Atiku Abubakar GCON smiled uncomfortably as the interviewer, Miss Jones, tried to explain why she had just ‘attacked’ his age. He wondered why he would be “discriminated against” based on his age, if he felt he had the strength, good health, and capacity to run for the office of President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in 2019.
In that moment the Adamawa-born philanthropist, businessman, and former Vice-President of Nigeria stood in the gap for a sagely class of political leaders who believe that they still have enough energy left in the tank to run the necessary miles towards Nigeria’s overdue emancipation from poverty, unemployment, lack of power, fearfully increasing insecurity, a very poor health sector, among many other factors that have kept the most populous black nation in the universe shackled in a tearful state of underachievement.
Was Miss Jones right when she said that 60% of Nigerians are young people who should be led by young leaders? Was she just jumping on an entitled bandwagon or did she echo the true aspirations of the general population?
Nigeria has suffered years of shockingly bad leadership, none more shivering than the incumbent administration headed by retired army general, Muhammadu Buhari.
Insecurity, the major challenge Buhari was elected to tackle, has continued to grow with kidnappings, beheadings and other forms of executions becoming such orders of the day that citizens have become impervious to news about every other killing.
Muhammadu Buhari is himself, a member of the elderly ruling class that Miss Jones inferred.
At the age of 32 in 1966, Yakubu Gowon became Head of State. He presided over the unfortunate civil war but also had the privilege of supervising Nigeria’s fiscal direction as the oil boom brought incredible wealth to the nation.
How well did Gowon manage his task of leading Nigeria to the level it deserved? There are many who believe that the institutionalization of corruption took its infant roots during that era. It is said in not a few places that the young Gowon lacked requisite discipline, experience, and knowledge, to steer the ship of a project like Nigeria.
But before Gowon, a band of young soldiers staged a bloody coup. It was in the early hours of 15 January 1966 that the bullets began to fly. The mutiny was led by Chukwuma Kaduna-Nzeogwu and other officers within his age bracket.
As at the time of the coup, Sandhurst-trained Nzeogwu was just 29 years old.
The reckless manner in which the coup was handled cemented an already toxic distrust upon which the major ethnic groups had tolerated each other until that point.
Perhaps in that, sometimes typical, manner of youthful behavior garnished by restless zeal and some measure of inconsistency, avoidable killings were carried out in some regions while a certain region was deemed to have ‘conveniently’ failed to carry out the kill order against their own leaders.
The coup plotters had their sympathizers. The boys were charismatic and daring. They were also intelligent and had a certain carriage that most educated Nigerians were blessed with back then. To hear them speak was pure bliss. Tafawa Balewa arguably had the best voice and diction in all of the continent in that era.
But there was one thing the Nzeogwu crew lacked; the cold, calculated calmness that comes with experience and, often, age.
I do not seek to claim that young people lack the qualities that the elderly have; oh they do. In the larger Nigerian context, anything the corrupt, inept elderly can do, a lot of the young ones can do even better.
A quick browse-through of young political leaders in today’s Nigeria might not post an inspiring picture.
The youngest governor in Nigeria happens to be the most reckless and unfeeling. Lacking empathy, he is known to have owed civil servants for over twenty two months while wasting monies accruing to the state from the Paris Club refund and federal allocation, amongst others.
Have you listened to him speak? The over exuberance never quite takes two seconds to manifest. Given to bouts of delusion, the man imagines himself invincible. He recently unleashed the worst level of electoral violence ever recorded in any gubernatorial election just to claim a mandate he knew that the people, custodians of democratic power, would not have given him.
Under his watch, citizens were killed with no repercussions against the known killers. From then till date, Kogi state has not stopped bleeding. The Lokoja-Abuja highway has become the Mecca for kidnappers and armed bandits while the state university in Anyigba, once the proudest bride of all citizens has become the deathbed for students with cult related killings rising exponentially.
Just the other day we watched the gory scenes as a student on the main campus was hacked to death in broad daylight while dozens of student onlookers whipped out their camera phones to record the incident, each passing exotic commentary while the assailant boldly committed murder, mounted the motorcycle that had brought him, and zoomed off.
It has never been this bad in Kogi state. A young man rules the state.
The youngest senator in Nigeria is a cantankerous bloke with absolutely no respect for women- or anybody for that matter.
Hailing from Adamawa state, he was caught on camera beating up a nursing mother most mercilessly. When the senate committee set up to investigate the matter sat, he was quite rude and boisterous.
Within a few weeks of the event, a number of sham groups awarded the woman-beating senator awards with shocking appellations like “HERO OF DEMOCRACY.”
Most people believe that those awards were deliberate attempts at damage control. I find it hard not to believe so.
Somewhere in Kwara state, friends of the youngest commissioner in Nigeria came on Facebook and Twitter to accuse the lady, 26, of suddenly blocking them on all her social media handles the moment her appointment was announced. I don’t know if it’s true as I do not know the young lady.
