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Ooni: Not catching them old by Banji Ojewale

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Unlike what is going on in the slow business of forming the Federal Executive Council so far characterised by a preponderance of elements of the older generation and the have-been, the kingmakers at Ile-Ife, Osun State, have opted to offer some lessons on how not to catch them old. For our own President Muhammudu Buhari who appears not to believe that the young shall grow, this must be a time to learn from both the Ooni-elect and the Ife chiefs who have said nay to palace gerontocracy.

At 40, Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi comes in as a pulsating and rambunctious challenge to prevalent political notions of old age and experience as exclusive prerequisites for salutary performance in office or industry. To be sure, these “virtues” count. But they are not final or absolute. We must only reckon with them as some of the skills required in a successful team. Their impact will be meaningful only according to the energy input of the emerging generation.

For, the issue of governing or organising society isn’t all about the age of a sage. It is also greatly about energising an enterprise which only the radiance and bubble of young age can do. Both are required for balance or equilibrium. Just as all the stands of the traditional cooking tripod are needed for a stable hold of the pot.

When Ogunwusi’s predecessor Oba Okunade Sijuwade was brought in in 1980 as the 50th Ooni at 50, pundits said it was not too prudent, given the dominance of the political climate by the men and women who held sway in the ’50s and ’60s. They were still in charge of all spheres of the Nigerian firmament after an iron-hold on the powerful institutions of state from pre-colonial days right to the two decades after. The point of the critics was that the system could only thrive if kindred spirits (denominated by cronyism and age) ran it at all levels.

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Now Sijuwade wasn’t quite a “kindred spirit”. But he had vast business links that accommodated politicians and the government machinery for patronage. He was therefore accepted as one of them, even if as a backroom operator in the industrial military complex of the Nigerian system. This explains why in his 35-year rule that witnessed the rise and fall of several civilian and military governments, Sijuwade’s industrial clusters that dug in westwards and went northwards and eastwards and southwards never shrank, never fell. They maintained a dynamic expansion, the same way the monarch sustained seamless relationships with influential traditional rulers in the far North and East of the Niger before his death at 85 in 2015.

The incoming Ogunwusi hasn’t followed a similar trajectory.

He is being caught young, not old and spent and bereft of spritely bounce, a leap that matches the vision of society that must feed on the wisdom of experience and on the raw vitality of youth. Unlike the old ones who would stop developing once in the palace, Ogunwusi would grow in the saddle; he would age with experience in “office”. He would ride on a horse with two lives: one moving at a slow pace observing and learning and the other jetting with speed and gathering momentum.

Contrasting with those before him, Ogunwusi has spoken of a transcendental future, an age that he says should be the next level for the Yoruba race and for the youth of Nigeria. He is breaking out of the cocoon of palace mentality. He has taken Ile-Ife as the station to launch a global vision. Age is on his side to midwife his goals, if he does not look down on the counsel of the older culture. The two need one another, never mind the principle of only one captain steering the ship.

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I believe that Buhari’s approach of catching members of his change team old as it looks to most Nigerians is not a strategy that respects the future. If you rest only on age or so called experience, you shut out the essential spice of vibrant youth, some substantial percentage of which forms the soul of this country. It is the same bottom of the bag he has put himself in with the mean number of women he has in his cabinet. These days one of the indices you apply to access a society’s development is how far you accommodate women in government and public office, which in turn offers a window into the extent of education you allow them to have.

It is a twist in the tale that tutorials on change based on the infusion of fresh blood in governance and politics are coming from a symbol of what some of us have called a dying institution. Others even say it is dead; it is just that the monarchical system has not been buried.

Whichever way it goes, this extinct order is interrogating us. A relic is reinventing itself. It is rejuvenating itself. It is throwing off ancient features and habits that stunted its growth and gave it death.

Nigeria can also come alive again by connecting the power and potential of its youth and women to the experience of the older generation to spring a surprise on the world. Let us stop the present from aborting our future prosperity.

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An English philosopher Francis Bacon (1561-1626) put this role of the youth in society this way: “Young men (and women) are fitter to invent than to judge, fitter for execution than for counsel and fitter for new projects than for settled business.”

Decades ago, the United States of America worked on this principle and brought out youthful John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Several years later, the aging Soviet Republic followed that tradition by calling upon Mikhail Gorbachev. Their societies never regretted those decisions.

Mr. Banji Ojewale, a public affairs commentator, wrote from Ota ogun State.

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