Olawale James Ajani is a prominent youth advocate and former President of the National Youth Council of Nigeria (NYCN). He is also the convener of the Emerging Political Leaders (EPL) Summit that seeks to chart a new direction for Nigeria’s emerging political leaders. In this interview with SIGNAL’s THE INFLUENCERS, he talks politics, youth, leadership, Biafra, governance amongst other issues.
After a lot of public outcry, the #NotTooYoungToRun bill which was reportedly terminated at the level of Constitution Review Committee of both the House of Reps and the Senate was eventually passed by the National Assembly. What’s your reaction?
It’s quite disheartening that the bill had to go through all these controversies and hurdles. I think it’s an idea that should naturally get accelerated and special treatment from the legislators. Experiences have shown that the youth have contributed immensely to the growth of this country. Look at the nationalists we referred to as our founding fathers, they were patriotic Nigerian youths when they constructively engaged the colonial masters and get us independence. In no too distance past, we’ve had young Nigerians as Speakers at both Federal and State legislature. This 8th Senate and House of Representative after so much agitation and peaceful protest have done justice to the #NotTooYoungToRun bill, but if the state house of assemblies chose to play politics with this opportunity, history will forever remember them for it. For me, the call for the passage of the #NotTooYoungToRun bill is right, timely and good for the progress of our nation. However, we should go beyond running because many of us have been running errand as PA, SA, SSA etc. Where are we running to? It should be #NotTooYoungToLead now!
For a long time, Nigerian youths have been referred to as leaders of tomorrow. More recently, they are now being referred to as emerging leaders. When will Nigerian youths finally emerge in the core leadership and governance of this country?
It’s a way of deceiving the young people that we are future leaders and that is why we are still emerging. Although, many Nigerian youths have emerged and they are leaders in their various endeavours all over the world. The majority of Nigeria young people must emerge now or never. It’s a huge deceit that has long ceased to reflect the reality of the present. And I believe that is the reason for the #NotTooYoungToRun campaign and other initiatives.
Do you agree with those who say the idea of “youth” is over-flogged and that youth is not a criterion to get people into political leadership and governance?
It is very correct that being a “youth” cannot be the only criterion to get elected or appointed into political or any other leadership position. Leadership has its natural criteria, which include competence, credibility, acceptance, charisma, vision, knowledge etc. Any individual of any age bracket can possess these qualities. In as much as the Nigerian youths want to have unhindered access to leadership positions, they have to demonstrate and exhibit the appropriate leadership traits that will endear them to the general public vis-a-vis the electorate. They must also be intellectually mobile to operate in this 21st century. However, I have no reservation whatsoever that given every opportunity, the Nigerian youths have among them, credible, patriotic and visionary young people that can make significant impact to the progress and development of our country.
For me, the call for the passage of the #NotTooYoungToRun bill is right, timely and good for the progress of our nation. However, we should go beyond running because many of us have been running errand as PA, SA, SSA etc. Where are we running to? It should be #NotTooYoungToLead now!
The Nnamdi Kanu led agitation for Biafra has garnered a lot of momentum and has attracted global attention. Do you believe in one Nigeria? Why?
Yes, I strongly believe in one Nigeria. I am a product of one Nigeria, and I have benefited from one Nigeria. As a former President of the National Youth Council of Nigeria, I have come to appreciate the fact that our diversity is our strength. Also, I have come to understand that there are very urgent and important issues to be addressed to maintain our unity. We cannot shy away from the fact that there are political grievances that unfortunately have been championed through ethnic conflicts and religious crises among others. But in my honest opinion, the major problem with Nigeria is that of quality leadership. All our leaders since 2011 are accidental cos they all not prepare as either some power that be want them or the zone favour them. If we have leadership that can ensure constant power supply, quality education, modern infrastructure, transparent and prudent governance, then we will not have the kind of Nnamdi Kanu agitation that we are witnessing today. Nnamdi Kanu is a dual citizen which shows his loyalty to Nigeria is in doubt and has nothing to lose if we go to war. You will agree with me that while Nigeria has been greatly blessed with both human and natural resources, we have not been to lucky in the area of leadership. And once the leadership deficiency persists, we will continue to have agitations and conflicts as our national traits.
Do you believe Independent Candidacy is a major solution to the challenges of electioneering and good governance in Nigeria?
Independence candidacy is good even though its not a very widely practiced system. Most of us had complained that we do not see clear ideological differences among the political parties. Hence, we constantly witness incidences of cross carpeting, decamping and other ill-conceived alliances in the political our political system. If you are an individual with honest vision and agenda to bring Nigeria out of its many man made challenges and backwardness, you will be forced to join a political party where majority of the members could not even comprehend your vision talk less of buying into it. And when you do so, you will be astonished about how your visionary ideas are frustrated, distorted and killed by some forces within the same political structure upon which you intend to champion your ideas. However, Independence candidacy offers a way out and gives hope to such individuals among us. Its just a matter of reaching out to like minds in the country and form a team that can effectively manage and run your political campaign. If the voters accept and believe in your vision, then, the deal is done.
Nnamdi Kanu is a dual citizen which shows his loyalty to Nigeria is in doubt and has nothing to lose if we go to war. You will agree with me that while Nigeria has been greatly blessed with both human and natural resources, we have not been to lucky in the area of leadership. And once the leadership deficiency persists, we will continue to have agitations and conflicts as our national traits.
Why do you think Nigerian youths are finding it difficult to come together and speak with one voice?
