Just like yesterday, Barack Obama made history as the first black president of the world’s most powerful nation. Obama gave a resounding speech — one of the best speeches of the 21st century — saying: “Yes we can”.
Nigeria and other African countries went into wild jubilation, that one of “our own” has become the president of the United States at such a young age — 47. I remember, however faintly, that Nigerian youth had this similar chants as we have today; if the world’s most powerful man can be just 47, “we can have younger presidents in Nigeria”. “Youths are no longer the leaders of tomorrow” and all that.
For the next seven years that followed, very few Nigerian youths actually walked the talk of strategically positioning themselves for the kind of political leadership seen in Obama.
By 2015, a new kid came on board. This particular story was charming, inspiring and beautiful to watch: It was Justin Trudeau, the second youngest prime minister of Canada. He was only 44.
This time around, social media had come of age; virtually everyone who had a chance to motivate people online and offline dropped a Trudeau story of how the young can grow. Pictures made round on social media showing how Nigeria’s Yakubu Gowon shook Trudeau when he was only two years old. We laced those pictures with messages like: “The same men still ruling Nigeria from the 1970s till date”, “Trudeau is now Canadian PM, Gowon’s friends are still in power in Nigeria,” and so on.
Today, the frenzy is around Emmanuel Macron, the 39-year-old investment banker, who became the youngest president of France. Everywhere you turn on social media, someone is motivating Nigerian and African youths to take the bull by the horn and gun for political leadership. Some say we can do it in 2019, afterall it took Macron less than 12 months to form a party and become president.
WHY WE CAN’T BE MACRON — YET
No, brothers and sisters, friends and colleagues, it did not take Macron 12 months to become president, it really never takes anyone that short a time to become president. Even Goodluck Jonathan took more than 12 months before he “accidentally” became president and look where we are for it.
The men it took less than a year to prepare for power end up as disasters. We have had such men in Africa, donning the toga of military, revolutionary and youthful exuberance. Yahya Jammeh was president at 29, you know how he made a mess of democracy in Africa. Samuel Doe became president of Liberia at 28 and led the country into a civil war before he was killed by decapitation.
Joseph Kabila became president of the Democratic Republic of Congo at 29, following his father’s death in 2001 — 16 years after, he is still at the helm of power in a democratic republic, defying the constitution to hold on to power. His term was to expire in 2016, but his government says no election will be conducted until 2018 — another sit-tight leader in the making.
In Nigeria, we had our Gowon, who was head of state at 32, after becoming the nation’s youngest chief of staff at 31.
The major reason why Nigerian youths cant pull a Macron is enshrined in our culture, education, laws and attitude. The culture in Nigeria is one with a very strong sense of respect for elders, regardless of their position on social issues.
As for the education, it rarely prepares you for leadership; those who went into political leadership or some social kind of leadership back at the university are regarded as “not facing their academics”. After his first degree, Young Trudeau dropped out of Montreal Polytechnic where he was taking and engineering course, so he could focus on some public good. The same man dropped out of his Msc classes at McGill University, deciding not to face his academics so he can face a nation! The quality of education at his undergraduate level was sound enough to make a good prime minister of him.
On Macron: the young man joined the ruling French party, Socialist Party in, when he was 29, and had been in the political system for 10 years of incubation before appearing as president-elect. Within this decade, he was deputy secretary-general and minister of economy, industry and digital affairs. He did not just appear from the blues!
Finally, the law! According to the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, a citizen must have attained the age of 40 to be president or vice-president; 35 to be senator or state governor; and 30 to be a member of the house of representatives.
So how many 30-year-old do we have in the house of reps? How many 35-year-old are state governors or senators? Have we also had any 40-year-old put up a fierce fight for the first and second seat in the land?
The law does not allow us, but do we exploit what the law permits? As long as the 1999 constitution holds sway, Nigeria can never have a Macron, but we can have Trudeau, we can produce Obama. What have we done with these opportunities?
Goodluck Jonathan congratulated Macron by saying “I also congratulate the man of destiny, Emmanuel Macron, for his victory”. Jonathan sees a strong force of destiny behind Macron, and he may be right or wrong, considering the fall of the political elite in France, but the reality that Jonathan exemplifies is that destiny is not enough!
Hello Nigerian youth, we would never be destined enough to lead this nation; we need to prepare academically, professionally, culturally to avoid ending up as leaders in the shadows of Yahya Jammeh!