Most assuredly though, the above references do not represent the totality of Nigerian youths in politics.
In Oyo, southwest of Nigeria, a certain Seyi Makinde is setting the standards as governor. But the thing is, people who refer to him as a young man forget that Makinde was born in 1967. At 53 he is hardly a ‘youth’ but in the context that most Nigerians speak, “young” means anybody below sixty five years and above.
Not many years ago, a political party appointed a man above sixty years as “Youth Leader.”
It makes it a bit of a challenge to place a range on what “young” truly means here.
Is Seyi Makinde doing well because he is of an age that is a perfect blend of youth and experience? When the man speaks, he exudes a certain calmness and maturity that shows he has spent enough years growing through life and he understands people, power, and empathy.
Does this bestow the same qualities in all elderly people? No way. Wait until you hear Adams Oshiomole speak. He is the national chairman of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).
Mr. Oshiomole is sixty eight. But ask Nigerians and they would most likely tell you that they have yet to meet anybody of that age who speaks without decorum as an elder statesman.
This brings me to the question, should age be the real issue in politics or should competence be the yardstick for electing leaders in a Nigeria that is sorely in need of balance between youth, assured calculation, and experience to navigate the tumultuous waves she is currently struggling with?
As I type this, I am watching the Atiku interview on BBC for the 1000th time.
The shock he expresses when Miss Jones hit him with the question shows a genuine, almost child-like innocence of thought. The man believes himself capable and healthy.
In my experience, health is neither an automatic bestowment nor is it the exclusive preserve of young people; a younger (by Nigerian standards) President Yar’adua died from a kidney disease. He was not an old man.
Atiku Abubakar is above seventy. But he is fit as fiddle. He is the reason I believe that good health is a combination of good genes and a deliberate lifestyle. The man is blessed with both. I have seen men older than Atiku who are also very healthy. American president, Donald Trump, is not a boy. Yet his energy levels are sky high. Ever ready to banter anyone on social media, he still attends to his demanding job while defending his government against critics and opposition.
Now, competence. Is Atiku competent? Those who have encountered him will tell you that he is. He successfully established and has run his oil servicing firm, INTELS, since the 80s, making it one of the truly world class companies indigenous to Nigeria.
Faro Water, also one of his babies, is doing well against older brands in the country. Faro is actually one of the safest brands to drink from, a hallmark of Atiku’s dedication to quality.
There is the one grey spot of a corruption perception that propaganda has created against the man but, until one is proven guilty by a competent court, he must be assumed innocent.
As Vice-President between 1999 and 2007, Atiku successfully headed the economic recovery team that reclaimed a lot of stolen wealth from corrupt politicians and back into the national coffers. He created a strategy that comfortably encouraged the willful recovery of monies, saving the government hundreds of millions in litigation costs as well as what would have become, as evident today, unproductive media trials just for show.
When Nigeria faced international embarrassment in Togo- the embassy in Lomé was going to be evicted from their rented building- it was Atiku who quietly fixed the problem while on a personal visit to that country.
The embassy in New York also faced the same challenge and, after Atiku had approved state funds for the ambassador to fix the issue, the money disappeared into thin air.
Realizing the need to keep a calm head and focus on the immediate challenge, the then Vice-President resisted the urge to call out the ambassador. He negotiated a more direct solution by linking the then finance minister, if I remember correctly, to the agents in charge of the building. That money was paid, Nigeria was saved the humiliation, and culpable personnel at the embassy were handled by the book without the need for a sham media trail that has become a conduit for siphoning funds these days.
I do not believe that age is President Buhari’s problem. Any man or woman who was competent in their youth does not suddenly become incompetent overnight.
Good health can fade with age. Many things can suddenly fade away, but not competence.
Winston Churchill only became Prime Minister at the good age of sixty six (he was born in 1874) and he led Britain into the second world war with success. As a matter of fact, he became Prime Minister for a second spell between 1951 and 1955. He was aged seventy seven by the time he was elected to have a second go at leading Great Britain.
By every standard of measurement Churchill is not rated a failure as age did not hamper his ability to lead his country.
Should I mention Charles de Gaulle? He became president in France at the age of sixty eight and is given credit for his performance. He was also reelected and served until he resigned in 1968. His influence on French politics lives till this day.
Atiku Abubakar, in that interview with Jones, made a clarion call for a class of Nigerians that we simply cannot just wish away. There is no way we can negotiate a future without the past. Given the disconnect that has been forced between young citizens and our past, we need some of the sensible remaining elders to hand down everything they know about what happened to our once proud nation and help to heal wounded hearts, hurting ethnicities, and teach us how religious folks managed to be more tolerant of each other back then.
