OUTSIDE THE BOX
BY ALEX OTTI
Â â€œLittleÂ Johnny goes to his dad and asks, “Dad, what is politics?”Â
Dad says, “Well son, let me try to explain it this way. I’m the breadwinner of the family, soÂ let’s call me Capitalism. Your mumÂ is the administrator of the money, so we’ll call her the Government. We’re here to take care of your needs, so we’ll call you The People. The nanny, well, consider her The Working Class.Â Your baby brother, we’ll call him The Future. Now go think about this and see if it makes sense.”
So the little boy goes off to bedÂ confused andÂ thinking about what Dad hadÂ said. Later that night, he hears his baby brother crying and runs to his roomÂ only to find that his diapers were very soiled.
So the little boy goes to his parents’ room. Mum wasÂ sound asleep. Not wanting to wake her, he goes to the nanny’s room. Finding the door locked, he looks through the peephole and seesÂ hisÂ father in bed with the nanny. He gives up and goes back to bed.Â
The next morning, the little boy says to his father,Â “Dad, IÂ think I now understand what politics is.”
“Good son, tell me in your own words then what politics isâ€ the father responded.Â
The little boy replies, “Well, while Capitalism is oppressingÂ the Working Class, the Government is sound asleep, the PeopleÂ are being ignored and the future is in deep sh*t.”
This old jokeÂ points to the deceit in comments likeÂ â€œthe future belongs to the youthâ€.Â â€œTheÂ youthÂ are the leaders ofÂ tomorrowâ€.Â The sad reality is that with the way things are going, there may be no future left for ourÂ youth. The other reality is that the future is here. As we take actions that tend to obliterate the future, it is my opinion that it is only the youth that should rise up to the challenge and put a stop to actions that tend to put the future in jeopardy. And what better way to doÂ thisÂ than to show more interest in who governs themÂ and how they are governedÂ ratherÂ than the docile attitude of fighting in theÂ socialÂ media in support and against the ruling class whose interests could be anything but those of theÂ youth.
There seems to be a conventionÂ that those in the corridors of power or those that had ruled in the past, whether they did well or not,Â will continue to dominate governance in Nigeria.Â TheÂ doctrineÂ of recyclingÂ in Nigerian politicsÂ has become so pervasive thatÂ some of our politicians,Â after they have been National Assembly members,Â returnedÂ to their states to acceptÂ commissionership and other lower positions,Â just to remain in power. The mostÂ commonÂ is that Governors who complete their tenure of officeÂ in their statesÂ simplyÂ go to hibernate in the Senate, even if they have nothing to contributeÂ in thatÂ hallowedÂ chamber.Â The sole driver of their ambitionÂ isÂ to remain in power and continue to benefit from our common purse.
It is instructive that,Â with the return of democracyÂ in 1999, we had aÂ throwbackÂ to the past, where the former Head of State, General Olusegun Obasanjo,Â whoÂ ruledÂ the countryÂ between 1976 and 1979,Â was drafted to contestÂ the first democratic presidentialÂ electionÂ ofÂ the 4th Republic,Â which he won,Â and ruled again from 1999 to 2007. Subsequently, attempts have been made by former military leaders likeÂ IbrahimÂ Babangida,Â to return to power.
Again in 2015, the current President, PMB,Â who ruled the country from 1983Â to 1985Â contestedÂ and won.Â As 2019 approaches, veterans likeÂ the retiredÂ paramilitary officer and one time Vice President,Â AlhajiÂ Atiku Abubakar,Â are warming upÂ to contest.Â IÂ also readÂ recently thatÂ another retiredÂ Senior Military Officer,Â DavidÂ Mark, a one-time minister of communications in those days when telephonesÂ were not meant for the poor, andÂ a recurrent decimal in the Nigerian Senate,Â serving his 6th term out of 8,Â was endorsed by ObasanjoÂ to contestÂ the next presidential election.Â Without prejudice to their rights to vie for any officeÂ theyÂ wish to, one thing that cuts across most of the Presidential hopefulsÂ againstÂ 2019,Â is that they are allÂ aboutÂ 70 yearsÂ and above. Do I have a problem withÂ age? Definitely not.
