All protocols duly observed, I wish to thank the organizers of this event and the wonderful members of Legal Ideas Forum International for the privilege of being a guest speaker on this day, and in this prestigious institution.
Ladies and gentlemen, we may begin by asking ourselves: What is leadership? Leadership, basically is a call to service. Leadership is the ability to dream; the courage to persistently chase those dreams and the capacity to inspire others into working collectively for the actualization of such purposes.
Warren Bennis simply defined leadership as the capacity to translate visions to reality. According to John Quincy Adams, if your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader. That innate ability to impact changes in the lives of those around us is the true essence of leadership. We are all leaders, whether as a class representative, student body leader, Union members or even as an individual with the drive to positively affect the lives of those around us; to inspire them to look inwards and channel their God given talents for the good of the society. Leadership is not hinged on occupying formal positions alone, it is rather concerned with fostering value added contributions in any group process.
There is no gainsaying the fact that good leadership is in no little way manifested through good governance as far as the macrocosm of the Nigerian society is concerned. Hence, I would want to touch on some characteristics of good governance which, among other things, include:
1. Participation– Good governance encourages integration, inclusion and aggregation of various group interests and bridges the gap between the leaders and the led. It removes that dichotomy that has long characterized a poor relationship between those governing and the governed. The citizenry must be carried along in the various stages of policy planning, decision making and implementation processes. Any project that is people oriented is more likely to succeed and the people, especially the youth, will always identify with such project which they are part of.
2. Credible elections- In modern democracies like ours, institutionalized leadership derives it legitimacy and life from the mandate of the people who elect a candidate into power and such candidate in turn governs according to set legislations and policies. Transparency and accountability in leadership can only begin from a free, fair and credible electoral process. This no doubt will ensure that the will of the people is respected and their popular choice of leaders are rightfully enthroned. It is only through this process that leaders in power can be accountable to the people whenever they are found wanting in the course of their stewardship.
3. Essential services- Access to basic services such as education, healthcare, electricity, good roads, etc are prerequisites for effective human development with a wide reaching effects on the citizenry. Effective leadership and good government is one that puts together and pursues programs that are sustainable, and would turn around the lives of the people for the better.
4. Empoyment– The population of Nigeria is estimated at about 150 million people, and out of this lot, it is estimated that a whooping 70% comprises of the youth. However, population growth by itself does not equal prosperity. Unless young people are educated and job opportunities created, we will only be raising a population that will be a liability rather than an asset. Governance must be proactive and innovative in the provision of viable alternatives, programs and policies that would see to the employment and effective accommodation of this impressionable population.
Having elucidated on the above characteristics, it is to be observed that there is a significant factor missing in the Nigerian political scene and that is the inclusion of the youth in politics and leadership. Before we delve fully into the Nigerian setting, let us have a brief overview of some of the young leaders making history all over the world:
a. Emmanuel Macron, 39 years old. He is the President of France, a former civil servant and investment banker.
b.Saleh Ali al-Sammad, 38 years old. He is currently the President of the Supreme Political Council of Yemen.
c. Justin Trudeau, 46 years old. He is currently the Prime Minister of Canada.
d. Zoran Zaev, 43 years old. He is currently the Prime Minister of Macedonia.
e. In San Marino, from 2017 till date, the various heads of government have been occupied by persons within the range of 40 years or less.
f. Volodymyr Grosysman, 39 years old. He is Ukraine’s youngest Prime Minister. He was elected by Parliament in April 2016.
g. Juri Rata’s, 30 years, became the Prime Minister of Estonia in November 2016.
h. Sebastian Kurz, 31, became the world’s youngest national leader when he was elected Prime Minister of Austria in October 2017. Before then, he was the country’s youngest ever foreign minister.
i. Jacinda Arden, 37 years of age is the current Prime Minister of New Zealand.
In the United States of America, the average age of a state legislator nationwide is 56, but that did not stop some young persons from running for congressional offices. With differing political ideologies and representing a wide range of states, these people share one uncommon characteristics: their youth. They are listed below
1. Sarah Blair: 22 years old Republican law maker representing West Virginia.
2. Andre Bumgardner: 24 years old Republican representing the Connecticut district.
3. John Sweeney: 25 years old Republican law maker representing New Hampshire.
4. A.J. Edgecomb: 25 years old Republican representing the State of Maine.
5. Drew Christensen: 25 years old Republican of the Minnesota House Of Representatives.
Others include Kayla Kessinger, Ryan Fectau, Travis Bennett, Avery Bourne and Jeramey Anderson who are all within the range of 27 years of age.
