When on May 7 Emmanuel Macron, 39, was elected as the
youngest president in France’s modern history, it was thought that
it signalled a great generational shift not only in Europe but in the
world. The election was even more significant considering that Mr
Macron’s party, La Republique En Marche, and its ally, Democratic
Movement (MoDem), took an absolute majority in the following
month’s legislative poll with 350 seats out of 577.
Even though the devil was in the detail in an election that was nearly not swung in Mr Macron’s favour, it was still significant that a young, fairly inexperienced man could head a nuclear-armed country, one of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. And with the election of Sebastian Kurz, 31, as Chancellor-designate in the October 20 Austrian legislative elections, where he
took 62 seats in a 183-seat parliament, it appeared incontrovertible
that the era of youths had opened. Mr Kurz’s Peoples Party will
now likely and disquietingly form a governing coalition with the
right-wing, anti-immigration Freedom Party which took 51 seats in
the poll. To form a government, a party needs to have 92 seats.
Both the Peoples Party and Freedom Party ran on anti-immigratio
n, anti-multiculturalism platforms, the junior coalition partner more
stridently so. While Mr Macron is centrist, meaning that France has
therefore gone centrist by repudiating Marine Le Pen’s right-wing,
anti-immigration Front National, Mr Kurz is right wing. It is not
clear, therefore, what would dispel the confusion in Europe after
Britian’s Brexit, France’s repudiation of populism, and Austria’s
alarming embrace of populism.
But one indisputable fact is that many nations, including Nigeria,
are beginning to see the elections of far younger politicians into
leadership positions in Europe as a signal for some sort of political
revolution. In an article on this page a few weeks ago, this
columnist warned against barking up the wrong tree in analysing
leadership from the age prism. The column had warned that such
an analysis would amount to a sweeping generalisation not backed
Mr Macron, for instance, despite his brilliance and perspicacity, and regardless of attending the Ecole nationa led administration (ENA), or Enarque as it is more fondly called, won only because of the conjunction of certain events including contesting against scandal-hit frontrunners, and ultimately facing the less popular and offensively right-wing and fanatical Ms Le Pen in the run-off.
Before Nigerian youths run away with the mistaken impression
that the Age of Youths had come, let them consider that both
France and Austria, because of their highly developed institutions,
can indeed run on autopilot. Voters are less likely to be fearful of
candidate’s lack of exposure and experience in those countries as
they are likely to be scared in Nigeria and many other African
countries. In addition, in those other countries, voters are more
educated and have mastered the art of peacefully throwing out
Comparisons, say the British, are odious. Nigerian youths must therefore be guided by the strictures of their social, cultural and political environments in drawing parallels and making comparisons.
More importantly, as the Nigerian political environment has shown,
too many extraneous and even completely irrelevant considerations come into play in electing state actors. How to transcend these limitations should preoccupy the youths.
For if as voters they are themselves unable to grow the right perspectives on issues germane to social cohesion and development, how can they determine which leaders have the bold visions and inspiring messages needed for their country’s transformation? Austria and France, and to some extent even the United States, can afford to
be insular and isolationist in their politics; it is indefensible that Nigeria produces leaders who have no transcendental vision of the black man’s place in the world. Worse, because they are limited in exposure and scope, these leaders are unlikely to conceive deep
economic, social and political paradigms for the country. The
country is entrapped.
But if the election of youths into leadership positions in Europe
inspires Nigerian voters into closely scrutinising their aspiring
political leaders in order to weed out those without the depth of
understanding required to transform the society, those who rely
almost exclusively on populist and religious and ethnic driven
policies to capture the imagination of fanatical voters then
maybe, some good may still come out of the stories from far flung
Altogether, the story for Nigeria is hardly inspiring. If the
present poorly equipped actors in office decide to run again in
2019, then it will be less likely that Nigeria will not finally encounterthe tragedy it has so fatefully escaped for many decades despite its worst efforts.