By Godknows Igali, PhD.
The Finnish Wonder
The recent emergence of Finland’s relatively youthful and female dominated national cabinet came to many around the world, including most of Europe with great admixture of admiration and a feeling of a bolt from the blue. Women took twelve of the cabinet positions and left seven for the men. With remarkably impressive and exquisite line up of beauties, Prime Minister Sanna Marin (34), and her amazing quartet, Finance Minister, Katrina Kulmuni (32), Interior Minister, Maria Ohisalo (34) and Education Minister, Li Sigrid Andersson (32), were unveiled to the world. Each not just a Minister of the government, but leader of a main political party in the ruling coalition in the country. The fifth leading figure in the five-party coalition, Anna-Maja Henriksson, an ethnic Swede, is leader of the Swedish Party of Finland, 55 years of age and a woman.
In the peculiar politics of Finland, the new Prime Minister emerged as leader of a Centre-left coalition in the 200-member parliament and President Sauli Niinisto, whose functions are actually ceremonial, limited only to foreign relations, handed over the government to her on same day, 10th December, 2019; thus, making her one of the world’s youngest and perhaps prettiest leaders ever. It is recalled that following the abrupt resignation of the country’s former Prime Minister Aahlhen Rinne in June 2019, the five women party leaders, came together and agreed to work together to build a majority in parliament and lead the
country. Their mantra being rebuilding infrastructure, social welfare and environment. By coalescing their forces together, they were able to side-line the Nationalist Finns Party which enjoys a single 24 percent majority in parliament.
Finland, which is now under global optic because of this development, is a country of quite extraordinary peculiarities. Although it is of the Nordic region, it stands out distinctively from the rest of the peninsular also known as Scandinavia being, Sweden, Denmark and Norway and a lesser extent, Iceland. For one, the later three are linguistically, part of the Germanic Cluster and are mutually intelligible with one another, while Finnish is singularly, part of Uralic language strand, spoken mostly by people in Northern Eurasia – Hungary, Estonia, etc. Unlike the other popular trio, which have constitutional monarchies, Finland is a modern republic. The country also boasts of the best educational standards in the world and has so been independently adjudged, severally. One of its greatest contributions to the global knowledge industry is ‘Life-Long Education’ which makes learning adaptive all through the course of life as well as its high-tech brands such as Nokia, Kone Lifts, Stora Enso paper and pulp, Nestle Oil and Gas, etc.
The rest of the Scandavania
Finland and the rest of the Scandinavia are used to mainstreaming their female population in all facts of life. For example, it was Sweden’s King, Karl Gustav that was the first European Crown, to bring about constitutional amendment to allow absolute primogeniture (first child irrespective of gender) to ascend to a major European throne on 1st January, 1980. The similar British Ascension to the Crown Law only came up in 2013. In contemporary politics, half of party leaders in
Sweden are middle aged women while in neighbouring Denmark, similarly, four out of nine political parties are today led by women. The present Danish Prime Minster, 42-year-old Mette Frederiksen and nearby oil rich Norway has itself been led by a woman since 2013. As a matter of fact, a similar history was made in the shadowy Iceland as far back 1980 where a woman, Vadis Finnbogadottir defeated three men to clinch the leadership of the country.
And the rest of the World?
Looking around the world, the Finnish marvel is not entirely a stand-alone, although its scope and dimension was most far reaching. The current Prime Minister of the world’s fourteenth richest economy, Austria, named Sebastian Kurtz was born just on 27th August 1986 while his counterpart, Irish Prime, Minister Leo Varadkar was born on 18th January 1979. Also, Justin Trudeau who started leading Canada, the 10th largest global economy in 2013 was hardly 42 years, a little older than New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Arden who mounted the saddle of leadership of the pacific island nation at only 37 years of age in 2018. Come to think of it, even other great world leaders such as former United States Presidents, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama as well as former United Kingdom Tony Blair and David Cameron, or the current Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, current Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and French President Manuel Macron, got to the pinnacle of leading their countries and political parties when they were still in their 40s.
