On The Role Of Youth In Leadership

Sometimes ago, in a particular church that I used to attend, I was talking with a middle aged priest about the place of the youth in the church . At the time I was already a few years out of University, so I was technically a part of the “senior youth” at least in academic status if not in age. My take on the issue then (which is still my opinion now)  was that we needed our own place of worship and we should not be made to sit in the adult church among the older generation of church members.To that the priest replied: “you young people today are too inward looking, you don’t just have the patience to want to sit still and learn anything. You are always looking to cut yourselves away from the mainstream and challenge the status quo with the belief that you can do better.” “But sir, We are not looking to start our own church or anything, we are are just looking for a safe space to interact and talk about our own issues, since we don’t want to look like we are trying to lord our own issues over the rest of the church. if it is church doctrine you are worried about, you can appoint a chaplain to perform oversight functions ” I pointed out. He replied “why not ask the authorities of the church for one or two Sundays when you can talk about issues affecting you in front of the whole church. That would be much better than running off to form your own chapel.” Needless to say we reached an impasse over the issue and none of us managed to convince the other.

At the moment, I am part of the planning committee for a youth camp for my Archdeaconry. As a result I have been meeting young people from different churches over the past few weeks and we have been talking about not just the event we are planning, but on sundry issues that affect the youth, not just in the church, but in Nigeria’s political and economic space itself. This has got me thinking about various movements claiming to be raising issues concerning youth and young people in Nigeria. I have come to realize that the reason why things have not changed in Nigeria (at least as much as we want it to) is that young people are being encouraged to “understudy” the older generation and learn how they did stuff at the expense of congregating in safe spaces where they can think up original ideas to make their lives different. Or to use the current parlance “ we are ” adultting” too much and not “youthing” enough.”

I will try to explain what I mean. Older people like the priest that I talked about earlier and young people like the brains behind the #Nottooyoungtorun movement will argue that the only way that young people can know what to do  is to be among the people who have more experience than they do, so that that they can know what to do when it “comes to their turn.” I think that  is not a bad idea , especially because as the anecdote goes “to see far, you have to stand on the shoulders of giants,”  and also because experience is a commodity that cannot be bought. Also the earlier you learn to do things the better you get at doing those things. However an unpleasant side effect that I have come to see from telling young people to go into spaces where they don’t have much experience in  is that they are going to be frequently told to “shut up and sit down” by the adults they they find in those places. In the example of the church I mentioned above, The church authorities have no right to listen to my own concerns ahead of that of an elder, who pays a larger tithe than I do, contributes more to church projects, has been in the church much longer than I have and has a higher stake in in the church than I do. And that elder will remind me of that fact every time I  to insist on being listened to ahead of him. As a result I become unable to say anything, and church for me becomes an unproductive boring slog, a place where I cannot express myself or contribute anything useful, just to sit for two hours until we are done and then leave until it is time to come back next Sunday. Perhaps if I keep at it like the good little christian I am supposed to be, I’d actually learn something, but is that what Jesus  died for? it is the same issue with #nottooyoungtorun activists . By pushing young people into political positions based on the premise that someone in the 1900s became president of Nigeria straight out of secondary school is setting them up to fail and become disillusioned with politics at a young age. They will get to said office and find older people who will tell them: “Mr Young New Broom, we are sure you are here to sweep clean and all that, but we have been here paying our  taxes and obeying the law before you were even born, so better shut up and listen to us or we will use our experience  to trip you up and make you look bad.”

Going back to the church example, If however I am in a place of worship where I am surrounded  by people of my age and social status, I would be able to say my mind with less fear of being censured, judged, or have my opinion dismissed out of hand without as much as a second of consideration. I will even be able to contribute more to the work of God, knowing that my effort will likely not get lost in the sea of people who are years ahead of me in almost everything and every single mistake I make will not be scrutinized with a magnifying glass by some people who by default feel I don’t know what I am talking about or at least I don’t know about it as much as they do, which admittedly they are more than often correct.

” Well You can still make use of the one or two Sundays they give you to say what you think.” some people may argue,  just like people who argue ” even if it is 25 or 35 percent in political positions, it still better than nothing.” I can assure you that what you are going to get is a vocal minority who are going to get disillusioned once they see that the majority are still silent and are unwilling to stick their neck out. At the end what you are going to get is a group of people who were too busy learning how it is done, to actually learn how it can be done better. Therein lies  Nigeria’s problem.

I am all for “chucking”  young people into political leadership and I will certainly be the first young person who thinks he is capable of going for a leadership position to go for it.  I  prefer  that Nigerian youths to create forums and platforms where young people can meet and discuss ideas and solutions that will solidify into ideologies going forward. Let youths try to make forays and to think up solutions in technology, in business, in sports. in finance, every other field except politics, or else what we are going to end up with a generation of political jobbers, who are in politics because they have nothing else to fall back on (which if you are paying attention is why we ended up with the kind of leaders we currently have at the moment). If that happens,  by the time it “gets to our turn” we will move together into leadership as a force that knows what it wants to do, as opposed to parachuting a few young people into positions where they will have to constantly second guess themselves so that they don’t fail and end up having those “set in their ways” adults laughing at them.

My own final thoughts on the issue is this, when Mark Zuckerberg founded Facebook, he founded it as a medium that will make communication between him and his friends easier, he probably didnt dream that he was going to change the world. Again I am totally for challenging the status quo, but at least we should plan among ourselves how to do so in a way  that will make a lasting difference. Nuff said

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