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Those who lost primaries and defected to other parties to become candidates are political opportunists – Prof. Opata

Professor Damian Opata

By Ikechukwu Odu
AGBANI—–A Professor of Oral Literature, Department of English and Literary Studies, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Damian Opata, has described those who lost primaries elections and defected to other political parties to become candidates as opportunists.

He equally said that older politicians camouflaging as youths in order to actualize their political ambitions are equally opportunists.

The don who said that the same-faith ticket of the All Progressives Congress, APC, was only a political strategy to win the 2023 elections, made the statements as a lead paper presenter during the 2022 3rd International Conference/Workshop of the Faculty of Social Sciences, Enugu State University of Science and Technology, ESUT, in Agbani, Enugu State on Wednesday.

While discussing the topic ‘Reflections on the Current Political Campaigns and the Prospects of Delivering Good Governance in Nigeria, 2023,’ he identified ethnicism, religious bigotry, and unprecedented youth involvement as major issues dominating political space ahead of the 2023 general elections in Nigeria.

The don also said that disturbing phenomena such as terrorism, banditry, corruption, ethnicism, religious differences and all manner of emerging democratic abuses in Nigeria pose major threats to the survival of Nigeria.

He said “This is the third element I identified for discourse in this paper. I discuss it in greater detail because it has taken media centre space. It is of a different order from ethnicism and religious bigotry. The term “generation change” is a very fuzzy one. It is now called a “take Nigeria back movement”, but from who is the problematic. It is powered by the youths, but who are really the youths in Nigeria? It is a mix that is calling for a serious social revolution in Nigeria, and Nigeria needs a revolution. No doubt about that. The change movement that brought the current APC to power was built around one person. The current social media revolution that propels the Labour Party is also built around one person. The only common factor that unites them is the public perception about the moral exceptionalism of the two protagonists, if they may be so-called. The youths played a great role in promoting APC; they are doing the same thing in the Labour Party now.

“The first thing I want to dwell on is generation change propagated by the movement. It calls for a new crop of leaders that can save Nigeria. In the process, it discredits the old crop of leaders. The fact on ground is that the three major political parties have in their membership at all levels, federal, state, local government, and ward, members who have taken part in politics in the past, and those who are aspiring for political office for the first time. Indeed, the leadership of these parties is replete with members who have defected from one party to the other, within and from these same parties. There is widespread call for the youth to take over from the old generation of rulers in Nigeria. This is based on the assumption that the old generation of leaders have underdeveloped Nigeria. I do not think that any fair-minded analyst will deny the fact that Nigeria has been grossly underdeveloped. But pinning this on the older generation Is a bit fuzzy. One, does the term “old generation” mean those who have ruled Nigeria in the past? Or does it mean those who are old, that is, those who are not youths? And in any case, who are the youths? Let me illustrate from the most recent example of organized youth activity in Nigeria at this time of writing this paper. I refer to Youth Decide. Youth Decide is a national movement. Its co-convener, Dr. Utchay Odims, recently led a delegation to Chief Emeka Anyaoku to solicit his support for the proposed Youth Decide October conference. Explaining the purpose of their visit to Chief Anyaoku, he says:
Right now, Nigeria {sic} youths are ready to take the future of their country into their hands, the youths are ready to grow the economy of the country, they will regain the lost glory of Nigeria as the giant of Africa.
On his Facebook handle, Dr. Utchay Odims writes that he was born in 1977, which means that he is 45 years this year. Is he among the youth? In the publication, National Youth Policy: Enhancing Youth Development and Participation in the Context of Sustainable Development, 2019, care is taken to define the term “youth.” This document takes time to introduce the term ‘youth’ in a very graphic manner. As stated in the document:
Youth, as a concept varies in different societies and culture around the world. Traditionally, in most societies in Nigeria, the progression from childhood to youth involves some systematic rites of passage. These rites have symbolic significance, in that, simply by participating in them, an individual achieves a new status and position. Such new status gains validity through genuine community action and recognition (p.25).
Subsequently, the document refers to the United Nations definition of youth “as the age range 15 to 24 years” (p. 25). It goes on to add that because of differences in societies, The African Youth Charter “defines youth as persons between ages 15 and 35 years. On a similar basis, Nigeria’s 2009 National Youth Policy chronologically defined youth as persons of ages 18 to 35 years”. However, things happened to change this in 2019, especially because of the “not-too-young to run policy which fixed the attainment of age 30 to run for national offices. Because of this, the document states as follows:
Accordingly, for the execution of the current National Youth Policy, the youth shall comprise males and females in Nigeria and Diaspora between the ages of 15 and 29 years. This age racket captures the period that most young people in Nigeria are transitioning from childhood to adulthood, and require social, economic and political support to realise their potentials (p. 26).

“From the foregoing, it is obvious that a lot of thinking and reflection has gone into the definition of youth in Nigeria. Most policies in Nigeria are usually well framed, but their implementation is always a problem. Ambassador Utchay Odims who led a delegation to Chief Emeka Anyaoku, is 45 years old. He does not therefore belong to the youth category. There are innumerable others like him who are members of different political youth vanguards. It is obvious then that it is not people in this age racket that “will regain the lost glory of Nigeria as the giant of Africa”. This does not detract from the enormous contributions that the tech savvy youths are making towards national development.

“These observations are very important because many people in Nigeria are looking for opportunities to actualize their political interests. Among the Igbo, for example, those who leave their age grade and come down to join one that is below their age grade in order to become leaders of that lower age grade are seen as opportunists. But it is not only these so-called youths that are political opportunists. Those who miss out of the primaries and defect to other parties to become candidates of the parties they have defected to are also political opportunists. Of course, this has to be qualified because there are those who are unfairly denied the opportunity to become candidates in various parties. Such defectors, too numerous to mention, are found in virtually all the parties. The irony is that the parties they defect from become for them a sour grape. I do not ignore the fact that the freedom of association is enshrined in the Nigeria Constitution.

