Youths Are The Leaders Of Today, How True Is It In Present-day Nigeria?

The common use of the maxim which proclaims the youths as the "leaders of tomorrow" is not because of its appeal amongst the youth whom it supposes to enthrone, neither is it an outcome of its truism founded on the principle of a natural law of succession, which provides that the older generations leave the stage for the new ones. On the contrary, its popularity is mostly due to its transformation into a motto that expresses youth frustrations against what appears to be an idea of a divine right to leadership, held by an elite clique that is impervious to changing times and standards.

The National Youth Policy of 2009 defines Nigerian youths as those between the ages of 18 and 35. In the case of Nigeria's youth demography, over forty (40) percent of the populace is said to fall within this category. This number, which is consistently expanding owing to high fertility rates, poor family decisions, and lowering death rates, is projected to hit 700 million by 2050. The existing economic difficulty is created by an expanding population unmatched by economic growth and social investments in education and healthcare, which are made direr by low economic earnings. This issue of a low economy has remained because they failed to move the discussion on the diversification of the economy from a mono-product economy beyond the talking stage. These 0 complications can only be resolved by changing the nature of politics, improving governance through more inclusiveness, and better resource allocations to cater to the needs of the population.

Youth have played key roles in the social and political organizations of societies across various nationalities and groups. The age-grade associations in the "traditional" pre-colonial period, the colonial era, had young Nigerians, the likes of Herbert Macaulay, Julius Ojo-Cole, and J.B Danqua, organizing and leading the government against colonial rule. They created political associations like the West African Students Union (WASU), and the National Youth Movement (NYM) in 1925 and 1934, respectively. These associations later morphed into political parties on the eve of independence and came to include personalities such as Samuel Akinsanya, Kofo Abayomi, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo, and Samuel Ladoke Akintola. Others were the National Council for Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) in 1944, Action Group (AG) in 1950, Northern People's Congress (NPC) in 1949, and the Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU) in 1950. Such were the nation's political actors at the time of independence, made up of youths in their 20s and 30s.

In the era after political independence from Britain, the military officers who hijacked power, and those who led the country during and after the Civil War, including Kaduna Chukwuma Nzeogwu, Yakubu Gowon, Olusegun Obasanjo, Murtala Mohammed, were in their late 20s and 30s. Even those who opposed the military as members of student unions under the aegis of the National Union of Nigerian Students (NUNS) set up in 1956, youth activists' members of civil society, and professional groups were youth representing the frontline of progressive social actions. They stood in defense of social freedoms and human rights against tyrannical and oppressive regimes, often suffering several consequences.

Things began to change with the coming of the Second Republic in 1979 and the instances of repressive leadership. Thence the frontline roles of the youth began to decline, culminating in their consignment to the "Youth Wing" of political parties. Before long, the youth were reduced to destabilization in the hands of political elites who deployed them as thugs, especially during elections. With growing youth populations, less state intervention, and increasing unemployment, more youths resorted to decadent behavior littering the streets of the urban centers in various regions of the country as "area boys," "agbero," and "Yan Daba."

The factors limiting youth participation in politics include poverty and other legal and political hindrances such as eligibility restriction, marginalization, and the commercialization of politics as responsible. The age restrictions, which stipulate 40 years as the requirement to vie for the presidential seat, 40 years for senatorial positions, and 30 years for membership to the federal and state Houses of Representatives, automatically disqualify everyone in the youth bracket. And with commercialization comes the added challenges of sponsorship in Nigeria's money-intensive election processes. This marginalized the youth's participation in elections and their representation in election offices.

This way, the options of Nigerian youths are almost exhausted as they are denied the opportunity to wield the transformative tool of political office while being compelled to bear the brunt of poor political decisions. Hence the feeling of frustrations built-up into the energies that produce the Not Too Young to Run (NTYTR) movement and the #EndSARS. The NTYTR and the #EndSARS are, therefore, symbolic in the sense that they represent an increasing capacity of Nigerian youths to organize and channel their frustrations into social movements and protests to call for a change in the status quo. The success of the former (NTYTR) in bringing about a reduction in the age requirement for elective offices and that of the latter (#EndSARS)in bringing an end to the notorious police squad(SARS) represents an awakening by the youths to the efficacy of pressure groups.

