Nigerian Youths: Historic Challenge to Nation Building – Salihu Moh. Lukman
“If you wanna be somebody, if you wanna go somewhere, you better wakeup and pay attention” was the message of Whoopi Goldberg to her exuberant young students in Sister Act. At a time when everything was crashing, lawlessness became pleasurable, conventions no longer tenable and all initiatives end up producing negative outcomes, something different was needed. What? And how? These are issues that needed very practical, not hypothetical responses. In the context of a rigid Catholic setting and without really planning for it, a Whoopi Goldberg, acting as accidental Sister Mary Clarence, who on account of running from a criminal gang found shelter in a Catholic school offered unique and ingenious services that saved the school from closing.
That is the situation Nigeria require today. It is a situation that is best reflected in the lives of our young people – Nigerians under the age of 35, people born between 1978 and today. Unfortunately, these are category of Nigerians who have never experienced anything near a functional society, a society with guaranteed water, power, healthcare delivery, quality education, etc. Many, although born in our so-called urban centres, have never witnessed water flowing from public water source. They have never seen electricity from PHCN (NEPA) uninterrupted for up to 6 hours, sometimes less. Hospitals have regressed from what Gen. Buhari while overthrowing Alh. Shehu Shagari in December 1983 described as consulting clinics to public mortuaries and in the circumstances therefore most Nigerians when they are sick look for Babalawos of all types of miracle/magical healers across all religions rather than go to hospitals. The narrative is endless and pathetic. It basically mirror the lives of the exuberant youth in Sister Act, requiring something different to pull Nigeria out of its current mess.
One of the major challenge is the expectation that government initiative is what is needed to produce something different. In the circumstance, there is a dominant attitude among young people concentrating energy towards contracting relations with government, largely because of the notion of government being a reservoir of “free money” on account of which being in government or close to people in government may not be more than access to “free money”. And since our curriculum of education at all levels is increasingly becoming abstract, government for our young people is fictional and at best obtainable in foreign, mainly European, North America and in some ways Asian and South America countries with emphasis on China and Brazil. It is hard to explain to this category of Nigerians that our educational institutions were among the best in the world in the 1960s and 1970s. At that time, our Ahmadu Bello University, University of Ibadan, University of Ife and University of Nigeria Nsukka were in the league of Cambridge and Oxford. This is now Tales by Moonlight as even graduate from these universities produced in the 1960s and 1970s have to (or believe they have to) garnish their qualifications with some, often short term (in some cases one week) certificate qualifications obtained from leading commercial educational centres, mainly in the US.
Since the notion of government is that it is a reservoir of “free money”, politics simply means being part of the team that lead to the reservoir and eventually control it. The leaders of this political teams are mainly ‘successful elders’, mostly these graduates of 1960s and 1970s with few among them products of the 1980s and rarely any of the 1990s. These ‘successful elders’ provide the finances largely based on personal aspirations for political offices, if you like aspiration to control part of the reservoir. Being a reservoir therefore it just means unregulated supply, not tied to any projected outcome other than transfer of ‘free money’ to ‘political loyalists’, which are often unreceipted. Because of the absence of projected outcomes, almost everything goes. Qualification is first and foremost raw courage and formal education, as they often say in human resource language, it is an advantage but not a requirement.
In the context of Nigerian politics whereby the major preoccupation of politicians is not about winning the support of citizens but preparing to rig mainly through ballot box snatching, writing results of elections, voter intimidations, etc. and against the reality that many Nigerians are unemployed or under employed with poor means, our young people become a major source of patronage. Based on this reality, it can be argued that politics is today the biggest industry, perhaps more on account of the amount of resources being expended but hardly on account of employment. It is an industry that is in the real sense worse than the informal sector of the economy. No records are kept, nobody engaged has anything near formal contract.
In terms of our young people, it is an industry that destroy virtually everyone on accounts of the dirty job of ballot box snatching which requires some levels of insanity on the part of the individuals carrying out the task. Insanity produced more by substance abuse. Alcohol are weak and not attractive. Like some officials at federal levels have promoted certificates from Harvard, etc. as attracting some jumbo pay package, at our local levels, the equivalent of Harvard is drugs and substance consumption by young people which enables them to execute all the dirty work for our politicians.
As a result, we have in our major cities serious cases of abuse of young Nigerians, resulting in high disorientation, psychological and psychiatric incidences among young people. Unfortunately, these are incidences that have assumed a reality of normalcy. Those affected are regarded as normal human beings with many protected by powerful politicians and sponsored to offer ‘protection’ to these politicians, which may include violent conduct.
This is predominantly our unfortunate reality today around which majority of our young people find themselves. This is a situation created by the generation of Nigerians that had good education provided exclusively by public schools, Nigerians that enjoyed good healthcare services while growing up, in summary, Nigerians whose humanity was guaranteed by a state that was responsive and responsible to all irrespective of status. Unfortunately, years after, these Nigerians have collapsed into a hobbesian state of mind and downgraded citizens, especially Nigerian youths to nasty and brutish condition thereby shortening their lives. It is a situation whereby our leaders regard government as their private estate and every other citizens, apart from members of their family, are animals that deserve no dignity. It is just about crude obedience without any decorum, more to produce a political victory resulting in taking control of position in government.
In the circumstance, our youths are coerced or drugged to playing very critical dirty role. Can this be halted? Is it possible to create a new reality similar to what we have in this country in the 1960s and 1970s? If the common saying that “the youths are the future” is anything to go by, negative answers here simply means that Nigeria is doomed. Already, the signs are evident and traumatising.
