By Dele Momodu
Fellow Nigerians, I didn’t know whether to cry or laugh when I got a call early this week from Ambassador Dayo Israel, one of the brightest youths I had mentored in my own modest way some years ago. It was a plaintive cry for help after the debacle of a failed local government chairmanship aspiration bid and the death knell of the campaign for youth emancipation in the Senate.
Dayo has since those halcyon days, when he came under my tutelage, worked very hard to be an iconic youth in Nigeria and beyond. Dayo recently threw his hat into the political ring recently when he attempted to pick the APC Chairmanship nomination for Lagos Mainland Local Government, to contest today against other Lagos Mainland Chairmanship aspirants in that Local Government of Lagos State. As you read my epistle right now, the election is taking place as scheduled but without Dayo’s name on the ballot papers.
Dayo had requested my intervention, several times in the last few months, for help with his political aspiration. He took his case to the high and mighty in our society and solicited the support of political godfathers in his party, APC. There is no doubt that Dayo is eminently qualified to run in this race and I was reasonably assured that he would deliver on most of the promises made by him. However, the arithmetic of politics in Nigeria, and in most places, is not always one plus one. The way these things are configured often make it impossible for brilliant young guys like Dayo to have a smooth sail in political climes like Nigeria. Ask me! I had my own Baptism of fire in 2011 when I got inspired by the audacity and miracle of Barack Obama in the United States of America and assumed foolishly that such could be replicated back home in Nigeria. Lord have mercy, I was dead wrong.
I had predicated my faith and boundless optimism on several factors: my personal credentials (I was well educated with a Masters degree in Literature-in-English), my political background (I had been in politics since 1982 and had even been a personal secretary to the then Deputy Governor of Old Ondo State, Chief Akin Omoboriowo. Since then I had interacted with some of Nigeria’s biggest political juggernauts), my business experience (I had managed people and resources from medium scale to high level), my global exposure (I had been blessed with access to world figures at home and abroad) and crucially, I now had what I thought were my greatest assets, the youths of Nigeria. But my dream of leading Nigeria out of the doldrums soon vanished.
The youths mostly teased and taunted me as inexperienced and poor. They preferred the calibre of people they claimed had pilfered, looted and wasted their common wealth – politicians with very loaded pockets. These are people who could instantly daze and dazzle them with cash which represents only a token of what they’ve stolen, and later abandon them and for good measure impoverish society at large. I could not believe my ears and my eyes as I watched developments with incredulity. I was too idealistic about a revolution foretold which became nothing but a mirage. I refused to join the mainstream parties in my naïve belief that the duo of PDP and AC had been substantially contaminated and we should start on a cleaner note. There is no doubt that the biggest party in Nigeria remains the unheralded and unregistered Floaters Party, comprising, of mainly, the most vocal but reticent youths in Africa. Anyway, I lost the election but learnt a lot of incredible lessons from the experience and exposure.
When Dayo Israel decided to go into politics, I readily and instantly knew he would have to climb Mount Everest in short time to clinch his party ticket. I admired his guts and appreciated his superlative enthusiasm. But I knew that alone could not catapult him to the dreamland that he foresaw. His campaign was remarkable and fresh. I did not want to discourage him in any way. I was in a position to give him privileged information that would have dampened his enthusiasm but refrained from doing so in order not to weaken his resolve or demoralise him, particularly for the future. Nevertheless, I knew the chicken would eventually come home to roost. Truth is the elders that we usually complain against, and grumble about, are better organised and more fraternised than the younger ones. Nigerian youths are yet to demonstrate sufficient capacity for sustained struggle and clear-cut principle or ideology. I was the only Presidential candidate in the history of Nigeria ever with uncommon faith in the abilities of Nigerian youths and demonstrated this when I picked a prodigiously gifted 26-year old Ohimai Godwin Amaize as my Presidential Campaign Coordinator. His biggest foes were the same youths he had fought for all his adult life. They regularly dissed and derided him as if success as a young man is a curse in Nigeria.
It was no surprise to me when Dayo started seeing red lights halting him in his tracks and denying him progress. His dreams and vision began to evaporate before his very eyes. He came crying to me several times and I tried to pacify him as much as possible. I sometimes had to tell him the blatant and unpleasant truth, which only brought more anguish for him. I prepared his mind for the worst case scenario. At first, he was reluctant and resisted my humble advice and realistic forecast as to how his ambition would be scuttled. Eventually, he saw reason and accepted his fate with equanimity. I was excited about his decision not to throw tantrums against his party leaders but to cooperate beautifully with them and rally together other disappointed and angry aspirants who were in denial, like he was initially. Obviously, “he who fights and runs away lives to fight another day,” according to an adage. Every act of compromise is not always an act of cowardice but is often a demonstration of wisdom and a show of strength of character.
