Cheta Nwanze, head of research, SBM Intelligence, Nigeria
There is plenty of noise in Nigeria: clashes between communities in the Middle Belt ; Delta militants slow to shoulder arms in the South; and Islamists fighting the military in the north-east. Naturally, attention focuses on Nigeria’s ethnic and religious fault lines. But another clash looms that could throw shade over all these battles : a generational political clash. One, older, ruling class is leaving the stage; another, ‘middle-aged’ one is taking the reins ; and a younger generation is disputing that power as the presidential elections of 2019 hover into view. The generation of young Nigerians under 40 is slowly coming to terms with the nuanced nature of the country’s politics, with fewer ethnic and regional filters. Generations can create powerful waves that drive change across countries. The US generation born in the 20 years following World War II, known as the Baby Boomers, have been a defining force in the 20th and 21st centuries. Coming of age in the 1960s and 1970s, they were on the forefront of social change, including the later stages of the civil rights movement, protests against the Vietnam war, and the second wave of the feminist movement. To the ‘first generation’ of post-independence politicians in Nigeria, the sudden and violent emergence of a military-led political class in 1966 was a shock. What prompted the young soldiers to seize power were rifts between politicians, and a series of increasingly violent elections.
When the military took power, the hopes of the second generation of politicians were truncated. Power did not transit from the first generation of politicians to a second generation, but to a generation of soldiers who have held power under various guises ever since. The military ruled for the next 13 years directly, and then indirectly after Olusegun Obasanjo handed over to Shehu Shagari, a cabinet member in Nigeria’s First Republic, following his victory over Obafemi Awolowo in the 1979 elections. Both Shagari and Awolowo belonged to the First Generation, hence 1979 was still a contest within the s et of leaders that broadly led the countr y to its independence. Then followed a slew of coups, as the military tightened their grip. Shagari was deposed in 1983, bringing Muhammadu Buhari to power. Buhari, having participated in one of the 1966 coups, was also a member of that First Generation of politically awake military officers. Buhari was deposed by Ibrahim Babangida in 1985. Babangida ruled until 1993, when he was
forced out. Sani Abacha, who had also taken part in the 1966 coups, took power for himself. Abacha then died in 1998, and Abdulsalami Abubakar oversaw a swift return to civilian rule, handing over to erstwhile dictator Obasanjo in May 1999. Obasanjo handed over to Umaru Yar’adua in 2007, and following Yar’adua’s death in 2009 Goodluck Jonathan took office. Jonathan was ultimately defeated by Buhari in 2015.
But as age catches up with them, the 1966 crowd is leaving the stage. The generation that hopes to take its place came up under dictatorships. This second generation includes former vice-president Atiku Abubakar, former Lagos State governor Bola Tinubu, and Kaduna State governor Nasir el-rufai. Atiku was once head of customs and financed the first campaign of Olusegun Obasanjo, and was later his vice-president. Tinubu is a key kingmaker in the governing All Progressives Congress (APC). El-rufai is a leading northerner in the current administration, also from the APC. These men, all in their 60s or close, have never known the exercise of political power other than via some sort of military-civilian paradigm in a subservient role to the 1966 generation. They expect to exercise power, having paid their dues. It remains to be seen how they can handle the transition. Fo r th i s se c o n d ge n e r a t i o n o f po l i t i c i a n s faces a challenge from a younger generation. My generation. We are in our 30s and 40s. My generation includes names such as lawyer and Chocolate City Enter tainment founder Audu Maikori, business professor Kayode Odusanya, head of the All Progressives Youth Forum Ismail Ahmed, member of the house of representatives Dapo Lam Adesina, Ijaw Youth Council president Udengs Eradiri, businessman and young presidential candidate Ahmed Buhari, executive secretar y of the Lagos State Employment Trust Fund Akin Oyebode, head of new media for the People’s Democratic Party Deji Adeyanju, head
My generation blames our elders for the state of the country. We are less reverent
of digital communications for the presidenc y To l u Ogunl es i , sp e c i a l as s i s t a nt t o t he Abi a State governor Sam Hart, corporate consultant Humphrey Ak a n a z u , Po l l Wat c h NG fo u n d e r Muyiwa Gbadegesin, and yes, even Indigenous People of Biafra activist Nnamdi Kanu.
These people are eager to take up political power, and, for the most part, are unwilling to be subservient. Some of them are already in the process of acquiring that power. My generation has different attitudes and aspirations from those who are in their 60s, and crucially, blames the state of the country, especially the gaping disparity in the spread of national wealth and influence, on our elders. We are, therefore, less reverent. My generation of politically conscious Nigerians have fed on nearly two decades of a mostly democratic paradigm. The second generation that believes it to be its turn to take over will not simply step aside for us to take over after having waited in line for 51 years. Those people also realise that their window of opportunity to take and hold power is significantly smaller than that of their predecessors and is perhaps a maximum of twenty years. So, it is very likely that the next two election c ycles will witness an epic inter-generational battle for political, and by extension, economic power in Nigeria. In many ways, this has already started. The best example of this clash right now is Audu Maikori and Kaduna governor El-rufai. El-rufai has made use of the security services to arrest Maikori – more than once – for "hate speech". Part of the reason is that Maikori has a barely concealed ambition to become governor. Another example can be found among the Igbo. As distasteful as Nnamdi Kanu‘s secessionist ideology is, he is gathering a lot of young people to his cause because of the belief that the older generation has failed. The stage is set for a battle over the changing of the guard.
SBM Intelligence is a Nigerian geopolitical risk consultancy. Cheta Nwanze tweets from @chxta