Perhaps, we need to remind ourselves that Nigeria as it is today is a product of inspiring interventions of young Nigerians into politics of the country. Names of people like Samuel Akinsanya, Ernest Ikoli, Kofo Abayomi, H. O. Davis, Adeyemo Alakija and even Nnamdi Azikiwe were young Nigerians who in 1933 formed the Nigerian Youth Movement (NYM) that challenged and ended the political dominance of the National Democratic Party led by Herbert Macauley. By October 1938, the NYM won elections for the Lagos Town Council. The same year, they launched the Youth Charter and in it they articulated their demands, which included opposition to the British indirect rule.
One of the important attributes of the membership of NYM was its diverse orientation, comprising leaders of other groups such as students, trade unions and other associations. Rather than being a source of division, it strengthen them. They utilise their diverse membership in these various groups to build an effective national campaign for Nigerian independence. A major plank of strength was their ability to give new radical orientations to Nigerian trade unions, students organisations and other associations based on which the campaign against British indirect rule and for Nigerian independence was given an active life.
Up to today, the political legacy of the generation of Nigerian youths of 1930s still has expression in our national life. It was a legacy that is manifest in especially the radicalism of Nigerian trade unions and students movement. More fundamentally, it was a legacy that was stimulated by levels of formal education. In many respect, it could be argued that the collapse of formal educational system in Nigeria since the mid 1980s accelerated the process of extinguishing radicalism out of Nigerian youths. Partly, as a result of poor access, but more on account of crash of standards, the energy, vibrancy, adventure and aspirations of Nigerian youths are weak, shallow and peripheral, if any at all.
Like the Nigerian leaders, aspirations is limited to material acquisition, which hardly go beyond cars, houses, marriage (in the case of men) and pilgrimage. It is hardly about development in terms of production, services, etc. which come with the requirement for infrastructural development. Everything is about personal consumption without even the modest effort to attempt to influence the source of supply. Against the background of high oil revenue in the country therefore it is possible to earn without labouring and many Nigerians accept this reality as normal.
A reality that is apparent is that such a perspective leads to the destruction of all organisations. With politics mainly about individual aspirations, organisational objectives are limited to the promotion of individuals. This could include sabotaging organisational activities resulting in death of organisations. On account of this, many organisations have crashed, some of our militant and radical organisations have lost their edge. New form of radicalism, very close to, if not terrorist, have emerged. Our old radical organisations have lost their youthful colouration either on account of completely being run by old guards or become appendages to interests that regards young people only as tools.
Organisations such as the Nigerian trade unions and student movement, which since the 1930s served veritable national political agenda have been reduced to legal expression with hardly any substance with respect to meeting the expectations of members. That is the unfortunate state of Nigerian trade unions and student movement. It is a situation in which even their primary responsibility of improving the welfare and lives of members has been compromised if not sacrificed. It is a sad complex reality that leaves Nigerians with virtually hopeless situation. It is a situation that requires something different!
As a nation, we need new organisations. These new organisations must have clear vision and driven by committed and selfless Nigerians. Above all, the organisations must be political. The truth is that as a nation, there is a deficit of national youth organisation with a clear political objective. The National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), which played that role in the 1980s and early 1990s is today a commercial enterprise. None of our parties has bothered to develop framework for tapping the energy of Nigerian youths. The approach has always been short term, limited to using young Nigerians, often drugging them, to promote the personal aspirations of politicians.
Producing something different therefore should translate into getting any of our political parties to develop a clear framework towards the organisation of young Nigerians on a national scale. For such a framework to come with potential of contributing to pulling Nigeria out of its current mess, it has to have a component that seek to mobilise Nigerian youths around a demand for quality educational delivery, mass employment and social welfare programmes. These are issues that should be developed into charter of demands similar to those of NYM of 1930s and NANS of 1980s and early 1990s.
Like the NYM, it should have strong political objective. With more than 60 million Nigerians being young people below the age of 35, majority of whom are today unemployed, such a political demand has potential to produce the winner of any election if backed by strong organisation. A major drawback has always been that it is very easy to express all these but very difficult to get anything started. This is where our opposition parties negotiating the current merger to produce APC can produce superior commitment and to that extent as part of the rollout plans for APC produce a national youth political framework.
It can be readily predicted that this will not happen if initiative is to come from the leadership of the parties. What will make this to happen will be a situation whereby some young Nigerians are able to take the initiative and develop the framework and some organisational strategy. In order for this to be effective, it has to be nationally oriented. For instance, as part of the strategy to give the framework and strategy national coverage, in order to promote the demands for quality education, mass employment and social welfare on a national scale, seek to produce party youth leaders who are guided by the organisational strategy at all levels. In addition, since the challenge of achieving the implementation of these programme require budgetary allocations, it then means some representation in the legislative arm of government. Could such a framework and organisation come with a commitment to ensuring some minimum number of APC candidates for House of Representatives and Houses of Assembly in all states? Also, could the framework and organisation include strong mechanism for delivery?
These are not questions that should be answered with hypothetical answers. They require practical answers with clear vision, leadership and organisation. They are not answers that can be satisfactorily answered based on virtual activism. APC just need to shape the way forward and reincarnate the glorious achievements of Nigerian youths of the 1930s.
Nigerian shall be born again!