The battle for the 2019 general election has started. The two major parties are warming up. Last Saturday, former ruling party and lame duck opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) began its journey of redemption with its convention which brought in a new National Working Committee (NWC) headed by former Deputy Chairman, Uche Secondus. Hopefully, the party would now find its feet and act as a true opposition party, putting the ruling All Progressives Party (APC) on its toes, holding the party to promises made in the build up to the 2015 elections. The role of an opposition party in a democracy is quite important.
The opposition party is expected to interrogate the government on its promises and hold it accountable to the people. The opposition party is like an alternate government and one of its responsibilities is to challenge the policies of the government in power and give alternatives to its policies, where necessary. Unfortunately, the main opposition, the PDP has not functioned in the way expected of it. The energy which should have been deployed in its opposition roles had been expended in the battle within its fold.
More important, as Nigeria moves towards the final moment of 2019, (some will say 2019 is still far away) is the dearth of candidates for the highest office in the land, the presidency. Presently, there are two serious, major contenders for the position. Incumbent President Mohammadu Buhari, who has not specifically come out to tell Nigerians that he would go for a second term, but whose body language and action in recent time is indicative of his desire to go for it once more and former Vice President Abubakar Atiku who has never hidden his desire to one day govern the country and who is warming up to fight for the PDP sole ticket. I would have listed the Ekiti state governor, Ayodele Fayose, who I know is keenly interested in offering himself for higher service after his tenure, unfortunately, the present permutations does not favour him. The two parties would feature northern candidates for the 2019 challenge. That leaves the Ekiti governor fighting for a deputy’s slot.
So where are the contenders? Sadly, the two serious contenders are over 70 years old. Must we foist old men, who should be telling moonlight tales to their grand children, on a vibrant country desirous of developing to its full potentials, on the country and in this age of technology? Atiku was born on November 25, 1946. He had just celebrated his 71st birthday. By 2019, he would be 73 years. If he won the presidential election, he would be 77 years old by the time his tenure expires. President Buhari is 75 years old, having been born on December 17, 1942. In 2019, he would be 77 years. If he got his desire of another term, the tenure would take him to 2023, he would then be 79 years old. Of course, this would tell on performance.
As much as I have nothing against the two candidates, I think Nigeria deserves better. We cannot go into another election year with this Hobson’s choice. So what has happened to some of the vibrant, technocrats in the country? Why should Nigeria and Nigerians be strait-jacketed into voting for only two septuagenarian candidates from the north? Why can’t we look for a young technocrat irrespective of his religion or ethnicity to take us out of these cyclical, throes of underdevelopment, which constantly presents governance as rocket science? Someone will describe this as naiveté on my part. But it is what Nigeria needs; it is what we should aspire for. It is what would galvanize the country into development. It is the ideal. Why can’t the likes of present Minister of Works, Power and Housing, Babatunde Raji Fashola, Minister of Solid Minerals, Kayode Fayemi, Kaduna State governor, Nasir el Rufai, Sokoto governor, Aminu Tambuwal, Lagos governor, Akinwumi Ambode, former Abia governor, Orji Kalu, former Rivers governor, Rotimi Amaechi, his successor, Nyesom Wike, push for that position. Why can’t we as a country galvanize support for people like that? What are they also waiting for? What are their fears? Are they queuing till God knows when…until their teeth start falling out or they become old men like the present sets of candidates?
Quoting from the Nigerian population report, “great transformations usually occur in societies where there is preponderance of young, active and vibrant people but where older people are more in number, then significant challenges do exist, primarily, in ensuring that the right to adequate living conditions throughout the extended life span is well managed”. So where would our salvation, as a nation come, definitely not from the over 70 years old candidates. Are these septuagenarians aware of what is trending in the world of education, in the sciences, in information technology or how the world is rapidly transforming from the analogue, they had been used to, to the digital. Nigeria needs a hands-on leader, not someone who has to rely on some aides, who are equally ill-informed, to be fed with information. Great innovations and inventions are the preserves of the young. The history of the world is replete with such. Thomas Edison was only 22 years old when he invented the electric bulb. The man who invented the telephone, Alexander Graham Bell was 39 years old when he invented and made the first telephone call. The man who invented penicillin and made antibiotics possible, Alexander Fleming was 47 years old when he achieved the feat. One of the fathers of modern medicine, Frenchman Louis Pasteur discovered and patented the theory of pasteurization when he was in his 40s. He was also in his 50s when he applied the principle of vaccination. All these have benefited mankind. And they were young when these happened.
We are not saying the Nigerian president in 2019 or beyond, must or should be an inventor. The proposition is to have a younger person in the driving seat as he is likely to be in tune and be more prepared for modern challenges. Some would want to argue that someone like Donald Trump, American president is in his 70s, but that is different. America is a developed country, a country on auto pilot and is only looking at building upon what it has been able to achieve. It is not the same with a developing country like Nigeria. We still have a long way to go. But are we prepared for this? It is no tea party; it would take the commitment of the entire country. The individual must be identified. The populace must also be willing to contribute to the success of that venture. Is it doable? Yes, but only when we get to the nadir of suffering and underdevelopment.