By Jaye Gaskia
I return in this piece to the subject of the urgency of youth engagement, the historical urgency of the necessity for youth to engage with the polity and the political process.
Kwame Nkrumah it was who said in the fifties of the twentieth century, at the height of the struggle for independence from colonial rule in Africa that; ‘Seek yee first the political kingdom, and every other thing shall be added unto you’! In paraphrasing the bible, Nkrumah was pointing out and emphasising the utmost importance of control of political power to the socio-economic transformation process.
That fact is even more true today, seven decades after, in the aftermath of a failed independence project, that has seen scores of countries attain flag independence, in a manner that left the actual power relations between the erstwhile colonisers and the erstwhile colonies only peripherally modified to accommodate the emergent ruling elite of the hitherto colonised entities as junior partners in a global pillage enterprise! But this is a story for another day.
Let us get back to the question of historic and urgent necessity for youth to engage. The struggle for independence from colonialism, even if that struggle was essentially eventually short circuited and truncated, with the co-optation, and coercion of the emergent post independence elite into and by the global architecture of dependence by the dominant centers of the global market economy; was essentially youth led! That struggle was led by the youth.
The Ahmadu Bellos, the Nnamdi Azikwes, the Obafemi Awolowos, the Mokwugo Okoyes the Tafawa Balewas, the Joseph Tarkas, and Aminu Kanos, all began their political careers in their youth; they founded the organisations which negotiated with the colonial regime while they were youths, and assumed leadership of this country while still in their forties!
What applied to our country applied with other countries. Agostinho Neto, Amilcar Cabral, Patrice Emery Lumumba, Kwame Nkrumah; the independence war and struggle leaders of Angola, Mozambique, Guinea Bisau, DRC, Ghana, were all in their youth when they founded the parties that led those independence struggles.
In Southern Africa, youth played decisive roles at historic turning points in the struggle against apartheid! In Apartheid South Africa, it was the youth, in their forties and under, who founded the ANC youth wing, and in 1944 essentially took over the ANC convention, and made it adopt its youth wing program as the Freedom Charter, in a Congress of the People convened by the ANC!
This became a historic turning point in the history of the anti-apartheid struggle, led to the promotion into ANC national leadership of the ANY Youth wing leaders, and set the stage for the eventual campaigns of defiance and the establishment of the armed wing; Nkomto We Sizwe – Spear of the Nation; and hence the launch of the armed struggle.
And in more recent times, in post independent Africa, in the struggle against Neo-colonialism, youth have also played strategically decisive leadership roles. Thomas Sankara, was not yet 40, when he and his colleagues led the Burkinabe Revolution and captured the imagination of that generation of African Youths.
Likewise, on the other side of the globe, in Latin America; Fidel Castro and his colleagues in what became the July 26th Movement were all in their twenties when they launched the audacious attack on the Moncada baracks in 1956 in an heroic, but failed attempt to unseat the dictator Batista!
That movement went on to launch an armed struggle in 1958, and overthrew the military dictatorship after defeating it militarily in Jan 1959! Of the leaders of the Revolution, Fidel was the oldest, and he was barely 32; the rest, Ernesto Che Guevara, the younger Castro, Camilo Cienfuengos, etc., were all under 30! The late Hugo Chavez, leader of the Bolivarian revolution, was in his forties when the movement that birthed the revolution was founded, and when he first assumed office after electoral victory.
In Europe and the America, we can find similar instances; Tony Blair and the Blairites were in their 30s when they took over leadership of the Labour Party in Britain, and in their early forties when they took over leadership of UK Government.
Nearly two decades later, David Cameron of the Conservative party and Niel Klegg of the Liberal Democrats would repeat a similar scenario in assuming leadership of the UK government – in their forties! And both JFK and Obama assumed leadership of the US at decisive and critical historical moments while in their forties!
The point being made here is that Nigerian youths of this generation, have a decisive historical task to undertake; one that hinges around undertaking the transformation of our country, achieving our national liberation from the death grip of globalisation; and laying the foundation of the social self emancipation of our peoples! It is a task that youth is very well suited; given its energy, its flexibility, its ability to innovate, its capacity for creativity, and its tendency to accommodate change!
And this is even more so, even more urgent, in our own context, where 60 to 70% of the population is 40 years and under!
And even in post independence Nigeria, there are lots of quite significant historical precedents. It was youths; the Nigeria Youth and student movements who fought against the Anglo-Nigeria defence pact, and prevented the country’s emergent political elites from turning our country into a huge base for the British Military!
It was Nigeria Students and youths who fought against the imposition of the Structural Adjustment Program [SAP] by the military dictatorship of IBB; it was Youth who constituted the foot soldiers and provided a significant proportion of the leadership of the Anti -military and pro-democracy movement!
The first human rights, environmental rights, women’s rights, and pro-democracy organisations and coalitions – CLO, ERA, CDHR, CD, UAD, JACON, WIN [Women In Nigeria]; etc were all led by Nigerians in their forties; and involved in their leaderships, a very significant proportion of Nigerians in their twenties and thirties – my generation!
The January Uprising, was also very significantly a youth and workers’ uprising! In its leadership nationally and across the country was a very significant proportion, and in a majority, Nigeria citizens in their thirties and forties!
Nigeria Youths of the present generation have a date with history; and as the ageing, greedy, gluttonous, light fingered, treasury looting, inept and incompetent ruling elite, continue to push our country increasingly towards the edge of the precipice; precisely at this momentous historical juncture, the nation, our country, our people, require the selfless, patriotic, committed and revolutionary service of the youth. If we fail, we may condemn our nation to bottom of the ladder of human civilisation!
And for those among us who still look up to so-called persons of [dubious] integrity among the thieving ruling class; septuagenarians and Octogenarians; let us point out to them that these elements assumed leadership of our country while in their thirties and forties, and have remained permanent fixtures of our political leadership landscape ever since they made their rude intrusion into our national life decades ago!
Assuming that a few of them are upright and capable; the very fact that none of our generation, or the generation after us can be considered by them and their admirers, as worthy successors, is the most significant indication of their historic failure, and historical incompetence! Of what historical significance is leadership that is unable to replicate itself, and incapable grooming successor generations?
It is our bounden historical duty to answer the call of history, take our destiny into our own hands, and Take Back Nigeria.
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