Footprint of the Nigerian Youth, Yesterday
In the past, Nigerian youths did it and nowadays, many are already earning out enviable accolades for themselves around the world. As a matter of fact, in the United States, despite the adverse reportage about the country, Nigerians, especially the younger folks are considered amongst the most enterprising immigrant populations. The same applies in the United Kingdom where Nigerian youths are setting never-before-seen records and standards in no few aspects of that big country’s national life.
If we cast our minds back to the foundational days of the Nigerian state and until recently, most of the precursors and frontliners were youthful in their days. With the exception of the mentors like Dr Herbert Macaulay, Dr. Ernest Ikoli and Oba Samuel Akinsanya, most of the other pioneers were youths in their nascent days when they formed the political structures that eventually wrested power out of the colonial government. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe at the age of 41 years joined his mentor, Herbert Macaulay to form the National Council of Nigeria and Cameroon (NCNC) while Chief Obafemi Awolowo coalesced the Yorubas into the Egbe Omo Oduduwa in 1945 at the age of 36 years. It metamorphosed shortly afterwards into the Action Group political party.
Similarly, the Northern People’s Congress (NPC), which became the dominant political organization from the time of internal self-government in 1957 until the first military coup in 1966, was formed in 1949 by Sir Ahmadu Bello at the age of 38 years. During that First Republic, such great stars as Anthony Enahoro who moved the motion for Self-Government (National Independence) was only 33 years while another, Dr. Mathew Mbu became a member of the Federal Parliament at the age of 21 in 1952, and Federal Minister of Labour at 23 years in 1954. On Nigeria’s attainment of the status of a Federation, he was made the first Nigeria High Commissioner to the United Kingdom at the age of 27 years in 1955-1959 and onward as First Representative (Ambassador) to the United States of America/United Nations, and 1959-1960 at the age of 30.
The Youth and the Military legacy
As a matter of fact, the first military coup which occurred on 15th January, 1966 itself was led by persons who could be considered young-adults. The spearhead, Major Chukwuma Nzeogu was only 29 years while his closest deputies such as; Major Emmanuel Ifeajuna, Major Timothy Onwuatuegwu and Major Samuel Ademolegun were 30 years old at the time. Other leaders of the coup were mostly younger, in their twenties.
During that era, the Ijaw Revolutionary, Major Isaac Boro, who led an Insurrection against the Nigeria Republic State by declaring a Niger Delta Republic on 23rd February 1966, even before Biafra, was only 28 years. He later enlisted in the Nigerian Army along with his compatriots, fought on the Nigerian side during the Civil War and died at the age of 30. He liberated Bonny, the surroundings around Port Harcourt, and many strategic oil assets for Nigeria in the Niger Delta.
Thereafter, the self-styled “Counter-Coup” of 28th July 1966, led by young officers of Northern origin itself was led by similarly young men. Some like Gen Murtala Mohammed, Gen Theophilus Danjuma, were just 30 years of age at the time, while Gen Mamman Vatsa and Gen I.D Bissalla were barely 32 years. When the new Federal Government, after the death of the first military Head of State General Thomas Aguiyi Ironsi was unveiled, it was unsurprisingly a 32-year-old now General Yakubu Gowon. At that age, he prosecuted the Nigerian Civil War successfully and became the architect of the post-war reconciliation, rehabilitation and reintegration.
The most outstanding appointment in those days, was that of the clad-white sparkling Governor of Rivers State, Lieutenant Commander Alfred Diette-Spiff. River State was one of the biggest epicentres of the war, because of its location as home to Oil and Gas Industry, and only oil refinery owned by the country. So, the elevation of this 24 year to rule such a complex, geo-politically and economically strategic state as the war started was an unimaginable mark of confidence on Nigerian youth which has not been surpassed. Yet, King Diette-Spiff as he is known today, was able at that young age to build the famous “Garden City” to become one of Nigeria’s foremost metropolis and modern cities.
So, what really happened to our youth and our women who are still largely excluded?
