Qansy Salako

As of Sunday July 1, 2018, the United Nations projected the population of Nigeria at 197 million. Other demographic sources put Nigerians between 0-35 years of age at over 70% of the overall population. Concurrently, out of 130 countries ranked on the 2017 World Economic Forum’s Global Human Capital Index, Nigeria is 114th overall; 122th in development and 124th in know-how. In the April 2018 poverty index data recently released by the Brookings Institution, Nigeria has upstaged India as the world’s poorest country now with extreme poverty growing by six people every minute. Nigeria has the highest number of out-of-school children in the world. Unemployment is over 52% overall and less than 30 of every 100 youths in the workforce are employed.

Fearing inevitable social implosion by millions of unemployed youths roaming the continuum of Nigeria inability to develop in spite of its enormous human and material capitals and 58 wasted years in bumbling self-government, the useless political leadership now fake interest in the Nigerian youths.

Within the cacophony of false love for youth political empowerment, former despot Ibrahim Babangida urged rather inanely: “Younger Nigerians should take over power in 2019.” The incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari uncharacteristically wasted no time signing into law, the “Not Too Young to Run Act” (NTYTRA) which reduces the age eligibility for the Office of the President from age 40 to 35, governor 35 to 30, and state assembly 30 to 25.

And “take over” is exactly what the disoriented youths proceeded to do. Suddenly, their dividend of the funky Nigerian democracy brand became a low hanging fruit, they jumped into the stinking political pond, feet first, forming political parties/groups in droves with only more bumper sticker slogans than serious reflections. Modern Democratic Party, New Nigeria Movement, Nigerian Youths for Leadership, Nigerian Youth Decide, etc, all sounding chic or are they?

It got me thinking how in the world a youth political leadership will tackle any of the pernicious problems that are grabbing Nigeria by the balls. Before I go too far into it, I wish to personally apologize to the Nigerian youths for my generation and those above and below mine handing over a dysfunctional country to them. Believe me, millions of us did the best we could within the limit of a nonentity status that we lived as Nigerians.

How the country does not get buried under the rubles of its explosive contradictions, going from “failing” to “failed” in the hands of our beleaguered youths, is the reason for this article. So far, I am not persuaded that the frantic youths are giving much thought to our problems. All I see is the rat race to join the do-or-die democracy industry or be noticed for adoption by godfathers from the ruinous political class. I am yet to see any coherent youth community organizing or read a well written youth document containing intelligent analyses and proposals to any of our strangulating national problems.

Let me use the endless orgies of mindless killings from the Fulani herdsmen/farmer logjam to drive my point home. The herdsmen savagery has thoroughly overtaken Boko Haram capacity for death and destruction. Theirs cover wider landscape, intensity and much larger statistics of Nigerians slaughtered, maimed or displaced. The herdsmen ruin the lives of both the people they kill and the relatives they maim or spare. I am constantly distressed for the victims including those who are dead, who live on their land in fear and in thousands of miserable internally displaced persons (IDP) camps, across the nation. It affects me deeply. I can’t even bear to watch the gory photos in the newsprint, anymore.

Most foolish of all is our inability to solve the problem, as a nation. Because of our poisonous coexistence, we get bogged down to stupid details while the mass killings continue unabated. Fulani only carry sticks not AK47, look, there were no cows in that killing incident, the killers didn’t speak Hausa, those killing the farmers are foreign Fulani armed by Gaddafi (who died seven bloody years ago), they were Boko Haram killers posing as Fulani herders, the problem is desertification southwards (which by the way has been going on for over 40 years), some politicians are the ones sponsoring the herdsmen killings (but none ever arrested), ad infinitum. Ha, Nigeria, how really primitive art thou? Given the weekly tally of deaths and destruction and  geographic spread, whether real/fake Fulani, local/foreign Fulani, Boko Haram, cow rustlers are now all meshed into the same killer Fulani herdsmen is now treacherously beyond the issue.

Even if the Nigerian Fulani have nothing to do with the herdsmen killings, their collective response as represented by the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association (MACBAN) has been woeful and totally reprehensible in how they have been all over the map over the herdsmen barbarism. This minute, they defend the reason for the unrelenting vicious mass murders which is simply to let the cows roam, next minute they are threatening fire and brimstones over the anti-grazing state laws and yet another minute they make claims of their inalienable rights to reprisal attacks. Reprisal attacks? But you said you were not the ones involved in the killings!  Just how does a President Omoyele Sowore propose to solve a gumbo national problem like this?