It is thus with the optimism reinforced by gains recorded in youth candidacy in the 2015 elections and the inspiring organization of the #EndSARS protests that we approach the future of youth leadership.

Youth is the quality or state of being young. It is best understood as a period of transition from the dependence of childhood to adulthood. The use of the word 'tomorrow' in any context has a way of inducing complacency, and promoting the fading of the importance of actions and decisions, made today in shaping tomorrow. According to the well-known activist Malcolm X, "the future belongs to those who prepare for it today." Why must the youth wait until tomorrow to lead? What about today? When does tomorrow begin? Let there be no misunderstanding; as often as the youths are reminded that they are leaders of tomorrow, they must also be reminded of the fact that today is the tomorrow they were waiting for yesterday.

Calling the youths "leaders of tomorrow" has brought about the mindset that they are incapable of making a change today because it is not their time. It has also caused them to sit back and criticize the government, whom they see as the leaders of today and who should be held responsible for all the present societal malfunctions. It has made them look at the problems that we face in the community with the belief that someone else, not them, will fix them. Being a leader tomorrow requires a vision today, and this vision, today must be put to work for full actualization. The question remains – if youths have not prepared themselves sufficiently today, how can anyone say that the future will be bright? Leaders must have a lead to follow. 

Concomitantly there also needs to be a paradigm shift around the concept of leadership. Oftentimes when the discourse on leadership is introduced, it is easily defined using political optics. However, position-based. It is an attribute of accountability and responsibility. John Quincy Adams, 6th president of the United States, once said, "If your actions inspire others to dream more and become more, you are a leader." Every day brings opportunities for effective leadership, and, as a consequence, the youth should prepare themselves, at all times, to fill this gap in every sphere of life. Leadership is a garment that must be worn daily and not a coat that is pulled out from a closet and put on when needed. The axiom, "youths are leaders of tomorrow," further imposes a responsibility on fundamentally two parties- the youths, who are the leaders of tomorrow, and the adults, who are the leaders of today. Having this said, the leaders of today are then tasked with the responsibility to properly equip the youths for leadership tomorrow. In turn, the youths must be intellectually, mentally, and emotionally ready and willing for the huge responsibility that lies ahead.

In making for a great and healthy democracy and saving the future of our establishments, we must allow the youths to participate at all levels of policy and decision-making. As Francis Bacon(1561- 1626), the English philosopher and statesman, aptly put it, "Young men are fitter to invent than to judge, fitter for execution than for counsel, and fitter for new projects than for settled business."

The call is now, I strongly believe. Let's get real youths, do not wait for tomorrow so that you can start leading and solving problems, then. As a young person, whatever capacity you find yourself in today, begin seeking solutions to the challenges that you and other youths face. You have the power in you to bring about that change. In your works of life, endeavor to set an example and create a lasting positive impact. Chase after mastery and excellence as you do good. It is verbally easy to say, "Youth are the leaders of tomorrow," but the leaders of tomorrow must start today, as the saying goes. The clock is running. Make the most of today. Time waits for no man. Then again, yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, and today is a gift.

In our country today, THE YOUTH ARE THE LEADERS OF TOMORROW does not hold water as an idea because, since the genesis of democracy, there has not been a national youth president or vice president. The country has been ruled by old men who are even far older than the country itself. X-raying the unfair sidelining of the youths over the years, it is not out of place to clamor for a new system of government called "youth-o-crazy"- a government of the people, by the youths and for the people, but sadly, our leaders of yesterday are still voraciously clinging on the baton of power, leaving us to wonder when exactly is the future going to arrive for the youths.

