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Ayo Sogunro: For Those Who Want To See More Youths in Power

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It has become somewhat popular these days for people to discuss the role of and opportunities for, what I will call “youths in power”. As an example, my amiable acquaintance, Ohimai—a young man who has demonstrated the administrative capacities of young people with quiet aplomb —and certain other people in the public space have touted a #30PercentOrNothing call on social media for what I believe is an amendment to their political party’s elective ratio. This request is of mild interest in itself, and one which can be followed without an emotive flutter.

However, when the discussion slips from the political party space and ventures into the general polity, there is some cause for concern. This is because, frankly, a demand for the inclusion of youths in government is not a serious topic but, instead, comes across as a type of the socio-political distractions that rear their head during election season and takes away from the attention and time dedicated to more serious issues.
The unfortunate ramification of this article is the unnecessary fuel it will add to an already overblown debate. However, on the positive hand, a little common sense derived from this piece may help in pushing the topic along more reasonable lines.

Now, the question of “youths in power” implies two assumptions: one, that the inclusion of youths in the political space is a vital aspect of good governance; and two, that this inclusion has to be initiated and established through a legally entrenched political process.
The first assumption stated above is no more correct than the statement would be if the word “youth” was substituted by “children”, “adult”, “women”, “carpenters”, “lawyers” or any other community of individuals in the society. This conclusion is self-evident: there is no inherent quality in the fact of being a youth that confers on the person a better sense of political administration than it does on any other community.

It is therefore no more important to have a fixed representation of youths in government than if we were to have a fixed representation of children or the elderly. The same principle applies to gender differentiations: sensibility is not a factor of gender, nor is it determined by age. There have been stupid men unfit for government, and equally stupid women; and a daft old person most likely started life as a daft young person.

However, even if we were to acknowledge that youthfulness implies general qualities of energy, innovation and enthusiasm, then we should also embrace the counterpoint that, in general, most young people are egoistic, unreasonable, easily impressed by their own achievements and consequently susceptible to manipulative flattery. To what extent then should political administration be entrusted to such volatile temperaments?

This is not to deride the ability of young people —a demographic in which I am still a proud member. It is, instead, caution against the hysterical support for political inclusions of social communities, instead of political inclusion of deserving individuals.And this brings us to the second assumption: the request for a legally entrenched political structure specifically inclusive of youths.

Let us consider this idea from three perspectives.
One: In Nigeria, the Constitution already guarantees every individual above the age of eighteen a stake in the government through appointive positions, and from the age of thirty, through elective positions. This is as far as any political structure should go. This legal structure is the equal platform from which every individual can launch into government—and in a sane polity, such deserving individuals are encouraged. Any other political process to specially include communities in governance is not just partisan, but also a potential threat to equality of opportunities.

Two: We may concede that, unfortunately, the current political structure in Nigeria makes a mockery of the supposed constitutional equality and, instead, favours the political emergence of the association of older men. This, however, is a result of socio-cultural factors, and not legal ones. Socio-cultural factors that unduly places emphasis on a culture of age, respect for elders and “seniors”, and the subjugation of women. An appeal of sorts to the political class of older men for the standardised inclusion of youths or women in their ranks becomes then a social validation of their usurped entitlement. On the assumption that the patriarchal order is voluntarily interesting in parting with its political power, older men then become the givers, who “generously” include women and youths in government. The principle is clear: he who gives, can also take away; and what’s worse—they can also dictate the terms of their gift. The real task is then to work hard at changing the social factors that give rise to an older male dominated society, and the key tools are the championing of universal education and human rights.

Three: Demographics change and social issues and circumstances vary over time, it is consequently improper for a legal provision to entrench an issue which is of concern during a particular period into the permanent political structure. In any given year, clowns may be in high demand—this is well, the people can vote in clowns into power. But it is wrong to have the system make it a requirement that a percentage of the administration must forever be composed of clowns.
Which is why if clowns—or any other community of individuals—are interested in a serious change of political control, they have to take it forcefully: through revolutions, coups or some non-violent but affirmative political action, firmly independent of the existing order. Change is never happily introduced; it has to be kicked into the stage.

