by Raymond Eyo
“Old people can play the role of guides but should exit active politics.”
– General Vijay K. Singh (retd.), India’s former Chief of Army Staff
A gerontocracy is any political system governed by old men. For some time now, the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) has placed people in their late 70s or above in crucial national political offices. Whilst it is fair to say the main opposition party, the All Progressive’ Congress (APC) is not entirely free from this trend, with its chairman, Bisi Akande, aged 74, it is clear that it is more pronounced in the PDP.
Many Nigerians were taken aback, when on March 24, 2012, at its national convention, the PDP chose a sexagenarian, Umar Chiza, as its national youth leader with a 4-year mandate. Some may call it good riddance to bad rubbish that Chiza and some other PDP NWC members were forced to resign after the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) voided their 2012 election but the impression from that singular choice was clear: the PDP’s leadership appeared to prefer the aged, even in positions that should, reasonably, be reserved for much younger people.
The chairman of the PDP’s disciplinary committee, Umaru Dikko, is 77! The chairman of the PDP’s Board of Trustees (BoT), Tony Anenih, is 80! The PDP’s national chairman, Bamanga Tukur, is 78! It is not proper to assign very demanding national political responsibilities to septuagenarians and octogenarians who are not as nimble and agile as quinquagenarians or even early sexagenarians. In fact, with the coming of the APC, the stakes are higher and require smarter and more dynamic politicians. Men in their late 70s or 80s may not have as much interest in committing their all for Nigeria’s success as will those in their 50s or 60s who know they will still be around for a while. Often, they will strive to secure their interests for the benefit of their families and circle of friends.
Also, given their physical frailties and vulnerabilities due to their advanced age, it is not medically sound to entrust very mentally tasking political duties to the aged. At best, they should become advisers whose opinions younger ones consult when need arises. The fact that, not long after his appointment as chairman of the PDP’s disciplinary committee, on July 29, Dikko was flown abroad to be treated for an undisclosed ailment, clearly vindicates this view.
In the Quran, Quran 36:68 says: “He whom we bring unto old age, we reverse him in creation [weak, dependent and with little knowledge or ability to understand].”
Indeed, in an interview in New African magazine of May 2013, Mo Ibrahim, a notable Sudanese businessman and the founder of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation which, amongst other things, promotes good governance in Africa, said: “We respect age, which is nice, but older people are not always right, and not always correct… There is nothing wrong in deferring to young generations, who I think are better educated than us, and more adventurous and creative.”
Some have equated old age to wisdom, and perhaps, it is this feeling that is behind the PDP’s thinking but the truth is, old age does not automatically result in wisdom. The Bible in Job 32:9 (King James Version) says: “[The elders] are not [always] wise: neither do the aged understand judgment.” Titus Maccius Plautus, a Roman playwright renowned for his contributions to Latin literature, said: “Not by age but by capacity is wisdom acquired.”
In an August 5, 2013 Huffington post piece, captioned “Does wisdom really come with age?”, author, John Blumenthal writes: “GOD knows who came up with the notion that wisdom automatically comes with age but my guess is that the culprit was probably someone who felt the need to make aging seem like it had at least one benefit.” Henry Louis Mencken, a 20th century American journalist and essayist, concurred when he said: “The older I grow, the more I distrust the familiar doctrine that age brings wisdom.”
It is my opinion that people in their late 70s and 80s should not be involved in active politics but should rather devote themselves to humane causes, whether nationally or internationally. In fact, it was this idea that led Nelson Mandela, the former South African president, in 2007, to create “The Elders,” a grouping of former prominent national and international political and other figures to lend their voices to humanitarian concerns worldwide. Indeed, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, himself a former PDP BoT chairman, advanced the above argument as one of the cardinal reasons for resigning from the latter office in 2012, at the age of 75.
As 2015 draws nearer, national politics will only get more tasking, especially with the challenge that the APC poses to the PDP. The PDP must realise that, for the first time in 14 years, they will be up against a major national opposition party at the polls. They will consequently need all the energy and nimbleness from their top brass as they brace up to face what promises to be a truly competitive presidential and general election. How they can squeeze that out of their ‘gerontocrats’, only time will tell!
– Follow this writer on Twitter: @Raymond_Eyo