Our Palavers And 50 or 60 Years after
This year, we mark 50 years of the end of the Nigerian Civil war and more still, 60 years of nation-hood. Both dates are significant in normal human sociological setting as the number 50 for one, is often referred to as golden, signifying attainment of maturity. It is also considered as a major point of departure between years of tottering and period of maturity, that is why 50 years is considered as a year of jubilee, which itself means liberty for any group or people. On the other hand, the number 60 for most numerologists is synonymous with an entry into a status of seniority. What that means is that, at the age of 60, in normal human society, one could be regarded as an elder, a grery senior. So ordinarily, from both the points of view, of our post-war experience and period of independent nationhood, Nigeria should be in a place of well-settled and forward-looking country, with our youth and women in front.
Alas, this is not so. Today, the country is buffeted by an assortment and complexity of problems. Despite our enormous projected size of about 200 million persons, and huge natural resource endowment, we are not much better in terms of overall development, than the other sixteen African countries that gained their independence in 1960 like us. Although succeeding administrations both military and civilian have tried to diversify our national economy, we continue to remain yoked to mono economy, dependent on crude oil. Our GDP Growth has remained very unsteady, moving in a rather zig zag fashion. From the 1980s up to 2019, its growth rate has averaged at a parlous 3.81%. Although we were able to pick at 19.17% in the 4th quarter of 2004, as at same time in 2019, growth rate plummeted to a scandalous 1.94% year on year. Agreed that initiatives by the present Government are afoot to reverse this sad trend, the general outlook for 2019 at best closed at 2.5%, much below many other African countries around us. Recent global forecasts do not put us as greatly promising.
Agriculture, which any country that wants to maintain respectability in the world must fully develop, and indeed was the main stay of our national economy, has greatly been relegated. Because of the archaic manner in which even the best efforts to promote the sector are being practiced, our youths are largely still not attracted to food production. Today, we are barely able to feed ourselves as import of food including Fish, still continues to drain our foreign reserves when we should be a net exporter of food, going by our amount of arable land placed at about 37.33% of landmass, hydrology and weather, and even a huge coastline of 853 kilometres for good deep sea fishing Industry.
At the socio-economic level, our country has lately been described as one of the notable centres for poverty and want in the world. In all social indices, despite our enormous wealth, we are not doing well at all. Data by all reputable International Rating Agencies seem to indicate that at least 50% of our current population or about 90 million people are currently living in extreme poverty. The divergences and gaps between the “haves” and the “have-nots” seem to be increasing by the day and even those who should be in the middle, or better known as the “middle class”, have suddenly found themselves among the extreme poor.
Perhaps, oblivious to the rich and privileged in the society, existence is increasingly becoming tougher by the day. No wonder, life expectancy in Nigeria, is today as low as just 54.49 years. We can embarrassingly compare to say our neighbours Togo at 60.85 years, Benin Republic at 61.61 years and Ghana at 63.91 years. In the case of Rwanda, it is 68.75 years, 71.90 years for Egypt and 75.76 years for Brazil. Going much further, it is 76.07 years for Malaysia and not to mention 83.53 years for Singapore.
At the political level, unlike several other African countries, Nigeria has also experienced great political uncertainties since independence, and inability to consolidate year-on-year gains in democratic acculturation is a great cause of concern. Twenty years after military rule, our democratic practices are still below the pass mark, with election results at all levels always followed by uproar of litigations, and alarmingly politically-related violence, killings and inter-party bickering. There is no doubt whatsoever, that hate-speech, intolerance, misapprehension and distrust have hiked like never before with spokesmen of political groups, flaunting highest pitch of diatribe. Although we seem to have what appears as national political parties, sadly a new cancer known as “Vote Buying” and undue influence of money has entered our body politics, making it totally impossible for youth and the women to ascend in leadership.
So, there are some daunting hills and perhaps mountains that must be climbed and surmounted. For example, how many women are Chairmen of the 774 Local Government Areas? How many women and youth are in the Legislature at State and Federal levels, especially Speakers or Senate President? What about the executive branch? How many youth and women have been produced as Governors and Deputy Governors, or even Commissioners and Cabinet Ministers? If we take a head count of the Judiciary, is the situation better? If we also look at the private sector, how do the numbers add up in terms of Chief Operating Officers of younger ages; and particularly females? A total of 2,950 women obtained forms to contest at various levels in 2019 General Elections. Regrettably, only 65 of them won seats. Even the so-called Young People’s Party (YPP) ended up with a very competitive Presidential Candidate; but nearly in his 60s rather than in the late 30s or 40s. Other candidates such as Omoyele Sowore (48 years) ended up with a very marginal performance.
