By Donu Kogbara
Odein Ajumogobia, SAN, the former Minister of Foreign Affairs, has pointed out that since 75 per cent of Nigeria’s population is aged between 18 and 35, young people are under-represented within the context of the National Conference.
Ajumogobia said, in a Channels TV interview, that while experienced elders can undoubtedly make valuable contributions, more youngsters should have been invited to participate because the debate is about the nation’s future, because “this is a technological age” and because “we need their passion and energy.”
It’s as if Ajumogobia read my mind!
For weeks, I have been telling friends and work colleagues that I don’t understand why the delegate list is so heavily dominated by older people.
Like Ajumogobia, I am not saying that seniors shouldn’t be involved at all or that they won’t bring any useful insights to the table. Many of them are super-smart and some are decent and well-intentioned; and we can learn a lot from those who have shaped our collective past and from those who are still part of the system. Even elders who have misbehaved can teach us something.
But I feel very strongly that at least half of the discussants should be youths who are IT-savvy and are totally in tune with the twenty-first century and are likely to be around for a few more decades and did not cause the terrible rot that their parents and grandparents have inflicted on this country.
Even my generation – which is computer literate and has a fairly modern mindset and has not yet reached retirement age – is part of the problem.
I am 54 and several of my peers have been – or still are – Ministers, Governors, Permanent Secretaries, captains of industry, judges and so on.
And I think it is fair to say that while some of these powerful decision makers in my age group have been impressive role models, far too many have been huge disappointments who have prevented Nigeria from fulfilling its potential. A friend who is deeply aggrieved about the dysfunctions – incompetence, corruption, tribalism, etc – that have scarred our history and are casting a dark shadow over our current existences – has bitterly expressed the view that the preponderance of older folks at the National Conference makes sense “because those who messed things up should clear up the mess before they die.”
I guess that there is some merit in this viewpoint – though some might say that leopards don’t, as a general rule, change their spots and that those who messed things up are neither capable of nor genuinely willing to clear up their mess.
Sure, there is no guarantee that junior citizens will wind up being any better than those who have gone before them. Some are already crooks or lazy or inefficient. But they have relatively clean hands compared to those who are on higher rungs of life’s ladder. And most of them are more flexible, more open to fresh ideas and more comfortable with new-fangled methods and tools.
Our younger ones also happen to be in peak physical/mental shape. They don’t wake up in the morning – as I do! – with aching muscles and stiff joints. They aren’t as forgetful as some of my older family members have become.
They also tend to be less cynical and world-weary. They tend to have higher hopes and more faith in humanity than we who have seen and done it all before.
So why don’t we allow them to play a central role when conversations about the management of their inheritances and tomorrows are taking place?
The National Conference is not the only example of the Nigerians elders’ habit of refusing to sufficiently acknowledge the importance, needs and rights of the 75 per cent majority.
Naija geriatrics are always lobbying for positions that should go to their sons and daughters! They are extremely reluctant to graciously accept their limitations and to take back seats or to at least share power more equitably.
And given that many are stinking rich, it is not as if they all need the money.
When I am in the UK, I don’t see people who were Big Men and Women Of Substance in the 1950s or ’60s elbowing their ways into everything.
When I am talking to foreigners of my age, they tell me about their retirement plans and say that they can’t wait to permanently jettison employment stress after years of being embroiled in the hustle and bustle of the marketplace.
When I am talking to Nigerians of my age, they carry on as if they have no retirement plans. Some even describe themselves as “young”!
Ajumogobia is no baby spring chicken himself; and I salute him for being refreshingly honest and objective and unselfish enough to highlight the fact that it is time to start handing over the baton to our children.