Youths and the composition of the National Dialogue Committee by Ugochukwu Ugwuanyi

We would have had an ample reason to question the resourcefulness and altruism of our intelligentsia if they had continued to look at issues surrounding the national conversation proposed by President Jonathan from the regular prism without paying heed to one obvious lapse therein. But thank heavens, Dr. Chidi Odinkalu, who is the Chairman of National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), saved the day.

Since the names of members of the Advisory Committee were made public on October 1, 2013, we have been harangued by the literati and other social commentators of this country on the national dialogue as suggested by the President. Almost all of them view it with suspicion; the crux of their interventions centred on the need for us to beware of the Greeks when they come bearing gifts as told by human rights lawyer, Femi Falana.

Even Senator Bola Tinubu, the doyen of All Progressives Congress, who was just returning from a medical trip abroad couldn’t wait to alight the plane before describing Jonathan’s confab as a “diversionary step taken by a sinking ship.” He concerned himself with the fact that the proposed national dialogue (which he and others had always clamoured for)  is coming at a time the 2015 elections is fast afoot.

One of the columnists in The Sun newspapers, Steve Nwosu, likened the national conference fever gripping the nation to a fallout of PDP throwing another bone to the dogs just to keep them busy so as not to disturb their(PDP apparatchiks’) laze. He reasoned: “I think this is just a distraction to make us take our mind away from what we should be looking at…”

For Sam Nda-Isaiah, who qualifies to be the most incurable of Jonathan’s critics: “Jonathan’s confab committee of unelected people, some of whom are of dubious character, is certainly inferior to the National Assembly. And whatever any such committee brings up is still subject to the National Assembly’s imprimatur anyway. So why waste everybody’s time?”

Apparently, this space can’t contain all the reactions that have so far greeted this bone thrown at us. Yet, it was just Dr. Odinkalu who, while giving an instance in his recent disquisition titled: ‘Nigeria: Between Nostalgia and Nirvana,’ that exposed a fatal negligence in the composition of the Advisory Committee. The example he cited was buttressed by Segun Adeniyi in his last Thursday’s piece on the backpage of ThisDay.

Both of them scantily talked about the fact that in a committee detailed to work out the discussion of Nigeria’s future, not one person yet to clock 50 years of age was made a member. This, the NHRC Chairman described as worrying. Citing Dr. Odinkalu, Mr Adeniyi wrote: “it is noteworthy that on a committee to undertake an assignment expected to determine Nigeria’s future, not a single person is under the age of 50…”

He went on to reveal that this is happening at a time when our demographics indicate that Nigerians within the age group (1 to 50) probably accounts for more than 85 per cent of our population. How then can one reconcile these? Firstly, Nigeria has this great percentage of younger persons, still, she did not think it wise to factor them into such an important committee. The second is that an indiscretion of this magnitude was committed, yet our agenda-setters failed to see the need to set it as the agenda.

Since it is palpable that the so-called national conversation would not lead us anywhere given that the sincerity of those behind it is in doubt, we should have used the window created by government’s choice of those to be in the committee to let it know that there goes another instance of it telling a 30-year old man that he is the leader of tomorrow!

Indeed, we should have harped on that to make government realise her foolishness in asking senescent persons to oversee what today youths have a greater stake in. How can you be talking about determining Nigeria’s future, yet fail to substantially include those who are more of the present in that process? And the country in question is one where “the median age is 23 and where life expectancy is just about 48 years.” Little wonder many are not taking government serious on this issue.

Shortly before the independence day, I was interviewed by a reporter from a radio station in Lokoja. He sought to know my opinion on things Nigeria is not doing right as she marks her 53rd anniversary. I wasted no time in telling him that the country’s undying love for gerontocracy isn’t going to move it forward since that system encourages the recycling of leaders who are bereft of ideas. I made a case for Nigerian youths to be allowed political leadership. It happened that when the interview was aired, a friend asked how I think a 25year old, for instance, can effectively govern a state in Nigeria.

While this isn’t to give into my friend’s polemic that tweens are not yet mature for executive positions in the country, it’s in delegations like the Advisory Committee on National Dialogue that government can allow the youths taste political leadership. For, it isn’t until one serves as a local government chairman or governor, that a person can be said to have experienced political leadership. And the fact that what is to be discussed is the future of our country makes it all the more compelling for youths to be involved.

I know this is just a committee to sort out the modalities and that when it gets to views collation the younger generation will not be overlooked. That, to me, is neither here nor there. Their having slots at the committee will enable them proffer the easiest and most reliable ways of obtaining the views of the younger generation. It will also make them become more interested in the country and ultimately equip them and buoy them up to aspire for higher political positions.

And that is our ruling elite’s greatest nightmare: having to drag our juicy public offices with more people. Hence, they use every means possible to shut the more people out. Even where the more people shouldn’t be bounced, they still bounce them. How else can we justify their not including elements from this generation if not for the selfish motive of protecting ‘their’ turf, rather; our turf that they have cornered for themselves!

Indeed, nous must have ministered to them that some youths should be in that committee, but they elected to ignore it’s counsel. It is a given that youths of nowadays are so given to ‘frivolities’, yet some of these pastime fill them with so much ideas that could be exploited to make our country work.
Take for instance, their craze for foreign football leagues; from these leagues they learn how coaches administer and position players for optimum performance on the pitch and be goal scorers. You can well agree with me that if given the chance to replicate this in managing our nation, we will be the better for it.

Watching of western movies is another of such ‘frivolities’. However, these movies reveal so much about what makes those countries exporting them tick; what makes their societies functional. It thereby affords our youths the opportunity of emulating global best practices. Thus, such excuses as: what do they have to offer, holds no water!

At least they would have more to offer than Col. Nyiam known to be the most senior officer that led a failed mutiny that was set to break up this country, who was still appointed to the Advisory Committee. They will verily be more useful in the the Senator Femi Okorounmu led Committee than a character who does not believe in the indivisibility of Nigeria. This is not to mention the fact that they have more of the vigour and energy to make a thorough job of the brief.

Here now is the meat we should chew: we have continued to whinge that the 1999 Constitution is a sole product of the military with no contribution from a greater section of Nigerians whose lives the Constitution was to regulate. I put it to us that the composition of the Advisory Committee has dispatched us to that road again. This is as a greater majority of those whose lives would be dependent on it are about to be sidelined again.

However, the joy is that both the call for a national dialogue and the setting up of the Advisory Committee seem more like a ruse meant to distract us from issues that matter. That, notwithstanding, government have unwittingly disclosed its dereliction of youths, it is therefore expected that youths should stand to demand their inclusion in the political governance of the country.

Ugochukwu is a freelance journalist who you can follow on twitter via @ugsylvester or reach through: ug.ugovester@gmail.com

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