By Ekerete Udoh
I am always amazed when I consider the age range of the men who fought the American Revolutionary wars and eventually gave the world a system of government that has endured for over two hundred years and which has been copied, replicated in so many forms and formats and today, remains the best form of government where people’s God’s given talents and inalienable rights are protected and given supreme expressions and motivations.
Most of the founders of American nation were young men-average age was about 40 and were possessed by such Messianic zeal and conviction, fully convinced that their mission and assignment was a life-altering enterprise and they gave it their all. From Thomas Jefferson-the intellectual arrowhead of the revolution who later would draft one of the world’s most enduring documents-the Declaration of Independence form Great Britain, to George Washington-the military strategist, to James Madison-the deep thinker and author of most of the Federalist Papers, to the economic and financial whiz-kid, Alexander Hamilton among others. These were young men who were determined to structure and build the foundation for a nation that would be held aloft as a beacon of hope for the poor, the harried, the wealthy and the ambitious.
Even though these men stood on a disparate ideological platform- Jefferson being a liberal- a fighter for the common man and thus shone of the uppity and wealth inspired perspectives of Alexander Hamilton, whose primary base was the mercantilist class, they always found ways to subsume their ideological differences for the national and common good, because they wanted to build an America that would be first among equals. The legacy they left has stood the test of time, sustained by a dedicated cadre of leaders who inherited the mantle of purpose-driven leadership that they had inspired.
At moments when those dreams encountered serious challenges, a band of dedicated leaders had always emerged and rescued the American enterprise and brand from being defaced- from Andrew Jackson who gave authority and élan to the Executive Branch, and helped re-define the inherent powers of the presidency, to Abraham Lincoln whose singular dedication to keeping the union together and whose moral revulsion to slavery, he would later pay the supreme price, to Theodore Roosevelt who carried his spectacular performance as the Governor of New York state to Washington as the Vice President and later the President following the assassination of President William McKinley and whose Progressive Ear centric governance changed American public policy and instituted some of the enduring people-centric programs that Americans still enjoy today, to Franklin Roosevelt who rescued the American twin defining values of democracy and capitalism from extinction arising from the economic meltdown that the Great Depression had inspired, to Ike Eisenhower whose vision of linking the nation through solid road network still sustains American economic growth today, to John Kennedy and later President Johnson who, in spite of coming from the deep south whose culture was steeped in Jim Crow era politics of racial discrimination, went ahead and signed the landmark Voters and Civil Rights bills that finally banished the ghost of slavery and institutionalized discrimination and through whose process we now have President Obama, to Ronald Regan whose freed the world of gridlock in international politics due to the clash of ideology of communism and totalitarianism promoted by the defunct Soviet Union and its satellite states and democracy and capitalism projected and marketed by the United States and its Western allies, to President Clinton whose economic policies guaranteed the best peace time economic growth to the current president, Barack Obama who restored America’s moral voice that was gradually being drowned out due to eight years of the George Bush cowboy diplomacy and in-your face hegemonic and unilateral foreign policy direction, America has always been blessed by leaders who kept the promise of the founding fathers. And almost all, except Ronald Reagan were young men in the prime of their lives.
Here in Nigeria, we have been blessed too with a number of young men who showed up within the political space and proved that youthful vigor can make a major difference in their governing styles. During the military era, General Yakubu Gowoin at the age of 32 became the youngest man to ever rule this nation. Even though he had to prosecute a Civil War, his legacy of infrastructural development today stands him out as a leader whose vision was right and on point.
Late General Murtala Mohammed came on the scene and inspired a national pride through robust international engagement and a dedication to stamp out corruption within the national socio-political fabric. Unfortunately, he was cut down in a hail of bullets and today we romanticize how the nation could have been were he to have completed his service to the nation.
Since the current democratic dispensation came on steam, we have had a few good leaders, especially those at the state level whose singular determination to leave a legacy of development and best practices have been the shining moment in an otherwise darkened political space and reassure us that with time, we may reach a tipping point in our democratic evolution where the delivery of democratic dividends becomes an abiding article of engagement.
Ex-Governor Donald Duke of Cross Rivers state still evokes a romanticized spot in the minds of millions of Nigerians through the vision of development of that state that he unfurled during his eight years as the governor of that state. His single minded appropriation and utilization of tourism, bearing in mind the Calabar peoples’ universal acknowledgement as being exceedingly friendly and courteous people has retained Calabar today as the tourism capital of Nigeria. He was 39 when he first got elected in 1999.
Babatunde Fashola, another young man in his forties has transformed Lagos and make it more habitable and Lagosians can’t help but celebrate him endlessly. Amaechi, Yuguda, Oshiomole, Uduaghan all relatively younger men are positively impacting their people’s lives.
Tomorrow-December 9th, one of the most popularly celebrated governors in Nigeria-Barrister Godswill Akapbio will clock the golden age of 50 and his legacy of achievements will forever remain indelible and a huge challenge for those who will come after him. Elected and sworn at 44, he hit the ground running and the pace, speed and breath of his vision has transformed a once sleepy state into a hub of activities. He has given the Akwa Ibom person a new sense of identity-one that is based on the ‘can-do’ spirit and a deep sense of appreciation of his place in the Nigerian scheme of things. He has shown that government can indeed be a force for good and that a peoples’ spirit can be lifted and the wings of their dreams can soar above and beyond conventional thought and beliefs.
The level of infrastructural development, the road network, the free and compulsory education, the numerous other people-centric initiatives that dot the landscape have won him plaudits and acclaim both at home and abroad.
As the appreciative people of Akwa Ibom state join hands with the governor’s friends and millions of well-wishers both at home and in the Diaspora to celebrate his birthday tomorrow, leaders like Governor Akpabio gives us hope that with time, more purpose-driven leaders in his mold, will emerge and like those leaders who followed through on the well-structured path the founding fathers of America had travelled and whose dedication to working for the people enabled A America to become the sole hegemonic power of the world, Nigeria too, will someday become the true beacon of hope for the black race. Like the American leaders whose youthful vigor played a big role in their success, it is gratifying to note that some of our most celebrated leaders are young men in their prime and with that, one can’t help but be more hopeful for a better Nigeria. Here’s wishing governor Akpabio a “Happy Golden Jubilee” and may his tribe multiply.