By MA Iliasu
This question has grown into a full-blown critical question among Nigerian youths. And from the way it exudes the aura of anger and despair, it’s evident that generational frustration and offence seem to take over at the mere mention of the question. The anger and grief are mainly directed at the core of the established ruling class, who aren’t growing any younger, whose incompetence also seem to grow with their age.
“We were scammed. I don’t believe we’ll be the leaders of tomorrow. Obasanjo was the president when I was born. Today it’s Buhari. Both are older than my grandfather. And tomorrow it’ll be another older man in the villa. How does that show any trustworthy sequential line of succession?” a very vibrant, 22-year-old young man who loves to discuss national politics tod me. Clear as the sun, he was angry.
I murmured. To an extent, the young man had a valid point – after all, who doesn’t want positive, fresh energy and change in the leadership capacity. Meanwhile, if there’s another thing to be exploited from the frustration of our youths that often warrants utterances, such as that is the plentiful poverty of imagination and painful obsession with literalism. And that alone can explain why young blood is absent in the establishment of the highest political echelon.
“Is the definition of leadership really that narrow?” – I asked the young man.
Indeed, if what is leadership and who is a leader is restricted to presidential, gubernatorial or representative chairs and who gets to sit on them, then it’s only expected that we don’t care to responsibly fulfil the vacuums of class captains and school prefects, students union governments and community initiatives, let alone develop the ambition of leading the pack in trillion-dollar conglomerates, become the CEO’s of medium and small enterprises and head of profit and nonprofit organizations. That, too, is leadership and perhaps even a more fulfilling one. But, sadly, it’s so vivid that in the mind of Nigerian youths, politics is the only method of the ladder to, and only acceptable definition of, leadership.
Meanwhile, if leadership is really that narrow, in any country of a hundred million population, only less than 0.01% would be leaders over the course of a century. Did the person who first said that never knew this? Far from that. The issue is on us and us alone. Today, in Nigeria, we develop the habits of taking phenomena out of context and converting positivity into negativity. Overwhelming positivity does indeed cause a crushing crisis. But one thing history teaches us is that prosperity has never blossomed in a negative mindset.
With over a billion population, the Chinese wake up every day to tell their children they’re the leaders of tomorrow. Do you know how many people led China in its 76 years of official declaration? The US, the arena of blockbuster politics and democracy, with a population of over three hundred million, was ruled by less than fifty people of its official existence. And any other person outside of the presidential list was once told they would be the leader of tomorrow. The Soviet had significantly lower, as does Russia and Saudi Arabia and Japan and any muscly country.
So maybe the frustration isn’t in the saying but in our interpretation of it. Perhaps we simply lack imagination. Perhaps we’re just lazy. Because if we think as the forward-thinking do, we may have enough to realize leadership begins by being a good husband to your wife, excellent father to your child, a kind friend to your neighbours, a just leader to your community, an empathetic and responsible Godfather to your employees, an excellent teacher to your students, a good HOD to your department, a good dean to your faculty, good examination officer to your school and even a trustworthy representative to the wealthy man who assigns you to distribute occasional stimulus.
That your grandmother called you a leader so that you’ll make the name proud and raise children who’ll change the world. That one day, you may become influential and inspire lives forever and not necessarily a political leader if you become that too brilliant. But there are other prerequisites. And if alive, every sane and healthy human must pass through. If you reach there, you’ve fulfilled your inevitable destiny of becoming a leader. And how you exercise the right defines you even in the sight of your Lord (SWT). It’s not a consolation, neither a justification of a rotten system—only consolidation of reality and highlighting the fallacies engraved in our sorry definition of leadership.
So again, one may ask, “are we the leaders of tomorrow?”. We must “yes” to that question even with an overwhelming affirmation. It’s a natural order that we were all born to be leaders. We were, we are, and we’ll be. The best wish is to ask Allah to make us the best our generation will ever see.