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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.

DRIVING IN LAGOS AND OTHER CRIMES | Some Thoughts by Ayo Sogunro


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Today, I paid my annual contribution to the Nigerian Police Force: I invested in a Twenty Thousand Naira “Get out of Jail Card”, in penance for the heinous “crime” of making a wrong turn—described by the law as “overtaking another vehicle”.  I have no particular complaints about the financial loss to my pockets—I wasn’t paying attention to the road or I would have noticed that I had missed my entrance.  Also, the arresting officers were quite considerate: they gave me directions to the nearest ATM and patiently explained the practical aspects of the Theory of Relativity.

The lecture from the policemen was quite important, considering that my other option was a booking and a ticket, with the gloomy possibility of a One Hundred Thousand Naira fine. At the end of our interaction, I was not only happy to invest in the welfare of the families of the policemen, but I also tipped the gatekeepers with something extra as I drove out of the police compound with relief.

Yet, I still consider that I have not been treated fairly in the transaction: not because I had to part with some of my monthly salary, but because, in my estimation, my supposed offence did not justify the trouble I had to go through in atonement.  There has to be an easier way to enforce traffic laws without disrupting the activities of citizens or handling the offender like a criminal. From the manner in which I was apprehended to the twenty minute drive to the police station—I didn’t think I had done anything significant enough to cause the consequent commotion.

Here’s the originating drama: I was driving to work, and trying to negotiate entry into a lane when, suddenly, armed policemen jumped out of a van and hastily surrounded my vehicle; transforming a benign Lagos highway into an impromptu war zone.  For a brief second, I was bewildered—but my mentality was set straight when a scowling officer barked, somewhat gleefully, that I had committed a traffic offence under the laws of Lagos State. Naturally, I was happy to see the taxpayers’ money at work, but I wasn’t quite convinced that five policemen with assault rifles were necessary to take care of an honest carelessness. Anybody could have made that same mistake, I thought, and I tried to explain myself to the boys. But there was no listening air: my car was promptly commandeered and I was ordered to drive as directed. As I was somewhat in the wrong, and also had a healthy bias for my own continued existence, I respected their directives and headed in the opposite direction from my original destination.

And here is the problem: the average Nigerian policeman is still unable to distinguish between a criminal offence and a regulatory offence. Because every offence is treated as a crime, a breach of the most innocuous law results in almost the same level of official antagonism as a grave criminal offence. But crimes are a direct threat to the life, safety and property of humans, and so criminal laws are meant to act as rules of human conduct. Regulatory laws, on the other hand, are rules of social conduct, and would usually differ in various society in their content and proportion. Someone needs to explain this to traffic law officials.

In a sane society, regulations are not enforced by guns and bullets—you do not need to commandeer a person’s car for an expired driving license. Yet, in Nigeria, I have seen honest everyday people suffer loss of time and money for something as ordinary as an absent triangle caution sign. This is crazy. Why would the law be used to hamper people going about their lawful activities?

Of course, people must obey all regulations—serious or otherwise.  Yet again, this is why the treatment of regulatory laws is different from criminal laws. For example, a policeman would have the discretion to waive a regulatory infraction, but he has no discretion to waive a crime. Still, discretion is a subjective element, and so human psychology is a vital part of police work: a policeman should know when to give a person a warning and when to book the person.

But, in Nigeria, the only psychology our policemen care about, probably, is their ability to gauge between the “big man” and the person who they can knock around with impunity.

To make a bad situation worse, the Nigerian society breeds lawmakers who misunderstand the nature of a crime: and so, in Lagos, for example, the offence of “overtaking another car” has a fine of One Hundred Thousand Naira. This is to force people to be self-regulatory, but how does the law compensate for simple mistakes of fact in daily commuting? It is one thing for a driver to deliberately rush past a red light: it is another for a driver caught in cross traffic at a junction to find himself inadvertently in breach of a red light.

Naturally, people will resist these rigid approaches to regulatory matters, which is why the scene of a car driver arguing passionately—or doing worse—with law enforcement is a familiar one on our roads. Consider a man driving along the road who sees a car on fire, he quickly pulls over and helps to douse the flames of the other vehicle using his fire extinguisher before proceeding on his way. But just ahead is a checkpoint, and, amongst other checks, he is asked to produce his extinguisher: he comes up with a depleted can—of course, nobody is going to listen to his story. He has the option of investing in a “Get out of Jail Card” gracefully, or—depending on which law enforcement official is on ground—journeying to a station or the nearest bank.

It is the unlikely law enforcement officer in Lagos that will take time to consider the facts of the situation and decide whether to book the offender or issue a warning without exacting some payment from him.

And here’s the irony of corruption: in a sane society, that same official can issue a warning and let you off without fuss. In our socially cannibalistic society, you have to pay the policeman to exercise a similar discretion. This is a discretion that exists morally, yet you have to pay for it to be exercised. Unless one has a strong point to prove—and plenty of time to see it through—a fair number of Lagosians would rather pony up the cash and continue with their hitherto honest journey.

The argument remains valid: the costs of evading the irrationalities of Nigerian law is far lower than the price of its application. The Lagos traffic law, for example, screws the average citizen: it has punishments but no protections. And so, would the average Lagosian really risk a trip to traffic court?

The injustice is worse when you consider that the makers of these laws are not bound by their own regulations: drivers of government and law enforcement vehicles are known to disregard traffic laws with impunity.

This is when you remember the Theory of Relativity and donate the requested amount.

Hence, you have corruption.

