August 12 is International Youth Day. It is the culmination of a year-long celebration to highlight the important role youth play in our world and in the life of every nation. This role was captured in the 2010 International Youth Day message of UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon,
when he noted that “Young people are making important contributions to our work to eradicate poverty, contain the spread of disease, combat climate change and achieve the Millennium Development Goals. I call on Member States to increase their investments in young people so they can do even more."
Nigerian youth will join their counterparts around the world to mark the International Youth Day. As our youth celebrate, it is also important that they reflect on the state of the nation. Nigeria is making international headlines for the wrong reasons. Poverty is still widespread in the country notwithstanding its huge human and material resources; diseases, including many that are nonexistent in other “developing countries” are still common; and at the rate we are going, we may need a millennium to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.
We still rank high on the global corruption index. According to reports by Save the Children, “Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country and also has the continent’s highest annual number of newborn deaths. Each day over 800 newborns die. Many of them die at home, unnamed and uncounted”. Nobody knows the number of graduates in the country, much less how many are employed.
But this is no time for our young people to lament and raise their hands in resignation. What an occasion like today’s offers is an opportunity for the much talked about leaders of tomorrow to reclaim today. And unless they do that, that tomorrow will be a mirage. The history of modern African States is a rich narrative of the heroic struggles of visionary youth, inspired by their opposition to colonialism and imperialism.
During this period, the legendary commitment of youth all over Africa led to the speedy end of colonial oppression. Many of these young people who did not have the luxury of information and communication technology, met the historic challenge of their time: decolonization. Five decades later, it looks like Africa may have to call on the power of its youth to effect the second liberation of the continent. Frantz Fanon, the Martinique intellectual, psychiatrist, and revolutionary, is often remembered for these famous lines: “every generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfill it or betray it”.
To bring it home, one can ask: what is the historic civic challenge of our time as we navigate this disorderly and impoverished political and social ambience called Nigeria? If decolonization was the agenda half a century ago, we can correctly conclude that the historic challenge of our time is none other than leveling the huge misery wreaked by mass poverty in the midst of plenty.
Clearly, the Nigerian youth have their generational challenge cut out for them. Today’s youth, in the milieu of the new information and communication order and social media, can be said to enjoy an advantage. Events around the world have shown that social media can alter the social and political order of nations. Youth power can therefore deploy social media as a ready channel for liberation in a country where citizens still grapple with the guarantee of basic rights.
The challenge here for our youth is to get involved. They must see themselves as stakeholders in the quest to build an egalitarian society and as stakeholders there can’t be room for complacency for their own sake, and the country’s sake. They must rekindle the spirit of popular struggle. Even in the midst of pervasive hunger and deprivation, they have to organize, organize, and organize.
Granted that our youth have been de-civilised and brutalized by years of misrule, there can’t be any justification to remain an onlooker in the task to liberate Nigeria. Where is the outrage against the egregious corruption in the country? Why are there no protests and marches against the political ineptitude and destruction of our national psyche by our so-called leaders? Why has a once glorious organisation like the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) become a mere shadow, engaged in inane shows, its leaders content at giving awards to State governors and acting as sidekicks to all manner of politicians.
The foregoing, to me, encapsulates the reality and dilemma of the Nigerian youth. But it doesn’t have to be so. The political and social indifference must end. Nations are built through sacrifice and struggle. As the harbinger of the glorious dawn, our youth can’t settle for anything less. Our youth can’t leave the struggle for the heart and soul of this country to the Achebes and Soyinkas and Balarabe Musas, who have put in more than five decades of their lives to redeem our blighted land.
For Nigeria and its youth, there is “the fierce urgency of now”. That is why we are gathered here today under the auspices of the African Centre for Media & Information Literacy, to look at social media and the African youth and set an agenda for the 21st century. The Nigerian youth must reclaim this country and our humanity. The question every young person under 35 years ought to be asking each passing day is: what is the mission of my generation? Am I going to fulfill that mission or betray it?