The Youths As Agents Of Change In Nigerian Democracy – By Rt. Hon. Jagaba Adams Jagaba

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Let me start by thanking our Creator for making this historic day a reality. Permit me to also congratulate the organizers of this event for their careful planning and meticulous execution. I also beseech the organizers of this historic function to accept my gratitude for finding me worthy to lead today’s discourse. The moments are ripped for this and allied discussions on the role of the youths in promoting democracy and governance in Nigeria.



Before delving into today’s discourse, it is necessary we make some conceptual clarifications on terms like; youth, change, and democracy. This will give our discussion a smooth path and proper bearing. However, it must be borne at heart that definitions lifted from scholars are not universally and unanimously adopted but mere perceptions of individual scholars or organizations. Each authority premised his definition on his field of specialization or personal idiosyncrasies. However, in spite of their divergences, they share similarities in content.

(i)    YOUTH 

The United Nations (UN), for statistical purposes, defines persons between the ages of 15 and 24 as youth without prejudice to others. This same definition has been adopted by many of its specialised agencies like UNESCO, UNICEF and WORLD BANK. Marriam Webster gave a simple definition:  “the time of life when someone is young,  the time when a young person has not yet become an adult”. Aside from the two cited, nations, professional bodies, etc have advanced  various definitions to suit their missions or purposes.

(ii)    CHANGE

Some scholars postulated that, if one makes looking for a standard definition of change his mission, he might end up a frustrated person. That is to say, there is no standard definition of change like other known concepts in the world. Despite that, the Business Diary defined change as “The process of causing a functionpractice, or thing to become different somehow compared to what it is at present or what it was in the past”. Some said change is “to make the form, nature, content, future course, etc., of (something) different from what it is or from what it would be if left alone”.

(iii)   DEMOCRACY 
Democracy is one of the most popular terms  in our contemporary political  lexicon. Because of its popularity and acceptability, the term is arguable the most defined by students and scholars of power. One of the American founding fathers, Abraham Lincoln, defined democracy as “government of the people, by the people and for the people”. His definition has almost become a walking definition all over the world. Others believe democracy “is a system of government in which power is vested in the people, who rule either directly or through freely elected representatives”. In all the definitions of democracy, the notion of a government that draws its legitimacy from the people is being recognized.



The history of competitive elections predates the lowering of the Union Jack on 1st October 1960. Before independence, elections were held at regional levels to elect members of the regional governments and federal parliamentarians. The independence elections of 1959 were the last elections conducted under colonialism. The regime that took over from the colonial masters organised elections in 1964/5. After a few years, the First Republic was truncated by a military coup in January 1966.


After a thirty month civil war and years of military regimes, democracy returned to Nigeria in 1979. The military of  Murtala/Obasanjo regime kept to their promise of returning the country to a democracy. The Second Republic lasted to 31st December 1983. Just like the First Republic, they exhausted their first term in office but were barred from completing a fresh mandate they secured in 1983 general elections.


Sacking of Alh. Shehu Aliyu Shagari’s government paved way for a protracted military era that produced four different military regimes.  Gen. Mohammadu Buhari (1983-1985), Gen. Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (IBB) (1985-1993), Gen. Sani Abacha (1995-1998), and Gen. Abdulsalami Alhaji Abubakar (1998-1999). Out of the four, two embarked on inconclusive transitions, one successfully returned the country to civil rule in 1999, and one did not even attempt a transition programme before his ouster in a palace coup.


Our seventeen years democracy that started in 1999 is the country’s only democratic experiment that is heading towards two decades now. Within these years, five different elections have been successfully conducted. The same period produced an unprecedented development in the political history of the nation when, at the 2015 polls, an opposition party defeated the ruling party, a development that  was very new in our body polity.