Beyond this fuzziness that characterizes those who project themselves as youths in Nigeria, there is another problem with the notion of generation change. According to Melissa Wong, Elliroma Gardiner, Whitney Lang, and Leah Coulon, a generation is defined as “an identifiable group, which shares years of birth and hence significant life events in critical stages of development” *79). Going further, they argue that;
A generation group shares historical and social life experiences which affect the way people in their generation develop and distinguish one generational group from another. Smola and Sutton (2002) posit that the social context in which a generational group develops impact their personality and a person’s feelings towards authority, their values and beliefs about organisations, their work ethic, why and how they work and their goals and aspirations from their work life (879).
Talking about American culture, Sarah Sladek and Alyx Grabinger argue that a “new generation forms every 15 to 20 years in American culture, shaped by important world events and evolving cultural trends” (1). This is not universal because, in Nigeria, the actors in this generation age movement could be said to be between 18 and 60. However, my generation which studied in the seventies had scholarships and bursaries, stayed three in a room in the hostels, had meal tickets, and never lacked classroom space.

” Many final year students and graduates during my generation had a lot of employment opportunities, and many employers came to recruit personnel from students in their final year class. People rejected many offers of employment and went for the ones they preferred. I graduated in 1975, and if I take 20 years, the upper limit generation marker in American culture for defining generations, I can gainsay that there have been two generations from 1975. The first would have ended in 1995, and the second in 2020. The problem with understanding generation change from this perspective is problematic. Between 1996 and 1999, with the exception of the period 1979 to 1983, Nigeria was ruled by military dictatorships. Most of the military leaders were below 45 years, many much younger. Would it then be right to argue that there have been the generation of military dictatorship, from 1966 to 1979, and a generation of civil rule from 1999 to date. Or, is it more proper to call it “an era of military dictatorships”? It is to be noted that civilian functionaries dominated the era of military dictatorships. Indeed, I find it difficult to adequately define the type of generation changes we have had in Nigeria, maybe because I am not a sociologist. What is certain to me is that the welfare of Nigerians has continued to worsen since 1975 when I graduated from the university. What is also certain is that young persons (perhaps between 30 and 50), from early nationalists, through military adventurists, new breed politicians, military administrators, civilian governors, ministers, commissioners, local government chairmen, legislators at all levels of governance, etc., continued to dominate the political space,” he argued.

While arguing that Nigeria is too interwined to allow religious affiliations to be a determinant of who becomes the president of the country, he said “Ethnicity is a naturally given phenomenon. No one chooses the particular ethnic group he or she wants to belong to. One can change one’s citizenship, but one can hardly change his or her ethnic belongingness. Ethnicity is, I suppose, a social construct, that is, a human construct. It is a badge of identification of one’s language and socio-cultural belonginess. I was born an Igbo person; I did not choose it. I grew up to know the good and the bad associated with being an Igbo. This is also the case with persons of other ethnic groups in and outside Nigeria. It is then to be supposed that all persons should be proud of their ethnic identity, especially as it is one of the earliest forms of social orientation to a sense of one’s ‘placement’ in society. One’s language seems to be the key placeholder of the identity that comes with ethnicity. It is language that constitutes sources of communication, interaction, understanding and sense of belonging. One major feature of ethnicity is the fear of the Other. This leads to a tendency to bond together in the face of contact with the Other, especially for the first time.

“Ethnicism, a ‘cashing out’ on ethnicity, is the vogue in political decision making and policy formulation in Nigeria. I have already observed that it is the habit and practice of one putting his ethnicity first when making a decision that concerns multiethnic groups. It is a habit that disregards merit and competence in favour of one’s ethnic interest. In the current political context, it is the privileging of candidates from one’s ethnic place in the struggle for power at the Centre. But it is also like putting the cart before the horse. If ethnicity were the decider in the selection of candidates, each ethnic group would have been asked to submit its best and from there one would be chosen. This is the twenty-first century. Nigerians have embraced modernity. Different ethnic groups are living in areas that are not their ethnic roots of origin. Very many Nigerians know more of where they reside, or even born into than they know of their ethnic origin. Many that were Christians have become Muslims, and some that were Muslims have become Christians. There is inter-religious marriage in Nigeria. There are pan-Nigerian socio-cultural groups. Many events call for inter-faith service, and people embrace them. The Igbo have a proverb: Ife anacho na ite ofe bu anu: What is searched for in a pot of soup is meat. Why should Nigerians be searching for ethnicity in choosing their leaders, instead of searching for one who would govern well.

“Long ago, several institutions were established to encourage Nigerian unity. There is the National Youth Service Corps. Some state governments even promised to sponsor inter-faith marriage among youth corps members. There is quota system in admission into military establishments. There are federal colleges, federal tertiary institutions, federal civil service, etc. Some of these are platforms that can easily lead to intra-ethnic bonding. There are churches and mosques in all states and local governments in Nigeria. Why is Nigeria going back to things that divide them? Did Nigeria not have a Moshood Abiola – Babagana Kingibe ticket, a Muslim-Muslim duo? Did they not win an election considered to be one of the freest in Nigeria. That was in 1992. 30 years after, we are quarrelling about a Muslim-Muslim presidential candidate, and some groups have resorted to press conference condemning such a development. My political affiliation is PDP, not APC. Let the debate be about the potential of candidates to deliver good governance, about proven track records, about experience, about selflessness and altruism, about vision, etc. I think that we should first seek the kingdom of good governance before the alleys of religion and ethnicity.”

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