THE concept “youth” is very difficult to define with respect to the Nigerian setting because of the muddling roles that the youth play, which overlap, and are sometimes, superimposed on them owing to socio-economic challenges in the land. For instance, the definition of youth, based on semantic components or componential analysis, consists of the lexemes: young, female/male, human and unmarried.

This definition, though linguistically acceptable, however, it is socially inadequate because there are observable elderly individuals who are unmarried, so, do we classify them as youths because they are not married? Certainly no!

On the other hand, there are young individuals who are married, yet we cannot classify them as elderly ones in terms of their age. Thus, using feature matrix to define who a youth is does not suit the view of this article. Moreover, some define youth based on age; for instance, it is argued that the period of youth is between ages 18 and 45.

Although a handful of youths have been able to occupy some political offices at the ward level as councillors and chairmen at the local government level, and members of state houses of assembly, even as few others have been given executive political appointments at state and federal levels, the youth feel they have not had enough share of political power. The few youth who have had the opportunity could not do much because their hands are tied by their supposed godfathers and sponsors who are mostly political elders.

Based on these discrepancies in definition of youth, I have to quote the definition given by Longman Oxford Dictionary of Contemporary English, which defines youth as “the period of time when someone is young, especially between being a child and being fully grown.” This definition takes us to the fact that the youth constitute the core and nucleus of every nation because they transit to take up various roles such as parenthood and leadership for the continuous existence of such a nation.

Needless to say, “the youth are the leaders of tomorrow,” however, most youths disagree on this popular notion because they feel their tomorrow has already been utilised by the unrelenting and retired, but not tired elders, who never want to leave the scene for them to take over. In almost every institution of human endeavour, be it religious, academic, civil service, political and economic; to mention but a few, the elders, and not many youths, hold sway, as far as leadership is concerned.

The leadership role for which the youth have been clamouring since Nigeria returned to democratic rule on May 29, 1999, is that of political leadership, and this forms the basis of this article.

Although a handful of youths have been able to occupy some political offices at the ward level as councillors and chairmen at the local government level, and members of state houses of assembly, even as few others have been given executive political appointments at state and federal levels, the youth feel they have not had enough share of political power. The few youth who have had the opportunity could not do much because their hands are tied by their supposed godfathers and sponsors who are mostly political elders.

With this feeling of dissatisfaction on the part of the youth, there has been consistent struggling to wrest power from the elders who have been recycling within the political landscape of Nigeria. At present, the struggle to overthrow the elders still continues as we approach the next general elections come 2023. The question is: what are these obstacles that often preclude the youth’s efforts and struggle to have a fair share of political power in Nigeria?

Moreover, the elders do not trust the youth to be good leaders; in fact, they perceive the youth to be agents of destruction and that it is not advisable to give them leadership roles. Consequently, they are hell bent on thwarting every effort of the youth to get to the top. The elders themselves are to blame for not believing in the youth, because they are giving the youth poor education, recruiting them as thugs, impoverishing the youth, blocking every opportunity that come the way of the youth; the list is endless.

First and foremost, the youth have lost the struggle from the traditional agent of socialisation called the age grade system. Within this agency, the youth gather to discuss what affects them and their immediate communities. In the process, they make leaders from among themselves and constitute a government to oversee the affairs of the age grade. They make laws to punish offenders and ensure that every member participate actively in communal activities. From this point, the youth are already becoming potential leaders because of the unity and decorum that thrive among them. The opposite is what we have in the lives of the youth of nowadays. The place of age grade has been complemented by cult groups, gangsters, yahoo, club fans, and the like. There is hardly anything reasonable the youth discuss in these groups that can make them good leaders.

There is no leadership training institute to prepare the youth ahead of arduous task of leadership. The youth are not engaged actively in the processes of leadership, in other words, no formal structures are put in place by the government to train the leaders of tomorrow, this in part, accounts for the reasons our political leaders are recording dismal performances in fulfilling their campaign promises. Thus, the youth believe it is just to lead that is the most important thing, ignoring the fact that leadership involves mentoring and proper training to achieve set goals.

In addition, all the avenues that would have provided the youth the opportunity to prepare themselves for leadership have been undermined by politicians and school administrators. A case at hand is the suspension or banning of students’ unionism across the tertiary institutions in Nigeria. Students’ union executives are now being appointed by the managements of tertiary institutions. The appointed students’ leaders are mere stooges, rubber stamps and tools in the hands of the school administrators, just because they do not want to tolerate any form of opposition such as protest from the students, they tend to quash the Students Union Government (SUG). Some state governors are involved in this matter, just for their selfish and political interests.

Moreover, the elders do not trust the youth to be good leaders; in fact, they perceive the youth to be agents of destruction and that it is not advisable to give them leadership roles. Consequently, they are hell bent on thwarting every effort of the youth to get to the top. The elders themselves are to blame for not believing in the youth, because they are giving the youth poor education, recruiting them as thugs, impoverishing the youth, blocking every opportunity that come the way of the youth; the list is endless.

As the general election is fast approaching in 2023, some youth are already indicating interests to vie for various political offices across the local, state and federal levels. It is another period where the struggle of the youth to wrest power from the elders will once again be put to test. For the youth to achieve this depends to a large extent on how they organise, coordinate and unite themselves.

Conversely, the youth too do not trust the elders, so there is a gap between the youth and the elders. However, both parties are supposed to flow into each other, especially the only way the youth can learn how to address issues is to be close to the elders, but today it is not so because the youth are taking civilisation too far to the liking of the elders. The youth claim modernity and new age while perceiving the elders to be dwelling in the old age and tradition just like the characters of Lakunle and Baroka in Wole Soyinka’s The Lion and the Jewel. With this mutual mistrust, the elders are always in complete control of leadership, not willing to relinquish power to the youth. For the youth, there is need for change of attitude and new order to be able to overcome these obstacles that prevent them from leadership responsibility.

In advanced democracies, such as the one that is practised in the USA, the youth are well organised and capable of building their trust around the elders and make it to the highest political office. Of course, former President Barak Obama was a youth during his reign as US President. Can we say the same about the youth in Nigeria? Certainly no! The youth form the largest population but they have not been able to coordinate themselves to achieve the leadership target; there is lack of unity, and to attain leadership role, there is the need for the youth to be united and have a common voice. The youth should make the elders believe in them by proving to be capable of leading. This can be demonstrated by the youth who are councillors, chairmen and house of assembly members. Their track records can convince the elders that they are capable of leading the country.

The government should establish structures where the youth can be trained on leadership roles. This can even guarantee the emergence of transparent leaders that can leave good legacies for subsequent leaders to follow. If these structures are in place, the youth will not feel that leadership is all about going to loot public funds as is the practice in Nigeria at present.

As the general election is fast approaching in 2023, some youth are already indicating interests to vie for various political offices across the local, state and federal levels. It is another period where the struggle of the youth to wrest power from the elders will once again be put to test. For the youth to achieve this depends to a large extent on how they organise, coordinate and unite themselves.

Alleh is an educator, language consultant and writes from Jos, Plateau State. He could be reached via: email: owoichoalleh@gmail.com or Whatsapp: 08073524949

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