2023: How to read Obasanjo’s momentous letter to youth
Players in the 2023 political game are agitated at former President Obasanjo’s New Year letter to youths, but multiple data prove that Obasanjo was nationalistic by writing it.
By Theophilus Abbah, PhD
Media focus contributed to the misreading of Obasanjo’s letter to youth
Youths, who constitute to highest voting population, suffer from bad leadership in Nigeria
Buhari, el-Rufai had argued previously that younger persons make better political leaders
All over the world, younger persons, in their 30s and 40s, are national leaders
Candidates in the 2023 polls are not coming up with new and creative ideas to tackle the country’s problems. They’re emphasizing their entitlement to political positions.
Those who criticize Obasanjo did not support their arguments with contradictory facts and evidence
Festive periods are gloomy seasons for newsrooms. Radio, television, print and online platforms detest the dry newsland, where parties, weddings, funerals, annual thanksgiving programmes, community meetings, and celebrations of diverse, immense, and scanty colours win the attention of newsmakers from the camera and microphone of news hunters.
In this context, one Nigerian who has earned the tittle The Letterman (courtesy of author Mojeed Musikiliu), for being a prolific letter writer, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, electrified newsrooms with his loud but momentous letter to Nigerian youth. The letter was symbolically a delicious manna from on high for media and journalism community, starved of lead and running stories during last year’s Christmas and New Year festivals.
The word ‘endorsement’ does not appear in the letter
Strangely, the media misread, maltreated and tore the letter to shred, by dismissing it as a mere endorsement of Labour Party presidential candidate Peter Obi, thereby subjecting it to angry flogging and mischievous interpretations. “The word ‘endorsement’ does not appear in the letter”, and out of the 2,700-word document, Peter Obi is mentioned twice.
As against the chorus outcry by mouthpieces of other political parties, Obasanjo’s letter contains more references to Nigerian youths, than it does to Peter Obi. The former president used the word ‘youth’ six times in the letter, reminding them of the power they wield as the demographic that stands at an advantageous position in the next general elections.
With their voting population, Nigerian youths, plagued by unemployment, under-employment, discrimination, poverty, hopelessness, and acute frustration, could install the next president of Nigeria. And this is not hidden; Obasanjo only reiterated it through anecdotes and allusions to historical and contemporary evidences.
Obasanjo’s letter contains more references to Nigerian youths, than it does to Peter Obi
In October 2022, the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Yakubu Mahmoud, revealed that more than 70 percent of newly registered voters constituted the youth population. No doubt, out of the total of 96 million registered voters for the 2023 elections, a minimum of 70 per cent may be of the youth population, a figure that is higher that the numbers that produced presidents in previous elections.
According to Mahmood, “In terms of demographic distribution, 7.2 million new voters or 76.5% are young people between 18-34 years, while there is a slightly higher number of female (4.8 million or 50.82%) than male (4.6 million or 49.18%) voters.
In terms of occupation, 3.8 million (40.8%) are students.” Ironically, this demographic is ignorant of its strength. If it forms a ring from the six geopolitical zones and advocates what it wants in the next dispensation, the Nigerian youth will move a mountain, even if it were as monstrous as Zuma Rock. Now, torn apart by religion, ethnicity, geopolitics, corrupt money, violence, empty sophistry, and demand for instant gratification, this powerful bloc has a mental depreciation of the value of their Permanent Voter’s Cards (PVCs), and are tossed about by all winds of empty misinformation and disinformation spread by spin doctors of presidential candidates.
Obasanjo’s letter, in a nutshell, was meant to wake Nigerian youth from their slumber, to see clearly that in this year’s elections, they hold the ace.
Those who have torn Obasanjo’s letter to youths to shred are playing a familiar game: the more ignorant voters are the better for clever politicians. Therefore, instead of discussing Obasanjo’s letter, the attention of youths have been diverted to irrelevant and extraneous issues about Obasanjo’s supposed hypocrisy; alleged failed performance as president of Nigeria; and suspected corruption – for which successive governments did not drag him to court, even though Obasanjo no longer wears immunity from prosecution.
Obasanjo’s letter, in a nutshell, was meant to wake Nigerian youth from their slumber
Having caged the traditional media and crowded the space on social media, the publicity arms of several political parties blinded the youths to Obasanjo’s emphasis on the fact that older presidents are tied to fossilized ideas that drag the country to the past, instead of launching into the future. In a veiled self-indictment, the former president established the relationship between youthfulness and leadership performance, when he made recourse to his own age when he was military Head of State.
But it is not only Obasanjo who has made this point in Nigeria’s contemporary political discourse. Buhari had lamented how tough being president could be, and confessed in 2022 that the job was taking toll on him. He had said, “The age is telling on me. Working now for six, seven to eight hours per day in the office is no joke.
