Reflections On Values And The Building Of A Successor Generation In Nigeria

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REFLECTIONS ON VALUES AND …

REFLECTIONS ON VALUES AND
THE BUILDING OF A SUCCESSOR GENERATION IN NIGERIA
Being the paper presented by
His Excellency Dr. Kayode FAYEMI
Governor, Ekiti State, Nigeria
At the 1st Interdisciplinary Lecture of the School Postgraduate Studies, Ekiti State University, Ado-Ekiti, Ekiti State, Nigeria
Tuesday, February 26, 2013

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  • 1. REFLECTIONS ON VALUES AND THE BUILDING OF A SUCCESSOR GENERATION IN NIGERIA Being the paper presented by His Excellency Dr. Kayode FAYEMI Governor, Ekiti State, Nigeria At the 1st Interdisciplinary Lecture of the School Postgraduate Studies Ekiti State University, Ado-Ekiti, Ekiti State, Nigeria Tuesday, February 26, 2013ProtocolsI like to begin by saying thank you to all here present at the Ekiti StateUniversity, a growing citadel of knowledge worthy of Ekiti, IlèIyì,IlèÈye.For having me to deliver the first in the series of inter-disciplinarylectures of the Graduate School of this academy I thank the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Patrick Aina; the Dean of the Post-Graduate School,Professor Eddie Olanipekun; the Chairman of this occasion, Professor‘LadipoAdamolekun; distinguished faculty and principal staff; students,and other fellow travellers in the infinitely exciting journey inenquiry andlearning. I feel a natural kinship with the academia for several reasons.Not only do I consider it my primary constituency from which I havereceived so much nurture or training. In my present assignment in thepublic service, I am only on a temporary ‘leave of absence’ fromacademia. But above all, there is no discounting the value of academicpursuits, or of the academic orientation in this period and time that weare in, which is referred to in some quarters as the Age of Knowledge.The university is equally a universe drawing in the best and keenest ofminds that have come from far and wide to create a platform of solutionsfor understanding and engaging the nature of our reality and the world inwhich we live. It is a universe of possibilities, relentlessly re-shaping andextending what we know and are capable of knowing, while offeringrenewed insights. As the First Servant in and son of this State, and noless a Nigerian as many of you are, I have come to share some of mythoughts on how we can advance the cause of our democracy in thisgreat country, Nigeria, and create the basis for consolidating andperpetuating many of
  • 2. the unprecedented freedoms that we are currently enjoying in Ekiti Stateand across Nigeria. This brings me to the theme at hand.ProblematiqueThe first sentence in The Trouble with Nigeria, the well-remarked book bythe novelist and grand story-teller Professor Chinua Achebe,goes asfollows:1 The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership. There is nothing basically wrong with the Nigerian land or climate or water or air or anything else. The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility [and] to the challenge of personal example which are the hallmarks of true leadership.Professor Achebe’s observation about the condition of our societycontinues to resonate three decades after he issued his damning critiqueof Nigerian elites. It continues to resonate so insistently, in fact, that thenotion of an overarching leadership failure as the root of our society’s illshas almost become something of a cliché – a staple sound bite issued byeveryone including political leaders ourselves. It has become, at once, anexplanatory tool as well as an excuse. But the theme of leadership failureis one that we must continue to investigate beyond its superficialdeployment as a critique of bad politicians.At the time that Achebe was writing in 1983, Nigeria was undergoing hersecond democratic experiment. In fact, the second republic was actuallyterminated by a military intervention at the end of that year. As militaryregimes were wont to do throughout our history, the new military regimecited the corruption and incompetence of the civilian politicians forbringing the country to the brink of collapse. They argued that given thefoibles of the political class, the military intervention was a patrioticnecessity to avert the country’s descent into anarchy. The irony is thatthis intervention1 Chinua Achebe, The Trouble with Nigeria (Fourth Dimension Publishers, 1983), p. 1.
