Nigeria has been plagued by a succession of leaders who had leadership thrust on their shoulders by circumstances. Deputy Political Editor RAYMOND MORDI examines the problems associated with the recruitment of leaders, particularly from the teeming youth population
NIGERIANS are marking the 60th anniversary of their country’s independence with mixed feelings. The state of affairs in the country has been going downhill over the years and there are no indications that things are about to change any time soon. As the late Chinua Achebe, the internationally acclaimed writer stated in his 1993 book, “The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership”. In Achebe’s view, there is nothing basically wrong with the Nigerian character. “The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility, to the challenge of personal example which is the hallmarks of true leadership.”
Nowhere is this problem more manifest than in the area of recruitment of political leadership, particularly from the teeming youth population. Those who emerge as leaders usually belong to the older generation and they are always not prepared for that responsibility. For instance, at the outset of the current political dispensation in 1999, former President Olusegun Obasanjo was cooling his heels in detention and had no intention of contesting for the presidency until the outgoing military leadership approached him and recruitment him to contest. Obasanjo was 62 then. The late President Umaru Yar’Adua also emerged as the next elected leader in 2007 under similar circumstances. He was preparing to return to the classroom when he was picked to run.
Similarly, it was the sudden death of Yar’Adua in the middle of his first term that threw up the Goodluck Jonathan presidency. To win the 2015 presidential election, the then newly formed All Progressives Congress (APC) had to resort to fielding the current president, a retired military general who had ruled the country three decades earlier, to dislodge the former ruling Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) led by President Jonathan. Buhari could be said to be better prepared for leadership in 2015 because he had contested the presidency three times before then and failed, but the drawback was that he was already 73 years.
When will it be the turn of the youth to come to the forefront of political leadership in Nigeria? The situation has reached a sorry pass today, with the country recycling leaders in virtually all levels. For now, politicians with deep pockets, who are usually in their 50s and 60s, continue to dominate the political scene. For instance, on March 24, 2012, at its national convention, the former governing party, the PDP, descended to a new low on youth empowerment when it chose 60-year old Umar Chiza as its National Youth Leader. The decision was only reversed following the uproar that greeted it.
The appointment of 52-year old Ibrahim Jalo as the Youth Leader of the APC two years after did not also go down well with the party’s youth. The appointment was made at the party’s convention held in Abuja on June 13 and 14, 2014. Although the party claimed at the time that Jalo was 43 years, critics maintained that it was public knowledge that he contested the Gombe/Kwame/Funakaye Federal Constituency seat in the House of Representative in 2011 during which he declared his age to be 49 years.
It was perhaps against this background that a set of youths championed the Age Reduction bill, popularly known as the Not Too Young To Run bill, which was eventually signed into law on May 31, 2018, by President Buhari. The bill, which was sponsored in the House of Representatives by Tony Nwulu and in the Senate by AbdulAziz Nyako was conceived and pushed by several civil society groups including YIAGA Africa, beginning in May 2016. It succeeded in altering Sections 65, 106, 131, 177 of the Constitution, which reduced the age of running for elective positions for House of Assembly and House of Representatives from 30 years to 25 years, Senate and governorship from 35 years to 30 years and office of the president from 40 to 30 years.
Two years after, the effect of the Not Too Young To Run Act is yet to be felt within the polity. Observers say more than anything else that money is the biggest hindrance to the aspiration of many young Nigerians to play a more dominant role in the political arena. The Southeast Secretary-General of the Campaign for Democracy (CD), Dr. Jerry Chukwuokolo said money exerts far-reaching influence on Nigeria’s elections. He said: “It is required for the running of political parties and for the candidates to finance their campaigns. In fact, money is what makes politics go around in Nigeria; money politics and vote buying have taken the centre stage to the extent that everyone is guilty, irrespective of political party affiliation.”
During the 2015 general elections, for instance, the two major parties put enormous price tags on the nomination forms; this must have made many qualified young politicians shelve their ambitions. The PDP put a price tag of N22 million for aspirants that vied for its presidential ticket. This comprises a presidential nomination fee of N20 million and N2 million fee for Expression of Interest. The governorship nomination form of the party was fixed at N10 million; with the Expression of Interest Form pegged at N1 million. The nomination fee for the Senate and the House of Representatives were fixed at N4 million and N2 million respectively, while the Expression of Interest Forms were pegged at N400, 000 for both the Senate and House of Representatives aspirants. As for the state House of Assembly, the nomination fee was N1million, while the Expression of Interest Form was pegged at N200, 000. The party did not, however, charge female aspirants any nomination fee, but they were required to pay for the Expression of Interest form as applicable.
