By Ochereome Nnanna
OUR youths are hungry. They are idle. They are wasting away. Our youths – millions of them – are trapped in poverty. Our youths have become so materially-destitute that few of them can afford to venture into the institution of marriage. Most of the elders in the age bracket of ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo married in their early twenties. My late elder brother married in 1982 at the age of 24, but I did not consider myself ready (pocket-wise) to marry until I was 38.
You can imagine the situation of those who came 25 to 30 years behind me with little possibility of finding a decent job or trade after school because there simply is none available (or so it seems). Sometimes, it is their fault. But most of the time it is not.
In my neighbourhood, I see scores of agile, able-bodied young men in their twenties and thirties hanging around the street corners around 11am, smoking, whispering and red-eyeing every car that passes. Also within the same neighbourhood are roadside mechanic dumps. Most of their operators can’t find apprentices willing to learn the trade, yet there are many idle youths who consider getting down and dirty below their estate as university graduates.
Obviously, many of these idlers are hoping for some quick-fix to instant wealth. Some try their hands on music, acting or comedy. But when it comes to sellable talent, many are called but few are chosen. One of my nephews refused to learn in a mechanic workshop during holidays, in spite of my best hectoring efforts. He bluntly refused to learn anything beyond changing of tyres. But he goes to church every Sunday and sings in the choir because he hopes to become another Phyno, Tu Baba, Flavour, Wizkid or Davido (of the “30 billion in your account” fame). That is the strategy these days. You go to church, sing for God in the choir, graduate from there and go to sing for the world to make tons of money (hopefully). At least, they are the ones trying their hands on something.
What about those sitting around the street corners doing nothing but getting involved in the things that usually come handy to idle hands? For them, anything to make money is on the table. If no politician comes along soon enough, they have the options of going into robbery, blackmail, kidnapping, cultism, human trafficking and “militancy”.
One of the quickest means of grabbing instant limelight – and some cash – these days is to go into the business of floating “youth forums”, usually ethno-religious or regional youth ones. One person can bring in two or three other unemployed youth and they will form a “coalition of over fifty youth forums”.
When you form this kind of outfit in Nigeria, you will never get anyone to take note of you if all you propagate is national unity, good governance, inter-ethnic harmony, anti-corruption or such sloppy noble causes. It costs a lot of money, and you need financial support – usually from foreign countries – to get into noble social advocacy. No Nigerian moneybag will give you financial support to propagate patriotic ideals. But you can easily find a foreign financier to do it. What a funny country!
For your “youth coalition” to “make it” you most speak the language that Nigeria and Nigerians understand: force and threats (or acts of) violence. The more threatening or violent you are, the more seriously you are taken. Ask the Niger Delta militant groups. The other day, their elders handed the Federal Government an ultimatum to resume talks with them before 1st August 2017 or risk the ire of Niger Delta militants whose patience was running out.
Pronto, our highly responsive Acting President Yemi Osinbajo raised a team to engage the Chief Edwin Clark-led Pan Niger Delta Elders Forum, PANDEF. As I write, apparently satisfied by the response of the Federal Government, PANDEF has withdrawn the ultimatum and the elders sound very pleased with themselves. I just said it: you have to put fire in your mouth and speak before you are noticed in Nigeria. No amount of peaceful carryon will ever avail you anything.
Before their ignoble 6th June 2017 so-called Kaduna Declaration in Arewa House, Kaduna, and the Arewa Youths Consultative, AYCF, was an unknown quantity. Their supposed chairman and Lagos dweller, Alhaji Yerima Shettima, was just another nondescript busybody masquerading as a “youth” leader. But after the “quit notice” he and some of his colleagues (some looked more sixty-ish than youthful) issued to Igbo people living in the North over Nnamdi Kanu’s Biafra agitations, they shot into instant national infamy. Infamy, you know, is just the ugly side of fame.
Given the tendency for religious violence, pogroms, massacres and even terrorism which routinely show up in the region, sometimes without any justification, the quit notice sent alarm throughout the nation. When some Northern political leaders threatened police action against this motley gang of anarchists, Shettima dared the Police to arrest him, knowing that such a favour by the authorities would catapult him into a folk hero among his like-minded Arewa acolytes. The Police was smarter than that and decided to ignore him and his members, at least for now.
But Shettima still scored big: he got noticed! He had spoken with enough force and violence. In fact, he and his group became so “famous” that some governors started inviting them for “dialogue”. Take for instance, the Chairman of the Northern Governors’ Forum, His Excellency, Kashim Shettima of Borno State. After discussing with a delegation of the AYCF, they posed for a group photograph in front of the Governor’s office in Maiduguri. See “arrival”! Shettima promised to take a second look at the quit notice.
Next, the gravy train moved to Kano where a “town hall” meeting on the Igbo quit notice and other matters was held. AYCF spoke from two sides of its mouth: the Igbo quit notice stands, but Igbo people in the North who are bent on Biafra independence are free to leave the North. As if they were not free to leave before! Now, there are plans to take the “town hall” from zone to zone in Arewaland. By the time they are through, they could go from state to state, and perhaps, local government to local government. Obviously, they would like to visit their “good friend” Governor Rochas Okorocha in Owerri, and I am sure Rochas will be tickled pink to receive them.
The “market” of political jobbery is booming in the North so much that more Arewa Youth Forums are breaking out like odious rashes. The other day, another group called Concerned Arewa Youths issued death threat on any Arewa politician or leader who supports restructuring because they will be blocking their own opportunity to “chop”.
Acting President Yemi Osinbajo just recently offered a very professorial, incisively intelligent guess as to what is propelling people to complain about marginalisation. He said those who complain about it are looking for government jobs. No problem sir. You and your absentee principal, President Muhammadu Buhari, were elected to provide jobs. Millions of youths, such as the Arewa Youths, need jobs. They have the right to ask for jobs, decent jobs. Osinbajo should go beyond mocking the jobless youths and elders alike and create the jobs. Too many idle hands have become apprentices in the devil’s workshop.
Nigeria has become a huge, boisterous devil’s workshop. Every group is looking daggers at a rival group as if that is where their problem – and the solution to it – resides. Buhari and Osinbajo, I have a song for you: “Owolabi do something o”!