Preying Birds Of Passage

by Osita Okoroafor

‘The Youth of a Nation are the trustees of posterity’
-Benjamin Disraeli

President Obasanjo’s federal cabinet and crowd of advisers at the inception of the Fourth Republic could be aptly termed ‘a Federal Executive Council of geriatrics; a hall of recycled brain tissues’, and the nation was the worse for their lack of ideas. I make bold to state that the moving force of progressive nations is the vitality and vibrancy of ideas from the active minds of its youth. The recycling of senescent brains it seemed was the president’s mode of paying his debts to those who helped install him. But who really paid this debt? Of course the youth whose opportunities in life were mortgaged and shackled to power sharing slabs.

Pray tell me! Are the preying birds of passage still in full flight migrating towards Aso Rock? As I read about the political jobbers and prospective appointees shuttling along the corridors of power hustling CVs for lucrative postings and appointments, I look at a picture of a rather pubescent Bill Clinton as a representative of the American Legion Boys’ Nation program in a firm handshake with JFK (then US president), a meeting which encouraged the former to seek a political career. It is truly remarkable that a quest for purposeful leadership could be transferred through mere handshake. This attests the greatness of He who accords such privilege and herein lies my poser: if President Obasanjo is truly the Messiah Tony Anenih and cohorts would have us believe I entreat him to shake a ‘young hand’ and create the path of a great destiny (I would consider it an honour to shake hands with him since I dream of assuming a position of leadership someday).

Dreams? What is the price of dreams in my Nigeria your Nigeria? Dreams can only buy frustration, despondency, despair, and disappointments- should I continue? I may be asking too much from our over worked president therefore I must reconsider and ask only that dedicated and brilliant young minds should be assigned the task of steering our nation out of the mire of economic and political doldrums; young Nigerian talents abound both home and abroad who have the capabilities to render purposeful and selfless service to their fatherland in every ramification of human endeavour. Mr. President should please bear this in mind whenever he is besieged by the preying birds of passage. The youth have had enough of these men who lost creative relevance long before I drew my first breath.

I am not making an empty case for youth emancipation and participation in running the affairs of their fatherland, nor do I intend to join those mimicking a call for a generational shift of power for their spurious and selfish reasons. The youth are receptacles of lofty goals and dreams and while the recycling of senescent brains continue the youth are schemed out of opportunities of rendering meritorious service to their fatherland. What then could be the reason for this malfeasance -the mundane logic and anachronistic African custom of relegating youth to the background? It is pertinent to stress that that the sagely voice of age is the guiding light of a nation, but the youth are its driving force. Any government that strangulates the voice of youth is mortgaging the future of the nation; we are the ones who will shed blood to protect national ideals (or when last did you see a pot bellied agbada-clad warrior or soldier?) when we finally arrive at the precipice of catastrophe to which past Nigerian leadership have been steadily and precariously leading us with its inept policies and grand scale economic blunders fashioned to kowtow only to the drumbeats of the World Bank/IMF (SAP et al) and not to the yearnings of the suffering masses.

We have made no progress with these tired legs and are bugged down by the restraint and caution (?) of our (brain fagged) leaders. Such restraint is advisable in most cases, but the burgeoning and thrusting power of monumental breakthroughs call sometimes for prompt and decisive actions, which can only be found in the ‘loins of youth.’ He who sets out at night will certainly arrive before those who wait for the guiding light of dawn, one thing is clear however; it is certainly a chancy journey for the braveheart only. Of course, I speak not of erratic and rascally swinging from tree to tree manner of going about life reminiscent of adolescent monkeys, but of the immense power and will to succeed, backed by calculated risk taking- a hunger found mainly in the young.

It might rile the champions of gerontocracy to think of handing over the reins of power to ‘the irresponsible youth,’ but maybe that has always been the problem, maybe there would not have been so much ‘irresponsibility’ amongst the youth if they were treated as partners and not pariah in our collective polity; a father will always point out the ancestral lands even to the errant son lest the latter desecrates the very lands he will inherit someday. For the purposes of leadership a sure way of harnessing our boundless energy is by letting us come near the driving wheel- as near as is possible, by so doing the point is driven home that if we crash this vehicle it will be to our greatest peril. Ministries such as those for Communications, Science and Technology and Youth Affairs should be reserved for the young and young at heart because the youth are the forces that drive the wind of change in these fields of human endeavour and to keep abreast with the rapidly changing industry you must be harnessed to the winds that drive such change.

A cursory look at the USA considered a beacon of light by the Nigerian leadership would reveal that it took George W. Bush just eight years to fill the shoes of leadership vacated by his father and it took no less than the dynamic and charismatic leadership of President Clinton to create this eight-year gap. Ms. Condoleezza Rice, US National Security Adviser is in her forties presently, and was a key player in President George Bush Snr.’s National Security team as far back as 1986 which is 17 years ago when she was just 30 years old (and don’t make a case for recycling of officials from this fact either, rather her case speaks volumes for the gestation of youthful faculties).