What more condemns a culture to the backroom of history than killing and destroying lives and properties in order to practice it? Even if Mary Slessor had not stopped infanticide of twins by the Ibibio in the 1880s, that Calabar culture would still have wound down to abandonment of "evil kids" in the streets that it is today due simply to modernity. Today, the Nigeria population is 200 million on the same land area that was inhabited by 45 million at independence in 1960. Naturally, there will be more competition for land, water and food by human and animals which implies that cow roaming will eventually become atavistic and impracticable. By 2050, even grazing reserves would have become downright crazy because there would be no room for cows to stand!

Why Mr. Buhari remains unable to contain/eliminate the killings now in the fourth/final year of his presidency galls me to no end. Yet, if there was one Nigerian who could and should bottle the herdsmen/farmer killings, it would be candidate Buhari. All the motivation lights are green for Buhari to free Nigeria of senseless killings. He was a military general and former dictator, memberships of his current national security team are mostly from the North, and the problems affect and impoverish the North far more than any other part of the country. Yet, to date, he has tried every strategy in the books but to no avail. He has declared states of emergency, changed his service chiefs, ordered them to relocate to trouble spots, ordered every school guarded, ordered people arrested for hate speech, as well as confiscation of free arms in public circulation and arrests of owners, but of which somehow government has only succeeded in finding caches of arms belonging to the farmers not caches of AK47 belonging to the herdsmen. Ordinarily, both Suswan and the people Suswan is arming to defend himself against must be pursued by government with the same might, law and zero tolerance.

All of Buhari's best efforts have practically defied solutions to the barbaric killings of Nigerians. In fact, seems every bravado or helpless lamentation he makes at any killing cycle is immediately commemorated by a new killing rampage. The scale of death and destruction far outweighs the puny size of arrests made to date, be it of farmer or herdsmen. Large numbers of Boko Haram fighters caught on the battlefronts are often released back to the same streets of poverty and unemployment based on the bizarre belief that government has de-radicalized them. This is why all kinds of idiotic conspiracy theories are abound in Nigeria. It sure will be tragedy for Nigeria if Buhari is unable to fix the plague of bloodshed over it before he leaves the stage.

The budding Nigerian youth political leadership should ask themselves, how would we solve self-destruct national problems like the herdsmen killings if we took over from the current feckless political class? The herdsmen scourge is but only one of many intractable problems that constitute roadblock to our national progress. Boko Haram reign of terror which has succeeded in pushing the traditionally abysmal enrollment figures of school age children in the Northeast now to near zero, the deadly bitterness over resource control in the Niger Delta which can reduce national revenue at the jerk of a finicky Avenger nerve and to which the Nigerian nation state perpetually throws largess money as amnesty payment, Biafra agitation in the Southeast (thank goodness, that has been outlawed now, I think), cannibalization of public funds by the twin evil of corruption and impunity, the ultra-expensive 36-state political structure that can’t survive without collecting monthly money allocation from the center, and the inability of Nigeria to provide quality education that can produce thinkers and inventors or business environment that can generate mass employment, engender mass development for citizen emancipation, diminish group poverty and wind back emigration, are other monsters that ought to be keeping the Nigerian youths awake at nights as they saddle up to take over. Or are they?

A delay in grasping the true scope of our national problems would be catastrophic for the youths and the outcome of their new Nigeria. It would guarantee them a much longer sojourn in the Obasanjo Nigeria.

Kiddos, though a whirlwind nation we may be passing over to you, you don’t have to inherit the wind. Ignorance is the fodder that has helped perpetuate the Nigeria stupidity for 58 years. No nation grows on sheer politics as its only industry. No nation can develop without a political structure that is cost effective and right for its peoples, without responsible leadership, without accountability and without strong public institutions.

‘One Nigeria’ legislated by decree or bombastic declarations won’t endure. However, one quick superglue for ‘One Nigeria’ is availability of equal opportunities for every citizen. Think. Get organized. Establish a think tank of reputable and selfless intellectuals among you that will feed your political leadership with ideas that become their visions on all aspects of governance. Establish socio-intellectual groups (rather than political parties) that can reach out across the ethnic lines, educate the peoples and make a case for a united strong Nigeria based on universal access to water, food, quality education, health care, housing and electricity. This is the damn basic standard of living that all citizens of Nigeria want.

No public policy would work, not crudely begging for foreign investors, not idiotic divestiture of pubic assets and services (aka concessions), not cattle colony or ranching, etc, none will work in a country that lacks national development blueprint, high quality and targeted educational curricula and in-house technology know-how. You need every Naira coming in to the federation account available for implementation of public programs. You must establish zero tolerance for corruption, zero immunity, and zero room for incompetence.

Half word is enough for the wise. Good luck.

Dr. Salako writes from Boston, MA. USA. He is a frontline social critic and commentator on Nigeria and Africa. He may be reached by email at [email protected]

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