The youths of any nation can be likened to a fire, creeping forward a spark at first, then growing into a flame and "boom," brightening into a blaze. Youths are the building blocks of every nation. The stronger the youth of a country, the more developed that country is. They have much to offer societies, from innovation to creativity to new thinking. Their participation in democracy promotes active citizenship, strengthens social responsibility, and can enhance democratic processes and institutions. And today's citizens are tomorrow's leaders and decision-makers.

Unfortunately, the 21st Century Nigerian Youth has lost control and surrendered to the lustful things of the material world, and this is mostly because of the influence of peer pressure and the fear of Nigeria's poverty rate. In the face of our current challenges and worrying rise in terrible criminal activities. The youth of this generation need more orientation on how to become good leaders and impact makers. We must tame our wild desires to acquire more than we can spend at all once or be bothered only about luxury or opulence. With proper orientation, the youth of Nigeria can make our country a better place to live in. We have the talents and skills, but there remains an overwhelming dearth of morals and virtue.

Suppose we are to solve the most pressing issues of our time; we need to tap into the dynamism of the youths and young social entrepreneurs who are disrupting inertia with exceptional innovation and creativity. The youth make up the biggest demographic bracket of every nation; therefore, empowering them is the logical option. Youths should also take advantage of institutions put in place by government and non-governmental organizations. They should acquire skills for self-employment and evince well in time the qualities of good leadership to be leaders of tomorrow.

When Nigeria gained independence from the British colonial government in 1960, joy in the faces of Nigerians witnessing the celebration had no bounds as great expectations were heralding the event. But alas! More than 60 years later, the country's sickening situation has cast a shadow on its future. Moving further, we have two options as we seek to address the challenges bedeviling this blessed country. On the one hand, it is managing a condition where corruption, insecurity, poverty, and injustice are the order of the day. On the other end, a new course for a new Nigeria where justice, peace and progress, and national development become the order of the day is needed. This can only be championed by energetic, passionate youths who are hungry for improvement and progress.

According to the United Nations, the global youth population (between the ages of 15 and 24 years) is estimated at 1.8 Billion, which is 19% of the world population. Africa's population of young people is the highest on the continent. Of utmost importance to building a better and new Nigeria is the need for young people to explore the political space of the country. Young people have innovative ideas that are useful assets to national development and as that are a useful asset to national development and such, and there is a need for them to get involved in the political process.

The National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) is an initiative that best explains how Nigerians have played significant roles in community development. Established during the Gowon administration in 1973 to foster national unity and integration, the scheme requires university graduates to serve one year, where they are posted to various communities to play significant roles in community development. They are exposed to various career opportunities for that period. The scheme has strongly created an avenue for Nigerian youth to demonstrate their productiveness in various dimensions, such as community service, election processes, youth advocacy, entrepreneurial development, and poverty alleviation. Forty-nine years after its creation, the scorecard of Nigerian youth under the scheme has proven their products and innovative ideas for nation-building.

The recent #EndSARS protests that broke out in October 2020 were a historic juncture led by the Nigerian youth to resist police brutality, harassment, and extortion. The protest was a movement that soon took over social media with the hashtag #EndSARS, with up to a 28million posts on Twitter by prominent actors from across the globe who showed solidarity with the protests against the status quo. Consequently, Nigerian authorities were forced to disband the police unit. Furthermore, SARS was accused of various degrees of atrocities against the affected victims after the initial protest started. A year on, the Nigerian government has started to embrace initiatives to compensate the families of the victims affected. Additionally, the state government across the country's 36 states started to collect detailed information about the atrocities committed by the police force to assure the masses of their determination to seek justice. This is a strong illustration that the young people can be a strong agent of national development in the emergence of a new and better Nigeria, provided that they are ready to play an active role in developing the country. Young people also have a key responsibility to play in building a peaceful and safe Nigeria because young people across the globe are key stakeholders in peacebuilding.

