By Tabia Princewill
Nina Simone, the “high priestess of soul” sang “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” in the ’60s, an era synonymous with the Civil Rights movement in America, decolonisation and the first military coups back home.
To quote some of her lyrics, she said: “Young, gifted and Black, we must begin to tell our young, there’s a world waiting for you, this is a quest that’s just begun, when you feel really low, yeah, there’s a great truth you should know, when you’re young, gifted and Black, your soul’s intact”.
Beyond dumbing down our youth, or trivialising the harsh realities they face, or ridiculing their right to real opportunities for economic empowerment, enrichment as citizens and mental growth by organising talent shows or making bread sellers become “models” (a code-word in our society for doubling as an escort or much worse), one does continuously marvel at the general hypocrisy of a society that is both obsessed with and somewhat repulsed by youth and its corollary, poverty. Defending youth, defeating poverty, those are the bywords of any well-meaning, would-be socially conscious politician.
Disenfranchisement or under-employment
Yet, almost every action taken by today’s chief executives seems to cancel out the participation of young people, no matter how talented or opinionated, and skillfully organises their disenfranchisement or under-employment. In our culture of breeding errand boys and girls, where to be a big man is to breed slaves and sycophants rather than to be known for encouraging or revealing new talents, being young and gifted is practically the equivalent of being sentenced to years of unhappiness and seemingly unending frustration. Contrary to the picture painted by Ms Simone, everything about life in Nigeria seems to tell young people “there is no world out there waiting for you” or “this is where you are and this is where you will stay”.
As for being young, gifted and Black (or Nigerian) abroad, I could write epistles on the contempt and often-blatant racism Nigerians are subjected to, without any help or concern from their embassy. In fact, Nigerian embassies often treat their fellow citizens with enough disdain and disrespect to impress Donald Trump.
Like the “strange fruit” of Billie Holiday’s song (lynched black bodies hanging from trees in segregated America), the aspirations of young Nigerians are truncated before they can ripen, before any planning or effort can even be introduced, because our society decided that only the aspirations of some should be allowed, literally, to bear fruit.
Ours is a system that does not value human life, where dreams, like many children, due to poor healthcare and education, are dead on arrival.Young people here are poor but entrepreneurial: it’s a confusing dichotomy one wouldn’t understand if one didn’t know that opportunity only exists in Nigeria for those at the top, particularly if they are “old enough” or the right gender.
It’s a direct consequence of the prevailing impunity in our society whereby leaders rob generations of opportunity and are celebrated for doing it. The irony about the so-called inclusion of youth and women in business or politics is that when the decision is made to nominate a young person or a woman to any position, the antecedents and personalities of those that are chosen are habitually frightening.
They repeatedly have some backstory made of misdeeds, held together by hypocrisy and contempt for the very thing they are supposed to represent: the freedom, the opportunity allocated to any citizen to make something of his or her self through brains, talent and hard-work. They refuse to empower or enable other talents (rather than being talented themselves they are simply well-connected).
The worst thing about Nigeria’s prejudice and bigotry when it comes to young people is that they begin to believe and internalise all of the untrue statements about their abilities. They adopt repression and imbibe suppressing their thoughts and dreams as a way of life; they begin to doubt, like the rest of Nigeria, that any change is possible.
As for those young people born into a vampiric system, which preys on others, and who uphold it because it is the direct source of their family’s wealth and therefore see nothing wrong with it, those who are comfortable with the misery of others, remember Nina Simone: “to be young, gifted and black / open your heart to what I mean”. How long can we remain a country whose nightly terror or dread is to see others succeed?
Senator Marafa: In a recent interview, he accused the Senate President, BukolaSaraki, of being behind the controversies surrounding the 2016 budget in order to blackmail the government due to his CCT trial.
The thought had indeed occurred to many given the strange manner in which the budget saga unfolded. Saraki’s continued presence in the Senate despite his trial is contrary to global precedents whereby leaders (whether guilty or innocent) step down to clear their names rather than drag entire institutions into disrepute.
How can anyone whose job it is to uphold the laws of the land be on trial for desecrating said laws and still retain the job; again, which entails protecting the law? This leads to an incongruous, highly absurd situation where the Senate (interpretable as Saraki himself) orders an investigation into whether Senator Marafa has brought the Senate into disrepute. How ironic! Is it the Senate’s reputation or Saraki’s that the investigation is most concerned with?
One thing is certain, the CCT trial goes on. It is curious how frequently Nigerians use the “innocent until proven guilty” stance to retain their position and benefits while simultaneously trying to stop their case from going to trial. If one is innocent, why worry?