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Ohimai Amaize: Leadership – Why Nobody Takes Nigerian Youths Seriously

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Ohimai Amaize

The idea of Nigerian youths in politics and governance has been advanced by several youths and youth groups in recent times. In 2014, I led a group of young Nigerian professionals under the banner of Rethink Nigeria to present a document on this issue to the then National Conference.

The document made a case for youth inclusion in politics and governance. The argument we made back then, remains the same today. The idea of youth as leaders of tomorrow has reduced a demographic majority to a political minority. What this means is that while the youths control the majority of votes cast during elections, they end up controlling nothing after politicians win elections.

A close look at the history of Nigeria show how much the youth have featured prominently in political leadership and governance. But in recent times, the story is not exactly the same.

Shehu Shagari became a Federal Legislator at the age of 30 and a Minister at the age of 35. M.T. Mbu became a Minister at the age of 25 and Nigeria’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom at the age of 26. Richard Akinjide became Minister of Education at the age of 32. Maitama Sule became Oil Minister at the age of 29. Audu Ogbeh was a Minister at the age of 35. He is still serving today as a minister. And the list goes on.

In contrast, today’s reality is a polity where Nigerian youths are used as election consultants, social media battalions and political thugs. Many have blamed the new trend on a conspiracy of the elite class who just cannot stand the idea of vacating the scene for the younger generation creating a system that makes it impossible for young people to emerge and succeed in politics and governance. While this perspective is not entirely incorrect, there are more than enough premises to validate the argument that Nigerian youths are their biggest problem.

Greed, selfish ambition, lack of capacity and “over-competition” have conspired to weaken the ability of Nigerian youths to collaborate effectively as a united front that advances the well-being of young Nigerians.

Let’s look at some of the challenges that have constrained the Nigerian youth to the fringes of political leadership and governance and why nobody really takes them seriously.

First, selfishness. The idea that you must have everything for yourself alone and others can go to hell is a predominant characteristic of young people today.

Then you have the integrity challenge. Young people cannot expect to be trusted with leadership if they insult politicians in the social media one moment and the next moment approach these same politicians cap in hand.

Third is the mentality of every man for himself; the idea that you must demonize and destroy other youths as long as it guarantees you a spot at the top.

Lack of capacity is another major issue. The urge by youths to arrive quickly at the top without first subjecting themselves to building capacity going through process; mentorship, followership and apprenticeship. Today, many young people want to own a company and lead an organization, even when the capacity for such leadership is lacking.

We must not forget poverty. Many youths are constrained by sheer economic pressure and find themselves ready to do anything for survival.

Competition in place of healthy collaborations has turned many young people into rat race runners who feel compelled to prove a point that they are the best at what they do and end up not seeing any good in others.

A recently disturbing trend is the rising wave of intolerance to dissenting viewpoints and ideologies. Come to the social media and see what young people are doing to themselves in the name of politics and the superiority contest to establish who holds the best opinion.

The ‘Pull Him Down’ syndrome is a predominant characteristic of today’s youth. If it’s not me in that position, whoever else is there must be disgraced, embarrassed and pulled down.

I remember being labelled with all sorts of names in the social media and the only crime I committed was taking a political appointment to work in the Nigerian Government. Every ministry where I served as a ministerial aide, much of the attacks I faced came from young people. Ministries that were forgotten suddenly became trending topics on Twitter because Ohimai went there. They completely forgot I was a young person like them and needed their support to succeed. As far as some were concerned, I had joined their oppressors on the other side. Today, many of such critics back then have now lost their voices. Everything is now fine with the Defence, Foreign Affairs, Youth and Sports ministries… Ohimai is no longer there!

Frontline Nigerian blogger Linda Ikeji bought a house and the greatest noise came from young people like her. There was even a time attempts were made to take down her blog.

Audu Maikori was arrested for a Facebook comment he apologized for and some youths in the Nigerian social media wanted him jailed.

I was shocked during my visit to Harvard when I discovered how a contemporary has been going about in international circles parading himself as “Mr Fix Nigeria”. I am mostly known by the name “Mr Fix Nigeria”. It’s the username for all my social media handles. It was a name I earned in 2007 while carrying out my national youth service assignment at the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). So I told the folks at Harvard there is only one “Mr Fix Nigeria” and he’s not the one you have been dealing with.

But on a serious note, these are reflections of what young people do to themselves in the name of competition and survival and these are the complicated symptoms that characterize why young people are failing to organize themselves effectively into a powerful bloc of change makers who can inspire true leadership beyond exploits in business and the creative industries.

Looking at the concept of political participation and the way forward, it is instructive to note that Nigerian youths must wake up and face the reality that their votes on election day gives them enough power as youths. It is a necessary first step but it is more complicated than that.

If you observe critically, you will discover that what most young voters are able to achieve on election day is to validate the options presented to the electorate by political parties. What this means is that the voter is not really the one who wields political power but the party people who decide the candidates we all vote for on election day. The far-reaching implication of this is that when party A and party B give us bad candidates, whichever candidate the majority decides ends up being a bad leader anyway.

Going forward, the key to effective youth participation in politics and governance is to begin to get involved at the political party level. That is where all sort of characters we disdain as leaders first emerge. If we are not involved at the level of the parties where decisions are taken on the candidates presented to the electorate, the youths, despite their demographic majority, are unable to effect real change.

But let me sound a note of warning. The advocacy for more youths in politics and governance does not automatically guarantee good governance. Corollary to the earlier context I provided is the fact that there are young people who are incompetent, dishonest and corrupt. I have been a passionate advocate of youth in politics and governance but I’m always quick to add that they must be young people with character, integrity, a pedigree and a track-record. In Nigeria, we don’t look at track-records anymore. We need to start really looking at people’s track-records, what they have done and where they are coming from.

