Very recently, I did have a discourse with an entrepreneur friend; we talked about issues bothering around the Nigerian socio-economic and political scene underscoring the role of the youth. In his words, “I want to be one of the builders of Africa”.
Now, I have had similar engagements with young people like myself who are passionate about building ‘a continent’. Hence, when he said this, I took a pregnant pause. I rhetorically asked myself in silence, if there are so many energetic, passionate and youthful builders, why are there still no visible configurations for development? Or why are our institutions taking the titanic route from every comparative indicator and global indices? Hypothetically speaking, ‘The youth is a driver of transformational change in a society. But what happens when the youth sleeps?
Just to run through statistics, the UN department of economic and social affairs puts our current population slightly under 200 million. With a projected increase in population by 2050 we may likely surpass the 400 million mark to become the 4th most populated country in the world. In the Nigerian context, the youth constitutes the vast majority of the entire population, which gives them the power to influence by numbers.
During the yuletide, I visited a friend’s nightclub one night (personally I think clubs have become like a crusade or concert having the largest gathering of youths who drink and dance away their centuries of problems). This time was different, with a glass in hand I walked around the hall like a seasoned election observer, every interaction and stare was purposeful and then it hit me! . . . We have completely lost the plot and now we live in the greatest denial of ignorance and deceit.
Even though we clearly have been abandoned in the corridors of power as we occasionally try to take a small glance through the tiny windows of governance, there have been no clear indicators that we are prepared to lead or be led. They say the fruit does not fall far from the tree; our inability to either identify or support competent leaders is a true reflection of our mediocre standard and incompetency as a group known as ‘the youth’. We are constantly being marginalized and defaced by the ones we call ‘Elders’ because of our continuous will to excuse responsibilities. The baton has been passed to us without knowing and yet we chose to play our parts in ruining the society by our actions and inactions . . . yet we say we need to build.
Please what are we building? Is it the bottles of Don Perignon or a couple of Instagram followers or Gucci lifestyle? Sadly, the bulk of the enlightened youths clamouring for a built society do speak with the undertone of an opportunist. Being exposed by our fair sense of perceived development, we wait eagerly to ‘milk the cattle’ forgetting it’s still in its infancy.
Again, what are we building? Why have we become too ignorant to know that without a road map, the journey is unknown? Similarly, how do we build when there is no design? Sadly, we have been taught by religion that when faced with a problem, we either wait for Allah or leave it to Jesus.
X-raying the performance of certain present leaders who are by age and association somewhat closer to the Youth, their stance and persona in governance considering their influence, clearly is an expression of flamboyance and statuettes of youthful exorbitance. There is a dire need to change the Nigerian Youth narrative however; there is even a better need to re-act our story. In our bid to replicate the lifestyle of our counterparts in developed countries, let us remember they do not have much building to do. They possess an already designed and built system that takes care of itself, and we are here still arguing on Instablog who rocked a dress better when poverty and underdevelopment is ‘wearing us ‘upandan’ like torn shorts and washed pants. Our problem is like an inherited curse, reality is looking deep into our eyes and posterity will not judge us without even a drop of sentiments. Still, we deflect and distract.
As I make this note outside the club, the national anthem is being played! A guy who just got back from Istanbul ordered for some more bottles of Ace! Don’t get me wrong; it is not my intention to critique lifestyles. Personally, I like the bubbling taste of champagne but the truth of the Nigerian Youth is like mixing Alomo and grinded Kola bitter.
Our current leaders are sliding down the learning curve; they have failed to learn from the past and sadly, can’t seem to learn any more. As terrible as it sound, the bulk of the weight falls on the youth who are without any important form of experience.
Really there is no time for us anymore to live and learn, we have to find a way to teach even before we learn. We are gradually being faced with same problems as those developed countries when we haven’t even solved our 4th world inherited country issues. The LGBT movement is gaining momentum world-wide, social media is redefining individual and brand interactions, there is a present constant world dialog on equality, women and child rights, we have experienced terrorism first hand, soon more sophisticated problems like negative effect of climatic and environmental changes due to the uncontrolled domestic and industrial activities will join the queue at a crucial time when we lack the capacity to lead.
Despite the heavy gains and advancement of technology, I mean the world has moved to renewables (energy, clothing, construction…), yet we still think of manufacturing pencils. Think of gains such as people going to the moon and back, mobile phones being used as maps, sex change, robots completing human tasks. . . Yet, we do not have constant electricity here.
We blame the leaders, the leaders blame the past leaders, the leadership recycle continues and there seem not to be an end in sight but you see, it is hard to envision a future when you are in the dark. As youths we need to find the right balance between finding ourselves and our everyday interaction with our environment. I believe the only way to give our situation a face-lift requires a great deal of collective efforts but first, a design. We need to see ourselves as collaborators and not competitors because while we try hard to outdo one another, I’m sorry the next generation is already outdoing us, in ignorance because we have set the wrong precedence just like those before us.
Thank goodness for the not too young to run bill but in all honesty, if as youths we can’t expressively influence change outside the realms of power, do we think we can do much in power? The reality of being in a key position is so overwhelming that one could fall for anything. I have always tried to reach out to prospective youths vying for political positions, and while some are ‘okayish’, the vast majority is not ready.
Africa will be built when Nigeria stands firm, Nigeria can be built when our various societies and communities experience a significant transformation brought about by the most important group– the Youth. As products of our environment, the seed of ignorance was long planted and is starting to bear fruits. It is important we reduce our distractions, unlearn that which was taught by the harsh circumstances, develop self by acquiring needed skills, redesign our future and build Africa. Until then, the mass exodus of our young men and women will continue and even our children will be made mental slaves.
– Ojeaga is a public affairs commentator