  • 3. inaugurated a fifteen-year spell of military dictatorship which turned outto be far more ruinous than the truncated era of civilian rule.By the early 1990s, there was a growing consensus that the nation had tobe saved from the erstwhile saviours – the military – and that the newsaviour had to be democracy. Nigeria had come full circle. Today,however, there is a sense that the promise of 1999 has dissipated andthat the political luminaries of the present dispensation have not beenparticularly attentive to the lessons of our history. This feeling ofdisillusionment is nothing new; it was in the air in 1983 as well. Thus, itseems that in the course of our quest for good leadership which has seenus test various models – stern authoritarians, benevolent smilingdictators, tyrannical totalitarians and civilian politicians – we have comeup empty. If, after thirty years, we are still citing bad leadership as theroot of all or most of our problems, we should now be interrogating thecultural and institutional forces, both subliminal and overt, which conspireto ensure that our society constantly throws up bad leaders.This is especially expedient against the backdrop of two reasons. First,there is the urgent need to address apparent loss of faith in Nigeria andher prospects by the younger generation even as we approach thecentenary of the creation of Nigeria.Already, signs of failure are evident inthe planning of the Federal Government’s celebrations for this landmarkin our collective history, at a time we ought to soberly reflectand takeaffirmative action, geared towards ensuringsuccessorgenerationseffectively redefine the ‘Nigerian dream’ in the context of contemporaryrealities and believe in same – against all odds. Second, there is the needto look into our society’s model of incubatingnew leaders. If we are tostand a chance of national rebirth, we must of necessity ensure that theold brigade described by Prof. Wole Soyinka as the ‘wasted generation’,which requisitely has to act as nursing mother to the emerginggeneration, does not contaminate them with the same tendencies andthus prime them to failure.These cross-generational imperatives require amongst other things,robust engagements such as this. My contributions are by no meansintended to be exhaustive. Rather, I offer them as a preliminaryinvestment in a conversation that must continue long after we have leftthis place. For the struggle to better our living arrangements, to actualize
  • 4. the good society on our shores and to enhance the quality of leadership isalways an ongoing endeavour. It never ends. Every generation, as FrantzFanon once said, must discover its mission or betray it. In order not tobetray its mission, every generation must inheritthe quest for and expandthe frontiers of achievement, enriching the store of wisdom by whichsociety and its leadership constantly reinvents itself. This is the veryessence of the idea of a progressive society.It is against this background that I, once again, thank the Dean of thePostgraduate School as well as the leadership of the Ekiti State Universityfor granting me your hallowed rostrum to share my thoughts with you.This is especially important because I am neither a youth nor an old man.Some say I am a ‘senior youth’ and I am glad to accept the ‘status’. I alsonote, however, that Nigeria is one country where an individual in hissixties would come out furious because he thought he had just beencheated in the contest for the post of national youth leader of a politicalparty! If a sixty-year old is a youth, when does adulthood begin inNigeria? I have no answer to that; nor am I sure we should be botheredabout it now. Suffice it to say that I am very excited to be here today andI look forward to an interactive engagement.Where Did We Go Wrong?There are three trends that I believe are relevant to the crisis ofleadership in our country –corruption and the decline of moral values; theconceptual debasement of leadership itself; and the inability andunwillingness of leaders to reproduce themselvesCorruption and the Decline of Moral ValuesWe cannot separate the theme of leadership failure from the generalplague of corruption assailing our society. Indeed, one might argue thatboth of them are mutually reinforcing. As leadership continues to fail, thatis, as we fail to produce in adequate number exemplars of capableleadership, society’s descent into moral anarchy also accelerates. And asthe degeneracy of the society hastens, leadership in every dimension ofpublic life begins to bear the stamp of decadence.
  • 5. There are many perspectives from which one may attack the problem ofcorruption but for our purposes today, it will suffice to zero in on one,namely, the monetization of values and the growing inability to perceiveand articulate one’s life goals in non-material terms. It is almostimpossible now for us to define life’s meaning in terms that have nothingto do with the bottom line. Young Nigerians have been socialized in sucha way that they have no conception of non-material achievement. Wehave created a culture that serenades the wealthy and esteems the “bigman”, but not the studious. We esteem riches but not intellect exceptpossibly when it is deployed solely in service of the raw pursuit of wealth.It is evident in our schools where the studious types are labeled “effikos”and treated as nerds, freaks and outcasts for fulfilling the demands ofscholarship and pursuing enlightenment, while those who skip classes andcheat their way through exams are exalted as the trendy people. But thisis, in a sense, a reflection of the larger society, where wealth has beenapotheosized and material acquisition is defined as the sole purpose oflife.In our monetized