The history of our great nation can’t be complete without devoting much of it to narrating the enormous contributions and sacrifices of the youth. The independence we got on 1st October 1960 from British colonialists was fought by our youthful Nationalists like Sirs Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Ahmadu Bello, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Malam Aminu Kano, Chief Joseph Tarka and others. They took up the challenge of liberation and nation building starting from their early 20s. At 1st October 1960, most of the federal parliamentarians like our former President, Shehu Aliyu Shagari,former Permanent Representative to United Nations, Ambassador Yusuf Maitama Sule and others, were in their early 20s. Because the system of government in the First Republic was parliamentary, most of them were given ministerial portfolios.


As you are aware, the First Republic was terminated in January 1966 through a military coup. All the coup leaders of that January and the counter coup of July were very young military officers in their early and late 20s. Gen. Yakubu Jack Gowon, Chief Emeka Ojukwu, Gen. Hassan Katsina and all their supporting officers were below the ages of 30yrs. Even the 1974 coup of Gen. Murtala Ramat was headed by very young officers below or slidely above 30yrs like Gen. T.Y Danjuma, Cols Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, Muhammadu Buhari, Joseph Garba, Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida etc.


When the military disengaged from politics in 1979, most of the leading political actors that emerged were youth in their 30s. Only an insignificant few were in their 40s. This was a period that produced young governors like Alh. Abubakar Rimi , Chief Jim Nwobodo, and lawmakers like Alh. Sule Lamido,  Dr. Olusola Saraki, Sen. Wash Pam, etc. Because the Second Republic was a Presidential system, which stipulates that ministers must come from outside the law makers, very young people like Chief Audu Obge, Dr. Paul Unongo also surfaced. From 1999 to date, a few youths were lucky to hold executive and legislative positions. Even the unprecedented victory of opposition party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), in 2015 polls was made possible because of the massive support the youth gave the party and their candidates.


I took time and gave you this marathon narration of Nigeria’s political history and some of the actors to demonstrate that, youth have played a vital and critical role in bringing all the political changes in Nigeria. Coincidentally, history holds that the phenomenon happened in the military eras as well as the civilian regimes. This has demonstrated the centrality of the youth in paddling and captaining our political ship as a nation. Scholars and public affairs commentators are still pulling and pushing on positive and negative consequences of some of their actions.



The picture painted in our earlier sections shows that it has been a smooth sail for Nigeria youth. It appeared that they have been the movers and shakers of political events even before 1st October 1960. However, there is a great irony that has been unfolding since immediately after the Second Republic. For lack of sheer will to make way for the new breed of politicians and leaders, the very people that got power in their 20s are today referring to those in their late 50s and early 60s as young people. To them, everybody lower than their ages, are too young to hold any sensitive position in Nigeria.


Surprisingly, a cream of them were those who led this country as military administrators in their 20s, civilian governors in their early 30s, ministers in their 20s, etc. Record shows that some of them spent less than two decades in the military but soared to the rank of generals. Their counterparts in the civil service rose to the peak of their careers in less than twenty years of service as well.


As I address you today, we still have actors of First and Second Republics dancing on the political stage and dictating the political pace of the Nation. The country has graduated from a dynamic polity piloted by young and vibrant minds to a chronic gerontocracy. This is in sharp contrast with the contemporary global pattern where advanced countries are increasingly producing young leaders who understand current dynamics of world politics and economy. For example, when Gen. Gowon hosted a former Canadian leader in the 70s, Mr. Pierre Trudeau, he came with his little toddler. Today that toddler named Mr. Justine Trudeau is the Prime Minister of Canada.
I am not saying that old age denies leaders who have ideas from running a country in tandem with realities of the times. But nobody can countenance the fact that advantages of  young people in power far outweighs its disadvantages. Taking risk is part of life and leadership. Old people don’t, they rather take caution, and taking excessive caution deny people taking charge and chance. Nigeria must accept this reality and be courageous enough to adopt it.
The virus of old guards not willing to give way to new breeds isn’t restricted to the political realms alone. The academic world is also “guilty” of this practice. Today, we have old good professors who are not willing to guide young academics to attain their heights for fear of competition. Like in politics, their ways are numerous which include tactics like refusal to supervise thesis in time, pulling the brakes on younger academics’ proposals for research, and outright refusal to recommend younger ones for fellowships.