In the same vein, the APC placed a price tag of N27 million on its presidential and Expression of Interest form. Incumbent governors that contested for a second term paid N10.5 million, while party members that aspired for the tickets for the first time were made to cough out N5.5 million. Returning senators to the Red Chambers paid N5.3 million, while fresh aspirants parted with N3.3 million. Returning members of the House of Representatives paid N3.2 million, while fresh aspirants parted with N2.2 million. Fresh aspirants for the state House of Assemblies paid N550, 000, while those returning to the house paid N800,000.
Paying for Expression of Interest and for Nomination Form is just a tip of the iceberg. A chieftain of the APC in Lagos who spoke on condition of anonymity said there are numerous other official and unofficial payments attached to vying for even the lowest elective position. He said: “Take the state House of Assembly for instance. Anyone aspiring to go to the house must be prepared to do the following: pay for the printing of posters; announcements in the electronic and print media; dish out unofficial fees to party leaders to show their seriousness to contest; buy buses or cars that will be used as campaign vehicles; set up a campaign committee; employ personal staff that would be on salary; sponsor meetings by paying for food and drinks that would be consumed; pay for the transportation of delegates to the primary venue; and a handsome mobilisation fee for each delegate. All these cost a lot of money and as a result, the youth will not contemplate such a move, because of the huge amount involved.
“It is a different ballgame after the emergence of the candidates. At this level, a candidate is expected to mobilize people to attend campaigns; he must reach out to opinion leaders, market women, labour leaders, community development associations and the like. Only rich and powerful people can make it; that is why they embezzle money when they get there.”
Mr. Charles Reuben, a chieftain of the APC in Delta North Senatorial District, believes it is particularly worrisome that young persons are being tactically denied the opportunity of contesting for elective positions because of money. He attributes the development to the greed of the elders. His words: “Our elders are greedy; that is what I think. A situation where someone at the age of 60 is still fighting for leadership positions even at the ward and local government level leaves much to be desired. The youth should be given the opportunity to grow and take over leadership positions gradually from local to national levels. Nigeria is ripe for a youth president. Did Gen. Yakubu Gowon not lead this country at the age of 31? There is nothing bad in having a president or governor who is aged 30 or 35. If the elders don’t sit back and allow the youths to run the show, the younger ones cannot grow. What such young leaders need is back up.”
Reuben said it is difficult for youths to attain leadership positions today because the issue of money politics is so entrenched. He said: “Politicians elected to represent the people at various levels are not interested in fighting for the interest of the people but only in recouping their ‘investments’ and making money for themselves and their families generally. The whole system is so corrupt that the name of the game is compromise. Even members of the opposition do not come out openly to challenge those in government because they are also enjoying one benefit or the other; the nation’s wealth is being squandered and shared like personal money.”
A chieftain of the APC in the Southeast, Chief Chekwas Okorie said the high cost of winning elections, as well as the arduous and manipulative process involved is the bane of leadership recruitment in Nigeria. He said his defunct party, the UPP, tried to encourage many young persons to contest by waving requirements that might have constituted impediments to their aspirations. As a result, many young aspirants became candidates of the party. Okorie added: “For instance, the person who championed the Not Too Young To Run bill in the House of Representatives, Tony Nwulu, was our candidate in Imo State. But when it came to the stage of campaigning for the election, practically all of them had problems of funding. The few that were able to overcome the funding challenges are the ones you find in government today and they are those sponsored by godfathers.
“Secondly, our election process is manipulative and arduous. The electoral process does not give credibility to the votes cast by the people. That has been the bane of leadership recruitment in Nigeria since 1999. That is why we started shouting about electronic voting since 2012 when the UPP was registered. Today, everyone seems to agree that introducing technology into the electoral process is the way to go. It is even funny or ironical that the PDP, which jettisoned the idea when it was in government, is beginning to say that it might boycott the elections in 2023 without electronic voting.”
Besides being involved in violence and ballot box snatching, politicians also employ the services of youths, ostensibly to complement the efforts of regular security outfits, but in actual fact, they are used as part of grassroots mobilisation mostly by incumbent governors seeking for re-election. Ironically, experts say much of the great choice between development and collapse facing Nigeria lay in the hands of youths. In a country with a life expectancy of only 53.95 years (2017), Nigeria’s population is widely skewed towards youths; with over 70 per cent under the age of 30 and over half are under the age of 19.