There are questions of (the) executive council; memos from as many states as possible to be considered virtually every week,” lamented the Nigerian president. “Really, it’s a lot of hard work. About my age, I see my colleagues, they are now resting, and I assure you that I look forward to the next 17 months when I too will be less busy.”
Almost seven years ago, Governor Nasir el-Rufai on Kaduna State told the world that he, then 57-year-old, and much younger than Buhari, was too old to be Nigeria’s president. He was quoted as saying, “Public service is for young people. I’m too old to be a governor. I should have been a governor when I was 40-something,” said the 57-year-old governor. That’s the right age because you are active, you have experience, you can put in long hours. I know how many hours I could put in when I was the minister of FCT, I can’t do that now.”
It is, therefore, amounts to double-speak that both Buhari and el-Rufai, have sheepishly lined up behind candidates who would hold the country down to the consequences of their aging bodies and bones. Truth be told, the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who snatched the presidential ticket because of his acclaimed entitlement to the presidency, does not possess the physical dynamics to run Nigeria for another eight years. Ditto the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar.
Instead of foisting themselves on their parties and the country, Tinubu and Atiku should have put forward the best feet among younger politicians who had served as their cup bearers over the years. Such candidates are available in their legions.
As Obasanjo exposed in his poorly received letter, old presidents ascend the top chair and take over the tough job with all sorts of dirt and mud from the distant past. Many older politicians think more about the Obafemi Awolowo, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Ahmadu Bello and Tafawa Balewa era, as the standard for Nigeria’s development.
They echo a return to parliamentary system of government, regionalism, and feed on the grudges and nepotism that drove the country into the bloody the Nigerian Civil War that claimed over three million lives.
They water the bitter rivalry of the past, redrawing the lines of hatred, and reviving religious and ethnic bigotry which made it difficult for national harmony and cohesion to hold. How can Nigeria step into the future when it is enslaved to its past?
How can Nigeria step into the future when it is enslaved to its past?
Lest we forget. The map of the world is showing the faces of younger presidents and prime ministers; and more faces are appearing, according to a report by Agence France Presse (AFP) about a year ago. The report cataloged the followings: Gabriel Boric became Chile’s youngest-ever president at 35.
In Finland, Premier Sanna Marin got the top job at 34. In Kosovo another woman leader, Vjosa Osmani, was elected president at aged 38. In Georgia: Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili was 38 when he came to power. In Andorra, a former justice minister Xavier Espot Zamora became the head of government of the small territory between France and Spain in May 2019 aged 39.
In Costa Rica, Carlos Alvarado, a journalist and former labour minister, won elections to became president in May 2018, aged 38. In New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern was 37 years old when she was sworn in as prime minister in October 2017. In Ireland, Leo Varadkar became Ireland’s youngest prime minister in June 2017 aged 38. In France, the investment banker Emmanuel Macron became France’s youngest president in May 2017 at 39. In Chad, Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno was 37, when he took over after the death of his father.
In Africa where older persons impose themselves on their countries, we are yet to see socio-economic development that keep pace with what happens in Europe, Asia and the United States.
Obasanjo’s critics have failed to utilize a low hanging tool to defeat his letter – fact-checking and verification.
Apart from making recourse to Obasanjo’s leadership flaws, image makers for presidential candidates, who are the worse hit by the former president’s letter, have not used forensic evidence to puncture the facts and arguments Obasanjo put in the public space by means of the letter.
In reality, Nigerians who skim through the campaigns since last September to identify new or big ideas from candidates are totally disappointed; even the manifestos of the big parties, proved to have been plagiarized from local and international political campaigns, are not exciting enough to address pressing social and economic issues. How do they plan to stimulate industries? What are their responses to unstoppable China? How do they plan to reinvent the education sector? What do they plan to do to halt the mass exodus of youths from Nigeria to live the life of slavery in Europe, Asia and America? Where are the genuine and ingenuous ideas in dealing with insecurity which has spread to all wings of Nigeria? We can go on and on. Instead of enticing voters’ with attractive agenda to our malaise, most presidential candidates are displaying their ethnic and religious credentials on their foreheads and campaign trains.
Their rhetoric are rich in ethnic and religious diction; they engage in double-speak as they move from one geopolitical zone to another, as if they are oblivious of the reality that they speak to the same Nigerian population each time they peddle divisive promises
Perhaps, the thrust of Obasanjo’s letter is captured in these lines: “We can only continue to play politics of ethnicity, religion, region and money bags at the peril of our country and to self-destruction. We need selfless, courageous, honest, patriotic, in short, outstanding leadership with character and fear of God beyond what we have had in recent past.”
The former president’s decision to declare support for Peter Obi is personal and not out of place. Those who hate the letter are haters of truth. Without the truth, Nigeria cannot be free; without being set free by the truth, we will continue to be chained to crisis in the land of ‘great potential.’
Dr Abbah is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Forensics and Fraud Examiners of Nigeria.