Simply because of animosity! Its not just the Nigerian youths, it’s a problem that cut across generations. It also depends on what you mean by speak with one voice. For instance, we have youth group in all the political parties in Nigeria. We have youth groups in all ethnic groupings, religious bodies, and other forms of groupings. In as much as all these groupings continue to have divergence views on national issues, the youths will also continue to manifest such differences. However, I think there are areas where the youths have spoken with one strong voice: for instance, the #NotTooYoungToRun campaign. If you look at the movement, you will see that it has adequate representation from all divides. What is most important is the manner in which national issues are presented to the public.
Can Nigeria produce its own Emmanuel Macron? If yes, how?
It’s difficult but very possible. And I strongly want to see it happen in my generation. What we need to do is to raise issues and not sentiments. You will remember that while the opponent was busy painting Macron as inexperienced and a stooge to the outgoing president, Macron was focused and channeled his campaign of national issues. Beside this, France is an advanced democracy where systems, institutions and processes are near perfect. Before we can have a Macron, we must have a system that can produce a Macron!
You were once President of the National Youth Council of Nigeria (NYCN). How did your time as President help advance the concerns of Nigerian youth?
I can tell you that leadership at any level is not easy. I was fortunate to get it right in many areas due to the vision I brought into the Council. My major focus was proper engagement of the political leaders on every issue that concern the youths. We were not too confrontational or radical, but we were resolute and strategic in our activities. For instance, the idea of National Youth Manifesto, which was the first of its kind was conceived and pursued to logical conclusion because of the strategic approach we deployed. The Manifesto was a document that harmonized the demands of the Nigerian youths in all aspects of our national life. Like I said, leadership in Nigeria is not an easy task. We were seriously confronted by many internal and external challenges that threatened my administration, but we were resolute and ensured we put forward a united face that reflected progress and unity.
Many youth bodies like NANS, NYCN etc. have been involved in scandals, and leadership crises. Why should Nigerians trust young and emerging leaders to do better?
Scandals in these youth bodies are symptoms of conflict of interest and not necessarily that of incompetence, likewise the leadership crises. However, you may want to ask: how many Nigerian youths are actively involved in the activities of these youth bodies? This apathy on the part of many Nigerian youths have made it possible for individuals that have no business with such bodies to continue to parade themselves as leaders of the bodies. Also, politicians have succeeded in using these platforms for their parochial interest and cos many youth and students leaders are perpetual youth and students
Can a candidate succeed in Nigerian politics without the support of money bags and godfathers?
It’s very possible. With regards to godfatherism, we have seen such incidence in Edo State when Adams Oshiomole became the Governor against all odds. We saw it happened to Olusegun Mimiko when he became the Governor of Ondo State. However, the money aspect cannot be easily solved. And the reason for that is simple; high rate of poverty in Nigeria. And I think this is deliberate. The politicians want to continue to influence political affairs with money, and to do that successfully, they loot the treasury blind. But our liberation will come when we stop accepting money for our votes.
How would you assess the performance of the current Minister of Youth and Sports Solomon Dalung?
I think he’s doing his best which is below standard cos you cannot give what you don’t have. But there is need and room for improvements on many fronts. Our performance in the area of sports over the years has not been very encouraging. We are yet to see a clear-cut programmes from the Ministry in engaging the youths. The Ministry is very strategic and whoever is in charge definitely have a lot to do. When you engage the youths appropriately, it will be easy to drive most of the government’s policies. But I wish him the best!
You are currently championing an Emerging Political Leaders Summit (EPL Summit). What is it about?
EPL Summit means the Emerging Political Leaders Summit and its first of its kind in the world. Come to think of it; We have been agitating for long and I think the book of lamentation is not written because the Nigeria young people. Power is not given but taken in a non-violent way. 1000 young and emerging political leaders will be under one roof to discuss the needed tools and skills required to become political leaders in the new economy. The summit Chaired by Mr. Frank Nweke Jnr and Co-Chaired by Mallam Nuhu Ribadu will also give the emerging leaders a voice to contribute to pertinent issues affecting the country and what can be done to ameliorate the sufferings. The theme is “Breaking the Existing Status Quo” and we will be hosting Julius Malema and Miguna Miguna. Bob Marley said, “Better to die fighting for freedom then be a prisoner all the days of your life.”
But a few days ago, a poster surfaced in the social media tagged: “Nigeria’s Emerging Political Leaders Forum (Lagos Edition)” convened by Dayo Isreal. Is this part of your EPL Summit?
Well, I and the other team members were shocked to see the fliers flying around. Dayo Isreal who is organising the event was inside the WhatsApp group planning the EPL summit for months. He said nothing about his own summit. He waited for us to develop the concept to an advanced stage only to now suddenly unveil his own summit with a brand name and identity that bears close similarity to ours. While we wish him goodluck, it is instructive why nobody takes our generation serious because the animosity, desperation, over-ambition and competition is too much, coupled with the fact that we are disunited and disorganised. The old generation always work for common interests. I am afraid we can’t really take over if we don’t separate the “wheat from the chaff”.
EPL Summit means the Emerging Political Leaders Summit and its first of its kind in the world. Come to think of it; We have been agitating for long and I think the book of lamentation is not written because the Nigeria young people. Power is not given but taken in a non-violent way. 1000 young and emerging political leaders will be under one roof to discuss the needed tools and skills required to become political leaders in the new economy. The summit Chaired by Mr. Frank Nweke Jnr and Co-Chaired by Mallam Nuhu Ribadu will also give the emerging leaders a voice to contribute to pertinent issues affecting the country and what can be done to ameliorate the sufferings.
Any final thoughts?
Nigeria is still a very good place to achieve any dream. The youths should be more patriotic and be ready to change the course of the country for good. The past and present leaders have done their best, and if under their watch we still have an indivisible country we can call Nigeria, then we should endeavor to pursue our aspirations and dreams without any excuse.
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