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Opinions of Sunday, 13 February 2022

Columnist: Isa Odidi

2023 should be about the power of ideas, not age

File photo to illustrate the story File photo to illustrate the story

Given the continuous pattern to the argument concerning whether age is a determinant in leadership, especially as it relates to the upcoming 2023 elections and the desired new president for Nigeria, it has become compelling to evaluate the merits of the argument and find the right conclusions.

For some reason, obviously owing to the poor performance of the incumbent President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), which many people around the president find convenient to blame on his bad health at the inception of his regime, there has been a clamour for a younger president in 2023.

While it is easy for the promoters of this argument to stay put on it for the benefit of some shadowy politicians, it is not so easy, on the other hand, to resist the urge to examine the facts behind the argument.

In the 62 years of Nigeria’s leadership, with the exception of Buhari and former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who became civilian presidents around 72 and 62 years respectively, all other leaders that Nigeria has had (civilian and military) have been people who came to leadership between 31 and 57 years of age. In between these personalities, we have seen leaders who had a terrific record of performance and as well as people who were terrible on the performance chart.

When, at first, the Governor of Oyo State, Seyi Makinde, made a remark warning Nigerians not to vote older people into the position of president in 2023, I thought he was probably speaking in generic terms. But when Governor Bala Mohammed of Bauchi reinforced the same argument with an admonition to former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, not to contest for president in 2023, it became clear that some governors within the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) were already taking positions ahead of 2023 election and, in that wise, it appears that the principal fear about Atiku is his age.

The two governors who bell the cat are, surprisingly, performing well in their respective states. These two gentlemen governors will agree with the axiom that ideas rule the world. For it is the power of ideas, for example, that has enabled Governor Makinde to undertake a very revolutionary investment in public education in Oyo State within the first 100 days in the state’s helm of affairs. Such an idea did not have anything to do with his age. Ditto for Governor Mohammed who has turned around the face of public infrastructure in Bauchi State. These governors will agree with me that there have been governors who, like them also, are young people but lacked the power of ideas to uplift their states in the ways that they have done within a short period of time. Truth be told, it’s the power of ideas, stupid (to borrow from the phrase made popular by James Carville, a strategist for Bill Clinton during his 1992 presidential run).

What I am saying in other words, is that age—either old or young—is not a prerequisite for good leadership. Rather, it is the power of ideas and creative thinking that each individual possesses to varying degrees that determines the quantum of how effective each person would be at a leadership position.

In considering the kind of president that Nigeria will require in 2023, we should not bother ourselves with trivialities of age or any primordial issue, but begin to interrogate ideas that respective prospective aspirants come to the table with.

In the case of Atiku Abubakar, what we should be interrogating about his candidature is whether the values that he represents are ideal for the contemporary time that the country passes through. Majority of Nigerians from the South to the North, East and West agree about the need to restructure Nigeria. What we probably disagree about are the terms and conditions of such restructuring. And, amongst all those currently jostling for the position of president in 2023, no one has enunciated restructuring in a way that Atiku has done. Why do we have to bother ourselves with Atiku’s age, instead of asking him about the terms and conditions of the restructuring that he talks about.

Again, Atiku is renowned for his advocacy for creating jobs for the youth and stopping the misfortune of unemployment in the country. Why are we not interested in asking him what magic he has in his kitty to disarm the monster. Likewise, he is an advocate of increased budgetary allocation to education and has indeed advertised himself to the world as an education enthusiast. Why do we fail to ask him relevant questions about the current state of our education and what plans he has to make our education become more competitive and relevant to our development needs.

As of today, Nigeria is at a threshold where her unity is threatened and her peace has been variously violated. Our concern moving forward should not be about the age of the new president that we want to recruit, but instead on the experiences and competencies of the new president. Atiku is a unifier and mixes freely with all ethnic blocs in the country. Nobody has ever accused him of religious bigotry and his track record in the establishment of the virile democratic ethos spotlight him as a credible statesman.

It is not as though I am against the advocacy of a youthful president but my admonition is to the effect that we should not sacrifice experience for youthfulness. The fragile peace and unity of the country require the calmness of mind of a master craftsman more than the untested energies of an unknown hand.