Of Youths and Ministerial Lists

By Mitchell Aghatise

When I was younger; Bournvita told other kids and me, that we were the leaders of tomorrow. This mantra was so repeated, that we saw it as an already fulfilled prophecy – forgetting to fertilize the soil necessary to bring it to fruition. The absurdity is not lost on me, for tomorrow has become today. A new generation of children are being sold these clichés, while the conveyor belt is yet to deliver now aged ‘kids’ to the hallowed halls of Nigeria’s political leadership.

President Buhari kept many Nigerians waiting for the past few months. He explained that the appointment of ministers was something which needed to be done meticulously – in order to have the best hands. Well, many Nigerians laden with anticipation quickly became disillusioned when the list was unveiled. Some newspapers even describe it as a list of recycled names. Personally, I don’t think this is a bad list. Many of the individuals on the list have stellar academic records, have served effectively in public service, and they also contributed immensely to the emergence of Buhari as president. However, the devil is in the detail. On social media for example, the vast majority of persons who engaged in insightful discussions about the list, were young people. Again, this last election had an unprecedented participation young people in the electoral process. Young Nigerians are important, policies affecting them are crucial in any Nigeria-rising narrative. The absence of youth representation in the recent appointments is therefore problematic.

I will agree with Femi Adesina’s contention that the absence of young people on the list does not have to mean poor policies for the youth. In fact, one expects that with strong political allies heading key ministries, President Buhari’s agenda will be well executed. Nevertheless, it is deeply worrying that there are no young people on the list. At first blush, it suggests that there are no young people available, capable, and honest enough to lead ministries in Nigeria. Alternatively, it might suggest that young people lack the necessary maturity to lead Nigeria out of the doldrums. Surely, we cannot accept such analysis, as young Nigerians have demonstrated their capacity to solve problems on several fronts, both in Nigeria and abroad. We need to come to grips with the fact that, there are systematic flaws in our political system which makes it incredibly difficult for young people to flourish. These are not flaws that will be fixed with tokenistic appointments of young people. Something more is needed.

Nigerians must view this as a problem which goes beyond quotas and numbers. The issue is much deeper and more serious than this. Even if President Buhari’s cabinet had been more representative, we should be sensitive to guard against cosmetic action that does not fix underlying causes. Take the case of ex-President Jonathan for example; Jonathan was heralded for appointing several female ministers to make up his cabinet. But I argue that Jonathan fell into the quota trap, which is why the change he sought to propagate by making the cabinet more gender-equal, failed to survive his tenure. Similarly, with regard to young persons, we should not fall into the trap of appointing merely for appearances sake. I am therefore barely concerned about the number of youth in President Buhari’s cabinet; but deeply worried about his administration’s vision for youth engagement, and a more accessible political system. We should demand for a clear vision on youth, and the policies which will ensure that the most capable, deserving, and worthy, are not passed over in favour of recycled hands. It will also ensure that individuals see the meritocracy, at all times, in political appointments.

The lack of youth representation on the ministerial list has sparked a debate regarding the space for youth in our polity. As young persons, we must be dynamic to propose policies which will not only secure our future, but ensure that we do not hang on to power when we do eventually assume leadership positions. At some point, we will need to break the cycle. Let us seize this opportunity to demand for systematic improvements in our political reality that will ensure full participation both for young people, women, ethnic minority tribes, and marginalised sectors of our population. Let us never celebrate tokenistic appointments that mask underlying issues. This charge is necessary, so that the change we seek goes beyond the occupier of Aso Rock.

For now, we watch. Goodluck, President Buhari.

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