Let me be clear: youths have a right to be in power—but only in equal proportion to every other group in society. In Nigeria’s history, youths were effective in pushing the British out of government, and youths were equally effective in destroying the economy of the country. In fact, most of the old people in governance today were once the youths in government yesterday. With the exception of Abacha (who, nevertheless, was in government since his 40s) and Shagari, every head of the Nigerian government prior to 1998 took office at an age range from 32 to 48 years.

In conclusion, for those who insist on a perceived positive role of youths in government, here’s an easy—but equally difficult—suggestion: if you want to take power from an insufferable patriarchal order, simply stop working for the older man.

Photo Credit: Dreamstime | Nikolay Mamluke

8 Comments

  1. Tincan

    September 17, 2014 at 9:44 am

    Word!

  2. Sogo Akinola

    September 17, 2014 at 10:49 am

    well discussed i believe constitutional amendment will pave a way as regards this subjectmatter, you cannot even run for the house of assembly till you are 30, this is wrong!

  3. joan

    September 17, 2014 at 11:26 am

    the conclusion is very instructive, very well written

  4. seyi

    September 17, 2014 at 11:49 am

    Didn’t read up to half..lol..i love ago sogunro so I’m sure he’ll make sense… he he he

  5. larz

    September 17, 2014 at 4:02 pm

    Back to the topic at hand. At the moment, I believe (but I may be wrong) that no young person in their 30s will be voted into a Govenor’s house in Nigeria (based on evidence of gubernatorial candidates and winners recently. Currently, in US based on current government, the governor of Lousinia was voted in at 36 years old and the youngest governor in America history was sworn in at 23. In Nigeria, young people are at a disadvantage because they are unable to gain enough support to get into major offices especially with most major political parties. If there is a diversity legislation that forces every major political party to have 30% of their candidates in major office (e.g state level and above) with strong penalties for non-compliant by the next election. They will seek (and as a result find) via recruiting or mentoring existing members into office. Fast forward a few years later, I bet you that unlike now, a younger person won’t get disqualified automatically on the basis of their age alone. They will be accepted/ disqualified on the basis of what they have to offer most likely but if they don’t make it, age alone won’t be the reason why. It is such a shame that we live in a society where even if they look better on paper and more experienced than an older person.

  6. larz

    September 17, 2014 at 4:03 pm

    Several years ago, people raised awareness on gender and racial equality and won. Or so they thought. A few years later, most Western countries took it a step further and mandated every blue chip organisation to have a certain % of ethnic minorities and women in the senior executive roles. A lot of people complained about it being positive discrimination.
    The result of this is that fast forward to 2014, whilst that there are a few minorities and women leaders in the Western world, people are no longer of the opinion that it cannot be done. Imposing that standard means it is no longer something that can be aspired to be but truly people can see positive evidence that it can be done. Very soon, such measure will be removed it won’t be mandatory anymore and people will naturally hire those people without thinking twice about it.

  7. fleur

    September 18, 2014 at 12:15 am

    Hmmm. I disagree some. First, we must try to interpret what is being said. Its an equity issue. If you are overrepresented in a population as a demographic, you need to be at the decision making table or you are on the menu. That said, being in the said demographic as the majority does not suffice as a qualification for the job. It has to be combined with knowledge, passion and the right tools of the trade. As for your rationale #2, access to income is interacting big time with age and not even in the way you presented it. The reason older men rule in corridors of power is because naturally, the tendency in societies where you have to hustle for years to make it is for age to correlate strongly and positively with age – the older you are the more money you accrue. However, there is also the old boys club. If money gets you a seat at the table or audience with the head honchos, then it means that naturally, the oldies will support their age groups for positions where they have to go toe to toe with the person in that position. THis means they are more inclined to recruit their age mates until the older pop dies out or they age out.

    You have to be in a certain demographic to fully understand their needs. If you are 50 and you have a 10 year old, trust me, their world is so different from yours, you would be ill advised to start meddling in providing guidance without their input on issues concerning them. Elders dont always know best. More importantly, the road to great advice is to learn from the person wearing the shoes you want to make or change. That means engaging them in dialogue. So they need a seat at the table. Its their future. They should have a say.

  8. Akaahan Terungwa

    September 19, 2014 at 12:31 pm

    Easily put, Ayo.

    What the youth lack – and may continue lacking is economic power (something very central in today’s politics). So, if they refuse to work for the ‘older’ man, I believe hunger will definitely take them – given my age mates’ distaste for hard work and entrepreneurship.

    Always,
    Terungwa

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