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Power Must Change Hands

Admin 13-Oct-2021 Opinion

Simbo Olorunfemi

Igba o lo bi orere. No matter how long it takes, no matter how long it is resisted, no matter how much power is acquired, eventually at some point, power must change hands. Power must move from one person to the other, one generation to the other. There is not much anyone can do about it. 

What has always been in contention is the modality for transition of power across stratifications such as geo-political constructs, ethnic and religious divisions, age groups and gender. Arguably, none of the contentions has been as hot-headed as the tussle over transition of power across generation lines. 

On Monday, at the 'Politics of the Future' Conference organised as part of the public presentation of the book - 'Politics that Works'  written by Senator Babafemi Ojudu and Alex Adekunle James, the question of power changing hands was the front-burner issue. Senator Ojudu set the tone in his welcome address, submitting that "Nigeria is ripe for transitioning; the appetite of the nation is sharply changing and craving more youthful, innovative and genuine governance. The future we desire for our dear nation is anchored on the mobilization, equipping and positioning of more youthful minds in position of power to transform our political space and to creatively upgrade our public sector, to the point where it can rub shoulders with first world nations.  This  is why we are here today. The future of politics is one that is driven by young people, organized by technology, and fired by a competitive pursuit for world standard excellence". 

Few will argue with the fact that the future belongs to the young ones, but it does appear that the contention is not as much about the future as it is about the present. That would become evident from the presentation by the younger generation at the conference. Having agreed that nation-building is like a relay, with the baton being passed from one person to the other, one generation to the other. But then, Moremi Ojudu would ask - What happens when one generation refuses to pass the baton to the other? That inevitably raises the question - If power, as we have been told, is not served a la carte, will it be realistic to expect power transition to necessarily follow a linear path across generational lines?

 Is it in the character of power transition anywhere that the baton gets to be passed from one generation to the other? Would that be the case, perhaps it would not be the case that a younger President Jonathan will be handing over power to an older President Buhari or a younger President Obama will be handing over power to an older President Trump. History rather suggests that transition of power is often more on basis other than generational. Even when power changes hands across generations, suggesting a transition to the younger one, it might be erroneous to conclude that it is simply a statement in that direction. Other factors might have been pronounced in deciding the direction of power flow. 

That must be what Comrade Adams Oshiomole had in mind, when he sounded an early note of caution with respect to the clamour for power transition to the youths. His position, which I agree with, is that it should not necessarily be as much about the age of the political participant but his ideological leaning of political persuasion. I would argue that it is often more about the age of the idea than the age of the man. Age hardly counts as a major factor when it comes to performance or delivery of value. 

Vice President Yemi Osinbajo expands on that point, "What I have experienced serving in the position as Vice President in the past few years and having the opportunity to bring on board young people, some elderly people in relative terms, is that the quality of the contributions is not necessarily defined by age. And that is the honest truth, and I have so many brilliant (young) people working with me and they are not intimidated, (I must tell you) by anybody older than them".  Working with a youthful team with the youngest only 22 years old and a few in their 60's, the Vice President's position is that "what is important is to see how we can remove those barriers as much as possible so there is a level playing field". 

The barriers are obviously beyond age or gender. As Prof. Osinbajo mentioned, lack of resources is equally a barrier. That might even be standing more in the way of power changing hands than age of the person of anything else. What more people, including the younger generation are beginning to realise, is that there are no two ways to getting to see to power changing hands by directly getting involved. One of the younger panellists had made the point that whatever it takes to being at the table, even if it will require building your own chair and bringing it along, by all means, get to the table. The Vice President agrees with that. "The simple reason is that the very basis of liberal democracy is that everybody is invited to the table. How you get there ...whether you bring your chair there yourself or get there through the window, however you get there, get there".

