A famous line from the anthem of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) reads thus; ‘Youth, obey the clarion call.’ urging the young patriots, ‘Let us lift our nation high.’ This favourite line, like the entire anthem makes good the claim that there was a time in the life of this nation when her leaders believed in the truth that young people are the bedrock of the nation. The energy, vibrance, innovation and courage to dare which is the lustre of youthfulness, has helped in transforming small organisations into mega institutions around the globe.
Nigeria’s history cannot be written without mentioning the immense contributions of the youth. Up to 90 per cent of our founding fathers were below the age of 30 during independence. With abundant energy and patriotic vigour these young folks took it upon themselves to fight for and gained independence from the British colonial masters.
It’s the same energy we see today in young people. Who with little or no form of government support have made huge progress in entertainment, sports, tech and academics, just to mention a few.
Presumably, the minor positive image Nigeria currently enjoys today could be traced to the hard-working Nigerian youths who have done all they could to put the country in the world map with their contributions from Nollywood to Advocacy to Tech and so on.
Why then has the Nigerian youth been sidelined when it comes to critical decision making and governance which affects the youth even more than the politicians and policy makers?
Those who have hijacked every institution of government have argued and tried at different times to smear this important demographics with their hollow opinion that the Nigerian youth isn’t ready for leadership and have been able to brainwash their hypnotised followers that sidelining the young people is progress in the right direction for the good of the country. They are equating the young with toddlers when it comes to leadership and this is not true. In reality, sidelining the youth so far has not brought progress, and is certainly not the right direction because progress in itself doesn’t destroy the future, rather, it prepares a seamless transitional mechanism, giving room for meaningful growth and development just as it is in the advanced nations we cherish and aspire to be like.
It is therefore time for youths in Nigeria to stand up and demand a place in the decision making process. Bloomberg, one of the world’s leading information agencies, reveals that Nigeria’s population as at 2016 is an estimated 182 million ‘with more than half its people under 30 years of age.’ With this kind of statistics staring us in the eye, the troubling question now is ‘Why have a few individuals old enough to be our great grand fathers (with all due respect) hijack the system, completely shutting out the youth?’
How do we expect a country which makes 40 the official age for candidates seeking vital executive political office make meaningful progress? Is limiting choices not the same as limiting voices? France has just elected a 39-year-old president. Shutting out youths is one of the problems of not only Nigeria, but Africa in its entirety with the average age of current rulers in the continent pitched at above 70 years.
It is more than pathetic and even disastrous that a fading small circle of the old generation is holding on to political power and ruling over a vibrant young generation with smart ideas. This sick attitude of sit tight leaders of Africa only reveals our true character that we still haven’t learnt to plant trees without the intent of sitting under the shades.
If these men don’t know when to step aside, then it is time for the youth to rise up! I believe strongly that the youth, with many years ahead, will definitely set meaningful long term goals in office for the benefit of himself and the generation of his children. As against gerontocrats who have passed their prime and can barely dream of the next ten, twenty or thirty years from now. For them, political office is the new retirement office.
We can’t keep allowing people that are over 70 – 80 years of age to keep making short term decisions that will affect our lives negatively in the long run. We need to start speaking with one voice and not attacking one another in the name of ethnicity and religion. We need to start tweeting with one heart! And stop wasting our time arguing over the country with the best jollof rice.
Dear Nigerian youth, wake up, smell the coffee! There will be no meaningful development and peaceful co-existence if we don’t take over the mantle of leadership and introduce a system that works for all.
Onyeka Ibeanusi is a musician/writer/social commentator.
Twitter and IG: @onyeckerous