The social media, especially in a country full of jobless youths like ours, is always a bee hive of everything, including nonsense. It’s always buzzing. You are inundated with all sorts of things, those worth checking out, and those best ignored. Gossip, and minding other people’s businesses, is by far the order of the day. So, when the news of another age-falsification saga by the winner of the recently concluded “most beautiful girl in Nigeria”, whatever that is really supposed to mean; hit social media, it was difficult to ignore.
I deliberately intend to leave out her name, as I am not really interested in the details. But it turned out that social media journalists, who have a lot of time for investigative scrutiny, (thankfully social media accounts mean anyone’s profile is often just a click away), sprung into action, doing what they know how to do best. This time, they came away with a fantastic scoop. They searched all the winner’s social accounts, obviously for news-worthy details, and their search paid off. On her instagram account was a picture, and an accompanying message which suggested that the picture was taken about seven years ago. That wasn’t the news. But the fact that she claims she is just 19. That leaves us with a simple deduction. She must have been 12 when she took the picture she posted online. Except that she looked anything but twelve. Infact, she didn’t look 15. Maybe 18, or even 19. But 12? Nah! So, if she couldn’t have been 12 seven years ago, then she possibly can’t be 19 today. But she claims to the whole world that she is innocently 19 years old.
A certain footballer tells us he is just 22 this year, and that he left Nigeria in 2002 at the age of 11. One day I met someone who said this same guy actually finished his senior school in this country, and that the fact remains that they were classmates in SS3. That was prior to 2002. Although he left the country that year, I was left wondering how he managed to conclude secondary education that early.
There’s a popular joke about another footballer who celebrated his 29th birthday, while his twin brother was equally celebrating his own 42nd!
We know of the spectacular declines of our talented winners of age-grade football competitions, especially the U-17. Many of them fizzled with time as they couldn’t cope with the demand their supposed age required of them. I won’t mention names, but we know them quite well.
I’m not really blaming those that falsify their ages. I blame the system. In the civil service for example, age falsification is rife. Some chunk off as much as ten full years off the days of their lives. So as to spend some extra years in service, and pocket more money. That’s criminal. But you need to critically examine the recruitment system. In most organisations, age limits are placed on those seeking fresh employment. Especially graduates. The most common is 26. By the time an average Nigerian is through from ASUU-infested studies, and NYSC, he or she is already 27! So most are left with little choice than to draw the hands of the clock backwards, and be born again. This time, four or five years after their real birth. That way, many have been able to scale the hurdle of the age barrier.
If anyone has ever been employed only after falsifying the age, and that person proved effective for the job in question, then the joke is on the employers. If a 30 year old man can do a job effectively, why do you think a 25 year old would do a better job. Or, why must he tell you he is 24 before you employ him? In the case of the ‘most beautiful girl’ saga, if judges found her beautiful enough, and even presentable and intelligent enough to claim the prize, at whatever age she really is, why do they think she really had to be younger than that to be worthy of such honour. I realised the organisers set the age limit for between 18 and 25. The winner chose 19, and walked away with the crown. Whereas, she could as well be thirthy! So, who’s the fool? The organisers of course. They chose to be fooled as well my being myopic to assume ladies beyond 25 can’t be presentable, just like most companies err by shutting their doors to anyone above 26 who doesn’t already have years of experience.
Age limit is discrimination. Pure and simple. In UK CVs, date of birth is never required. Just as any employer should generate outrage by claiming he can only employ people from a particular tribe, so should organisations who set age limits for those that should apply for vacancies. Because being older is not a crime. It is only in competitions meant for certain age grades that it becomes an offence to participate if you fall outside the age requirement. But in a country like Nigeria, even age grade competition attracts age cheats. That’s because our system has already been wired in such a way that, you are almost always forced to subtract out of your years to qualify for basic favours, as if growing older is equal to breaking a law.
There must be a review of our societal laws to stop this unfortunate discrimination against older people. Job offers should be only about competence and not age. And organisers of beauty pagents should discourage age cheats by simply throwing the doors open to those who think they are still pretty and presentable enough to be beauty queens. Even if they are sixty! Afterall, that’s why they have judges.
Olufemi Ogunseye is a journalist. Follow on twitter @olufemisp.