society, it is believed that to be heard, to be reckonedwith, you need to have lots of money, and the more of it you have, thelouder your voice. This has several implications. The monetization ofvalues means that young people whatever their promise and theirpotential believe that they have to join the rat race for material gain.Everything in their social and moral environments urges them to join thegeneration of hustlers emerging from our institutions and do whatever isnecessary to become wealthy. Increasingly, the chief moral calculation inour society is not rooted in the question of what is ethical but in what ispossible - NOW!Consequently, youth are not being encouraged to pursue their dreamsand their passions, to imagine alternate realities or to break new groundsand define success in their own terms, which are all hallmarks ofleadership. Rather, they are conditioned to follow the herd. Ourinstitutions actually suffocate the spark of idealism which animatesprogressive leadership and enables societies continuously renewthemselves. By the time the next generation arrives in positions of powerand privilege, their capacities for progressive imagination, creativity,innovation, empathy and compassion are so depleted that they cannot
  • 6. but simply follow beaten paths and rehash the errors of the past. Thismight explain why little seems to have changed in Nigeria for thirty years.Perhaps the best way to frame this situation is to ask the question:Where will the next generation of activists, law enforcement professionalsand teachers emerge from? These professions are all critical in thenurturing of a free progressive society. Yet, they are the least esteemedbecause they command meager financial reward; and while an argumenthas to be made for paying teachers and policemen adequately, there isalso something to be said for the fact that the tasks that forgecivilizations are more often than not undertaken by volunteer spirits; thatis to say, by those for whom the promise of material riches is not thecardinal consideration. Leadership is born in unremarkable places – theclassroom, the police station, the community organizer’s neighbourhood,etc. But where are those who will answer the call of leadership byfollowing their passions into these places?The Debasement of LeadershipIn a society that esteems opulence and exalts the big man, it is nosurprise that the very concept of leadership has been debased. This isapparent when we survey the signs and symbols of power in our land:the pomp and pageantry, the long motorcades, the sirens, the circus-likeatmospherics surrounding political leadership, the retinue of idle ‘aides’and the inevitable flock of hangers-on, praise-singers and sycophants, thepalatial state houses and residences. Some of these idiosyncrasies whichsurround leadership in Nigeria derive from the legacy of colonialism andmilitary dictatorship. In those forms of government, leadership wasalways imposed from the top and was therefore an alien imposition onsociety and an intrusion on our peace. The semiotics of power tended tobe loud, garish, oppressive and violent. This has become installed as partof our leadership culture and has carried over into our democracy.A corollary point is the association of leadership with wealth and thereforethe disastrous association of public office with affluence. Consequently,many Nigerians simply see public office as a means of self-enrichmentand upward mobility. Leadership becomes not a means of service but a
  • 7. means of getting richer than everyone else. The ghastly scale of publictheft follows naturally as a logical result of this outlook.Leadership is not a position or a title or an office, but a function. It isinfluence rooted in a core of convictions and beliefs that define the veryact and manner of leading. Positions, titles and offices merely serve asvehicles for expressing leadership. Merely occupying a position andhaving a title does not make one a leader in the truest sense of the term.Perhaps the best evidence of how tenuous our working definitions ofleadership are is how so many public figures slip into irrelevance oncethey leave public office. This indicates that these “leaders” derived theirrelevance and significance from holding office rather than from anypersonal attributes of competence, character, intellect or even charisma.For as long as they hold office, such figures can command publicattention because of the visibility of their positions. However, once out ofoffice and shorn of its pomp and prestige, they simply recede into oblivionbecause they possess no residual moral influence and authentic voices oftheir own.Chief ObafemiAwolowo and MallamAminu Kano are excellent examples ofpoliticians who possessed an intrinsic moral authority that transcendedtheir brief stints in public office. Nelson Mandela’s moral influence wasevident as an operative of the African National Congress and as a politicalprisoner, long before he became South Africa’s president. ReverendMartin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, both iconic figures in the African-American civil rights struggle, never held public office. Dr. King now has anational day set aside in the United States to commemorate his life andwork.An office or a position does not confer moral authority so much as itpresumes it. Moral authority is a personal property that one takes into anoffice and leaves with at the end of his tenure. That so many of ourpublic figures – ex-ministers, ex-governors, ex-senators, ex-representatives – sink out of sight or hearing once they have left office,and have nothing to contribute to their communities in a post-officialcapacity, suggests that we are producing far more ‘office-holders’ thanleaders.