This is all unfortunate. Maybe all of this is just brisk business for the police: a way of redistributing the wealth. The government makes the laws, and secures its observance with heavy fines—trusting the policeman to know who to arrest and who to caution. But the average Nigerian policeman is not concerned with policy making, he simply spots the economic opportunities the legislation presents, and he bundles off the unfortunate traffic offender like a common thief.

I can hardly fault the policemen for taking care of themselves. Police work is tough anywhere in the world; but in Nigeria, it is damn near suicidal.

THAT CHIBOK MEETING | A Quick Look by Ayo Sogunro


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Now that the president has met with the Chibok community, is he satisfied? Has his political paranoia been assuaged? Does he now believe the news of the abduction? Does the sad sight of despairing parents trigger some remorse for his late response? Has he drunk enough from the cup of their sorrow? Does he retract the negative statements made by his representatives in the last 100 days? Has the president learnt anything?

Probably not.

Probably, the president didn’t have the meeting to learn anything from the community. Probably he didn’t ask the parents what he could do to alleviate their pain. Most likely, he didn’t commend the ordinary Nigerians who kept the Chibok tragedy fresh in the local and international news. In fact, if the press statements of the event, and the pictures released by Reuben Abati are any indication, the meeting was called by the president as an opportunity, as the Christian idiom says, to fulfil all righteousness.

Look at the pictures.

If you can take your admiring gaze away from the starchy shine of the president’s attire, you will note that this was an unusual photo session. The faces in the pictures are a stark difference from the happy crowd and enthusiastic handshakes that characterize typical scenarios of presidential interaction.

Just look at the pictures.

The audience is sombre, still in shock. Some manage to look hopeful as they face the president; after all, they have been told, this is the man who can change everything for them. In one picture some women are crying. In another, a girl covers her face, presumably teary over the fate of her colleagues—or maybe just embarrassed at the shameful nature of the ceremony in which she was an involuntary participant.

For this event is a shameful one, whether or not we acknowledge the indecency of victims of a national tragedy being permitted to meet their ostensibly democratic leader. These are grieving men and women—and children too—and they have been compelled, despite their mood, to dress in their best and go see the president. And pictures are taken of them as they march past to see the leader. Not sympathetic pictures by bystanders—but professional photos taken by a paid staff.

And then these pictures are uploaded to the internet and tweeted to the world by a journalist-turned-hatchet man.

Pictures of a grieving people.

But hope is a powerful thing. And so the community went to Abuja with hope: never mind the insane display that has been made of their tragedy; never mind that Abuja is not Chibok; never mind the overwhelming opulence they are confronted with; never mind the soldiers, cameras and powerful officials that surround them; never mind their discomfort. Yes, they managed to dress fine, act sane and pose for the cameras. They stand still and act sane—in the hope that some definite and positive action would be taken to return their missing girls.

It takes a hard-hearted photographer to take these pictures without a lump in the throat. It takes a cynical journalist-turned-adviser to post these pictures and not hang himself afterwards. It takes a disbelieving president to meet with these parents and not lose composure. And why would the president lose composure? After all, his handlers chalk all policy criticism to opposition politics or mere disgruntlement, and so, they also have come to regard all policy decisions as an opportunity for counter politics, forgetting that humans—Nigerians—are affected by the outcome of their bloody games.

For no, we still have no guarantee that the president is convinced of the seriousness of the situation. A meeting is not an achievement; especially as the Presidency believes that, when it comes to Boko Haram, the evidence of presence is not the presence of evidence.

If Jonathan believes the truth of the abduction, he would immediately apologise to the parents and to Nigerians for the reactive tardiness, strip down to his work clothes, and preside over a 24 hour situation room to rescue the girls.

Instead, the president gave a lecture and the usual promises. Like royalty addressing the commoners, he graciously interacted with the community in the splendour of Abuja. And he took pictures with them over a red carpet.

Red carpet for a grieving community.

“Meet with the Chibok folks, you say? Well, we have met them. Now, smile for the cameras, everybody. Stand here, you stand there. Everyone say cheese!”

And so it is easy to conclude: the president isn’t that much concerned with the missing girls. The president is more interested in being seen to be gracious. This meeting was not a sympathetic gesture by the Presidency—this meeting was, as admitted by the Presidency, at the instance of Malala, and its outcome is a promissory speech and a photo-op session.

Meeting over.

To these members of the Presidency, the people of Chibok are not humans to be dignified, but votes to be counted and PR opportunities to be exploited. First they were dismissed as charlatans, next they were displayed as supplicants. These parents had to be seen to be believed.

Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believed” the biblical Jesus told a hard-nosed Thomas. But we can forgive the quest for empirical evidence by the president, we can forgive his public relations exploitation, we can forgive his aspersions on the activists who kept vigil for the girls—all is forgivable if a positive result is achieved.

But when will a positive result be achieved? For how many more days will this community continue to wait for its girls? No answers.

And so the president has seen the community, and Reuben Abati has tweeted the pictures. Is the president satisfied? Has his political paranoia been assuaged? Does he now believe the news of the abduction? Does the sad sight of despairing parents trigger some remorse for his late response? Has he drunk enough from the cup of their sorrow? Does he retract the negative statements made by his representatives in the last 100 days?

Has the president learnt anything?



Ayo Sogunro is the author of The Wonderful Life of Senator Boniface and other Sorry Tales. A lawyer by profession, he also indulges in socio-legal philosophy on this blog. Interact with him on Twitter via @ayosogunro.

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