Age is not our problem

Our greatest problem in Nigeria is bad governance. This is no longer a matter of conjecture. But recent debates seem to blame Nigeria’s failure of leadership on age. I disagree. Our leadership problem in Nigeria has nothing to do with age. Since independence, we have had mainly young leaders. Only a few were above 60 years old. 

The brave men that kicked out the colonial masters were quite young. Awolowo was 37, Akintola 36, Ahmadu Bello 36, Belewa 34, Okotie-Eboh 27, Enahoro 27 and Zik 42. We know they did well. I call them the men that built Nigeria.

Then came the first military coup led by Nzeogwu. He was only 29. The coup was countered by a group of military “boys” led by Murtala Mohammed 28, Danjuma 28, Babangida 25, Abacha 23 and Yar’adua 23. These “boys” brought into power the men that started the destruction of Nigeria. I call them and their successors, the men that destroyed Nigeria. They include:

Yakubu Gowon, the man that dragged Nigeria into civil war. He was only 31 years old when he became Nigeria’s president. How much younger could a president be? Yet, he failed Nigerians? His colleagues in power then, Ojukwu 33, Obasanjo 29 and Buhari 24 did not do well either.

Olusegun Obasanjo took over from Gowon and was 39 years old when he became Nigeria’s president in 1976. Though he was the first African president to hand over power to a civil government, Nigeria was not better off under his youthful watch.

Shehu Shagari became Nigeria’s first democratically elected president at the age of 54 in 1979. Accusations of corruption and electoral fraud led Muhammadu Buhari and his team to kick him out, but he did better than his predecessors. He was in-between young and old.

Muhammadu Buhari was 31 years old when he became the president of Nigeria in 1983. Apart from truncating Nigeria’s nascent democracy that could have become stronger by now, our economy failed under his youthful watch. But his restrictive governance and excessive governmental control of freedom of the press led Ibrahim Babangida to overthrow him in 1985.

Babangida was 44 years old in 1985 when he became Nigeria’s President. He devalued the naira, dragged Nigeria into foreign debt, allowed corruption to flourish and cancelled the fairest presidential election in Nigeria.

Sani Abacha was 50 years old when he became Nigeria’s president. The sudden death of the ruthless dictator brought Obasanjo back to office in 1999. Obasanjo was 62 years old then. One would think that with over three-years of leadership experience as a president, Obasanjo would have performed well. If he did, we sure would not have been in a mess today.

Musa Yaradua was 56 when he took over from Obasanjo. He was a very good man and did well but died too soon. He was succeeded by his vice, Goodluck Jonathan. Goodluck was 53 years old when he became president in 2010. His government was corrupt and there was no respect for the rule of law. Now we have Buhari again. When he became president again in 2015, he claimed he was 72 years old. With two years of experience as a president, one would expect better leadership. He seems to be the worst president Nigeria has ever had as the country is not only sinking economically, the lives and properties of the people are not safe.

From the foregoing, one can see that most of the young leaders failed. The few above fifty, Shagari and Yaradua did better while those in their sixties who previously were presidents failed. So, it is not about age, these leaders just were not good enough for the job. It is therefore poor judgment to continue to blame Nigeria’s failure of leadership on age. Leadership is not about age. Nor is it about skills. It is also not just about experience. If it were, Obasanjo and Buhari would have liberated this country.

What Nigerian leaders lack is moral courage. Moral courage is the power to do the right thing. It is one thing to say what you will do, it is another thing to actually do it. It is easy to give a beautiful speech. Gowon, Buhari, Obasanjo, IBB, Goodluck, etc., all gave beautiful speeches. They all knew the right thing to do. But when they got in, they did not have the moral courage to do the right thing.

Moral courage is the only quality a leader must have to do well. Leaders without skills can hire highly skilled people to help them. Nigeria has many smart people. Leaders without experience can hire experienced people to help them. But you cannot hire people to help you resist bribery, nepotism, greed, etc. You cannot!!

While I want to see young leaders in Nigeria, finding morally courageous once may not be something we can achieve by listening to brilliant speeches. We need to review moral antecedents thoroughly. Some young Nigerians have moral courage. Sadly, they shy away from political leadership and often do not “talk around” as many are doing today. We need to seek them out. Beware of those who talk big. Their messages are flying around on WhatsApp and FB. Be careful with rhetoric. Talk is cheap.

Godswill Agbagwa