  • 8. The Inability or Unwillingness of Leaders to Reproduce ThemselvesThe dominant cultural and institutional models of leadership are typicallydefined by the exercise of raw power. They operate a paradigm based onthe projection of fear and the exploitation of others. This is largely alegacy of our recent experience of military authoritarianism. For morethan three decades of our national history, leadership was cast in theimage of jack-booted soldiers wielding whips, guns and swagger-sticks,and decreeing their will for the nation into being. They underwrote theirleadership by projecting fear, intimidating the public and threateningviolence rather than by winning hearts and minds. This authoritarianparadigm has become a template for leadership in virtually all ourinstitutions.The cult of the Big Man is characterized by massive insecure egos towhich sycophants must continuously swear fealty and pay obeisance. Inmany of our organizations and bureaucracies, this paradigm haseffectively created personality cults in which fawning loyalty rather thancompetence dictates the allocation of reward. The cult of the Big Mansustains illiberal environments in which divergent thinking, innovation andinitiative are punished while servile group-think is rewarded. In suchorganizations, members who are desirous of prolonging their careers tendto blend in rather than stand out, thereby crippling their leadershippotentials. These organizations are virtually run as personal fiefdoms andcease to function whenever the main authority figure is absent or, as it isexpressed in local parlance, ‘Oga is not around.’Herein lies one of the characteristics of dysfunctional organizations –leadership is seen as being vested in a single authority figure rather thanas a function diffused among several empowered actors. Because of theiroverwhelming personalization of power and the centralization ofauthority, leaders in this mould who also tend to be psychologicallyinsecure are simply unable or unwilling to mentor and empower theirsubordinates. Under these circumstances, young potential leaders are notbeing prepared to undertake greater responsibility. Indeed, theirexecutive impulses are stifled. The only kind of personalities that rise inthese settings are those who are equally insecure and egotistical, havingbecome adept at the dark art of survival in repressive official
  • 9. environments, and will upon their assumption of authority also reprise theauthoritarian styles of their predecessors.Not only do these individuals arrive into positions of authority unpreparedfor the demands of authentic leadership, thereby emerging as ‘accidentalleaders’; they invariably perpetuate the cycle of mediocrity anddysfunction afflicting our institutions. This dynamic explains why the storyof leadership in our country has stayed essentially the same for decades.Leadership reproduces after its own kind. The tragedy on our shores isthat bad leadership has been far more prolific in reproducing itself.Constructing a New Culture of LeadershipWe need to rescue the concept of leadership itself from the cheapening ithas undergone. True leadership is something quite distinct from holdingan office or a position. We will enhance the quality of leadership on ourshores if we dissociate it from the acquisition of titles and positions. Trueleadership is influence. It is driven by core convictions, values and ideas.In a profound sense, leadership is living out one’s values and ideas. It isthe sheer power of personal example that projects influence. For the nextgeneration of leaders, it is essential that we recognize that one does notneed a political office or title to become an exemplar of higher values.We also need to redefine elitism. Traditionally, the term ‘elite’ referred tothose who are enlightened. Over the course of the past decades, themonetization of our values has yielded an association of elitism withwealth. We perceive elites to be those who are simply wealthy. The firstgeneration nationalists such as Awolowo, NnamdiAzikiwe, HezekiahDavies, Aminu Kano and AdegokeAdelabu among others were men ofthought as well as men of action. They wrote books, pamphlets andarticles. They popularisedtheir ideas aggressively. They thought deeplyabout their society and disseminated their musings.For instance, while campaigning for the presidency in 1979, Awolowosaid, “Look at the books which I have written, the lectures which I havegiven, and the many speeches and statements which I have made. Youwill find that there is no problem confronting or about to confront Nigeriato which I have not given thought and for which I have not proffered
  • 10. intelligent and reasoned solutions.”2 It was no idle boast. Awolowo wasthe most prolific of the founding fathers. It seems almost absurd to ustoday for a politician to advertize his intellect as one of his qualificationsfor high office.There is a distinction between this commitment to ideas and debate aspart of the armoury of leadership and what obtains now. Unlike theirprecursors, too many of our political elites do not esteem ideas enoughand this has devalued both the quality of leadership and public discourse.We have to restore the moorings of elitism in a commitment to ideas andintellectual acuity. The next generation of elites has to be distinguishednot by wealth or their possession of trinkets but by the quality of theirthoughts and ideas.We also must absolutely begin to mentor young people. The litmus testfor our success as leaders is not how many people we are leading buthow many people we are transforming into leaders. In other words, howmany people are we empowering to realize their own potential asleaders? Each generation of leaders must stand on the shoulders of thegiants who have come before them. We have a responsibility to boost thenext generation up on our shoulders. Whatever our successes asindividual leaders, they are incomplete until we have prepared thegrounds for succession. This is how positive leadership cultures areperpetuated. Too many promising movements and organizations havedied out with their charismatic founders because they failed to mentor thenext generation to carry the baton of leadership into new frontiers.Consider Singapore. Many of us are familiar with the tale of how thesterling leadership of Lee Kwan Yew steered the small island from apacific backwater to a first-world city-state and one of the best runnations in the world. But Singapore’s success story also owes muchtorigorous succession planning in which leadership has been taken up bya corps of younger leaders that were initiated into the governing party in1980. They now constitute the second generation of leaders charged withconsolidating the success story of Singapore.2 ObafemiAwolowo, Path to Nigerian Greatness (Fourth Dimension Publishers, 1981)