That done and ambition thwarted for now, Dayo with youthful vigour decided to join yet another cause, the “not too young to run” campaign. Dayo Israel and company banked their resolve in this regard, on the support of the Nigerian Senate. I really don’t know what or who persuaded them that the Senate, as presently composed, was going to buy into their vision, but they somehow believed the bill was going to sail through. That hope too was soon dashed. Dayo was livid and incandescent with rage. He called me frantically. Since I didn’t know what informed the decision of the Senate not to kowtow to the wishes of our youths I decided to beg Dayo to cool temper. “Uncle, Uncle, please we need your intervention,” he pleaded like a penitent school boy. “What happened, Dayo,” I asked innocently. I didn’t really know why he was so worked up. Then he told me how the Senate had thrown out the bill that would help the Nigerian youths participate more effectively in politics, and he was so disappointed. I told him I was helpless. However, I also assured him that, If and when, I have the opportunity to speak to the Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki, I will speak to him about it,” I calmly told him that this was a solemn promise. And I also promised to publicly add my voice to this necessary crusade via my Pendulum column today.
The Nigerian youths must be told the unpalatable truth. No one gives up, or relinquishes power on a platter of gold. You must go all out and work assiduously to grab it. If necessary, you must fight ferociously for it. Life is not a bed of roses and the battle for power is no less so. The Azikiwes, Awolowos, Tafawa Balewas, and others all prepared well and adequately for power. They did not wake up suddenly to ask for it. Our youths must first distinguish themselves in their respective areas of expertise and endeavour. When you are distinguished, you will have the confidence to speak authoritatively and convincingly. People will listen to you. Nigerian youths should stop expecting manna from heaven. The last time it dropped was only reported in the Holy Bible, and that must be many centuries ago.
Nigerian youths must join mainstream political parties and form themselves into formidable cells. If you claim politics is too dirty and dangerous and abandon it on the laps of useless characters, you can’t come back later to blame anyone for your negligence or ostrich behaviour. Not only must they join the main political parties, Nigerian youths must invest in their political future by making donations towards funding of the electoral process. If you allow the moneybags hijack the political parties, that is it. He who pays the piper dictates the tune. One of the reasons corruption is difficult to contain or exterminate in Nigeria is because politicians are forced to raise and spend too much of their personal resources to contest elections. It is thus natural that an outlandish investor would want to recoup his humongous investment as soon as possible, if he is successful.
Nigerian youths must acquire and imbibe the spirit of patience by making painstaking effort to queue, vote and protect their votes on election day. Since phantoms or aliens are not going to descend from the heavens or outer space to elect our leaders for us, we must do it for ourselves by exercising our voting rights. The nonchalance of our youths must yield way to a more passionate interest in this most important matter of enfranchisement. We must register to vote and recognise that it is cool to vote no matter how tedious the process may be. No magic would change Nigeria for the better if we fail to do what is right. The elites, in particular, make it easy for stark illiterates and mediocres to take over our political landscape by thinking they are too big to vote or soil themselves by participating in party politics. When tomorrow comes, it is only those who presented themselves that would determine those who are to be voted in or out.
I sincerely sympathise with our youths. In 2019, some of the leading aspirants again would be in their sixties and seventies. That is the sad reality I must tell you about today. I’m yet to see those in the thirties and forties seriously warming up for the tough race ahead. On my part, at 57, I already feel I’m getting too old. It is now more obvious than ever that Nigeria must urgently seek energetic, youthful but accomplished, visionary, upwardly mobile leaders who would think and work outside the box regardless of tribe, gender or religion. We need our young entrepreneurs and innovators to also claim the political space. I do not care where our leaders come from as long as I’m reasonably convinced of their competence. However, we continue to do the same things repeatedly by churning out lacklustre and poor candidates who have no clue about governance or national development. For this reason, we should not expect different results from those of the past. Our lunacy would have been finally confirmed if we continue not only to repeat the mistakes of the past but also continue to embrace it. No nation develops without learning from its history and without leaning,No nation develops without learning from its history and without leaning on its youth.
It is not a coincidence that out greatest periods of national development and progress has been at the time when we have young men at the helm of affairs. We do not need to reinvent our existence or raison d’etre. We only need to flow with it and redevelop our instincts for youth and vigour, imagination and innovation – In short visionary, dedicated and disciplined leadership.
God help Nigeria.