For Nigerian youths, who are getting ready to contest elective positions on the basis of the Not Too Young To Run Act, it must be said that age is not necessarily the problem.
Chiagozie Udeh & Oselokah H. Obaze
Good governance exemplars in Africa continue to evolve, even if slowly. An African country, Ethiopia, has the youngest democratically elected head of state on the continent, who happens also to be one of the 20 youngest heads of state in the world. Africa should be proud. Yet it seems Africa failed to take sufficient notice.
In the past 18 months, Africa has seen 15 leadership changes, averaging approximately one per month. One of the remarkable transitions was in Ethiopia. Its run-up was not seamless, but the end result was remarkable. Ethiopia’s leadership evolution started with the former Prime Minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, who decided to step aside in the aftermath of mass protests in the streets of Ethiopia, and evident failure to quell the restiveness, despite deploying various drastic measures. In surrendering power, he yielded to the voice of reason and democratic dictates.
In stepping aside, Desalegn was cognizant that the gesture had the capacity to create the political and conciliatory space required to bring about new solutions and certainly stem the bloodletting and wanton killing of defenseless Ethiopian civilians from the Oromo ethnic stock, who would not stop protesting. By resigning, the former Prime Minister gave Ethiopia a new lease of life to move forward. In comparative terms, and given African realities, he deserves credit. After all, when last did an African head of state willingly resign from office? Robert Mugabe and Jacob Zuma remain very awkward examples.
Desalegn’s exit stoked the embers of effective succession planning amid conflict. Inevitably, the question became, who would replace him? Who would the nation accept, who had the capacity and persona to quell turmoil and rally the nation to reconciliation and healing? The lot fell on Dr. Abiy Ahmed, who was chosen by the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) coalition as its chairman with 108 of 180 possible votes. Ethiopia’s ruling party is made up of four ethnic parties, including Oromo Peoples’ Democratic Organisation (OPDO), Amhara National Democratic Movement (ANDM), the Southern Ethiopian People’s Democratic Movement (SEPDM) and the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
Indisputably, with Ahmed’s emergence, Ethiopia struck the proverbial gold and netted four giant birds with one cage. First, Ahmed is of the Oromo ethnic stock, which has been at the root of the anti-government protests. The Oromos are the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia, constituting about 34 per cent of the country’s 100 million population, but have never ruled the country. They have accused the government repeatedly of neglect and humiliation. Now, their son, who, interestingly, was the chairperson of the OPDO, is the Prime Minister. Psychologically, his emergence ought to solve at least half of the problem, or nothing else will.
Ahmed is a pacifist thrown up by conflict. This is also a paradox. In him Ethiopia has her first Muslim Prime Minister who, interestingly, hails from a home with a Muslim father and a Christian mother. Suffice to say that while he checks off on both boxes, he had consistently identified with his Muslim roots. This latter disposition underlines his broad acceptability. But there’s more to his bona fides.
Ahmed arrived at his new job well schooled and with the requisite expertise. He served as a former minister of science and technology under Desalegn. He just completed his doctorate degree in peace and security from Addis Ababa University in 2017 and comes from a military/intelligence background, where he last ranked as a colonel in the Ethiopian Army. Added to that is the fact that he speaks fluent English and three Ethiopian languages. With these, you find sufficient expertise written all over him. He possesses the skill and grit that is of immediate need to Ethiopia.
Also, you have a Prime Minister with all these expertise at 42. He is dynamic, energetic, thinking and the youngest on the continent. He is well-equipped to drive an already progressive Ethiopia to the next level. Ethiopians must be beating their chest in cheers to such a win.
There is much for Nigeria to learn, if she truly yearns for a way forward. Hardly in our national history have we been as divided along ethnic lines as today. There are alleged cases of ethnic cleansing going on in some states, including Benue, Taraba and Zamfara, under the watch of the government, yet the troubling silence from quarters that should defend justifies Nigerians’ suspicion of conspiracy. Nigeria is not officially at war but the number of deaths recorded from the killings by the Fulani herdsmen in the last three years is more than enough casualties for most wars. In the face of these all, and with the latest killings in Plateau State, President Muhammadu Buhari continues to give credence to criticisms that he is incapable of finding solutions to Nigeria’s problems. Even changing cabinet members or appointees who have failed in their responsibility seems too arduous.
Increasingly, there is pressure for the President to resign, both from those who mean well and those who are purely politicking. However, if the President truly cares about Nigeria, he knows the choice to make.
For Nigerian youths, who are getting ready to contest elective positions on the basis of the Not Too Young To Run Act, it must be said that age is not necessarily the problem. It is about competence and experience. Look at Ahmed. He served previously as minister and led his own party before becoming the Prime Minister. He was close to power and understood the challenges. Now his experience is evident in his reforms. He is taking the bold step of putting a limit to the tenure of Prime Ministers, which was hitherto unchecked. There is great optimism in Addis Ababa that the right man is in the saddle.
Look at Emmanuel Macron. He served first as minister, formed and led his own party with which he became the President. We witnessed his meetings with President Donald Trump a few weeks ago in the United States. He bossed it despite being 32 years younger than Trump. If you are serious about taking back your country, chat a little about age on Facebook and go to work. Form your party or join existing ones. Reform them to suit modern ideologies and lead them. Stay genuinely close to power. Fight for the youth minister position to be truly yours first. Fight for a percentage of National Assembly positions in your party. Slowly, you will take over.
Nobody will hand you power. There is no free lunch anywhere. Being young will never win you an election. There must be a story to your youth that stands you out, something that clearly defines you and that can easily predict what the future will be with you. You must be strategic, fellow young people.
A look at Ethiopia’s party structure reveals something interesting. In all the parties, there are four ethnic/regional parties that form the coalition. Leaders of each party stand the chance of becoming the next Prime Minister. In the Nigerian context, that should mean there will be a leader for the northern group in APC, PDP and all other parties, same for Middle Belt, South-East, South-South and the West. With the regional leaders, you already know who is likely to emerge as the President and begin to fight early if that choice will not do the country any good. It does look like a great example but it reminds us of one thing, we cannot escape restructuring for Nigeria to become functional.