Having said this, let me point out that the youth are equally not helping matters. Why would the so-called old guards be willing to relinquish power to the youth when in most cases, you find them engaging in acts unbecoming of future leaders? For instance, most of the youths today have joined terrorists groups like Boko Haram and Niger Delta Avengers, while some are serial rapists, armed robbers and kidnappers. In school, instead of burning the proverbial midnight candle in order to excel, they resort to all forms of examination malpractices. Some, rather than working hard to carve a niche for themselves, they would go about basking in the euphoria of their parents’ accomplishments. The same youth are into occultism, while others offer themselves to be used as political thugs. These bad habits are mostly responsible for the doubts the older generation have on the youths of today. For youths to be the agents of change in Nigeria, therefore, they must learn to overcome inferiority complex and shun all vices that are capable of further casting doubts on their leadership potentials and capabilities.


For Nigeria to get back to its track of greatness and become the pride of every Blackman in the world, we have to be born again. When I say born again, I don’t mean the spiritual rebirth narrated in the Holy Bible. I mean moral, social, cultural, and political purification and reorientation. We must sink corrupt and bad ways that have long been accepted as the new norms of our societies. Our mode of assessing success in the society that is premised on material possession but not on patriotism and  contribution to uplifting of mankind from squalor and want is largely responsible for most of the vices we have today in Nigeria. No society can advance with this mentality and unfortunate mindset.


Nigeria can hardly attain greatness in the sense of the word until we begin to lay more emphasis on competence, honesty, integrity and loyalty to country rather than emphasizing ethnicity, tribe, religion and other such primordial tendencies.


In Nigeria, people are always carried away by party slogans such as “Change”, “Power to the People”, etc. However, the slogans become meaningless when the leaders do not exhibit characteristics that are in sync.  For instance, change should be reflected in the attitudinal behavior of leaders and followers alike in order to bring about the desired change, while power cannot be said to belong to the people when leaders who are supposed to protect and execute the law are themselves the law breakers, acting with impunity.


Again, corruption has wrecked incalculable damage to the psyche of Nigerians and the economy generally. If Nigeria is to return to treading the path of greatness and development therefore, then the fight against corruption must be realistically holistic. For instance, an individual was prosecuted for corrupt enrichment to the tune of Sixty Billion Naira (N60b) and upon conviction, he was sentenced to a mere three (3) months in prison, while another who was convicted for equally embezzling Billions of Naira opted to pay a fine in the paltry sum of Seven Hundred and Fifty Thousand Naira (N750,000) only. How could such light sentences deter other people from engaging in corrupt practices?  Laws must be enacted which severity should be weighty enough to serve as deterrent.


The youth must also lead the way in this moral rejuvenation. Most of us are in what I called the DEPARTURE LOUNGE, we shall soon leave the stage by either natural or artificial eliminations. The country belongs to you, your actions today will determine your fate and future. Our country is experiencing turbulent moments, but don’t forget the counsel of an American inspirational writer who said “Tough times never last but tough people do”. Similarly, as a young teacher in the 80s, our favourite song was Billy Ocean’s hit “when the going gets tough the tough gets going”.  I dare say, combat the present situation in Nigeria and others that might come your way with courage, faith and hard work.


Let me close this discussion with the counsel one of the best American Presidents, John F. Kennedy gave to his compatriots. He said, “don’t think of what your country can do for you, but think of what you can do for your country”. Similarly, let us not think of what Nigeria can do for us, but what we can do for Nigeria.


Once again, I thank the Head of Department, Lecturers and students for finding me worthy of this award. I am really humbled. Inspite of my crowded scheduled today, I decided to put other engagements at abeyance in order to personally receive this award. This underscores the importance I attach to it, more so coming from a department I got one of my masters degree. Today, you have further spurred me on. I shall not rest on my oars, but shall continue to strive for higher heights while projecting the image of this department and institution, generally.


Thank you for listening to my long narration. God bless you all.



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