Not too long ago, a young man called me to arrange a meeting. He had a project he wanted to share with me. I listened to him talk passionately about his project titled “My Dream Nigeria”. He was planning to write a book of one million pages and he wanted me to contribute a 500-word essay on “My Dream Nigeria”. His grand idea was that if he could find one million Nigerians to dream about a united and prosperous Nigeria, and live their dreams, then perhaps there is a chance that our nation could begin the long and arduous journey of national rebirth. I was impressed for a number of reasons.
In the weeks since the April 2011 elections, I have had the difficult task of relating with a lot of young Nigerians who passionately believe that nothing can be done to make Nigeria work. I have found myself “defending” Nigeria at great discomfort. For these young, idealistic, and I must add, patriotic Nigerians, the solution to all our problems lies in carving up Nigeria into several countries.
I have been wondering how we got here. As a youth in the 80s, my comrades and I in the students’ movement believed we had a duty to enthrone an egalitarian and humane society. Whether it was against the school authorities or the different military regimes, we never wavered in our quest. We made sacrifices that threatened not only our future but our lives. We were buoyed by the laudable efforts and rich tradition of those before us and those before them.
I have been told not to blame the current generation; that Nigerian youth have never had it so bad; that when my generation marched against military dictatorship, we went to school for free, we had three square meals in school, and many of us had jobs when we graduated. I empathize with our youth. Their feeling of frustration and alienation is justified. They have been duped and betrayed, not only by the Nigerian State, but by an opportunistic generation.
It is enough to be cynical about Nigeria when a lot of those who some years back were in the forefront in the struggle for a better Nigeria, for a society of social justice and the rule of law have given up the struggle. For them, democracy has become an end in itself! I can understand, therefore, why our youth have given up hope. Add to this feeling of hopelessness the excruciating material conditions in the country. Everywhere they turn, there are roadblocks, literally, that prevent them from living their dreams and fulfilling their potentials. After spending years acquiring a degree, for those privileged to get higher education, our youth are made to roam the streets endlessly in search of not existent jobs. It is difficult to dream under such harsh conditions.
But as a product of the progressive movement of the 80s, I dare to dream. I dream of a Nigeria where our lawmakers will make laws in the best interest of the public. I dream of a Nigeria where our best and brightest will not spend their most productive years building other countries; a Nigeria where the police will indeed be your friend; a Nigeria where you go to court for justice not thinking there is a malevolent judge somewhere willing to pervert justice for a little fee. I dream of a Nigeria where the value of citizens is not in the amount of money they have or number of cars and houses they posses, but their integrity and contribution to society.
There is a video (http://www.gbooza.com/forum/topics/jungle-justice-nigerian-boy-bu#axzz1R2Qptiml) that has gone viral in the last few weeks. It shows a young Nigerian who was beaten to death and burnt alive in broad daylight by his contemporaries, with onlookers clapping and jeering, allegedly for stealing a piece of jewelry. I dream of a Nigeria where human life is worth something, where human rights are respected, where good governance, right to life, security, and environmental safety are the norm rather than the exception. I dream of a Nigeria where our graduate will be worthy of their degrees, not recipients of “sexually transmitted degrees”, in the words of Okey Ndibe. I dream of a country that will be a global contender, a country where our God-given resources will be a blessing and not a curse.
Let’s go back to basics. President Goodluck Jonathan has talked about a transformation agenda. Recently, during the retreat for new ministers and senior government officials, he threatened that he and the vice-president would not protect any minster whose integrity is called to question. Mr. President boasts as one of his achievements the enthronement of a freedom of information regime, yet two months after he was sworn in, and amidst deafening calls by civil society groups, he has yet to declare his assets. Talk about transformation by example!
Four years ago, after much pressure, then vice-president Goodluck Jonathan put out some figures as his net worth. Since then, he has done no other job apart from being vice-president, acting president, and president. How difficult can it possibly be to add what he has earned in this period to his asset declaration of 2007?
I have always been fascinated by Chinua Achebe’s position that “the trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership”. Achebe was again at his erudite best when he wrote in the New York Times shortly before the April elections that “there has to be the development of a new patriotic consciousness, not one simply based on the well-worn notions of the ‘Unity of Nigeria’ or ‘Faith in Nigeria’ (and I would add ‘we are not going to condone corruption’) often touted by our corrupt leaders; but one based on an awareness of the responsibility of leaders to the led”.
I truly believe that we can redeem Nigeria. There is nothing we are going through as a nation that great nations did not go through. The only difference is that while they worked to make progress we have resigned ourselves to fate. But no nation in human history has developed without vision and sacrifice or on empty talk.
Seth Oyinloye, this piece is dedicated to you and the millions of young Nigerians who are justifiably angry, but who dare to dream of a New Nigeria. I believe it is possible.