On January 1, President Muhammadu Buhari broke the new year revelry, with an appeal to all Nigerians.
In an uncharacteristic manner, he chose to buy up the front pages of most Nigerian newspapers.
His administration had never been known to throw money at the media by way of advert placements. Anyone familiar with media buying could tell that the wrap-around ads of January 1 were deliberate and strategic, hoping to appeal to Nigerians at the start of the year.
In it, he reeled out his several achievements and swore that he would not submit himself to any elective post in 2023. Achievements which many will see as not sufficient given the plethora of challenges facing the country.
By 2023, Buhari would have ran his full circle of two terms of eight years as president of an emerging democracy. It is obvious that he is constitutionally barred from seeking the highest office in the land, except those propping him are intent on a forced third term by some other means.
Indeed, Mr President has the next three years to write his name in gold. How would he be remembered after eight years on the saddle? What impact would he have created in the lives of Nigerians who watched him struggle repeatedly before emerging as president after three attempts.
Buhari has a date with history, and this is why this piece must be put in proper context or perspective. He belongs to a tribe of leaders who renowned Nobel laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, once described as a wasted generation.
As Buhari prepares to stand down in 2023, Nigerian youths are desirous to know what legacies he would bequeath to their own generation.
In the colonial era, young Nigerians led in the struggle for independence. As early as 1944, Nmandi Azikiwe, still in his 30s, founded the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroun (NCNC). Meanwhile, Obafemi Awolowo, Tafawa Belawa, Ahmadu Bello and Samuel Akintola, amongst many others in their 20s and 30s, rose to prominence through activism.
After independence in 1960, however, this trend began to dissipate. The golden era was not replaced with new young leaders, and by the 1980s, there were only a few politicians under 40.
One enduring legacy Buhari must seek to install, if he wants history to be kind to him, is the strategic placement of youths in his government. While it could be argued that, under him, Nigeria’s political space has been opened up through legislation for young Nigerians to aspire to the highest offices in the land by lowering of age constraints, his administration cannot pride itself as one deliberately accommodating of youths.
Mr President must, therefore, find the will and right temperament to actively get involved in succession planning, rather than his much pretentious disposition to not wanting to influence the contest for the country’s political leadership. He would ignore, to the country’s peril, the fact that Nigerian youths represent, by far, the future of the nation.
Even as he has been accused of branding them lazy youths, the world admits that the rising population and brilliance of Nigeria’s young generation is a veritable power bloc and change agent, if properly harnessed.
Referencing Nigeria’s Youth Policy Document which defines youths as persons between ages 18 to 35 years, nearly 70% of Nigeria’s population of 200 million people are aged below 35. Sadly, a disproportionate number can be found in the corridors of power. Indeed, while the country’s median age is just 18, according to the United Nations, the country’s political space is dominated by older politicians.
The acclaimed giant of Africa cannot afford to continue to grope in the dark, and hope for an accidental miracle. It must deliberately groom its future leaders to steer Nigeria on the path of fundamental growth and sustainable development. Buhari, therefore, has an onerous task, to help create an enabling political environment that would build visionary leaders by encouraging the brightest of minds who are selfless and ready to sacrifice their time, effort and resources in the quest for a great nation.
Buhari must realize that his re-election hands him another great opportunity to right some wrongs and lay the foundation for a united and prosperous nation, He must do well to reconnect with Nigerian youths, many of whom feel alienated by his several denouncement of the commitment of the younger generation to the well being of the Nigerian project.
Such an initiative will not only align with the mood of the nation but also reassure, reconnect and rebuild confidence in the populace, especially the dominant youthful population. If the President is paying close attention, he would long have realized that the youths are essentially advocating for a government that leverages our diversity and demographics to great advantage. They are simply challenging the Buhari government to restore confidence in the unity of the country by engaging all stakeholders, without bias for ethnicity, religion, gender and age, with an ultimate goal to build a great nation at every level of government.
As 2023 beckons, one sector the President must pay attention to is education, especially institutions established and managed by government. As a youth I attended one of the most diverse and prestigious secondary schools in Nigeria, Kings college, where we had House Masters from all the major tribes in Nigeria. I can attest to the fact that these men worked diligently in raising the best and the brightest of youths today. I believe the future still holds bright prospects where students from other African countries will rush to experience fresh and new educational standards in Nigeria’s public institutions.
The other critical sector requiring serious intervention by the Buhari administration is health care. By global standards, the nation features poorly on almost every measuring scale. From maternal mortality to childhood diseases, concerns remain on how far the nation is from attaining safe heights.
Buhari and his team must appreciate, therefore, that the length of his patronizing letter to country will amount to nothing if the achievements of his administration do not help to enlist the country in a respectable position in the Human Development Index (HDI). The Nigerian government must tap vigorously into the potent creative energy of Nigerian youths.
It would be foolhardy not to recognize that they remain a rich source of innovative ideas, and have undoubtedly, throughout history, participated, contributed, and even catalyzed important changes in Nigeria’s political systems, power-sharing dynamics and economic opportunities.
Indeed, young Nigerians have demonstrated the potential to build bridges across communities, working together, helping to manage conflict and promote peace. I have no doubt in my mind that they are more than prepared and ready to be elected into offices in 2023 even in the face of such issues as high cost of political campaigns and the hurdle of “old boy” establishment networks.
But there are numerous advantages to having youths in decision-making positions, chief among them being the formulation and implementation of policies that reflect the aspirations of the generation.
The effects of exclusion outweigh its advantages as several research finding have shown that lack of inclusion in the governance process is largely responsible for youth involvement in violent extremism and other vices across Nigeria.
There is overwhelming evidence that Nigerian youths are prepared for the 4th industrial revolution which era will be marked by breakthroughs in emerging technologies in fields such as robotics, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, quantum computing, biotechnology, the internet of things, the industrial internet of things(IIoT), decentralized consensus, fifth-generation wireless technologies (5G), 3D printing and fully autonomous vehicles.
There is no gain saying the fact that the task of building a great nation is best delivered through a joint effort. Nigerian youths want to be a part of building an enduring democracy and a country of the future. We don’t want to take power, We want to be a part of it.
● Mr.Tobechukwu Obikili writes from Lagos.