  • 11. In a similar vein, Nelson Mandela’s iconic status as a pivotal figure in theodyssey of South African liberation is unimpeachable. But Mandelabelongs to a very distinguished cast of leaders that included freedomfighters like Oliver Tambo, Walter Sisulu and Govan Mbeki. And theseheroic freedom fighters were themselves the second generation of thestruggle ordained by the founders of the African National Congress. Theywere heirs to Albert Luthuli, John Dube, Sol Plaatje and other heroicpatriots. Together these patriots forged a political tradition of suchresilience that it altered the course of South Africa’s history. As JamesFreeman Clark said, “A politician thinks of the next election, a statesman,of the next generation.” Leadership is a continuum and for our leadershipto truly stand the test of time it must be driven by a trans-generationalperspective. We must build up those who will take our exertions for abetter society to higher levels.We have also to demystify leadership and begin to define it less as a taskreserved for a select group of highly gifted individuals but as somethingeach of us is called to accomplish in various ways and in diverse sectorsof public life. This entails a shift away from the idea of the ‘leader asmessiah’ – the notion that all it takes to transform our society is themiraculous emergence of one extraordinarily endowed leader. We simplycannot afford to reduce leadership to holding political office. Despite thegenerally dreary outlook, there are a few young people that are leadingeffectively and exerting positive influence in various domains of society. Iwould like to pay tribute to these rising stars because I believe that ourcountry calls for a critical mass of such actively-engaged citizens if thequality of leadership is to improve. I however have to refrain frommentioning particular names so I don’t risk leaving anyone outconsidering many of these young change agents are my personal friendswhom I am privileged to play the role of a mentor in their lives. In fact, Ihave a number of such young activists serving in various capacities in myadministration.These leading lights represent an army of do-gooders, public interestadvocates, activists, artistes, public intellectuals e.t.c., that are all invarying ways engaged in shaping the future and creating islands ofprogress. Our challenge is to multiply the numbers of such people. Inorder to do so, we should move from a leadership culture of fear and
  • 12. intimidation to one based on mutual respect, civility, empathy andcompassion. We have to create an environment in which initiative;independent-mindedness; non-conformism and creative thinking areencouraged and rewarded, not punished. Ultimately, the greatestvalidation of our leadership is how many leaders we have nurtured.The Successor GenerationThe place of the youth in the quest for national renewal and a new ethosof transformative leadership is especially pertinent given the demographicrealities of today. Increasingly, our world is growing younger. Youngpeople make up almost a fifth of the global population. With almost halfof the current global population under the age of 25, there is no doubtthat we are living in a very youthful world. This has implications for thenature and pace of social change.Throughout history, leaders have understood and sought to harness thepower of youth to regenerate their societies. Adolf Hitler certainlyunderstood the socio-political potential of young people. Following his riseto power in Germany in 1932, one of his first actions was the outlawing ofall youth groups, especially the religious ones. In their stead, heestablished the Hitler Youth and the German League of Young Girls.These organizations became sites of intensive indoctrination, with theyoung members being taught to venerate Hitler and serve him withoutquestion. The boys were taught that laying down their lives for Fatherlandand Fuhrer was the highest and noblest act of virtue. The girls weretaught that it was their patriotic duty to obey the Fuhrer and to bear thechildren that would consolidate the rise of the Nazi Third Reich. Germanyouths were taught that they were the master race and it was theirdestiny to dominate the world.A significant proportion of this generation of Germans committed horribleatrocities in the name of their Fuhrer. Indeed, so total was the Naziindoctrination of this generation that it was a detachment of Hitler Youthwho died in the final battle for Berlin in 1945. It is not an overstatementto assert that the rise of the Nazi Third Reich was essentially due toHitler’s skilful manipulation of the youth. By imbuing a generation with asense of historic mission, moral purpose and a confidence in their own
