by Abigail Anaba
A Hebrew sage once equated gray headedness to a crown of beauty. Yet, no one likes being called old. Even fewer age gracefully, mostly because we live in a world where old means out of touch with realities, derelict, reserved for the archives, obsolete-words no one wants to be identified with.
So today’s youth-centrism may have pushed the aging (I would use this term broadly, at the risk of sounding politically incorrect, to mean anyone above the age of 60) to fight back.
When people begin to see their hair going gray, they fight with every cosmetic and political weapon in their arsenal to either delay or confuse age. From dyeing their hair back to the colour of youth or undergoing cosmetic hair grafts to adjusting their age meter to stop running for a while (some remain 25 for as long as they can claim it) or forcing themselves to become years younger by choosing their year birth of choice. When all these fail, the politically powerful institutionalize new ‘youth’ upper limit to reflect political and sometimes economic realities. In Nigeria for instance, 60 is the new 40.
Nowhere else though, do we find the old fighting back as they do in the political arena in Africa.
At 88 going on 89, President Mugabe of Zimbabwe remains the oldest sitting President in the world and he is not ready to give up that seat. Judging from his style of leadership it may seem that as politicians gray they begin to lose the use of their grey matter. This is perhaps one of the reasons why many Nigerians are not too happy with their aging political class who seem hell bent on remaining politically relevant.
Recently, General Mohammed Buhari indicated that he might be persuaded to be interested in running for president again in 2015. If he does and wins, he would be 73 at inauguration. If he gets a second term, he will still be president at 80, three years after Nigeria hopes to be one of the top 20 economies of the world.
It would be a good idea then to look at the ages of the presidents of the top 5 emerging economies in the world.
1. China Xi Jiping elected Nov 2012 Born 1953 (60)
2. India Manmohan Singh elected 2004. Born 1932 (81)
3. Russia Vladimir Putin elected 1999-2007, 2011 Born 1952 (61)
4. Brazil Dilma Vana Rousseff elected 2012 Born 1947 (66)
5. Turkey Dr. Abdullah Gül elected 2007 Born 1950 (63)
I leave you to decide what to make of this statistic. You may also want to read up on how India’s economy is performing under the watch of the 81 year old Manmohan Singh. (Did someone once say Nigeria is similar to India in many ways?)
Yet, the fact that a thriving economy like India’s is beginning to falter under an aging president does not mean that a faltering economy like Nigeria’s will not thrive under an aging leader.
It therefore becomes necessary to examine some of the reasons why some persons feel a Buhari presidency may not be what Nigeria needs at this point in her history.
1. He was once military: Well Putin was ex-KGB but look how he followed up on gains Yeltsin made and set the Russian economy on the path of growth. He served two consecutive terms between 1999 and 2007 and has recently found his way back into the top seat of government.
2. He is too old: Well he was born 1942, same year as the last President of the People’s Republic of China. Let’s ignore the fact that the Chinese leader was elected in 2003, he steered China through the turbulent economic tides of the late 2000s and handed over a stable economy to his younger successor Xi Jiping.
3. He has tried twice and failed: Well have you ever heard the saying, ‘third times a charm’? That he is coming again only shows his strong belief in himself and what he stands for. Did Lincoln not run for four different elective positions and fail before he became America’s president at the 5th try?
4. His antecedent shows that he will not make a good ruler: Well, he may have made some controversial decisions when he was military ruler like gagging the press and killing journalists but those were the days of military rule, military things are bound to happen
5. Let him give others a chance: Well, see General Obasanjo turned President Obasanjo’s profile and the revisit 3 above.
So let’s say this together slowly: Age is nothing but a number (Good). Personally, I do not see any reason why the General should not contest if his party favours him. What that simply means is that he is the best they have and the one they believe can deliver. (It may also mean that intra party politics flows in his favour. Afterall Medvedev refused to contest against Putin in 2011 even though he had a right to.)
But whether Buhari will win is another issue entirely.
Let us not forget, if we want younger leaders with power to execute the interests on over 70% of Nigeria’s population, then younger people should be interested in getting into politics. And since intra party politics often involves several years of serving in various capacities and paying dues, entering politics at between 20 and 25 may be a little more like it if a person chooses to be a career politician.
We have had leaders, social commentators, and public affairs analysts analyse our problems: we need water, light, good roads, good services, we need to kick out corruption and in recent times kick out terrorism. This song has been on auto replay for as long as I can remember. Nigeria does not need a leader to point out what is wrong. Even a child who shouts ‘up NEPA’ knows what one of our problems is.
What Nigeria really needs is a leader with an action plan, a blue print of reforms that will sanitize the system and one that is borne out of wide consultations. His action plan would have a plan A, B and even C because things definitely will not look the same from inside as it looks when you are outside.
We need a leader who has the courage and boldness to implement this blue print to the letter when given the opportunity but at the same time has the flexibility to adjust this blue print to suit prevailing circumstances when he gets into power.
Indeed, if you cannot picture your leader in a shirt, sleeves rolled up, ready to dig out survivors from the debris of a burning plane, or eruditely defending his reforms in a room full of international reporters; if you picture him turning down a chance at presenting or defending his manifesto or stammering a response to questions about things he did in his past; if you picture him leaving behind a trail of contentious comments or only surrounding himself with sycophants willing to sing his praise, then I must confess, you haven’t found the leader yet. That is why come 2015, Nigeria may again be left with what I choose to call The 2011 Situation. We will be forced to choose between the devil we know and the devil we choose not to know.
But then again, it’s our choice.