It is always about getting to the table. That is where the process of power changing hands begins. That is where it ends. Whereas that younger panelist had talked down the position of Special Assistant/Adviser as one that does not give enough elbow room for younger ones to get into the fray, the Vice President, who himself had started out as as an Adviser to the Attorney General of the Federation when he was 31, disagrees with that "...there is a place for preparation, a place for getting ready. There is no point saying that I have become Minister of Finance at the age of 25 because I am a smart kid. It takes more than that. If you are going to get in, in the Nigerian system, in this system of ours, to walk through all that is required, I think you need some experience, a bit of it, you don’t have to be very old. But it helps if you have served in one capacity or the other as a Special Adviser or Special Assistant, all of those positions are very central positions. I don’t agree that a Special Assistant or a P.A is not a somewhat serious position" 

For power to change hands in the direction the youth are desirous of, it would take not only getting involved, but being pragmatic. As Senator Ojudu notes, "Now, it is the turn of the new generation to fight! You are fighting hard on the social media. Yes, we can see that. Many of you are full of anger that you have almost been consumed by abusing everybody and throwing tantrums . Many of you have even gone as far as denigrating , hating and cursing your  country Nigeria. Some have lost hope completely and talking about the ‘second option’ . A number of others are withdrawing to their ethnic cocoon , brewing hate, and weaving lies, sewing seeds of discord,  manufacturing fakery, reaching out to the depth of the sewage  to look for heroes. This cannot be right. Anger solves no problem. It will only lead to despondency and frustration. It is time to take a new approach. A positive one that will be beneficial to all.. It is time for today’s youth to take the right tools, with the right understanding and strategy to chart a course for their generation". 

Indeed, power will not change hands from one generation to the other because the younger generation vociferously demands for it or sits, expecting it. It will sit or expect in vain, not realising that power has already changes hands within the circles that matter. Casting a closer look at the power arena, one will realise that when it comes to transitioning of power to the youths, that had happened over the years, especially at the State level, with quite a number of people in the 30's having served in elective and legislative positions, while other members of their generation carried on with the illusion that power was in the exclusive hold of people of a particular age bracket.

As Mr. Babatunde Irukera rightly pointed out, what is holding back the younger generation from effectively putting all they have to their advantage is the lack of preparation. The best way to get prepared is by getting involved. There is no doubt that no matter how long, power will eventually change hands as no one will live forever. But the tragedy or regret is that by the time most people, waiting on the sidelines realise it, the time is already up for their own generation.

As the Vice President  Prof Yemi Osinbajo reminds us, "We mustn’t give up and we mustn’t keep looking back. The challenges of today are meant for those of us who are here and alive today, and they are meant to be solved by young people, and as I always say, there is no better time to be alive. This is the best time to be young. This is the best time in Nigeria to be young. Those who are young today have the best opportunity ever. In my own day when I was a professor, if I had to research to write an article, it will take me weeks. Today, if I just take my iPad, I can get on to any library anywhere in the world and get all the information and write my article in hours instead of weeks, months or years". 

There is no better time than now to get involved, if you desire for power to change hands. It is within the context of taking advantage of the moment that the book by Senator Ojudu in collaboration with a young Alex Adekunle James sits. According to 

Ojudu, "The Politics That Works  book, first of its kind in Nigeria, is a step-by-step guide that answers the many questions limiting youth dominance of our political space. This book makes an attempt at providing a strategic way for young people to play around the current obstacles and attain political office without compromising their values. We seek, through this book, to bring the new generation of politicians out of their confusion and hand them the take-over baton. We will help the youths understand what politics that works entails.  We have in the book unveiled the superior grassroots strategies you  can employ to beat the odds whilst holding tightly to your values. This initiative does not stop with the book, we have also put together a continuity and sustainability plan for the Politics That Works community called MOP Nigeria - where interested youths can sign up onto the mentorship program to learn real politics, be mentored by the grandmasters and get support to participate, run and get into office. We have set a target to put 500 young Nigerians in positions of power by 2031".  

The truth is that no matter what you know and what you have on offer, you will still need someone to carry you on their back, someone to hold your hand to be able to get through the door.  Even if it is to get in as a tea boy, the most important thing is to find a way to get in. What you do with the opportunity given is now up to you. But by all means, make the best of that opportunity. Nothing symbolises the significance of having a shoulder to stand on than the decision by Senator Ojudu to co-author the book with Alex Adekunle James, a member of the upcoming generation, yearning for a leg in the room. He didn't have to do it. He could have gone about it alone. But he goes a step further than mentoring, as is typical of him, he carries someone from another generation on his back, taking him right to the table.

His action is just as commendable as the initiative itself. One point which stands out from the book and the conference is  that same one we have consistently harped on here. It is erroneous to have a linear perspective of power. Expecting a straight-line transition from one generation to the other is naive. Power transition is not orderly, in the sense of one generation handing over the baton to the other, when done. Power will eventually change hands, but it will only change hands in the direction you desire, if you get involved. Power only changes hands because it has to. 

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