Is Youthful Political Leadership a Solution to the Nigerian Crisis?
2020 was a year of the Covid19 pandemic and protests against social injustices across the world. From the farmers’ protests in India with over 250 million Indians participating in a 24-hour general strike in solidarity; to the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests against police brutality in the US that garnered support in major cities across the globe. In Nigeria, the youth-led #EndSARS protest jolted the ruling class that has repeatedly described them as been lazy and docile. According to the global protest tracker of Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, more protests were recorded in 2020 as compared to 2019.
By Dare Etti
The common thread to all the protests across the globe is a fight back against the pauperization of the masses and the state repression of the disadvantaged in the society – especially the poor and the youth. The fuel is, of course, a deep yearning in the human soul to fight against injustice and to fight for an alternative to a system of repression.
As expected, the #EndSARS protests generated a lot of debates around the cause and the solutions to the problem of police brutality on one hand; and the socio-economic headwinds battering the majority of Nigerians endlessly at the other.
The idea that gerontocracy was the problem quickly gained ground amongst the protesters and a youth-led political arrangement was proffered as the solution to the myriads of problems confronting the nation. A social media party called Youth Democratic Party (YDP) was established by faceless individuals to capture this mood. Even though thousands of people registered with the ‘party’, it appears the experiment has fizzled out due to a lack of programs and organisation that can galvanize the mass of the people after the protest.
Historically, the demographic structure of the Nigerian political class since independence has been largely youthful. For instance, only two Nigerian presidents (Olusegun Obasanjo and Muhammadu Buhari) were above sixty years by the time they took over the reins of governance in the country. Lest we forget, Obasanjo was 39 years when he first ruled as a military dictator and Buhari was 41 years old when he toppled the civilian government of Shehu Shagari in 1983.
So the country was destroyed not because of the age of leaders , rather, it was their subscription to capitalism as an ideology that reversed the modest gains recorded in the first republic and made Nigeria the largest poverty producing factory in the world. Youth identity politics just like other identity politics, blurs the essence of class struggle and creates the illusion that a younger leaders will address socio-economic and political issues/crises better than the older persons.
Socialists intervene in all identity movement but put forward the centrality of the working class in leading a mass movement against the capitalist class and for a social change as a way out of specific issues that affect youth, women and other disadvantaged groups. In other words, it is class consciousness and class struggle that can resolve the social issues that drive identity politics.
Anti-poor policies like underfunding of public education and hospitals; privatization of public assets amongst many other retrogressive state policies are products of capitalism and not ageism. President Emmanuel Macron of France, a youth, has faced months of protests since he came to power in that country. The pushback was not because of his age, rather, the backlash came from the people of France because of his neoliberal economic policies including on labour issues.
Class ideology and not age is the most important tool in analyzing society. Based on the short-term profit maximization and crude rent extraction that the Nigerian economy rests upon, there is no incentive for the ruling class to industrialize and modernize the country nor deploy the state resources to fund social programs that can lift millions out of excruciating poverty. True progress can only be made through the democratic management of the collective resources of the country to meet the needs of the majority of the people and not for the profit of the few. Under such a socialist system, the people’s needs will take precedent over the profit of a privileged few.
To build a nation that can improve the social and material needs of the poor, the youth and the mass of the disadvantaged in the country; the working class, armed with socialist ideas must lead the other oppressed layers of the society to smash this oppressive capitalist system and replace it with a new socialist order. Social investment and social engagement will be the responsibility of a democratic socialist government to social issues and not state repression.