The overview above is just to show us that in the world politics, the youth appear to be having a movement. They seem to be taking a sweeping momentum and seeking for available political positions. A juxtaposition of this fact with the Nigerian context is to a large extent saddening. How many young persons within the ages of 18 to 35 hold political positions or are directly involved in the formulation of policies or in the decision making process? Have we in the past decade seen a physical and ideological revolution geared towards the massive ‘infiltration‘ of young adults into various tiers, levels and strata of the Nigerian government? If we are to be honest, we all know that the answer to these questions is in the negative.
Barrack Obama was successful in his elections (2008 & 2012), largely due to his recognition of the values, needs and plights of young Americans. His mantra of “yes we can” was a rallying call to every young American that his or her dreams can be achieved. He whipped up the sentiments of the youth and on this tide he rode swiftly into the Oval Office. The Obama story is not to far fetched from what can be obtainable in Nigeria if the right things are put in place.
The blame for this sorry state of things goes both ways. Looking at Nigeria in particular, youth participation in the past few decades in voting and election processes has been marred with apathy. Whether it is in the political parties or social institutions, a good number of young adults have chosen to be disinterested in what goes on in the political and governmental circle. Therefore, the older generation have thus been deluded to see potential young leaders as insignificant and inconsequential. Well the truth is this: power is taken and not given on a platter of gold. The gerontocracy based political structure in the country will not relinquish control of leadership of the nation so easily. Therefore the youth must work hard, politic and struggle to get into the leadership structure in the country. We must go beyond merely seeking political patronage, to climbing high up the structure of the political system. It won’t be easy, but it would send a strong message that those who are abreast of the world as it is in this 21st century are ready to steer the course of their future.
At the global level, there seem to be an understanding that the youth are significant dividends of the global population, and as such they need to be included in every decision making process. This level of understanding has not been reached in Nigeria, but we are gradually getting there. There is a silver lining currently in that strong ideological movements, such as this platform are springing up across the country and questioning the status quo. We are now understanding the potentials we wield as youth, we are now demanding good governance, inclusion and effective leadership. We are determined and preparing ourselves to lead the country when the time and opportunity present themselves. This revolution is now perceived by the older politicians, and thus they are singing the mantra of youth inclusiveness in governance.
At the continental level, the adoption of the African Youth Charter currently ratified by 23 African countries is a legal step taken by the African Union in addressing the many challenges befalling African youth. Also the espousal of the 2009-2018 ten year AU plan of action for youth empowerment and development; the celebration of the African Youth Day and the implementation of the AU Youth Volunteer Corp Program are the notable achievements of the AU to improve the conditions of the African youth.
How can such similar aforementioned steps be taken to improve the lots of Nigeria youth, and make them more proactive in leadership in the country? Some suggested solutions are highlighted below
1. Adopting a youth inclusive legal framework is an essential and primary step in mainstreaming the youth in the political aspect of the country. It would allow them to participate formally and improve their political roles in the society. The electoral process is one of such means that political rights are exercised. In this particular case, the formalities and procedures in elections should take the conditions of the youth into consideration.
2. The youth must be empowered politically and economically to actively participate in the leadership arena. When the majority of the youth are economically self sufficient, then they can begin to think of how to impact positively on the political momentum in the country.
3. The media is one of the major agents that can raise the awareness level of youth integration into leadership, thereby sensitizing them on the urgent need to be active participants in the political process. Furthermore, youth participation in civil societies, religious groups and communities will assist them to share information, foster leadership skills and engage in the political process.
4. Active membership of the various political parties is also another avenue to bolster the participation of the youth in leadership as far as Nigeria is concerned. This will give them the needed advantage to vie and possibly win contested positions.
In a nutshell, one cannot adequately appraise the challenges of leadership in Nigeria without bringing to the fore, the absence of youth participation. To improve this situation, attention has to be paid to the various aspects that will involve the youth in the leadership process. In doing this, it is believed that the reins of leadership would be held by more young persons with marvelous ideas and effective developmental agendas to take Nigeria to greater heights.
About the author
Ezeoha Markanthony C. Is the President, Lawsa students’ association in Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka. He is a social commentator, public speaker, a writer and youth leader.