Packaging and social media followership is the language of today’s generation, but it does not qualify you for leadership. Young people must start asking aspiring leaders, especially fellow youths: what have you done? Show us your resume.

We must also encourage young Nigerians to build capacity first before parading themselves as superstars. There are no short cuts. A good number of our elders may have stumbled on leadership at a very youthful age, but increasingly, today’s reality requires competence and hard work.

All youths cannot go into politics but many of them; the competent ones with character and integrity must get in there. And their fellow Nigerian youths must encourage and not demonise them.

I look forward to the day youthful and youth-friendly people like Toyosi Akerele, Chude Jideonwo, Kola Oyeneyin, Linus Okorie, Fela Durotoye, Hassan Rilwan etc will run for office. Young Nigerians must support them if ever or whenever that time comes. I’m aware my good friend Dayo Israel is seeking political office in Lagos. As young people, we should support him.

Conclusively, young Nigerians will need to also understand that as youths, we are not in a rat race competition. We can coexist to ‘cooperate’ – working together even when we have different targets and aspirations. We all need to start looking at ways we can collaborate as young people across political divides. We must learn from the older generation and how they team up together to advance their interests. Enough of this politics of APC versus PDP that has turned young Nigerians who were once friends into public enemies. This is the only way we can begin to win and change Nigeria together.

6 Comments

  1. truth

    April 18, 2017 at 5:17 pm

    Thank you Ohimai for your input. Though your write up can be seen as insightful, I have come across you a few times, and you my compatriot exhibited elements of the backhanded and corruptibility of youths you mention. Remember it is what you do when no one is looking that defines you( search your conscious). Its good to write up all this, but my dear put it in practice first. Now am not saying that most Nigerian youths don’t have the corrupt mentality, yes, a lot of them are in the only me shall succeed club. I respect you ride for your friend Dayo, and am sure Dayo got opportunities that many Nigerian youths dream of because of his parents ( but it doesn’t matter as long as he uses what he acquires to improve his community). I believe that it is the responsibility of the those who have been privileged, whether, through wealth, education or just pure grace, most help pulls someone along with them. You mention the age most of these staunch “most die in kleptocrat” leaders ascended office, but have you considered their maturity level and other elements that got them there. As you know most of them didn’t get there by merit, but by cronyism and nepotistic means. Enough of my rant. I do believe youths hold the key to their future, but who will make sure they are well informed and also make sure that their concerns are carried out once the said politician is in office? My dear compatriot, the local leaders( traditional rulers), I believe are the key to stopping corruption in politics, especially how youths are dragged into politics. They are the ones that usually mobilize these hungry miseducated generations, just so they can have their palms oiled. I believe a way to stop some of it is making judges and law courts accountable also so that before a politician is voted into office he is made to sign a legal document that makes sure that if he does not keep to his promises and not transparent with all deals and funds, that he would be impeached immediately after 2 years in office and will be banned from ever running for office again and most forfit any and everything he or she has in connection to their political appointment. Also there should be a legal understanding with international goverment to stop any of its bank from banking with any politician and their families or pay the country back for what gets stolen. There should be a mandate that if a politician takes a an unoficial trip outside of Nigeria he or she must account for every penny or be impeached. It should be Made known that anyone who ventures into politics will no longer be a private citizen but is a public citizen and accountable in all their dealings to the Nigerian people, and that includes their families. I think if such little measures are put in place, certain corruptive ways can be stopped.
    -A concerned Nigerian

  2. The Truth

    April 18, 2017 at 5:35 pm

    Nicely written article and goes to address the major issues.

    @Truth It is good to hold people like Ohimai accountable based on this write-up, but it is better to do it with specifics. Coming out with a bogus claim of having met him before without evidence or examples of what he did that contradicts his message in the article is suspicious. It is the same thing killing the so called war against corruption where people are labelled thieves on the pages of newspapers only to be discharged and acquitted by the courts.

  3. Kolomental

    April 18, 2017 at 5:55 pm

    Controversial article but definitely a reflection of the true state of Nigerian youths. @ Truth, what makes you think Dayo rose to his current situation because his family is rich? Are there not children of rich parents who became failures? I think its an issue of personal determination to succeed. As for Ohimai, I’ve met him many times and he’s a normal person though his appearance from afar suggests otherwise. he’s not a perfect person but dealing from with him, corruption and dishonesty are not things you can accuse him of. The lesson from this article i believe is for all of us to begin to play our individual roles and making Nigeria better instead of looking for faults and who to blame.

  4. Na So

    April 18, 2017 at 7:55 pm

    Thank you to the commenter above. This is rich coming from this fellow. Please remove the log in your eye..

  5. Engoz

    April 18, 2017 at 10:12 pm

    It’s more of a mental warfare. People don’t realize how much we internalize certain social norms even to our detriment. There are many adult youth that can’t even challenge their parents on decisions that matter to their own lives. Why would we expect them to challenge political or religious authority? We grew up in a society that accords warranted or unwarranted respect to older people and perceives leadership as a male thing, You begin to find the oppressed group even supporting the oppression. It takes an intelligent, inquisitive, reflective mind to break out of such hold and hold independent thoughts. I see no reason for any youth to be in full support of any political party. If a political party cannot show you the facts how it has benefited you or your group’s interests, what is the point of your support?

  6. Funmi

    April 18, 2017 at 10:19 pm

    “Going forward, the key to effective youth participation in politics and governance is to begin to get involved at the political party level. That is where all sort of characters we disdain as leaders first emerge. If we are not involved at the level of the parties where decisions are taken on the candidates presented to the electorate, the youths, despite their demographic majority, are unable to effect real change.”
    This is very important for us to understand….we need to get involved from the grassroot…..
    God bless you bro original Mr Fix Nigeria

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