‘Generational shift’, a Worthless Cry
My stand is that looked from both angles, the issue of generation shift is irrelevant. It is a worthless cry. ‘New breed’ politicians often complain about the political intransigence of the ‘old.’ They would like them to ‘hand over’ or ‘step aside’ from their positions of power. To a naturalist and a student of power politics, this is simply a desire that could best be described a wishful.
First, nature has to take its course. It has made a provision for gradual development of man with age and for his behaviour and ability to be determined by biological characteristic over which he has little control. If you are looking for a runner, you are likely to find him among the under-30s. But if you are looking for wisdom and other leadership qualities, you are most likely to find them among the over-30.
I have heard ambitious youth citing Gowon as an example. What they forget are two things. First, his ascend to power was not democratic. If people were to make a choice, they would have elected a more elderly person, as we have always seen any time the military permits us to do so. Secondly, both the Nigerian nation and the military were young in 1966. As the nation becomes older, it is becoming increasingly difficult for military officers at 30 to head the nation.
The same thing applies to politics and the civil service. It is natural for both to age, thereby reducing the chances of the young to quickly reach the heights of power. A 25-year old graduate of 1960 will be swimming in opportunities, in an environment that is less competitive, for at least 35 years before he retires at 60. Thereafter, he will return to the circle of power through the backdoor of politics, if he has not been a politician already.
I have heard youth complaining that in Obasanjo’s cabinet, there are people who have been ministers several times. They have worked with almost every regime. Well, the guys came into the world at the right time. We will not be surprised if no graduate of 1980 would have the same opportunity.
If we will dispassionately look at our history, we will realize that Nigeria has suffered more in the hands of the under-50. First, as a toddler in 1966, the nation suffered the loss of its leaders when some youths, in their twenties, assassinated leaders of the First Republic and sent the country into civil war. Then the same category of youths, when in their thirties, shock and demolished the civil service and made the monster of corruption return, after the death of Murtala, with greater force and ingenuity. In their mid forties, they institutionalised looting and deceit. In their fifties, they introduced Tazarce. With this record, can we ever again trust youths?
I am not suggesting that leadership should be the exclusive preserve of the old. But as the Nigerian nation stabilizes, it become dangerous for youth to think that they will enjoy opportunities once enjoyed by their fathers. They must realise that it will increasingly become difficult to mount the ladder of success. They should work hard to acquire leadership skills from the elders who proved to be exemplary. Wisdom, acquired from knowledge and experience, together with selfless service to the nation is what will bring them to the limelight of Nigerian politics. To hide behind appeals for the old to vacate will take them to nowhere. Power is not given. It is ceased, with skill and endurance.
But there is an equal danger in the failure of the old to ignore the dangers of aging. I remember Hassan Al-Turabi saying that a nation that relies on their old is doomed, for the old will die with their wisdom, forcing the nation to return to square one with their departure. If they do not allow the young to occupy positions of real political significance during their lifetime, thereby according them the opportunity to benefit from their advise and correction, the old will be buried with their wisdom and whatever the nation invested in its acquisition would also perish. There would have been no evolution, no development, no progress, but stagnation.
What we therefore need is inter-generational cooperation. I wish the youth would have the humility to learn from the experience and good habits of the old, just as I would wish that the old to realize the limitations that age imposes on their capability. To say that nobody under-50 should be included in the Obasanjo cabinet was as unnecessary as it was unjust. I believe that Obasanjo has realized the mistake of succumbing to their exclusionary tactic. He is now about to reshuffle his cabinet, partly to mend fences and partly in search of the energy and zeal that is required to actualise his reform dream. That is something that only the youths possess.
Lastly comes the bottom line. I hope that the issue of new and old breed is concerned with seeking the opportunity to loot. Governance today is a shortcut to becoming wealthy through theft. And in that craft there is no difference between the old and the new. As for us, the ordinary citizens of this country, we are confused as to what and who to trust. Do we trust the old that looted ‘only’ a little, or the new that is out to loot everything? None is better than the other. The issue is worthless.