What’s Your Age Got To Do With Your Participation In Politics?

by Bob MajiriOghene Etemiku

This writing has nothing to do with the Independent National Electoral Commission’s (INEC) allegation that people were pulling off the displayed list of registered voters from the walls because they resent their ages being displayed publicly. No. It’s not about that. It is not also about the much-orchestrated paradigm or generational shift that some of our politicians have canvassed these days. These people who do this canvassing believe that in the determination of who runs our national patrimony, behold old things must pass away and all things must become new. They are not altogether convinced that young people are leaders of tomorrow, rather hinging their gospel of paradigm or generational shift on the conviction that youths are today’s veritable leaders. It is my guess that this was what informed the decision of a certain military leader to ban what was referred to as the ‘old brigade’ from the political arena. He began to cultivate a ‘new breed’ of politicians whom he hoped would bring the full weight of their youthful ideas and antecedents to bear on our political culture and disposition. But there was a serious flaw in that arrangement, noble and novel as it was. First, it is not a normal thing in a democracy to ban people from a method of governance said to be for, of and by the people. Second, nearly all of the ‘new breed’ were cross-bred and cross pollinated from the loins of the man in power or that they were scions of the banned ‘old brigade’.

We are not here to discuss any of that even though our first paragraph dwelt on that a little bit. What is of interest to us however is something I suspect you already must have noticed. But if you’ve not noticed it, you would find out as you think about it that about 85% of those seeking political office mostly as governors were people who claim their ages fall within the era of Nigeria’s political independence. Well, I wouldn’t know if these ages are political ages, official ages or natural ages. Whatever be the age that a lot of the governorship aspirants particularly in Lagos quoted, they all fall within the forty or forty something range. And this got me thinking: if indeed they are really in that age bracket as they claim they are, then it means that they were born sometime around pre or post Nigeria’s Independence in 1960. I hope you realize what this means in terms of the kind of parentage and the kind of opportunities that these politicians were exposed to as children.

At the onset of Nigeria’s Independence in 1960, the colonial masters were ready to relinquish the positions they occupied and they were shopping for suitable replacements. Before crude oil was discovered in commercial quantity somewhere in the Niger Delta, there were groundnut pyramids in the North; enough cocoa in the West and the palm oil in the east was the best in the world. Pretty much later, we fought a Civil War and came out of it with Gowon’s no victor, no vanquished slogan. A little while later however, we began to make the kind of money we didn’t know how to spend. All of this impacted on the young people of that era, some of whom are aspiring to lead us today. That impact that that era had on the young people was not dependent on your parentage or where you came from. There were opportunities for anyone who ordinarily wanted to aspire to become something or somebody in life. We heard that there was a power generating corporation known as ECN, (Electric Corporation of Nigeria) that was effective. We heard that our universities used to feed undergraduates and provide them whatever was needed for them to excel. We heard that it was funds from agricultural produce, not from crude oil, that was expended in the construction of Cocoa House in Ibadan – there was no allocation from Lagos or a yet-to-be-constructed Abuja. Our leaders, particularly, Obafemi Awolowo; Azikiwe, Akanu Ibiam, Okpara and Balewa, (most of whom were in their early forties too) all seemed to have had the sort of ideas that only ethnic sentiments and bickering prevented them from executing.

There are many unfortunate things about the forty somethingish people who aspire to lead today: one, it does seem that too many of them are scions of the ‘old brigade’, sired from loins of greed and are now acolytes of the culture of corruption. Two, it does seem too that they have the sort of political mentality that was prevalent in Nigeria’s Second Republic, where politicians were so immature and so reckless despite their ages that their recklessness and immaturity paved the way for soldiers to truncate our growth as a nation. If indeed at the age of forty or thereabouts, a person is considered mature enough to handle situations as they arise, our politicians’ antics then was what you would observe to know why our nation is forty-something but still an infant.

This is why I have had to shift from that old position of mine, that those who have messed up this nation are the ‘old brigade’. The way things are now, I don’t think it is a generational change we need, as it were. Knowing what to do has nothing to do with your age. The Bible gives a relevant example with the comparative ages of a Solomon and a Methuselah. At the same time too, if you ignore me awhile and read from the book of Job 32 from verses six through to verse nine, you would read something like this:

I am young in years

and you are aged

therefore I was timid and afraid

to declare my opinion to you

I said, ‘Let days speak and many days

Teach wisdom’.

But it is the spirit in a man,

the breath of the Almighty

that makes him understand.

What we need therefore, are people in whatever age bracket imbued with the sort of ideas that empower our people. We need people today with ideas that generate the kind of opportunities that build our people. We need people who’ll bring back our groundnut pyramids, our cocoa farms, our coal and our palm oil. And they could be whatever age. We’re not interested any more in any one who’ll depend solely on the structures and financial handout from Abuja to make the transport system work, our schools be quality schools and our economy strong. That person could be an Utomi or a Bafarawa or a Yar’Adua or an Odimegwu or an Okotie, we just don’t care.

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1 comment

enitanmason@gmail.com April 22, 2007 - 5:49 am

Nigeria needs leaders with vision who are charismatic enough to create a new culture– a culture of hope not violence, leaders that understand and appreciate the value of real work, leaders that demand and emphasize quality for citizens, leaders that discourage ostentatious living and ridiculous pretension, leaders that want to serve and not pillage, leaders that believe in the people that they serve…my list goes on.

As for mounds of cocoa,peanuts, palm kernels and all, that time is gone and the soil is tired of serving foreign masters. Nigerians are hungry and need to be fed with affordable food harvested from Nigerian soil.

Nigeria has moved from an agrarian economy to over-dependence on black gold without considering industrialization. We laugh at rather than encourage Aba made products, we jeer at anything that is not imported. We forget that Aba made is true ingenuity. Aba made is part the beginning of Nigerian indigenous industry. We should be encouraging those who are creating Nigerian products, machines and automobiles so that they can ascend to the point where they find resources within Nigerian to create truly Nigerian products. I challenge the leader who really believes in Nigeria to wear Nigerian products–I mean products made entirely in Nigeria; including locally made shoes made for the masses. When leaders actually walk in the shoes of the common man perhaps a new understanding will descend on them.

Nigeria should be encouraging invention and registering patents. Nigeria should be encouraging quality control and ensuring that Nigerian made machinery work to serve Nigerian needs.

When Nigerian leaders set an example of thriftiness and willingly abandon their one time 90,000 Naira outfits for simpler work clothes for the monumental work that is at hand perhaps then–just then will there be a NEPA that delivers electricity to the nation, a water company that provides water and a waste disposal system that truly disposes of waste…As for ECN of yon days, it started blinking once the white men left; I leave the rest to your imagination.

Nigeria does not need to beg to be enslaved once more nor does it need to bound by the chains of a Nigerian Idi Amin. If only compatriots would arise to silence the foolish mob and demand true leadership.

I would like to see the men or women who truly have the capacity to do the work needed step forward. Leaders dressed in party clothes will certainly party. Leaders who have their sleeves rolled up are more likely to do some work.


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