It has become somewhat popular these days for people to discuss the role of and opportunities for, what I will call “youths in power”. As an example, my amiable acquaintance, Ohimai—a young man who has demonstrated the administrative capacities of young people with quiet aplomb—and certain other people in the public space have touted a #30PercentOrNothing call on social media for what I believe is an amendment to their political party’s elective ratio. This request is of mild interest in itself, and one which can be followed without an emotive flutter.
However, when the discussion slips from the political party space and ventures into the general polity, there is some cause for concern. This is because, frankly, a demand for the inclusion of youths in government is not a serious topic but, instead, comes across as a type of the socio-political distractions that rear their head during election season and takes away from the attention and time dedicated to more serious issues.
The unfortunate ramification of this article is the unnecessary fuel it will add to an already overblown debate. However, on the positive hand, a little common sense derived from this piece may help in pushing the topic along more reasonable lines.
Now, the question of “youths in power” implies two assumptions: one, that the inclusion of youths in the political space is a vital aspect of good governance; and two, that this inclusion has to be initiated and established through a legally entrenched political process.
The first assumption stated above is no more correct than the statement would be if the word “youth” was substituted by “children”, “adult”, “women”, “carpenters”, “lawyers” or any other community of individuals in the society. This conclusion is self-evident: there is no inherent quality in the fact of being a youth that confers on the person a better sense of political administration than it does on any other community. It is therefore no more important to have a fixed representation of youths in government than if we were to have a fixed representation of children or the elderly. The same principle applies to gender differentiations: sensibility is not a factor of gender, nor is it determined by age. There have been stupid men unfit for government, and equally stupid women; and a daft old person most likely started life as a daft young person.
However, even if we were to acknowledge that youthfulness implies general qualities of energy, innovation and enthusiasm, then we should also embrace the counterpoint that, in general, most young people are egoistic, unreasonable, easily impressed by their own achievements and consequently susceptible to manipulative flattery. To what extent then should political administration be entrusted to such volatile temperaments?
This is not to deride the ability of young people—a demographic in which I am still a proud member—it is, instead, caution against the hysterical support for political inclusions of social communities, instead of political inclusion of deserving individuals.
And this brings us to the second assumption: the request for a legally entrenched political structure specifically inclusive of youths. Let us consider this idea from three perspectives.
One: In Nigeria, the Constitution already guarantees every individual above the age of eighteen a stake in the government through appointive positions, and from the age of thirty, through elective positions. This is as far as any political structure should go. This legal structure is the equal platform from which every individual can launch into government—and in a sane polity, such deserving individuals are encouraged. Any other political process to specially include communities in governance is not just partisan, but also a potential threat to equality of opportunities.
Two: We may concede that, unfortunately, the current political structure in Nigeria makes a mockery of the supposed constitutional equality and, instead, favours the political emergence of the association of older men. This, however, is a result of socio-cultural factors, and not legal ones. Socio-cultural factors that unduly place emphasis on a culture of age, respect for elders and “seniors”, and the subjugation of women. An appeal of sorts to the political class of older men for the standardised inclusion of youths or women in their ranks becomes then a social validation of their usurped entitlement. On the assumption that the patriarchal order is voluntarily interested in parting with its political power, older men then become the givers, who “generously” include women and youths in government. But the principle is clear: he who gives can also take away; and what’s worse—they can also dictate the terms of their gift. The real task is then to work hard at changing the social factors that give rise to an older-male dominated society, and the key tool for this is the championing of universal education and human rights.
Three: Demographics change and social issues and circumstances vary over time, it is consequently improper for a legal provision to entrench an issue which is of concern during a particular period into the permanent political structure. In any given year, clowns may be in high demand—this is well, the people can vote in clowns into power. But it is wrong to have the system make it a requirement that a percentage of the administration must forever be composed of clowns.
Which is why if clowns—or any other community of individuals—are interested in a serious change of political control, they have to take it forcefully: through revolutions, coups or some non-violent but affirmative political action, firmly independent of the existing order. Change is never happily introduced; it has to be kicked into the stage.
Let me be clear: youths have a right to be in power—but only in equal proportion to every other group in society. In Nigeria’s history, youths were effective in pushing the British out of government—and youths were equally effective in destroying the economy of the country. In fact, most of the old people in governance today were once the youths in government yesterday. With the exception of Abacha (who, nevertheless, was in government since his 40s) and Shagari, every head of the Nigerian government prior to 1998 took office at an age range from 32 to 48 years.
In conclusion, and for those who insist on a perceived positive role of youths in government, here’s an easy—but equally difficult—suggestion: if you want to take power from an insufferable patriarchal order, simply stop working for the older man.
Ayo Sogunro is the author of The Wonderful Life of Senator Boniface and other Sorry Tales. A lawyer by profession, he also indulges in quasi socio-legal philosophy on this blog. You may interact with him on Twitter via @ayosogunro.