How many young Nigerians truly know- and understand- the dynamics of the civil War as well as it’s causes and effects, beyond the flowery threads sewn on Twitter and Facebook by subjective folks who were not there and did not have access to history in school or at home? A lot of what is written today is more likely to be deliberately tailored to cause more division than to honestly educate.
That is one of the assured outcomes of wild conjecture.
Only a man who has never experienced war craves for it. Those who have survived it never hope to see it happen again. But Nigeria is not all about the past alone. The world is fast moving ahead. On the home front, Ghana is dominating headlines with innovations that encourage foreign investors to set up shop in their country. They have relatively stable power, and there is less crime on their streets.
Nigeria’s population is a major challenge. It requires steady hands for guidance. Steady hands is not about age; it comes with competence and the experience of having managed large numbers of people and diverse interests successfully.
Nigeria is too politically complex for any inexperienced leader to successfully aspire to change.
As preparations continue to heat up towards the next election cycle come 2023, one hopes that the electorate do not make the same mistakes over and over. I believe that Nigerians have suffered enough to realize that competence, experience, and empathy is all they need to get better.
Forget age. Forget propaganda. It’s going to be make or break for this nation and the power should lie with the people next time.
Like Atiku said, “If I feel I have the strength, health, and COMPETENCE…..”
Michael Achimugu wrote in from Abuja
Yobe state Declares ‘War’ On Open Defecation, Environmental Degradation
Yobe State Government has declared war against open defecation, communicable diseases and environmental degradation through advocacy and community sensitization.
Declaring the war on Monday in Potiskum town, Governor Mai Mala Buni, represented by his Deputy Idi Barde Gubana, said the dangers and consequences of open defecation in the state ranging from infestation of diseases such as typhoid, cholera, malaria among others.
He said it has also negative effect on the environment by polluting the air with bad odor and making the land inhabitable.
“The significance of personal and community hygiene to safeguard human health is irrefutable; hence according to UNICEF 892,000,000 people are practicing open defecation world over.
“India is ranked first with high rate of open defecation in the world and Nigerian is second. While in Africa, Nigeria is ranked first.
“This among other reasons promoted President Muhammadu Buhari to signed Executive Order 009 on 21st November, 2019 and set a target for eradicating open defecation in Nigeria on or before 2025”, he noted.
In a bid to complement federal government’s effort, Governor Buni said the state government deemed it fit to take the advocacy campaign against the menace to the 17 local government areas to sensitize people on the dangers and negative consequences of open defecation.
According to him, the move is to protect the environment, culture, norms and values as people, adding to be an open defecation free society also reduces the incidence of disease and other anti social behaviour in the state.
“When open defecation is not properly managed, the diseases causing organism in human excreta find their way back to our food and water through run off, while in some instances houseflies can perch on these open excreta and settle on edibles, thereby infecting those that ingest the food or drinks”, Buni stressed.
Coronavirus In Nigeria: NCDC Issues Warning On Gatherings As FG Approves National Sports Festival
Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has warned that mass gatherings can cause the spread of infectious diseases including coronavirus.
The Director General of NCDC, Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, said this in a chat with News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on Monday in Abuja.
Ihekweazu noted that agency is constantly monitoring the epidemiological situation in the country.
He stated that NCDC recommends the cancellation of mass gatherings, in compliance with World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines.
“We are not advising the cancellation of gatherings, but our advice may change as the epidemiological situation evolves. This is assessed on a daily basis and regular updates can be found on www.covid19.ncdc.gov.ng”, he said.
The official listed gatherings that should be highly monitored.
The he explained included provision of “more entry and exit points, more food points, ensure hand-washing facilities with soap and water are readily available.”
Ihekweazu added that state ministries of health should be informed of such event and location assessed by officials.
The NCDC warning came hours the Nigerian government said it won’t stop the National Sports Festival in Edo State over coronavirus fears.
The event will be held in Benin from March 22 to April 1, 2020.
“Those who are looking in any way suspicious will be disallowed entry straightaway, so that they don’t pose any kind of risk to others until their symptoms are clear”, Health Minister, Osagie Ehanire, told the media .
APC CRISIS: Drama As high Court Orders Gaidom To Assume Oshiomhole’s Office
A Federal Capital Territory, FCT, High Court, has granted an interim order declaring Victor Giadom, acting National Secretary of the All Progressives Congress (APC), to act as the party’s National Chairman.
The Judge, Justice Samira Bature gave the order on Monday after listening to an ex-parte motion filed by Mustapha Salihu, the party’s national vice chairman, north-east.
In the motion, Salihu had prayed the court to allow Giadom operate as APC’s acting National Chairman pending the decision of the party’s National Executive Council, NEC.
Salihu also prayed the court for an order restraining the APC and its officers or anyone from preventing Giadom from functioning as the acting chairman.
He noted that Gaidom should be allowed as acting Chairman pending the hearing of the motion on notice.
Justice Bature granted all the prayers sought by Salihu before adjourning the matter to March 20.
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