  • 13. abilities, Hitler embarked upon his project of world domination. Eventhough he was ultimately defeated, his deployment of German youth toserve his cause holds valuable lessons for us.To being with, no one should ever underestimate the potential of ouryouth to serve as catalysts of social change. Youth are viable agents ofsocial renewal because of the natural gifts and aptitudes they possess,namely, an idealism that is as yet unsullied by life’s heartbreaks anddefeats. This idealism is an invaluable resource for achieving theimpossible and for doing great things otherwise barricaded by thecynicism and jadedness of the old. They approach tasks with a boundlessenergy and zeal and seem incapable of exhaustion in the service ofwhatever cause they passionately believe in. Also, because they lack theprejudices of older people, they approach many things with a clean slateand an innocence that permits fresh perspectives where a cynicism borneof experience might otherwise paralyze the will to change.But with these remarkable advantages come certain dangers. The fieryidealism of youth carries the temptation of hubris; this often leads manyto ignore the counsel of their elders to their own detriment. As a result,the youths not only become incapable of learning from the mistakes ofthe past; they become prone to repeating them. This is an especialdanger for Nigerian youth. Having written off their elders as scoundrelsfor leaving them a legacy of ruin and corruption, it is easy to fall into thetrap of assuming that there is nothing to learn from past generations. Butthis would be a terrible error. There is always much to learn from thosewho have gone before us even if only to discover ways of avoiding themistakes of the past. As George Santayana said, “Those who fail to learnfrom history are doomed to repeat it.” Many of the chronic dysfunctionsof our society are rooted in a gross failure to appropriate the lessons ofour history. If yours is to be the generation that breaks the cycle ofunderperformance, then you will have to be the most astute historiansour nation has ever seen.Youthful idealism also carries the danger of naiveté. Without the valuablearmament of experience, a new generation can succumb to challengesthat have waylaid their forebears. Their great zeal and energyunregulated by knowledge and understanding can lead to imprudence.
  • 14. This is why leadership must be anchored to learning. Great leaders areinvariably great and quick learners. The ability to fashion a positive futuredepends on how well we are learning from the past and the present – thevast spectrum of human and societal experience that is available to us.Consequently, the other invaluable trait of good leadership is humility.Life and history are rife with teachable moments – episodes that havevaluable lessons to aid the quest for progress. Humility enables us to stayattuned to the truths offered by these teachable moments.Young people, it is clear, hold the key to societys future. Historically,their ambitions, goals and aspirations for peace, security, developmentand human rights are often in accord with those of society as a whole.Therefore, the creation of ‘Naija’ by our youth, who constitute about 70percent of the total population, as classical escapism from theresponsibility of re-building Nigeria is in my view a passing fad till the restof the society is ready for real change. How are we showing the youthgeneration that we are ready for change and preparing this critical massof young people to take responsibility for a future that beckons with greatpromise?Our youth have been imbued with a sense of social, political andeconomic insecurity by the older generation and many of them have beenindoctrinated as foot soldiers in the vain, selfish and often violent pursuitsof political elites at the polling booths and beyond. Sadly, their allegianceto the same old guard that has retarded our nation’s progress raisesquestions about the possibilities of a transformative dynamic emerging onour shores. Young Nigerians have been alienated from politics and publiclife having been constantly fed the canard that politics is a game for theold and gray. In many ways, this sustains an apathy and cynicism amongthe young that distances them emotionally from social engagement.However, the view that young people are too young – or too naïve – tounderstand politics cannot stand up to scrutiny in the light of our ownhistory. The role of the youth in the history of political leadership inNigeria predates independence. Many of the founding fathers of modernday Nigeria - the likes of Dr. NnamdiAzikiwe, Chief ObafemiAwolowo, SirAhmadu Bello, etc were at the forefront of Nigerias independencestruggle in their youth. One cannot forget to mention that it was Pa
  • 15. Anthony Enahoros motion for self-governance as a young parliamentarianat age 27 which paved the way for Nigerias independence in 1960. Infact, Pa Enahorostarted early in the journalistic profession and hadbecome a newspaper editor at the age of 21. It was on that platform thathe launched his political career, participated in many of the constitutionalconferences in London, held ministerial appointments in the old WesternRegion and under the military administration of General Yakubu Gowon,served as federal commissioner (minister) of Information andLaboure.t.c.The youthfulness of Nigeria’s military rulers is even more striking. Many ofthe military leaders of Nigeria assumed power between their late twentiesand late thirties. It is therefore simply inaccurate to portray politics as anindulgence of the old rather than a task for the young. Yours truly neverfelt an iota of inferiority during my days as a leading activist in exile whilestill in my twenties and early thirties, working closely and visibly withveteran human rights and democracy activists.In those days, there wasnever any question of age, but of competence, reliability and discretion.I am aware that building a successor generation is not happenstance; theprocesses are not accidental. They are very conscious and political, too.As such, there is the need for clarity in the definition of the vision andmission of our times, and a clear plan of action to realiseour goals. This iswhat brings about the purpose of