History is replete with conquistadors who were driven by lust of youth and laid the world prostrate at their feet, Alexander The Great had conquered the known world at the age of 23, what about Augustus Caesar? Oh! That is a lost world? But then I still remember days not too far gone when men such as M. T. Mbu Snr. were ladled with colossal responsibilities in their twenties. Did they acquit themselves honourably? I believe they did.

Our leaders must be ignorant of these facts, but would however not fail to unearth curious practices, such as was adopted recently by the leadership of the National Assembly who barred ‘eaglet legislators’ from contesting positions of leadership in both houses of legislature. According to Senator Dalhatu Tafida, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Rules and Business this practice is an unwritten rule in advanced democracies, which creates an informal hierarchy whereby most senior members are granted precedence. This rule according to the able Senator was incorporated as a standing rule of the Senate for the simple reason that: ‘for our relatively young democracy, it may be necessary to have this kind of provision in our standing rules until the relevant democratic culture is built into parliamentary practice and procedure…” Great logic! But I feel brash enough to proffer a counter argument on why sweltering backroom shindigs of advanced democracies is inimical as a standing rule in our ‘nascent democracy’ (I had to use that word): one, if such practice was standard and ‘the fertilizer’ for young democracies it would have been a standing rule of Congress or the House of Commons or House of Lords, whichever since the 18th century, however such practice remained unwritten. Two, if ‘experience’ of a one-term service as a legislator is a criteria for adopting such practice and awarding marks as a ‘Senior Member’ of the legislature then we are headed for troubled waters. When we hear of lawmakers serving at the Capitol or Westminster for an upwards of 20 years we think ‘of experience’- what budding Senator who would not consider it an honour to learn the art of legislating at the feet of say- a Senator Ted Kennedy if experience is the hallmark of good legislating (I am yet to see a Nigerian Senator in active legislative service for ten uninterrupted years, not in a polity where the adjourning village will be rooting for a shot to produce their own senator for the constituency).

If experience were the key then every republic senate-returnees like Senator Arthur Nzeribe would be colossus in the halls of law making and not agents of destabilization of establishments. Tell me what kind of experience the likes of Talfida has to offer the so called ‘newcomer Senators’ in leadership- maybe the experience of canvassing for furniture allowance and legislating purely for selfish gains. Does it then augur well for “our relatively young democracy” that bright and articulate minds must be locked out of leadership positions in this vital arm of government for such bogus reasons as have been proffered by the able Senator. This is a clear indicator of the hypocrisy of the preying birds of passage who will do anything to guarantee a foothold on power, even the transplanting of foreign-body rules, which might later mutate into a virus in our system is not too much for these people who are tirelessly planning a coup on the intellect.

This Nation has been led by the nose by men who are obviously out of their elements, men who lament my generation’s juvenile inadequacies only to turn around and exploit these delinquencies whenever it suits their whims, men who have turned the Nigerian youth into a perpetual political fodder. It only takes a day to become a man, the youth are begging for their day. Many illustrious voices of youth have pined for their chance unheeded, and have since gone quiet, fallen at the graveside of history, slaughtered at the slabs of frustration or have simply joined the legion of ancients out of sync with the progressive world, who have fed fat off the teats of power, and still cling on tenaciously.

One cannot dispense with the wisdom of elders and the wealth of experience they possess, but there comes a time when such wisdom should only be a guiding light, in times when the voice that clears the path of progress is the voice of youth. Today the progressive world is singing the song for tomorrow, a song for the vision of youth and we must join in. the Nigerian youth is asking for a chance to serve their fatherland while still brimming with ideas- I believe the youth if given this chance- this voice, will sing the beautiful song for Nigeria’s tomorrow.

I must express fears that if the call for a generational hand-over of power remains largely unheeded, then the generation Prof. Soyinka described as ‘a wasted generation’ would have pulled off their final coup: to bequeath ‘a wasting generation’ on a Nigerian Nation, which has been sullied and plundered- a Nigeria which has failed its citizens. The malaise of a polity can only be arrested by a system where the mills of leadership are firmly anchored on young and sturdy roots, even the blind can recognize this fact: “it is not possible for civilization to flow backwards while there is youth in the world.” One can only imagine what insight must have gifted Heller Keller such beatific vision, and this President Obasanjo must see too as he prepares to appoint a new Federal Executive Council to office.

In addition, the Federal Government must come up with a veritable blueprint on youth development and empowerment. National Poverty Eradication programme has failed both the poor and unemployed. Government must encourage Small and Medium Scale Enterprises (SME)’s to enable job creation and strengthen the private sector and not swindle the masses with spurious privatization policies which only ends up privatizing public parastatals into private pockets.

It is the boom season for awards all right, so we are conferring an award on Mr. President- we award him ‘the dream maker of youths’ and hope our dreams will take wings. Most importantly the preying birds of passage must be caged or the youth will remain forever a wasting generation in a wasting nation.

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