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Posts Tagged ‘should young people go into public service’

MacronEmmanuel Macron has become France’s youngest ever president following the official handover by François Hollande. Since the victory of the 39-year-old centrist whose campaign took France by storm, there has naturally been some reaction among Nigeria’s very young population, referencing Macron’s age in relation to their own realities.

This is not unexpected. Despite the provisions of the constitution, at 39 most politically active Nigerians can at best aspire to be hand luggage carrying Assistants to politicians and social media aides, acting like thugs online to burnish the narrative around their principals. They appear only useful during the campaigns where they are either used to run ‘situation rooms’ or on the field as political thugs to manipulate results but not deemed fit to handle sensitive positions where they can bring their intellect to bear in influencing the policy direction of government.

It is a situation where 39-year-olds cannot even be Youth Leaders of their political parties. When you consider that Macron has already been France’s Economy minister two years ago, you will see the sense in the outcry among young Nigerians and the merits  of the “Not too young to run’ campaign.

Personally I align myself to calls for younger people in government but with a caveat which I will explain shortly. There is no doubt that we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking (and the same people) who created them. We have been held back by years of recycled politicians, yesterday’s men who have refused to retire, who have planted themselves with deep tap roots in the system because they have the resources to sustain their influence in Nigeria’s rent-seeking polity and buy their way through elections. And like chameleons, they have mastered the act of remaking themselves to suit the current circumstance. They’ve dumped military Khaki’s for agbadas and swear to be converts of democracy. The PDP lost power and they trooped in their numbers to the APC, singing tunes of Change…just anything to remain relevant and keep young people out.

You would wonder why a population tilted heavily in favour of young people has not taken a clear stand to birth a new order, just like we’ve seen in France. The politicians have been able to (and continue to) exploit the most basic necessity of life — food — to remain in charge. Young people are happy to take the handout and crumbs, to be seen somewhere in the photo ops of the politician, they are content with feeling among, or being driven in the long convoys of the old man, in the hope that perhaps, if they show enough loyalty (even if this goes against the principles they loudly espoused as private citizens) they will someday be found worthy of a seat at the table, to commence their own ‘chopping’. One hopes we get to change this mindset and that ongoing advocacy is able to change the system to make it more favourable for young people to run.

But it is not enough to allow young people into office though. This is the caveat I talked about earlier. The fact is that when it comes to leadership age doesn’t matter – competency does. Our own history is full of examples of leaders who have succeeded and failed at every age, a good number of them young people.

Most of our post-independence leaders, military and civilian (most of who continue to hold the reins today), got on the podium first as youngsters. In recent times we have also had a few democratically elected youngsters whose performance does not in any way solidify the argument in favour of young people.

It is thus clear that just as corruption and incompetence do not have any age limits, the passion, character, commitment, discernment, and talent to be a good leader certainly also does not depend on a person’s date of birth. The real issue is competence and it is important we hold this dear in all conversations around leadership, especially as the 2019 drums begin to roll out. It is not enough to be young. You must also be competent. If somebody exhibited a certain level competence and success, nobody looks at your age.

While experience counts, energy matters and certainly, as we have seen over and over in our recent history, health also does feature strongly on the checklist for our next set of leaders. Some more salient issues are education and exposure. I am still not certain why being a graduate is seen as the minimum qualification for holding regular jobs but we leave the more sensitive issue of leading this nation to persons who have as much as attempted the secondary school certificate. That doesn’t appear very smart to me.

The whole conversation around Emmanuel Macron is one I hope will inspire changes in Nigeria and bring about a paradigm shift in the composition of our leadership. I hope that young people will sit up and take back their country from those who are currently running it down. This is a conversation that has to be had. But even more, we must interrogate more closely, the competence and moral character of the people we vote for and send to take decisions on our behalf at all levels of government.

First published on May 17, 2017 on Olisa.tv

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In recent time I have read a couple of opinions on whether or not people with positive ideas who are yet untainted by the ‘system’ should join government. As you can imagine, there are two schools of thought; those who think if you leave governance to nit-wits, we shouldn’t expect things to get any better and those who think public service is the shortest route to squandering ones reputation and goodwill citing that very few people come out of government’s cesspit of corruption intact. I support the former.

