Success without successor is equal to failure. This is an incontrovertible truth. I have not been able to ascertain the origin of that saying, but I vividly recall the first time I heard it. It was on Pastor Austin Nnadi's "Nuggets of Wisdom" on Radio Nigeria Heartland FM, Owerri, Imo State. That first time, it didn't strike me as something to think about until recently when Nigeria's Minister of State for Information and Communication, Dr Labran Maku, re-echoed it.
In an address during the 2010 edition of the Annual October Lecture organised by Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN) in Abuja, Dr Maku decried the sorry state of affairs in Northern Nigeria, especially the inability of the Northern elders, most of whom he said were trained by the Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello, to train people to succeed them. In an emotion-laden voice, the Minister of State lamented: "I think that something is awfully wrong if in the last 50 years the North cannot produce younger generation of spokesmen. There is something about leadership, because the first duty of a leader is to train successors. Sardauna trained all of them as leaders, who have they trained to take their place?"
That moment my mind went to an experience in my undergraduate days in the university. In my second year, we had this professor (God rest his soul) whom we held in very high esteem as a compendium of knowledge. He was one of those few lecturers who never came into the lecture room with any piece of paper. He taught all his topics by heart, yet his facts were as accurate as any textbook. Even though a Catholic priest, he taught Islamic history as though he were an Imam, and pronounced Arabic names with calculated precision. His textbook on the history of Islam was among the very best. He also taught the Church history to third year students, and we looked forward to meeting him again then. However, he retired just as we were about to enter third year. He applied to remain in the department on contract basis, but the then Vice Chancellor turned his application down. We were somewhat dismayed, but we consoled ourselves in the hope that there would always be someone to handle the courses he used to teach. How wrong we were.
Few days into the new session, the new man who was to handle some of the courses left behind by the retired professor came to class and told us in a plain language that he could not handle the courses because he was not groomed to do so. Moreover, the professor did not leave any reference materials behind. Some days later, the department informed us that the affected courses had been dropped; we could make up for the shortfall in credit units by borrowing elective courses from other departments. It was then I realised that even though the retired professor was a personal success, he was a public failure because he had failed to plan for succession.
In yonder days, an elder took his beloved son to village council meetings. The son carried his father's goatskin bag. But that was not the essence; it was part of training so that the son, having stayed through some of the deliberations, would easily step into his father's shoes whenever the old man joined his ancestors. Today, wise old men die with their wisdom without transferring any or some of it to the younger generation. Not that the younger ones are not ready to learn, but the elders seem to have grown too selfish. They are perhaps afraid that the youths will outshine them. But shouldn't a good father pray for his son to exceed his achievements?
Especially in Nigeria, old people dominate the scene, believing that they are the only ones who know it, that the younger ones do not have the requisite experience. But how can they gain experience when they are not even given the chance? The common saying around here is that the youths are the leaders of tomorrow. This long-awaited tomorrow, when will it come? And so aged parents alter their age every year in order to remain perpetually in the civil service while their sons and daughters, fresh out of school, roam the streets in search of what to do. Employers keep asking for twenty years cognate experience, but where will fresh graduates gain the experience if every employer insists on twenty years experience?
And when I recall that obnoxious statement made by General Ibrahim Babangida about Nigerian youths, my heart bleeds. In an interview on the Hausa Service of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Babangida had said about younger Nigerians: "We have seen signs that they are not capable of leading this country and so we feel we should help them. Maybe they are not given the proper education". Without meaning to be insolent, I ask, how old was IBB when he became the military president of Nigeria? This proper education he is talking about, whose duty is it to give? And if the youths of Nigeria today do not have the proper education, who is to blame: the older or the younger generation? And so, 17 years after IBB ‘stepped aside', he wants to step back in, at an official age of 69?
Elsewhere in the world, nations have realised the need to entrust power to vibrant young people who are full of fresh blood needed to brace the challenges of the 21st century. Check out these examples from the developed countries of the world: United States of America's Barack Obama is 48 years old, David Cameron of the United Kingdom is 43, Dimitri Medvedev of Russia is 45, Stephen Harper of Canada is 51, Julia Gillard of Australia is 49, Nicolas Sarkozy of France is 55, Luis Zapatero of Spain is 49, Jose Socrates of Portugal is 53, while Germany's Angela Merkel is 56 years old. And the difference these leaders are making in their various countries remains a reference point.
But in Africa, the story is entirely different. Here, the affairs of nations are dominated by septuagenarians and octogenarians who are too fragile to catch up with the fast pace at which the present world is moving. Just take a look: Abdulai Wade of Senegal is 83 years old, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt is 82, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe is 86, Hifikepunye Pohamba of Namibia is 74, Rupiah Banda of Zambia is 73, Mwai Kibaki of Kenya is 71, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia is 75, Colonel Gaddafi of Libya is 68, South Africa's Jacob Zuma is 68, while Bingu Wa Mtalika is 76 years old. The only exception, perhaps, is Nigeria's Goodluck Jonathan who is still in his 50s. How then can Africa catch up with the rest of the world?
So, I say again, younger Nigerians deserve a better chance. As the 2011 general elections in Nigeria draw closer, we can start by looking at the ages of the men who are coming to rule Nigeria. While not disregarding the wisdom that age and experience bring, there is also need to consider the vibrancy and agility of youth. Nigerians can indeed insist that no one above the age of 60 gets access to the presidency of this country. For God's sake, let these old tired bones go and rest. Where are the younger generation of Nigerians who are championing noble causes in every field in the present century? Let them be given the opportunity to contribute their quota in the governance of this country before they get too old to make any impact. This is a new Nigeria, and the future that the youths have always looked forward to is now.