Monday, April 26, 2010

Nigeria has a habit of recycling political figures. For that reason, it is not abnormal to see a previously important individuals, say from 20 or even 30 years ago, choose to run and then win some form of current political office. In the 2003 Presidential elections, 6 former military/para-military officers and a 1960s leader of the secessionist movement which led to Nigeria's civil war, Chukwuemegu Ojukwu, contended for the office.[1] The eventual winner was Olusegun Obasanjo, a retired general and former military dictator. The 2007 Presidential elections were no different. This reality of old political figures continuing to control the country could be the result of Nigerian culture which emphasizes respect and significant deference to the elderly. However, the constant reappearance of old political individuals serves to deter younger politically inclined individuals from entering into politics. These younger people are hampered by the fact that they have little name recognition (in comparison to older stalwarts), lack the necessary funding and many times do not have the backing of Nigeria's political godfathers and elite who largely determine what individuals can or cannot run for political office in an area. The implications of this shut-out of young Nigerians and young Nigerian ideas will have significant implications down the long run.

In 2007, then Chair of Nigeria's Central Bank, Charles Soludo, estimated that roughly half of Nigeria's almost 150 million people were 18 years or younger. Additionally, 23 million of Nigeria's young people are reportedly "unemployable", and the educational sector is in shambles as students flee for educations in Canada, the United Kingdom and elsewhere. Unemployment stands at 28.57% (as of third quarter 2009) and some young people turn to kidnappings, militancy, robbery and even prostitution to care for themselves and their extended families as is the norm in Nigerian culture. These statistics and realities obscure the progress that many individuals, young and old are making, despite their circumstances in the country. Furthermore, those realities present a destabilizing factor in the nation's social structure are are simply an indication of the many ways the majority of Nigeria's population - it's young people - are sidelined by much older politicians who hold onto power and the insurmountable rewards, be they misappropriated or otherwise.

And to add insult upon injury, individuals like former dictator Ibrahim Babangida - a now self proclaimed advocate of freedom, democracy and the right to run for President - asserted,
"[b]ecause we have seen signs that [young Nigerians] are not capable of leading this country and so we feel we should help them.  May be they are not given the proper education that is why."
This from a man whose economic policies, while dictator, led to significant national debt, is accused (even by foreign governments) of massive corruption, who supported coup plotters in Guinea when sent by Nigeria to discourage such as act, who annulled democratic elections but now claims he "conducted the freest and fairest ... elections in the history of [Nigeria]."

The very fact that a Presidential aspirant could 'talk down', and in such a disrespectful manner, the largest part of the very electorate he should be courting in a free and fair democratic system, speaks volumes. Add to that, the very fact that another of Nigeria's former political 'leaders' (in this case of the military and dictatorship fashion) would try to become President, is another example of Nigeria's recycling of old political figures to the exclusion of young Nigerians with new, non-condescending ideas.

The continuous recycling of past dictators, past governors, past Senators and the like in modern Nigerian politics to the exclusion of young politically minded individuals will serve to create an additional tension in Nigeria's already combustible political climate. The country already deals with tribal, religious and political friction as exemplified in recurring fighting in the middlebelt region, Jos. The only thing is that this new tension will be along age lines and it is already being illustrated in the protests (on the internet and on the streets) organized by young Nigerians demanding better living conditions and political accountability across the country.

This disenfranchisement of young Nigerians will deter young Nigerians from using democratic processes to express themselves, possibly leading to their use of violence to get their point across. This is already the case in the Niger Delta were for years, militants used violence to impact the global price of oil and domestic security in their alleged quest to get more of the profits from oil into their region which desperately needs development.

Furthermore, preventing younger Nigerians from playing crucial roles in the nation's politics will leave them ill prepared for the task of leading the country when, inevitably, the recycled politicians are no more. For a nation with a significant amount of citizens under the age of 18 that is facing the future challenges of exploding population growth and much more, the failure to prepare Nigeria's young for civic duty will be detrimental.

There are obviously short term and long term problems related to Nigeria's tendency to recycle political figures at the exclusion of new, younger faces. The country cannot continue on this path of ageism in politics and frankly, all things. One look at the factors that led to the Sierra Leonian civil war indicates that a disenfranchised youth population created much of the chaos that caused that 11 year battle which resulted in the loss of millions of lives. Nigeria cannot risk that possibility and must take steps to include more of its population in the empowering politics of determining the nation's future. For that to happen, the electorate will likely have to get fed up with all the recycling.

[1] - Akinyele, T.A., The 2003 Nigerian Election That Broke The Jinx, West Africa Review: Issue 5, 2004

4 Curiosities. Add Yours.:

LaPenseuse said...

After the idiotic comment that IBB made, it will be young people he will hire to steal ballot boxes... it will be extremely sad if he wins. How can young Nigerians have "experience" when old coots like him have controlled power since the independence of Nigeria... The National Association of Nigerian Students should be protesting against IBB because of this... rather, they are getting paid to protest Ibori's run- in with the EFCC :(

Anonymous said...

What a shame.Only in Nigeria!

- Austyn A. from Facebook

My world said...

SSD,I like the way you have dissected this whole issue....IBB had better stay off Nigeria's politics!

RE - Entrepod said...

I don't like the fact that this old kook is keeping Goodluck Jonathon from running. that in itself is a crime. he should be locked in the barracks with all the other old kooks. it's time for this north south stuff to stop,, sha..

Can We Let The Man from The Delta Unite the Nation - Please My People. It's time to borrow from america - " It's Time For A Change".

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