(Vanguard of Sunday, November 26, 2000)
Many are trying to read a war cry into the meeting of those of our sons and daughters who say they are less than 50 years old. They are seen to be saying that the old have failed us; that the new dawn is here; that they are the agents of that new dawn; that they want to lunge into the future before them with a mission that will integrate this county, unite this country, and bring forth the dream that though tribe and tongue may differ, in brotherhood we should stand. The attendance proved the representation – North Central, North East, North Central, South West, South South and South East. They all came, the young executive governors of many of our states, and movers of industry and labour countrywide. This most terrific agenda is welcome.
The host was the executive governor of my state, Chief Lucky Igbinedion. I was excited that he would be one of the forward-looking ones who would come together to tackle the future of this country. I do not regret that I am not qualified to be there. My age is above 50. I am not an industrialist, and never have been. I am not in any pressure group and have never believed in the efficacy of most pressure groups in this country. I have always been a one-man army for one reason and one reason only – I do not have to have someone jumping ship in mid-sea or being another’s eyes and ears in our deliberations. I shoot from the hip, say my bit loud and clear and to the point. I come at you with letters, pamphlets et al. letters to my Countrymen were part of my style of making my case for posterity. There is hardly any issue of note since the end of the civil war in which I did not make my view known in writing.
It is in the same vein I now contribute my quota to the transformation that the mission of the young men in government promises. This is the first time a group of executives have met as an age-group at the national level to accept the challenge of nation-building. One belief they all seem to be sharing is that those who are older have failed. I sympathize with them because of the way this age issue is viewed. It is as you climb the age ladder you discover that those ahead of you were very young indeed when they achieved the feat you associate them with. To me, those who accepted the mantle of leadership from the British at Independence were very old men. But that year, many who were members of the under-50’s today had not been born. Should we not therefore put this age issue in the context of the time those who governed had the opportunity to do so? And what did they do and how did they do it? Even more importantly, for this purpose, how old were our leaders when they were in position of our present generational gladiators?
How old was Abubakar Tafawa Balewa when he became a member of the Legislative Council in 1949? How old was Ahmedu Bello when he was Premier of Northern Region, Chief Obafemi Awolowo when he was Premier of Western Region; and Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and later Dr. Michael Okpara as premiers if Eastern Region? How old was Muhammadu Ribadu as our Defence Minister at Independence, Chief Festus Okoetie-Eboh as Finance Minister, Alhaji Maitama Sule when he was our representative at the United Nations; Chief Anthony Enahoro when he moved the motion that Nigeria be granted independence, Chief TOS Benson when he became Minister of Information; Chief Adeyemi Lawson when he became the Chairman of Lagos City Council? How old was Yakubu Gowon when he became Head of State and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federation in 1966? How old was Joseph Tarka when he was chosen as the leader of the Tiv people? How old was Adaka Boro when he declared the Rivers Republic and later fought in the Rivers Battalion during the civil war? How old was Diette Spiff when he was appointed governor of Rivers State? How old were Osaigbovo Ogbemudia, Agbazika Innih, Usman Katisin, Odumegwu Ojukwu, Fajuyi and others when they were appointed military governors? Did General Babangida not deliberately restrict the governorship of states to officers below the rank of colonel? How old was Col Umar whan he was being referred to as one of the Eaglet governor? How old was Obasanjo when he became Head of State in 1976, and how old was Murtala Muhammed he succeeded?
The truth is that most of our leaders, both civilians and military, have been under age 50 when they took office! Many were even under age 30! Those who seem to be so old now that they are ‘disqualified’ from the club of the under 50’s are not any more in an advantageous position in civilian governance than the young ones who are mobilizing for giving leadership to the future. The only difference is that this is the first time in the history of Nigeria where a group of leaders are gathering together strictly on an age-group platform with a view to bringing Nigerians together as brothers and sisters. They have my support because we have just 14 years to 2014 when Nigeria as geographical space would be a hundred years old. The people have never been successfully integrated. If the young ones want to achieve this feat in 14 years, they would be rewriting a history of despair so that hope may come.
We had a downward plunge in the dying years of the last century because we sacrificed everything to nourish the ego of one man who believed, because of his profound limitations, that we meant well when we told him that God ordained his rulership for ten years and all he had to do was to eliminate a few Satan’s minions. With the opportunity we had in the time of Abdulsalami Abubakar and the later return to due process, the structures seemed in place for us to start anew. We have indeed started, but the unnecessary wars that the executives and legislatures have fought country-wide since May last year have shown how young all of us are in operating a system which even the almighty United States has found difficult to manage.
The shot in the arm provided by the young among us must be encouraged. But it need not be a war. There must be a close relationship between the user-value of the age of Methuselah and the Wisdom of Solomon. The marriage of politics and culture, which is the main route to successful integration, cannot deny the relevance of Methuselah.
(Published in Vol. 1 of Democracy Watch, A Monitor’s Diary by Tony Momoh, pages 155 – 157; Lagos, 2003).