Do I have issuesÂ with the age of ideas? Certainly!Â For me at over 50, to myÂ discomfort,Â I findÂ thatÂ I am ageing. Some of the things IÂ could do with ease,Â aÂ few years ago, I find nowadays thatÂ I can do no more, even with my very best efforts. Some risks I could take a few years back, sadly, have become impossible today. I mayÂ chooseÂ to live in denial, but within me, I know the difference. It is therefore in everyoneâ€™s interest to yield leadership to people who are not onlyÂ atÂ the right age butÂ who can dare and take risks.Â Unfortunately, power is hardly given. It is taken and that is where this intervention comes in.Â If the youth who shouldÂ know the right thing to do, refuse to show interest, then just like the saying goes,Â â€œthey take away their rightsÂ to complain when fools begin to governÂ them.â€
Interestingly,Â many of our pastÂ leaders emerged in their youth.Chief ObafemiÂ Awolowo,Â was 43 when he became the Premier of Western Region. His youthfulÂ dispositionÂ could haveÂ helpedÂ him to instituteÂ free educationÂ and limited free health careÂ delivery in theÂ region.Â He was able toÂ achieve these in a Nigeria without oil.Â As Minister of Finance subsequently, he was able to finance the civil warÂ without borrowing. He built landmarkÂ structures like stadia, television stationsÂ andÂ The Cocoa House in Ibadan,Â the first skyscraper in tropical Africa.Â Obasanjo was 39 when he became the Head of State in 1976. Yakubu Gowon was under 32Â when he became Head of State. Â Ibrahim Babangida wasÂ 44 when he became Military President in 1985 whileÂ Abubakar Tafawa Balewa wasÂ also in his 40s when he became the first Nigerian Prime Minister.Â Buhari was 41 when he became head of State in 1983. Odimegwe Ojukwu was barelyÂ 34 when he led theÂ BiafraÂ war.Â Aguiyi Ironsi wasÂ in his early 40s when he became the first Military Head of StateÂ in 1966.
On the international scene, many of the popular American Presidents assumed officeÂ when they wereÂ in their 40s. Barack Obama was 47, Bill Clinton 46, Edward Kennedy 43 and Frank Roosevelt 42 respectively when they becameÂ Presidents.Â Elsewhere, EmmanuelÂ MacronÂ was recently sworn in as PresidentÂ of France at 39. VanessaÂ Dâ€™AmbrosioÂ became President of San Marino, Europe at 29. The current President of North Korea who hasÂ been giving TrumpÂ sleeplessÂ nights,Â Kim JongÂ Un,Â became President at 32.LeeÂ KuanÂ Yew became the Prime Minister of Singapore at the age of 36.Â Of course, there were exceptions like Donald TrumpÂ and Ronald ReaganÂ both ofÂ whomÂ became PresidentsÂ at 70.
So, what is wrong with Nigeria? Nothing really, except that our young ones are not only docile, but cowardly, and many of them are largely uninformed. The restÂ may just be outrightlyÂ selfish. They are quick to come up with a laundry list of excuses why they areÂ not interested in politics. The excusesÂ may range fromÂ lack of money to fear of being killed.Â According to statistics, over 70% of ourÂ population isÂ belowÂ the age ofÂ 40.Â This has been aptly described as â€œa pot-bellied youth bulgeâ€. Â For purposes of this discussion,Â I want to define the youth as thatÂ part of theÂ populationÂ agedÂ less than 50. To understand how bad it is, in a country of over 180m people, the number of registered voters for the 2015 GeneralÂ ElectionÂ was 68.83m. If we subtract the under aged,Â there is no argument that over 50% of eligible youthful voters were notÂ registered. What that means is that this number of youths has wittingly or unwittingly disenfranchisedÂ themselves. Because they can neither vote nor be voted for, theyÂ probablyÂ have little or noÂ interest in the way the country, states and local governments are governed.Â If you are unable to participate actively, you should at least have a permanentÂ voterâ€™s cardÂ and be available to vote. But alas, that is not the case. And it is because of the lack of interest by the youth that the throwbackÂ conspiracyÂ stands. Why canâ€™t the youth, through different civil society groups or social media groups, decide that in 2019,Â one of themÂ would become President? If this kind of decision is made, theyÂ would then match itÂ with actions of a vigorous campaign and massive voting and protection of their votes. I am 100% certain that if this happens, they would win the election. As has been written,Â â€œOneÂ of the penaltiesÂ ofÂ refusing to participate in politicsÂ is that you end up being governed by your inferiorsâ€
