The generational question
PRESIDENT Goodluck Jonathan’s recent declaration that his generation has failed Nigerians would ordinarily have been dismissed as an election campaign punch line against his political opponent. But when interpreted within the context of an earlier event, where he accused elderly Nigerians of being the cause of Nigeria’s troubles owing to their misguided utterances and indecorous comportment, the president’s remark is indeed very weighty. Therefore, it calls for careful evaluation because of its timely relevance and its import for the future leadership of this country.
The remark, which was made in Lagos at the flagging off of his re-election campaign, stated inter alia: “I believe that the young Nigerians are the future. We (referring to his generation of leaders) are finished. We believe that the youths will be the ones that will take us to the moon. My generation has failed because we could not take Nigeria to the moon… I don’t want to address old people like me because we are spent already.” Harbouring the same sentiment, the president had stated on an earlier occasion that, “Anything that old people like us are involved in, it is always problems”.
Whether he was speaking in metaphor when he made reference to Nigeria of being taken to the moon, or he was building a new political bloc with the youth, the substance in the president’s speech is that he has cast aspersions on his and older generations of Nigerians for their cluelessness about the way to lead Nigeria aright.
It is gratifying that the president is the one passing such judgment on his generation, and that he is the one placating young people to put on the mantle of leadership. There may be some elements of truth in the president’s remarks, after all his generation might have been the last beneficiary of quality education. Perhaps, too, that generation and older ones might have witnessed an appreciable culture of civility and political consciousness before the military wreaked havoc on the polity.
From a sober outlook, this gesture seems a meek and sincere expression of incapacitation. But a mea culpa posture is not enough if Nigeria is to evolve from this culture of yawning inanities and take its pride of place in Africa and in world affairs. Besides, this is a very grave self-indictment that calls to question the capacity of even the president or older generation of politicians to mend the mess the country has been put through, let alone any transformation.
If the president claims that old persons, senior citizens are the cause of Nigeria’s problem, if it is granted that his generation has failed, then on which generation should Nigerians depend for their political destiny? Is it the generation that succeeds two failed generations? Is it a generation that has been cut off from meaningful participation in the running of national affairs by the greed and primordial interests of the president’s generation? Is it this generation onto whom no values seem to have been passed by older generations? A generation that has been abused, demoralised, instrumentalised, onto whom has not been bequeathed any moral armament to tackle corruption and insecurity?
If the president claims that his generation and older are already spent, then why is he contesting? What do they have to offer Nigeria in this overly complicated and upbeat world if they are spent horses? What measures have they put in place to ensure that the youth and oncoming generation of leaders ‘take Nigeria to the moon’?
The president might have meant well by his utterance, yet his statement is a defeatist acceptance of the fate befalling Nigeria of the future. Nigerians cannot be enthused by the hackneyed mantra that the youths of today are the leaders of tomorrow, or that they hold the future of this country. This is trite. The more serious questions to ask are: what quality of youth? Which future? As has been made apparent in the course of history, with the passing of one generation to the other, the state of leadership deteriorates in double proportion. When Nigerians thought the country was at its lowest ebb, another generation of leaders perfects the act of decadence with astonishing efficiency.
Besides, the president’s generalisation should not be taken with so much seriousness. Whilst a systemic failure signposts the leadership quotient of his generation, it is also obvious that in this generation are found persons who have turned around the fortunes and prospects of their respective leadership spheres. That the president was not able, and has not been able to harness the talents and qualities of these persons to lift his administration to a commanding height of moral regeneration and socio-economic progress, is a regrettable personal failure.
In line with the spirit of collective responsibility and wholesome development of man and society, it is this newspaper’s conviction that the young and the old are useful for any positive transformation to be effected in society. Age is not a hindrance to socio-economic and political development, just as the ideas of progress are not exclusive to any generation. It depends on the persons in question; which is why the president’s indictment of his generation should be regarded as his personal opinion, even if it seems exciting to young people.
Notwithstanding, today’s youth, in heeding uncritically to the president’s remark, will ignore the older generation to their own peril, for they cannot get the experience they would need to plot their future. In the same vein, the old, who should see themselves as kingmakers, should not straddle the generation divide to become kings themselves, lest they be overwhelmed by the complexity and unfamiliar problems of leading today’s Nigeria, and their energy burnt out before understanding their situation.
In one phrase, their role should be that of selfless mentoring and purposeful succession management, rather than shrewd manipulation for personal aggrandisement.