President Goodluck Jonathan, last Saturday, August 9, in Abuja told young Nigerians something that he personally did not believe in. But he had to say it all the same because of its potential vote catching value.
Addressing an international summit of Nigerian Young Professionals Forum at Abuja’s International Conference Centre, the President said the constitutional requirement that candidates for president must be 40 and above was the only thing standing between the youths and elective high political offices.
“The youths have no limits in terms of numbers and capacity to lead this country to greatness”, he declared. “The only limit, however, is that for the youths to compete for President they need to be 40.”
The President who was in his mid 50s when he was elected into office in 2011, said he found that constitutional precondition “discriminatory”. According to him, “If General Yakubu Gowon was able to rule this country at 32, there is no reason why the youths should not be given the chance (now).” Gen. Gowon governed Nigeria as military head of state between 1966 and 1975, a difficult time for the country experienced two military putsches and prosecuted a 30-month civil war.
Conveniently ignoring the unique circumstances under which Gowon came to power, President Jonathan prodded Nigerian youths to send a bill to the National Assembly, seeking the abrogation of the age requirement for standing in elections for higher political offices. “I think what you should do now is to come together and take a bill to the National Assembly to amend some discriminatory provisions of the constitution in terms of age, and I will support you.”
The President gave one reason for his belated, or tongue in cheek, recognition of the leadership potential of our youths. “They are not like those old people who are disturbing us, who want to divide us based on religion and all kinds of sentiment…, not part of those who, by their utterances, are trying to divide the country along ethnic and religious lines.”
Let us say right away that if the President believes that the youths can be effective leaders, he has so far walked his talk. Firstly, most of those he appointed to his cabinet between May 2010 when he succeeded the late President Umaru Yar’adua under a so called “Doctrine of necessity”, and now are in their 50s and above. Secondly, the chairman and vice chairman of the about to wind up national conference to chart the future of this country are both septuagenarians. Justice Legbo Kutigi, the chairman is almost 80 and the vice chairman, Prof. Bolaji Akinyemi ten years below him. The rest members are only slightly outside this age bracket. So, who is the President fooling, our youths or himself?