peace-building. He can be reached via Ogbagasunday3@gmail.com