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#NotTooYoungToRun: The Fetishization of “Youth” – Jude Feranmi

This piece is long overdue but then, they say Better Late Than Never.

My objective is simple and it is to address the notion which I personally consider a slander that there is a certain fetishization of ‘Youth’ and the capabilities of young people when it comes to nation building or Leadership. I have written opinion pieces on the subject of youth and leadership on a few platforms – HERE, HERE and HERE, but I still think that there persists an argument that is common amongst young people that ends up diluting arguments about the capability of young persons in leadership particularly where nation building is concerned.

The timing of the ‘Not Too Young To Run Bill’ sponsored by Honourable Tony Nwulu of the PDP cannot be more perfect considering the state of the country, the maturity of our democracy and the global context when it comes to development. The support given to this bill by YIAGA and LEPAN are laudable so much so that other organizations in the civil society space should immediately emulate this going forward. But then, what are the arguments?

When the First Republic failed, it was solely in the hands of the young leaders that saw that independence was gotten by ALL means, same goes for the Second and the Third republic. In fact, the unforgettable late General Sani Abacha was 23 years old when he participated in the planning of the first coup in 1966. There are tons of other examples of not just Nigerian leaders who were young but African leaders who were young when they took power and made a complete mess of their countries.

The conclusion of these premises laid out will then be that it does not really matter whether you are young or not, what matters is the fact that you have an orientation of development that benefits your people as a political leader irrespective of whether you are 73 or 25 years old. In backing up this conclusion, examples like Rwanda and Tanzania would now be made of their presidents and how old they are and then say China where democracy is not even existent and it seems like having white hair is a criterion for leadership. Youths aspiring for leadership should therefore stop this fetishization of youth, youth, youth!

As valid as this argument sounds, it is best illustrated as a three legged stand with two broken legs and it fails in its entirety to address the problems that a bill like the #NotTooYoungToRun Bill seeks to solve. (1) Marginalization (2) Leadership Experience (3) Innovative Approach to Development (4) Future Impact of Today’s Policies (5) Apathy (6) Passive Civil Society and these are just the immediate problems that are evident.

It is crystal clear that the youth demographic of Nigeria are the most marginalized set of people in the country irrespective of region, religion or tribe. The opinion of the young wo/man does not count even in matters that explicitly involve the youth and this is not particularly removed from the current state of the patronage system that passes down to the last man on the street. With 60% of the population, it is unthinkable that the only duty of the young Nigerian is to vote and for the active ones to engage and advocate. As a group, this marginalization is deadly – maybe not now, but in the nearest future as we all understand that the very few who currently hold the aces as far as politics is concerned in the country hand over to their children or their cronies’ children. If the word ‘youth’ has to be fetishized to ensure this marginalization no longer exists, then so be it.

Mhairi Black is another case study, she is currently a representative in the British Parliament and will be 21 years old this year. She had not even completed her thesis at the University when she was elected. In that same parliament there are representatives old enough to be her grandfather. In fact, the incumbent she unseated, Douglas Alexander had been seating as parliamentarian since 1997 one year after she was born. Douglas himself became a parliamentarian at age 30. The leadership experience that Mhairi is afforded in matters of state is so immense she stands the chance of becoming the second female prime minister in Britain should she so wish. Need I say more?

On development, the innovations of the past 20 years cannot be compared to the innovations of the next 20 and the way I see this is simple. If government cannot catch up with these innovations, especially African governments, the inequality gap is about to be quadrupled and this argument needs thorough beating. In an age of information where the 4th industrialization wave is already kicking off faster and a thousand times better than the last three waves, our ministers focus on going back to subsistence farming, importing grasses and making of pencils with deadlines at 2020, the same year when 50 billion devices will already be connected globally making life way easier, disrupting businesses, catapulting development into seriously high levels and changing the way human beings live.

If we fail to understand that the next 20 years that we are headed for is a decade of innovation, we might end up as the irredeemable scourge of the earth. The same argument as above goes for the future impact of today’s policies which will only affect the young people of today for two reasons, the folks making the policies today will either be dead or useless by the time that impact begins to show up when Nigerians now have to compete with people who have their cards in the right places.

Take a look at apathy and political participation and you find that 60 percent of the population already feels no need to participate in the polity as they are not adequately represented and there is no incentive to give to a country that gives you nothing except for those who would be called altruists, a category of people already extinct in Nigeria. The #30PercentOrNothing initiative which kicked off last year died a natural death and it is simple, it is also an advocacy for a policy where the decisions are not made by those who are interested or a representative of that demography.

Is there a need for competence and compassion and excellence in nation building? Of course Yes! Is there a need for Young people in nation building? Of course Yes! But to think that one trumps the other in the order of priority is to well assume that we can go ahead with implementing the policies of the first industrial revolution competently while the innovation of this century and this age rides past us so much so that even now that we need to leapfrog into the future, we start to play catch-up. And please, don’t even bring the argument that the old leaders that can innovate to or adapt to this age. Old dogs can’t learn new tricks. It’s not because they don’t want to, it’s simply because they do not have the capacity to.

John Legend’s song in the Selma movie featured Common the rapper and one of his lines read:

“No one can win the war individually, it takes the wisdom of the elders and young people’s energy”

If there’s a need to fetishize at all, Let the Young fetishize energy and Let the old fetishize wisdom.

I support the #NotTooYoungToRun Bill.

God Bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria

Jude ‘Feranmi
National Youth Leader,

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