In addition, young people must learn to deploy their knowledge in addressing the challenges bedeviling the nation through effective means such as dialogue. Dialogue remains a key tool in peacebuilding, and as such, there is a need for the voices of young people to be heard from the local to national levels by giving them the chance to express their grievances. Going further, without any doubt, young people across the globe have an extensive network within their various communities, and the fluency with which they use social media to disseminate their messages are unique assets to the promotion of love, tolerance, and national development across the globe. Social media has forever changed the way we communicate and made the world a much smaller place, as we are all increasingly interconnected, yet despite this increased interconnectivity, we also live in a world faced with enormous social challenges. A total of 1.8 billion of the world's population are youth aged between 10 and 24, the most interconnected generation of all time.

Many argue that social media and interconnectivity have created a generation of followers, not leaders, and a generation engaged and interested only in trivial pursuits. Today's youth is often accused of being too engrossed in following social media and in self-absorption to be leaders. But social media has been used by young people all over the world to lead, make a change and hold their seniors to account. Social media, if properly deployed, can be used to help spread peace, encourage dialogue, and be sensitive to young people across all divides, religions, ethnic groups, and political affiliations. 

The Nigerian youth must collectively deploy social media to promote values that can strengthen national unity. Young people represent not only the key stakeholders in national development but also a key risk factor if they are not properly harnessed. Hence, to build a new Nigeria, young people are the key pillars that the country depends on. Young people must also learn to use national dialogue in resolving issues and differences when the need arises. The National Youths Development Policy asserts that "youth are the foundation of a society." Their energies, inventiveness, character and orientation define the pace of development and security of a nation." Through their creative talents and labor power, a nation makes giant strides in economic development and socio-political attainments. In their dreams and hopes, a nation founds her motivation; on their energies, she builds her vitality and purpose. And because of their dreams and aspirations, the future of a nation is assured.

Youths of Nigeria are minds with ideas, minds with energy, and minds with zeal to change the world around them. To change the way monetary policies are running in the country, change the way education is being delivered, the power and health systems, infusion of technology in governance, and many more such ideas. To keep democracy "ON," we have to elect young leaders who convoke and succeed with integrity. The country desperately needs young leaders who personify energy, enthusiasm, morality, and diligence. The leaders will invoke a positive and progressive political culture and will regret the divisive and exploitative politics.

My dear youths, we have the power to change the world, and we will. It will be very painful after the colonial masters used their "powerful" brains to deceive our ancestors; we now allow our black men with sugar-coated tongues to introduce gerontocracy with the deceit of coming to fight corruption. If they want to fight corruption, let them support a youthful president now so that they can be appointed as EFCC and ICPC chairmen. Our future is in our hands; use your permanent voter's card (PVC) wisely and vote in youthful leaders and tell our elders to relax so that we can redefine the country the way it will be for our future.

As Nigerians go to the polls a few months from now, the youths should be aware that if we must achieve the maxim that says that the youths are the leaders, we must start working towards it. We must vote for a youthful candidate. Anybody older than the civil service age should not be voted in; the old men have disappointed us as a nation. It is time for the youths to take it back.

Any youth desirous of political leadership must, as a matter of necessity, undergo mentorship in the hands of the statesmen, committed democrats, and patriotic leaders. Such youth must have leadership skills. 

Leadership is much more than occupying a position of authority. It is about influencing actions and policies necessary for the pursuance of a common goal. This requires wisdom, experience, and maturity. Immaturity, youthful exuberance, and impetuosity have trended to make youths in positions of authority act with impunity and reckless abandon. Rather than ask for a paradigm shift, as it is called, the youths should seek to get themselves sensitized and mobilized for positive social change through advocacy, public enlightenment, and political education. This will make them play more active roles. In so doing, they will hold those in leadership positions accountable and remove apathy among them. It will also make the youths avoid being used as instruments of violence and electoral malpractices. When the youths realize that they are the most populous segment of the population, they would then be aware of the potential power they wield to vote in or out of any government. They should use the power of the ballot paper to effect the change they desire in the country.

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