Nigerians frequently make the argument that the cure for Nigeria’s ills is to sweep all old leaders into the Atlantic and replace them with the so called youths. But this is an argument that has no merit, principally because it lacks the justifications of both historical and contemporary context.
The issue is not young or old leadership. The issue is, first and foremost, ability. You either have it or you do not. Youth will not confer ability on you because it is not a physical but a mental and intellectual thing. And age will not rob you of it unless you are, basically, infirm.
The two persons who vied for the U.S Presidency in November 2016 were 69 years (Hillary Clinton) and 70 years (Donald Trump), respectively. The one who won is 70. In his primary run Trump beat a dozen rivals who were all younger than him. Ronald Reagan, one of the most successful American presidents, finished his 2nd term when he was 78 years having been elected at nearly 70 years of age. He was successful as were younger presidents like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.
As I always point out, the younger generation of Nigerian political leaders have also had their chance right from the 2nd Republic (1979-1983) – the Abubakar Rimis, the Jim Nwobodos, Ambrose Allis, et al. They were called the young New Breed. In the 3rd Republic there was even an Association of Under-40 Governors… Donald Duke, Niyi Adebayo, et al. Goodluck Jonathan was a mere strappling youth when he became Deputy Governor and later rose to the top as President. History will judge what they achieved as young leaders.
Youth does not equal to ability anywhere. You have it or you don’t. Being young does not give you what you do not have in the first place. And you are not going to learn it on the job. The British saw younger leaders when they chose Theresa May at 60 years to succeed the younger David Cameron a few months ago. Angela Merkel, 66, is the most powerful leader in the Western World right now as America goes through an uncertain transition.
Those who make the argument for the youths also fail to point to any leading youth figures today who are blazing trails in any sphere of life as the ones to watch. The constant example of Obama ignores the trajectory of his rise to the presidency
They do not reckon with his diligent preparation and apprenticeship, from being the First Black to edit the Harvard Law Review, to being a Community Youth worker, Illinois State Senator and his explosion onto the national stage with that epoch-making speech, Audacity of Hope. So the youthful Barack Obama did not just happen. He was prepared, groomed and ready.
Therefore, Nigerians should stop reducing profound challenges to easy and simple analysis and solutions. If a graduate with a 1st Class honours accepts to be a chief protocol officer to some inept Governor instead of running for Governor himself, then he probably is not qualified to be more than a chief protocol officer.