Many of the challenges that this country face today are traceable to poor, ignorant and/or selfish leadership.Â The gerontocratic leadershipÂ system that wasÂ foisted on usÂ hasÂ little or no regard to how itsÂ actions, shape or scatter the future and I will just highlight a few and youÂ are at liberty to add to the list. We have had a country that starts itsÂ yearly budget providingÂ more thanÂ 70% of itsÂ spendingÂ on recurrent expenditure, earmarking less than 30% toÂ capital expenditure. What this means is that we are not building any foundation nor infrastructure for the future generation. Because infrastructureÂ continues to decay, a silent de-industrialisation of the economy has been implemented as policy. Look around you andÂ tell meÂ if you can seeÂ thoseÂ industries that littered major towns in the past. Because these industries are forced to close shops or relocate, the jobs that were hithertoÂ createdÂ haveÂ
practicallyÂ disappeared. That is one of theÂ reasons why unemployment hasÂ continued to be on the rise. Youth unemployment is close to 30% as per statistics. Who should worry about this? TheÂ 80-year-old or the 40-year-old? How come most of the establishments and facilities put in place in the olden days when there was no oil,Â stood the test of time? In someÂ parts of the South East, there areÂ some 1960-1970 roads that are still useable, even though subsequent governmentsÂ have beenÂ unable to maintain them. The people who built those facilities were young in those days andÂ they were interested in the future. As they show up forty years later to clutterÂ theÂ leadershipÂ space, their priorities are bound to be different. Do you hear any leader seriously addressing industrialisation,Â as a policy of the government? I donâ€™t know about where you come from, butÂ in the state fromÂ where I come, either by neglect or simply the absence of mind, subsequent governments have implemented policies that led to the shutdown ofÂ factories and manufacturing outfits, established by their predecessors. So when governments talk about job creation, the question should be whereÂ the jobs areÂ going to be created fromÂ when the same government is pursuing a de-industrialisation policy?
The issue of piling up debts for the future generation is another one that I expect the youth to stand firmly against. There is nothing inherently wrong with borrowing, but the purpose must be regenerative andÂ not for payment of salaries, fat allowances, security votes, pensions of politiciansÂ andÂ fundingÂ the lavish lifestyle of leaders.Â Recently, the National Assembly approved dollarÂ loans for some state governments to beÂ repaid over a period of 20 years with 7 years moratorium. I wonder how those loans will be paid and from what sources. Some state governors are alreadyÂ jubilatingÂ and the intent is to passÂ the debts to you the young ones. So, why are you keeping quiet? Do you realise the implication of paying back loans that were used to finance the frivolities and excesses of your parents? Will you be happy to pay back such loans?
There is a lot to say,Â including the promotion of primordial interests like ethnicity, and religion which keep the youth divided while their oppressors are united in looting the country, irrespective of same divides. Suffice it to add that the youth have shown a strong presence in business and the entertainment industry in this country. So have theyÂ also shownÂ tenacity in the information technologyÂ space?Â
Unfortunately,Â the continued survival and growth of these sectors of the economy can only be guaranteed by competent and good governance. One bad policy ofÂ government can wipe outÂ all the successes recorded in the Nollywood industry and the creative business.
Finally, IÂ wonâ€™tÂ be surprised if some people,Â out of mischief, give a misleading interpretation toÂ my argumentsÂ including implying that the youth is synonymous with good leadership while the more advanced people are synonymous with bad leadership.Â I have said no such thing.Â My point is that the youth has moreÂ stake in the future than the aged. Of course, I am not unaware of young people that have bungled leadership opportunities both here and elsewhere. IÂ also give credit to experience, maturityÂ and skills. It is my contention, however, that the youth should not sit idly by feeling unconcernedÂ while the older generation destroys and mortgagesÂ theirÂ future.Â
We,Â the older ones who have promotedÂ a situation where the majority of theÂ youthÂ are excluded and have no say in how they are governed,Â should also deliberately create space and encourage them to take over from us. After all, just like Plato said, â€œwe can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark, the real tragedy of life is when grown up men are afraid of the lightâ€