When Benjamin Disraeli declared that “the youths of a nation are the trustees of the future”, he was essentially affirming that the youths constitute the most important and instrumental segment of a nation’s population which must always stand up to the task of salvaging the nation from the precipice of collapse. A recent exemplification of this prime obligation of youth is the “Arab Spring” which swept some of the oldest totalitarian dictators out of office in the Arab world. It started in Tunisia on 17th December 2010 when 26-year-old youth, Mohamed Bouazizi, set himself on fire after being assaulted and brutalized by security agents, igniting a youth revolution that sacked despots that have held their nations by the jugular for decades.
The Nigerian nation today has never been more desperate and desirous of Napoleonic youths who can wrest Her from the cancerous grip of clueless, befuddled and discombobulated mediocrities who continue to masquerade as leaders. Like a patient lying critically ill and writhing in pain in the Intensive Care Unit, the country’s cry for help reaches a deafening crescendo, while its youths, like Chinua Achebe’s proverbial “absurd man who leaves his burning house to chase a fleeing rat,” seem too engulfed in trivialities to grasp the pillaging of the nation by kleptomaniac rulers.
To say that Nigeria’s situation is critical or precarious amounts to a gross understatement, as the sanctity of the human life, which is the most important basis of civility and society is fast dwindling into oblivion, reducing Nigeria to a jungle. Law enforcement agents (especially the police), as if on a mission to reduce the country’s population, continue to kill people senselessly; Fulani herdsmen, possibly mistaking humans for cattle, continue to hack down people in different communities with impunity; a government ministry, perhaps considering Nigerian youths as animals who must lock horns in struggle for scarce food, orchestrated a dehumanizing recruitment exercise that claimed 19 lives in just one day, and the minister did not, and was not made to leave office; Boko Haram, obviously trying to make it clear to Nigerians that there is no serious leadership in the nation, has taken the battle to Abuja, the seat of the federal government.
In what looks like a confirmation that Nigeria is indeed an animal kingdom where rabid beasts (Boko Haram, police, Fulani herdsmen, ministers) prey on feeble creatures without being checked, Mr. President, at the scene of the April 14 Nyanya bomb blast which claimed over 70 lives, downplayed the attack as mere “distraction” that will pass eventually. And even though Boko Haram tried to correct the president that its mission is to ground the Nigerian nation and not just distract the government by kidnapping over 200 teenage female students in Borno, the president still didn’t get the message.
President Jonathan arguably didn’t see the video of the April 14 blast scene. He surely didn’t see the brains of dead Nigerians (whom he swore to protect) littering the blast scene; he couldn’t have seen dying victims writhing in pains with their arms and legs completely severed from their bodies. If he did, then he must be very unfeeling to have found time (on April 15 - just a day after) for “owambe” jollifications, first at Ibadan (Olubadan’s birthday) and then at Kano where he condescended to such pettiness of accusing a governor of embezzling his 2011 election campaign funds. Now I think Zoology as a discipline should be scrapped in Nigerian Universities as a way of reminding the president that he is presiding over a nation of humans and not a zoological garden where death is followed by jollifications.
Playing the “God will help us” card has become a fashionable way of shirking responsibilities in Nigeria, and Mr. President has led the pack by hopping from one church to another, seeking prayers for the nation. Somebody really needs to tell Mr. President that if we wanted a prayer warrior in Aso Rock, we would have voted T.B Joshua, David Oyedepo or Enoch Adeboye into power. Even Israelis who pride themselves as “God’s own people” know how to engage transgressors in military combats without waiting for God, so what are these “All is well”, “God will help us” and “There is God ooooh” about in Nigeria?
When Fela Kuti recorded the track “MASS” (Music Against Second Slavery) in which he accused Nigerian leaders of deliberately plunging the nation into advanced slavery through privatization and borrowings from IMF/World Bank, he was arguably prescient and predicting what we are experiencing today.
If the president in his May 4, 2014 media chat could declare that he has approached the US, France and other foreign nations to come and help Nigeria take care of its internal security; if after privatizing the power sector, he is still thinking of approaching IMF/World Bank to borrow money to empower the same foreign firms that bought PHCN; and if he believes the only solution to unemployment is inviting foreign investors (mainly Indians and Lebanese who have a reputation for enslaving Nigerians in Nigeria), then why do we need a government in Aso Rock? If we have to depend on foreign soldiers (to secure our lives in our country), foreign firms (to give us jobs in our country) and foreign loan (to power our energy sector), then is it not just better to invite the West to re-colonize us?
Young Nigerians, who should be most concerned about the kind of future being bequeathed to them, however appear to be most unflustered and unperturbed about the gridlock that the country has been plunged into. Even the disillusionment of the first republic (1960-1966) which propelled Napoleonic youth-soldiers like Chukwuma Nzeogwu (aged 29), Adewale Ademoyega (aged 30), Emmanuel Ifeajuna (aged 32) and others to patriotic action isn’t as dire as what we face today. Like tourists trying to flee a war torn country, we besiege foreign embassies to get American and European visas, forgetting that if Europeans and Americans didn’t stay at home to build their nations, those places wouldn’t look like safe havens to us today. Others who are unable to secure visas get busy stabbing themselves with knives and broken bottles over European football competitions while the rulers are having a field day looting the nation.
When former military dictator, Ibrahim Babangida, said in April 2010 that Nigerian youths were not ready to take leadership responsibilities, the full weight of the statement didn’t hit me; not until October 1, 2013 when my students asked me, as a Fulbright Fellow and Nigeria’s Culture Ambassador at New York University, to give a talk on Nigeria’s socio-political situation. After my speech, the students asked in unison “what are Nigerian youths doing about the situation?”
Our indifference and resignation make us spectators, in fact, mourners at our own funeral. As they continue to siphon and fritter our earnings and reserve, accumulating monstrous debts, is it not obvious that our generation will grow up to pay the debts we did not incur or benefit from? This is why we must outgrow the shackles of tribalism and religious bigotry; we must outgrow our addiction to trivialities – dancing/singing competitions and European football leagues – and become actively involved in the shaping of our future. As the general election inches closer, we must brace up to the challenge of ensuring the emergence of serious-minded and highly cerebral leaders without recourse to religious and ethnic sentiments, and do away with clowns who think more of how they can use power to enrich themselves and harass real and imagined enemies, and not how to better the nation.
Nigeria has never been more desirous of a purposeful, intelligent and visionary leadership, and we – the youth - must put an end to accidental leadership that relies on luck, wishful thinking and lazy prayers if we must get out of this conundrum. As Chinua Achebe reminds us in The Trouble with Nigeria, “civilization does not fall down from the sky; it has always been the result of a people’s toil and sweat, the fruit of their long search for order and justice under brave and enlightened leaders.”
Abiodun Banire; Fulbright Fellow at New York University, New York, USA.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of SaharaReporters