By Okachi N. Kpalukwu
Africans and Nigerians all over the world watched proudly as Barack Obama took over the mantle of leadership as the president of the United States .
Now we are watching him perform with confidence. We are watching him deliver on his campaign promises. We are watching him, with much admiration I might add, take up challenge after challenge just to make sure he does not fail himself and those who helped to put him in office. We are watching him make poignant speeches, even in world stages, and we are loving every minute of it because, indeed, one of us has made it to the top of the world, young and promising as he is, and his age is neither deterring nor affecting his performance. Why canâ€™t we do the same in Africa ?
Why canâ€™t we have the same in Nigeria ? Why canâ€™t we let our young men and women show the world that we, too, can perform in the same optimal level of leadership as Barack Obama. Instead, we are letting â€œdeadwoodsâ€â€”politicians whose time has come and gone, and who didnâ€™t have much to say in their own timeâ€”to dictate to us and tell us what to do in our own time.
Instead, we are letting them linger too long, like old lizards, to disparage those of us who have the energy and the mental capacity to move our various countries forward. Instead we are sucking up to them, letting them lead us to dead ends, and letting them let our innocent country men and women down everyday. Why?
Sadly, the reasons are not farfetched. And the first one to come to mind is that we, the young, are letting them. And we are letting them out of fear. We are letting them because we tend to believe that we owe them somethingâ€”perhaps respectâ€”but respect wrapped around fear, fear of what we know we can actually do to make the lives of our people better, and fear that taking a chance to do the right thing for us all will make us and everyone around us feel good.
Simply put, we lack courage. How reckless! How hands offish and irresponsible we are about our future and the future of various countries!
Not long ago, I read an e-mail that was circulated to Nigerians in the United States , and it read like this:
“LET IBB COME BACK AS PRESIDENT TO RE-ENTHRONE THE TWO PARTY SYSTEM, AND PERFECT FEDERALISM. HE HAD DONE IT BEFORE, AND WILL STILL DO BETTER…
Why would anyone who knows the history of Africa, and Nigeria in particular and its leadership circus, even contemplate such an absurd thing as IBB or anyone who has once ruled that country before ever coming back to power? If my memory still serves me well, I believe we had performed that experiment not long ago and failed woefully.
Unapologetically, this was my reply to that ill-fated e-mail: â€œWhy do we, Nigerians, always like to think backwards instead of forward? Has IBB and his cohorts not done enough damage to that country?Â If he did whatever he did, which in my estimate amounts to nothing, before and moved on, why can’t someone else rise from amongst us and do it better?
What does IBB have that you or any other Nigerian does not have? Can “deadwoods” light a fire that can last through the night? Have they not put Nigeria through enough darkness?â€
When I was an employee of the Post and Telecommunications (P & T) in Nigeria , I witnessed my supervisors shame the young workers to no end, and I was never a bit happy with the outcome but took it with a regrettable sulk. Then I was very young, barely 22, and I hated seeing my supervisors take bribes from their friends and then switch our work order for the day, from the official work order to their friendsâ€™ work order.
And throughout the day we would be in the field working for their friends, instead of attending to those clients who had made legitimate complaints about their faulty telephone lines. In fact, one of them even lent our testing telephone to one of his friends to use for a whole week, having accepted an â€œofferâ€ from him, and left us stranded without a testing telephone to work with on the field.
Their slogan then was: â€œAccept no bribe; reject no offer.â€ And that was exactly what they shamelessly practiced in the open. But what is an â€œoffer,â€ and what is â€œbribeâ€? To me, they are the same, and young Nigerians must steer clear of such unprogressive, ancient beliefs and practices. Indeed, young Nigerians must shun all â€œbribesâ€ and all â€œoffersâ€ if we must reclaim that country and make it what we want it to beâ€”respectful and progressive. We must do this now and with a straight face say, â€œenough is enough!â€
Contrary to what some people might think at this point, I have nothing against older, experienced politicians, and I value their positive contributions to our lives. But there comes a time when the old must give way to the young. And such time has come in Africa and in Nigeria in particular.
Besides, it is not experience that we need at this time, but rather the wits of pragmatic, problem-solving leadersâ€”people who know what our problems are, their severity, and how to go about solving them. It is time to give young people a chance the lead our country (and countries) out of poverty and misery, just as the United States gave a young man like Barack Obama a chance to lead it out of its turbulent period, and that time is now! In short, we need leaders with energy, vision, conviction, and a clear mandate to change the status-quo and move us forward.
In a few months Nigerians will be gearing up for another round of her leadership slugfest, and already the â€œold dogsâ€ are sharpening their claws and salivating to â€œrigâ€ themselves into office again. Who will win the day? Are we young people going to sit by still, out of fear, and let our views be marginalized once more as before? Or are we going to take the bulls by the horns, as they say, and challenge the repulsive status-quo?
I say we should take the fight to them. We can no longer leave the political field for the Field Marshals alone, for we have much to lose if we do, and much to gain if we donâ€™t. So I am suggesting that we make room for our young minds and talents out there. But, most importantly, we must learn to â€œtrustâ€ one another.
We must learn to believe that there are people amongst us who can deliver us out of this leadership quagmire that we have found ourselves in. We must believe that there are some shinning souls hidden amongst us who have the courage but may not have the resources to sponsor themselves, and we must be willing to support them financially, intellectually, and otherwise.
The problem we have now in Africa, and in Nigeria in particular, were not created over night, and so we should not expect their solutions to come to us overnight. But we must begin somewhere, as the journey of a million miles begins with a single step. And the first step for us at this moment is to find the courage to challenge the prevailing status-quo. Otherwise our days of suffering and complaining are still ahead of us.
Dr. Okachi Nyeche Kpalukwu is a Professor at Howard University and the University of Maryland University College , respectively.