One of the reasons “credible” people (for the sake of argument, let’s say we mean by this people who combine the twin attributes of truthfulness and Competence) don’t want to go into politics is that they are reluctant to sacrifice the reputations they have succeeded in building up over decades to the bitter attacks that characterize public life, the automatic bad person status it often confers or to the temptation to derail that it offers in plenty supply.

As genuine as this concern is, it will be wrong of us to conclude that government is by its very nature corrupt. The system as we often refer to the polity is an amalgam of people, processes (including laws & policies) and technology where applicable. In all of this, the people component remains the most significant as it controls all the other components. It there for implies that to change the system (as we all too often clamour for) we must change the people operating the system.

Because we had no say in who led us for a better part of our history and because for the other half, good people shied away from participating in the process, what we have today is a system that is corruption ridden. The few good people who brave it and either get caught up in the maze or end up not achieving their intentions end up so because they are simply outnumbered. It’s like a battle field. The number counts. A lone good voice is easily outnumbered by a herd of dissenting voices.

I hold strongly that while one can make change happen outside government in your immediate environment, the easiest way to influence the lives of a greater population of our impoverished people is through government. We cannot deny the fact that one single policy, executed to the letter can have a huge impact on the people. It points therefore that instead of shying away, we should as a matter of urgency encourage more credible people to accept various roles in government and contest elections. As one commentator said, it’s about achieving a critical mass.

I must state however that leadership is not for everybody. That you have successfully managed a business at the highest level or attained the best qualification in a field and enjoy the toga of “technocrat” does not automatically qualify you for leadership nor does your years of active activism or ability to ferociously criticize government or mobilize the people against corrupt leaders.

Indeed it would be naïve to think ordinary Nigerians, untainted by power, are more virtuous than the elected officials who lead us. It is even more ironical to stay outside government, offer various consultancy services to government and yet join in bashing her.  The ‘holier than thou’ stands of those of us out of power must stop.  In addition, this way of treating those among us who joins public service as a “sell out” and tainted even before they do anything that shows them as such is bad. It discourages more credible people rising to the challenge and changing the system. In fact, in most cases, the people in government become unrecognizable not necessarily because they have changed, but because we have changed the way we look at them.

In Thinking about Leadership, political theorist Nannerl O. Keohane argues that leadership is about “providing solutions to common problems or offering ideas about how to accomplish collective purposes, and mobilizing the energies of others to follow these courses of action.”So, if you are a passionate person, if you’ve got ideas, if possess that innate attributes of a mobilise people on a good course, If you are sufficiently worried that our inaction amounts to sanctioning a continuity of then my first bit of advice for you is don’t wait!

Think of this, If you wait for that time when the system would have been cleansed and it would become honourable to run for office, there could be millions more children with no access to healthcare, millions more dead due to our bad roads, Education will continue to be eroded and the right (and hope) of citizens to live a good life and be respected across the globe will continue to dwindle.

We cannot wait because, literally, our survival depends on it. It is time the pretenders made room for fresh minds. So come off the stereotyping. Join a party. Run for office. Join a credible candidate’s campaign. Accept to serve in public office. And while doing all these, encourage everyone around you who has got what it takes to do same so you are not lonely in Government.

It’s important however that before you take the first step, you determine what aspect of our national life you wish to impact, what aspects you really have the wherewithal to leave a mark in. A square peg in round holes is worse than having no pegs at all. Go where your heart is and where you truly want to make the difference.

I say this with 2015 in mind. We must step forth at dawn (apologies Kongi) Now is the time to galvanise our ideas, into action, into making change happen from the inside, into participating, not just as proud owners of a voters card but also as faces on the ballot. There is still balm left in Gilead.  There are enough brains to save this country if only we use them.

First published in Daily Times

Photo credit: http://shashanknd.wordpress.com/2011/04/11/how-the-government-is-killing-indian-startups/

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