By Ephraim Adiele
This title came about during a discussion I had with my friend, Daniel Lawal very recently. We were talking about how the countries of the world go about distributing its resources among its citizenry. We talked about everything from the physical cash to roads, from electricity to water supply, from healthcare to sports, from crime to political succession. We pondered why the availability of internet varied from country to country, to why infant mortality is still high in some countries which have already been exposed to modern healthcare.
At the end of that segment of our conversation, we came to the conclusion that there must be something wrong with the ruling class, especially in Africa.
Next, we began asking whether the average African youth deserves to be deprived of basic rights, dividends and amenities accruable to the office of the citizen. Daniel argued that the African youth is just a victim of circumstance and does not deserve some levels of suffering; he said it was uncommon greed on the part of the ruling class that has driven the continent and inadvertently, the youth to a state of developmental menopause.
His position holds water… plenty water, but in order not to play into the age-old Nigerian mentality of “Government no dey try”, I added that the African youth has not adequately attempted to break the chain of command of the elite, neither have they shown significant interest in changing their ever-dwindling fortune. On this note, I argued that the African youth deserves everything that has been coming his way, and even worse.
My argument was premised on a lot of factors, which include but are not limited to the following:
The average current crop of African leaders had their eyes on the country’s resources and political seat of power from a young age. For the benefit of those who are not keen history students, I’d like to give a list of long serving African rulers and when they assumed office.
– Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea assumed office in 1979 at the age of 37 and has been in office for 36 years.
– José Eduardo dos Santos of Angola has been in office since he was 37 years old and has been in office for 36 years.
– Paul Biya of Cameroon came to power at age 49 and has been in office for 33 years.
– Yoweri Museveni of Uganda has been in office since the age of 42 and has been in office for 29 years.
– Idriss Debby of Chad who has been in office for 25 years and came into power at the age of 38.
– – Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria who was involved in the July 1966 counter-coup at age 23, had a hand in the 1975 coup at the age of 32 which took Yakubu Gowon out of office, became military Head of State via a coup that ousted the democratically elected government of Shehu Shagari and finally came back to be elected president in 2015 at the age of 72.
– Until the people of Burkina Faso stood up against Blaise Compaore, he had been in office for 27years and became the country’s leader at 36.
Other leaders that are worth mentioning are Isaias Afwerki of Eritrea, Omar Al-Bashir of Sudan, Yahya Jammeh of The Gambia,Denis Sassou Nguesso of the Republic of Congo and many other unique cases of persons who have wielded considerable political power or held several political portfolios for donkey years.
For the sake of this article, I’ll limit this discourse to my country, Nigeria.
The first set of leaders the country had been young: Anthony Enahoro, Obafemi Awolowo, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Tafawa Balewa , Ahmadu Bello and the rest were all young men who fought assiduously for the liberation of the country and led up until the cookie crumbled.
The next generation of leaders that sprang up as from 1966 were also very young men, but they were of a rare, thirsty breed.
In order not to begin another history lesson, I’ll just mention names and I expect youths to undertake independent research and see how young the following men were when they came into came into “federal prominence”: Murtala Muhammad, Yakubu Gowon, Kaduna Nzeogwu, Aguiyi Ironsi, Olusegun Obasanjo, Theophilius Danjuma, Chukwuemeka Ojukwu, just to mention a few.
From the look of things, their generation was filled with more politically ambitious individuals who took interest in leading from a young age unlike the generation we live in. Unfortunately, not all these leaders were really worthy to be called leaders.
Over the years, these same set of people have recycled themselves and their cronies, taking up strategic political and governmental positions which have exponentially increased their coffers to the detriment of the common man, which massively includes the youth.
I therefore find it very unbelievable that young people of this generation have little or no interest the true process of governance in their countries, talk less of taking up the mantle of leadership and bring the desired change they crave when the almost-century-old class of leaders when they finally “retire.”
The second reason why I feel that the African youth must suffer is this: The African youth has been caught up in a dangerous kind of the age-long rat race which does not give them the time to create solutions to the numerous problems bedeviling them.
The African youth is so busy “going through school”, getting a job, starting a family and fitting into society, he forgets about the goings-on at the “top” that affects him directly. This vicious cycle sucks in young people, including potential leaders, thereby making in almost impossible for the youth to be able to have any spare time to explore his political/leadership potential.
Although it might be said that the aging ruling class should be blamed for this situation, it is pertinent to note that the youth themselves have barely lifted a progressive finger to tackle the issue. The truth is this: we must not all have white collar jobs, we must not all have degree upon degree. Some people are born to lead people, and Africa desperately needs a new breed of leaders devoid of the insatiable urge for self-aggrandizement that has seemingly become the order of the day.
Go to Nigerian universities, Political Science and Public Administration departments are usually one of the most populated. I ask, what happened to the thousands that have gone to study courses that are relevant to leadership. Asides them, what fate has befallen/will befall the thousands of hidden born leaders that have/will walk upon the face of the continent in coming years.
It was not until very recently that Nigerian youths began making use of the “all-powerful” social media to tackle societal ills and anomalies. The internet is an unlimited space where every kind of topic can be brought to national and even international relevance with the right amount of drive. I see no reason why the global social media, including those of African countries can revolve around Kanye West’s clothing line for a full 24 hours and many weeks after, and the same social media space cannot be employed for a constructive “social congress” where young intellectuals can speak up the leadership issues troubling their individual nations and fathom solutions, thereby making the social space a strong tool that will kick start a formidable youth movement that the aging ruling class will take serious.
Don’t get me wrong, Nigerian youths are beginning to make use to social media to discuss social and political issues, but they are not really doing anything in my opinion. Here’s why: When something new gist leaks from the corridors of power, what the Nigerian youth does is to go on social media platform to seek relevance. They talk and talk and within 48 hours, the issue dies a natural death and would not surface until another issue that relates to it comes up. NO ISSUE IS EVER ADDRESSED TO THE END. The youth never holds anybody accountable for anything because they feel it is not in their place to see to the end any matter. It’s just something new they can make jokes about.
But the truth is that politicians explore this inaction on the part of the youths and plays on the emotions of the social media users. Issues are brought to the fore and politicians unleash “e-voltrons” who harp until it becomes a trending topic all in a bid to outdo the propaganda of the opposing party. When it does become a trending topic, the youths become comedians, creating jokes and memes, forgetting the underlying problem and focusing on trivial frivolities.
Unfortunately, the Nigerian youth has taken to the “other side” of the internet in a desperate rush for followers, likes and virtual fan base. Everybody wants to be a social media influencer; everybody wants his pictures and posts to be viewed, liked, retweeted, shared and reposted that they forget about what is important. In short, the social media space has been reduced to a hotbed of banalities.
Let me stop for now, but I will end this way: We do not deserve to suffer as African youths, but we really need to suffer, until we are determined to change our situation ourselves.
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