leadershipwhich a successor generationis built to achieve. Also, I do not believe that the current discrepanciesbeing experienced in our democracy in Nigeria can be resolved through abinary opposition that pits the young against elders in politics, but bylocating the social construction of youth as part of adulthood andrecognising the salience of deliberate, organic and planned successionwithin that context.While those of us in positions of leadership currently have to channel thepaths of taking our states and this country to the next level, it is asuccessor generation that will be tasked with leading us to the PromisedLand. This holds true even when we realise that a state-formation isalmost always in process and incapable of being a completed entity –which is the compelling reason for preparing the next generation for thechallenges and responsibilities ahead. In this regard, theyouth – the real
  • 16. youth, not the sixty-something– will need to be given adequate exposureand knowledge to withstand the rigours of leadership and put them ingood stead vis-à-vis their counterparts from other parts of the world whoare better equipped with social and psychological infrastructure foreffective leadership.Mr. Chairman, please permit me to itemise some of the values of thatmust be inculcated in members of a successor generation. In order to betaken as serious and committed, themembers must embrace – and beseen to embrace democratic principles. This requires that they beprepared to respect and abide by the judgement of their fellows as wellas followers; to share a vision of ethical regeneration that is crucial to thelong-term development of the country; to have the capacity fordevelopment-oriented leadership and discourage self-serving situations;and to formulate alternative strategies and mechanisms for takingadvantage of indigenous and modern leadership styles as a way ofsecuring better governance. The values equally comprise the capacity toengage with the older generation in a way that is not antagonistic butencourages the transfer of essential skills; to be driven by an attitude ofpublic-spiritedness; and to know when to quit and not sit-tight in office,etc.While striving to build a successor generation in the political sphere,theyouth must not be seen to refrain or shy away from the politicalprocess. Both avoidance and outright repudiation of public life are butreflections of the cynicism associated with politics, and of the false notionthat politics is essentiallya dirty game. The youth must not stand on thefence in the guise of being activists either. For when all is said and done,the lines between being an activist and throwing one’s hat in the politicalring are tenuous. They speak to a false dichotomy of sorts in our presentcontext. The point must be made that a relationship ofcontinuityexistsbetween leadership and power. From my own experience,if the younger generation is not political, or if it stands aloof or away fromthe political process, there can be no public service. The state also runsthe risk of being blown hither and tither by illegitimacy, decay andatrophy.
  • 17. The point, Mr. Chairman, is that planlessness begets failure. Any countrythat fails to plan for succession plans to fail the leadership test – andmuch more. The evidence is not far-fetched. In Nigeria the travails andcollapse of public institutions, such as the University system, after twodecades of authoritarian rule had resulted in the desertion of the publicdomain by those who could have become leaders, and could have setabout their tasks with commitment and integrity. This has left thecoastclear for those who could muster the resources to capture public office.Given the pervasive ill-preparedness and integrity deficiency among thesepeople, it is no surprise Nigeria is where it is at the moment.My experiences are no less relevant here. Over the years I have joinedhands with friends and colleagues on both sides of the age bracket, fromdirect anti-establishment confrontation at the barricades as a youngStudent’s Union activist and a pro-democracy subaltern operating throughcivic engagement with political actors and public officials to my currentpartisan political involvement. In all these one lesson has stood clear andstill stands clear. By carefully planned formal and informal leadershipdevelopment schemes, we can build a pool of young Nigerians who arecommitted to social transformation and would work for genuine change.Concluding RemarksMy conclusion, Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen, is that the debateover whether young people should or should not engage in politics isredundant. It is also superficial. As important as the formal institutions ofgovernance and electioneering are, they constitute just one dimension ofthe way of life that democracy is. The workings of a democracy aredictated by numerous actors and interests in a vast cosmos of social andpolitical engagement. When we broadly define the currents of public lifeas simply the handiwork of a chosen caste such as ‘politicians,’ or as thework of ‘civil society activists’, we strip the public domain of thespontaneity and deeper meanings that make itdynamic yet nuanced. Wedrape functions that are really civic tasks in the garb of a false andexclusive elitism.In the same vein, when we depict politics as though it is overly rationaland mechanistic, something like a mathematical process, we overestimate
