By Tochukwu Ezukanma
Good leadership is not a function of age. The world has known great and outstanding leaders in different age brackets. Ronald Reagan was 69 years old when he became the President of the United States of America. He remained president until he was 77 years old. Winston Churchill first became the British Prime Minister at the age of 65. His second stint as prime minister started when he was 77 years old. At the other extreme, Theodore Roosevelt became the president of the United States of America at the age of was 43, John Kennedy at 43, and that greatest phenomenon of the 21 Century, Barak Obama, at 46.
The failure of leadership in Nigeria is indisputable. As Nigerians grope for answers for this unmitigated failure in leadership, some blame it on the domination of power by obscurantist and retrograde old guards. They argue that if the youths can supplant these old guards, they will make better leaders, and can unrecognizably transform Nigerian.
While youthfulness is magnificent, it is not a necessary prerequisite for good leadership. Up until that point where it becomes associated with senility and other forms of mental and physical impairments, old age does not impede leadership capabilities. Secondly, thus far, the Nigerian youths in positions of power have not, in anyway, distinguished themselves as leaders. Like the old guards, they are greedy, arrogant and scornful of the masses. They are world renowned for their incompetence, political intolerance, financial dishonesty and theft of public fund
The word youth lacks a precise definition. It becomes even harder to define in the context of political leadership. The Nigerian constitution stipulates a minimum age of 30 years for running for a legislative office, and 35 for the office of the governor. Therefore, the most youthful politically leaders in this country must, at the least, be in their 30s. These included the likes of Orji Uzo Kalu, Chimaroke Nnamani and Demeji Bankole that came to power still in their 30s.
Incidentally, none of these men differentiated himself for his selflessness commitment to service of the people and responsiveness to the legitimate aspirations of the people. Like the older leaders, they all pandered to this unconscionable system of ours that engenders the stupendous wealth of an elite few and consigns the majority of Nigerians to desperate, gateless poverty. In their scorn for the masses and studied indifferent to the increasing economic plights of Nigerians, none of them advanced a more equitable distribution of the state or national resources. In no way was their leadership marked by high morals and/or elevated ethics. Were they not all later indicted by the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) for corrupt practices?
More than any of these youthful rulers, Dimeji Bankole riveted the attention of the country. Like most Nigerians, I was very impressed by the then emergent Speaker of the House of Representatives. Youthful, erudite and with a superb diction, he seemed a paragon of the new breed of young leaders that Nigerians were longed for: a veritable president material; something of a future Nigerian John Kennedy or Barack Obama.
He has style, a style that is unique and uncomplicated. His sartorial taste of light colored traditional outfit is plain, unadorned, yet dignifying. With an impressive height, stately gait and a ready smile that reveals his gap teeth, he looked every inch debonair and cultivated – almost regal. No one in recent memory held sway of the House of Representatives from the Speaker’s dais with such confidence, dignity and class.
Once in office, he started off as though he was to live up to the massive hope reposed on him by the Nigerian people. He roused the House to action and it seemed poised to live up to new standards of probity and responsibility. It subjected the 2008 budget to unprecedented scrutiny and forced the presidency to revise the budget. It started investigations into the corrupt activities in the power sector and other government agencies.
Suddenly, the Bankole led House ran out of vigor; it relapsed into business as usual. Then, nothing washeard of the investigations. No report was issued and no one was indicted, thoughtless of being prosecuted. Obviously, no moral or ethical revolution had taken place in the House. It was all a hoax – mere trumpery by a bunch of venal politicians with their own hidden agenda. The House remained a bastion of corruption and the epicenter of all our moral and ethical maladies.
As Demji Bankole left office, series of scandals swirled around him. In an egregious act of irresponsibility, he refused to honor an initiation, for questioning, from the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC). The youthful, dashy Speaker of the House was ready to flee from the law. It was at the end of a protracted stand off with law enforcement officials that he surrendered to the EFCC.
Are we not forced to wonder about the kind of humanity our political leaders represent? If common criminals can honor invitations, for questioning, from the police and other law enforcement agencies, why do our “Honorables” and “Excellencies” behave like sociopaths that lack moral restraint and any sense of responsibility to the society? They run and hide from the law and jump bail. To run from the law, hide from the law or jump bail is an act of unfathomable stupidity, utmost recklessness and unpardonable disdain for the law. Do we unwittingly hitch our stars with reprobates or is there something about Nigerian politics that turns decent people into incorrigibly bad men and women?
In the final analysis, Nigerian leaders are basically the same. They are a band of conscienceless and lawless men and women that are neither devoted to public service nor committed to any political or philosophical ideal. They are pre-occupied with stealing and salting away public funds into their own bank accounts. They wield power as though it is a merciless enemy of the people. In addition to stealing from the people, power deployed as an enemy of the people exploits and represses the people, disrespects the law and undermines equity and social justice.
This is true of Nigerian leaders, irrespective of their age. Just as the old guards, our youthful leaders have equally been a disappointment to the country. Therefore, the hope reposed on the Nigerian youths to usher in a new era of selfless and responsible leadership, and thus, economic progress, social justice, official incorruptibility and societal reformation, if given the opportunity to lead, is misplaced.
Tochukwu Ezukanma writes from Lagos, Nigeria.
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