Youth candidates: Promoting competence over hype

By Tabia Princewill
WE are easily taken in by trends and “hype” in this country, rarely do we stop to examine things and to see what lies beneath the surface. Encouraging the voices of young people, of women, is seen as global best practice and rightly so. Unfortunately, here in Nigeria, in our zeal to appear to conform to such ideas, we often end up promoting or supporting people with little substance, people with nothing else to offer beyond being young or female. We must cease to allow such candidates to be foisted on us simply because it appears to be time to fill a particular slot. A talentless, unconvincing person, no matter their ethnicity, gender or age will never perform and only serves to act as a deterrent for giving others who happen to fill that same slot (e.g. gender, youth, or a particular ethnic group marketed as “marginalised”), a bad name. Primordial sentiments Indeed, when empty vessels are given opportunities they neither deserve nor can justify, simply because they are young, female, or come from a certain part of the country, when they unsurprisingly fail, the entire group falls and their case is used as further justification for keeping other members of said group out of office. In fact, contrary to popular belief, electing a young person, or a woman, simply because of what they are (as opposed to paying attention to who they are, or to what they stand for, their ideas etc.) is not a guarantee of competent service delivery. There is no guarantee an Igbo president will perform or develop the SouthEast, the same way former President Jonathan admitted during a 2015 campaign rally that he hadn’t done a lot for the Niger Delta. Yet, many people of Niger Deltan extraction proceeded to vote for him, often sighing and admitting “we didn’t choose him, but he is our man”. These primordial sentiments of allegiance to religion, ethnicity and surface issues over competence and ideas have wrecked Nigeria. Social media is currently replete with young men and women who claim to be running for office. Yet, very few people seem to be discussing their plans or antecedents beyond saying “he is young” (in fact there are no high profile young women running for President which is telling) or “we need young people in office”. Certainly, our Emmanuel Macron, or our version of Barack Obama is out there waiting to be discovered. But neither of these two candidates, it must be said, campaigned on the basis of their ages. Their qualifications spoke for them. It wasn’t a matter of saying “I am young, vote for me” otherwise they would have lost. It is also quite interesting to see that virtually every Nigerian politician now seems to have an opinion about getting young people into public office. Very few of them attempted to assist such a process while they held sway. Former President Jonathan said at a youth event in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State recently “the young must reform the old for us to grow positively. At the same time most of the challenges we are having in the society, it is not that the young people created them, but they are being used negatively”. Young people are mainly used as thugs or social media “experts” in Nigerian politics. Imagine if men with Barack Obama, Justin Trudeau or Emmanuel Macron’s potential had been relegated to the role of “social media PA” for their entire careers. Their countries’ histories would be quite different today without their contributions. Nothing about the Nigerian society or our system of education provides young people with the independent, free thinking necessary to give them the confidence to stand up for themselves or to challenge the status quo. Intriguingly, those who do end up representing young people are hardly ever those who truly have something to offer. Political decision makers prefer the simulation of talent to the real thing which clearly makes them uncomfortable as they struggle to protect their turf. Not only does our system produce clones who can cram and regurgitate knowledge without the ability to comment on it, give a personal opinion or critique it, it is the easiest way to ensure young Nigerians remain dependent on the ideas of others which they passively receive. Our system is geared towards the production of yes men. Some of the so-called youth candidates are merely media creations, they have little or no depth or policy discourse to recommend them. We’ve become a shallow people, easily swayed, easily convinced by anything in fancy packaging. IBB SOMEONE once asked on the radio why it seems IBB is still a factor in our politics and electoral processes. One of our biggest problems as a country is the fact that we have no universal understanding or agreement where it concerns those who are responsible for a lot of the issues we currently face. Former military head of state, General Ibrahim Babangida The former head of state whom too often Nigerian media continues to humour by calling him “military President” (the title is itself a sadly forgotten contradiction), was quoted as saying: “When I heard in the news that a new party has come on board, the first thing that occurred to me was that the name sounds familiar, so I made a decision that I will wait and see how it plays out; I was looking at how SDP (Social Democratic Party) will populate itself. “And then the next pleasing thing that I heard was that it has people like Olu Falae, Professor Jerry Gana and Professor Adeniran”. It is interesting that right after IBB in essence stated Buhari was too old for the job and therefore encouraged young people to vote SDP, he proceeded to name SDP members who are by and large his and President Buhari’s contemporaries. In fact, he very happily reminded the public that many SDP members served in his government. Is this a return to power by proxy? We seem stuck between either returning to a problematic past, to put it mildly, or blind love for would-be new faces who are not attempting to win votes based on rational arguments or competence. We appear incapable of honestly assessing both our past and our future without fear or sentiment. The herdsmen attacks and the Libyan connection PRESIDENT Buhari recently revealed that many of the herdsmen attacking communities in the Middle Belt are Libyan fighters who are armed remnants of the Gadaffi regime. Late Gadaffi “When he was killed, the gunmen escaped with their arms. We encountered some of them fighting with Boko Haram. Herdsmen that we used to know carried only sticks and maybe a cutlass to clear the way, but these ones carry sophisticated weapons. The problem is not religious, but sociological and economic”. To a certain extent one must agree with PMB. The issue very often is with his spokesmen and the strategies (or lack thereof) elaborated by his aides to target misinformation and to break issues down into digestible pieces. Femi Adesina called on politicians to “reform” and desist from “irresponsible politics” (hate, division, fear mongering). “The tendency now is to twist and slant every word from President Buhari in the negative, to de-market, demonize him, make him unattractive to the electorate. Those who do it are to be pitied,” Adesina said. Unless the media team around the President has strategies in place to counter falsehood and manipulation, it is they who should be pitied because those allegedly guilty of corruption appear to be running circles around them, convincing Nigerians of the Presidency’s incompetence while they, the real architects of Nigeria’s demise enjoy their loot. Nigerian politicians and “maradonas” are smart. They know what works, how to manipulate Nigerians. By failing to get any convictions for corruption, this administration allowed more boldness on their part. Whether Buhari has been outsmarted by the masters of deception who prey on our country’s weaknesses remains to be seen. Many of those around him definitely have, how many, some might say, were up to the task to begin with?

Vanguard 18/04/2018