More sad, ethnicism and religion are returning to be, shamefully, factors of reference. This appears to be a retrogression from the military era, when some character of national ethos began to emerge. This has gradually started to affect inter-ethnic harmony which will seem to have made some progress in the past, in terms of cross-group mutual confidence and feeling of shared inter-dependence. So increasingly, Nigerians are sliding back to ethnic atavism and mutual suspicion. More gravely, confidence and trust on national institutions, especially in peace and security in protecting daily existence, is much attenuated. We have suddenly seen the rise of sub-nationalism, ethnic origin based socio-cultural uprising, and even the emergence of militias or pseudo self-preservation bodies.
Can our Youth and women deliver?
Like most other African countries, Nigeria’s population is mostly made up of people below the age of 35 years. As a matter of fact, the available statistics places Nigeria’s youthful population as high as over 65 percent, inclusive of young adults. Of this number, 49.5% are females, although practical street knowledge suggests slight female advantage. Even beyond that, school enrolments and graduations at all levels show that females are at par with male counterparts or leading in most aspects. With a total of 178 universities and several other hundreds of tertiary institutions, Nigeria churns out about 700,000 graduates and additional 1.5 million new entrants to the labour market annually. This makes Nigeria one of the countries in the world with highly skilled youthful populations, especially females. What this means is that Nigerian youths like their Finnish and other counterparts around the world, are well prepared to take on the gauntlet of steering the ship of the Nigerian state.
Is it not apposite therefore, to ask if there will be no value in Nigerians’ older generation, and not in any way stepping aside systematically like Finland, and allow younger people take over the reins of leadership of this country? So, before our watchful eyes, we can recline to provide them the needed support and guidance. In addition, elders and seniors can find places in upper legislative chambers like Senate or play other advisory, residual or mentoring roles. After all, as we have shown earlier, the younger population in Nigeria is much more educated, mentally alert and physically agile than the preceding generation. They are creative, resourceful, digital and innovative. Even employees in Civil Service retire from active service after 35 years of service or attainment of the age of 60 years. This applies in the Private Sector where clear retirement ages are stipulated.
Besides that, a lot of these younger people are more nationalistic in outlook and more cosmopolitan. They see no red light in interacting across ethnic and religious boundaries, and are more focused on career. Even though a small percentage of them slide into criminalities such as robberies, kidnapping, etc., unlike we the older generation that many rely on patronage, godfatherism, most younger Nigerians believe strongly in self-actualization.
What must we do?
There is no doubt that this cannot happen just over night. It will certainly require conscious and concerted efforts to encourage our youngsters to be involved in leadership. The “Not To Young to Run” Act which was passed recently and signed to law by President Mohammed Buhari, must not be allowed to adorn the shelves of our offices, but implemented to the letter. The Federal Government must therefore, make spirited efforts to implement a line-up of programmes through the various core institutions such as Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to put in place, quotas and incentives to promote the participation of younger people in politics and leadership. The National Orientation Agency are broadcast agencies that must be empowered to invigorate the campaign to encourage younger people to be more involved. Let’s remember that, the United States became Independent from 1776 but it was only in 1925 that women were allowed to vote after many years and years of advocacy. By 2016, a woman, Hillary Clinton stood as a candidate of a major Political Party to contest election for office of President against President Donald Trump, and pulled off 48.2% popular votes as against 46.1% of the later.
At all levels of decision-making, among socio-cultural groups like traditional and religious authorities, the prejudices against our youth and women must be hewed down. On their part, our women and youth, despite the man-made hurdles and barriers, must not give up. They must redouble the tempo of activism, advocacy and actual participation.
The Chinese say “the journey of a thousand miles begin with a step”. Let that step begin for a cohesive, strong and progressive Nigeria.
Godknows Boladei Igali, PhD., an Administrator,
was previously Nigeria’s Ambassador to the Scandinavian,
and an Award-winning Author