  • 18. the ability of politicians to redress the inequities of society. In my view,the issue of leadership transcends the familiar categories of activism andpolitics. It rests instead on how well we promote a culture of socialengagement driven by citizen participation in our democracy. In thissense, leadership is not what happens when one gifted individual isrunning things decently in a government bureaucracy. Rather, it is howwe describe what happens when multitudes step forward as citizens totake responsibility for their land and thus become a transformative criticalmass. Leadership is many individuals fully assuming civic responsibility.This is why I have chosen to dwell on the nurturing of leaders andcitizens. It is also why I have argued that we must begin to regardleadership and citizenship as being contingent because without directcitizen participation, the legitimacy of our political institutions willcontinue to decline. It is for this reason that I strongly believe thatpolitical leaders – be they politicians or young activists - should worrybecause their ability to lead effectively is being seriously undermined bythe desertion of average citizens from the public space, deepening thecrisis of legitimacy that plagues the state. Yet, this lack of legitimacy cutsboth ways. When we, the people, withdraw our trust in leaders ordiscountenance politicians, we make our democratic institutions lesseffective and risk making ourselves ungovernable.In my view, our young people should stop agonizing about the problemsof the Nigerian State which will not disappear in a hurry. They shouldbegin to organize in a manner that places citizens as drivers of change inour quest to restore values-driven leadership and a future of hope andpossibilities for our people. In our quest for a transformative leadershipethos, activists, social entrepreneurs and progressive politicians mustreject the false dichotomy between activism and politics which essentiallypositions both endeavours in an adversarial relationship. While a creativetension exists in a democracy between the public and the state, it isimportant to understand that these tensions do not suggest afundamental antipathy between public activism or active citizenship andpolitics. Both elements should operate in tandem to enrich the society.Activists who promote an antagonism of politics and politicians aretherefore doing activism and society as a whole a disservice. Indeed, theyrisk translating activism into nihilism.
  • 19. Faced with conditions of economic uncertainty and social insecurity, mostNigerians are wont to connect their dire personal circumstances topolitical misrule and state decay. The popular reaction to this connectionis often a call to arms for radical change or revolution rather than themore exacting quest to reconstitute the state on the pivot of democraticgovernance to serve the interests of the broader citizenry. Young peopleare often quick to agitate for a Nigerian version of the Arab Spring as acure for bad governance. Many imagine such a spring or revolution as nomore than an eruption of anarchy to dislodge the formal institutions ofgovernment. Those who entertain such dreams should note that anarchyis not a key to transformation and holds only the possibility of self-destruction for society. The continuing instability of the countries wherethe Arab Spring has taken place indicates that there are no magic cures inthe quest for a better society. The heedless uprooting of state institutionsin the fruitless pursuit of Utopia leads only to anomie.This is not to repudiate idealism, or the sound basis of single-mindedactivism. There is certainly a place for single-issue campaigns like the‘Occupy Nigeria’, the Anti- Fuel Subsidy Removal movement and the‘Enough-is-Enough’ campaign. Indeed, we need more of such campaignsto create a sustained emphasis on pressing issues and also serve as avehicle of youth activism and engagement. The problem though is thatsuch popular campaigns tend to suffer from exaggerated expectations.Activists are sometimes prone to overestimating the sort of politicaloutcomes that can be obtained from the streets. The very impressiveturn out for the ‘Occupy Nigeria’ protests of early 2012 proved that youngNigerians are not as docile as some cynical politicians and pundits persistin suggesting. For one tumultuous week, youth made their voices heardand caused the political leadership to take note of their objections to acontentious policy. Ultimately, the end of the week-long protests alsodemonstrated the limits of street activism.As leaders, we must recognize that transformation requires shrewd mixesof ways and means. The street is but one theatre of activism andengagement. There is a place for more sustained advocacy in fora whereemissaries of civil society and government can meet and exchange ideas.There is also the necessary place of politics whereby running for officebecomes vital because the only antidote to bad policy is good policy – and
  • 20. good people have to be in positions where they can promote goodpolicies. Sometimes those positions will require that we man barricadeson the streets. At other times, we shall need to make representations inthe inner sanctums of state power. There are times that it will requireboth. The important thing is that we are where we have to be and at theappropriate time. Leadership, in this sense, is not about a post but aboutpositioning and finding one’s purpose and mission in life.In order to discover and realize our leadership potential, we first have tofind the spaces and environments in which we are best suited to succeed.You may be a journalist, an educator, a law enforcement agent, a lawyer,a medical practitioner, or a small-scale farmer. Whatever is your calling,the essence of leadership is the same. It is to find where your naturalgifts and aptitudes will thrive, and then act for the common goodoncethat place has been found. All great leadership is driven by the search forthe common good – the quest for something that transcends self orpersonal gain. Wherever you are, if you live with the conviction that it iswithin your power to make a difference, you will find that you have begunto lead. It is time for us to seize the day and begin to build the future ofour dreams – a future that will make our children and their children’schildren proud to call us their ancestors and themselves Nigerians.I thank you for listening.