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To the Nigerian youth

Obi Nwakanma

The 2019 elections are only less than about two years away, and the subtle, subterranean moves are already quietly playing out, as parties begin to reorganize and ready themselves for a play at the power to govern this republic. Two fundamental and really vital factors are missing in these developments: it is the youth factor, and the factor of the left.

Nigerian youths

I shall have a different moment to deal with the failures of the Nigerian left in organizing for power, on a different occasion, but today, I focus on the Nigerian youth who have abandoned the political, and economic space, to the geriatric forces in Nigerian politics. Let me preface this column this week with the clear understanding that as in other cultures in Africa in which age is highly revered, as “onye-Igbo” I understand the value we place on age, and the high regard we accord the elders of the land. We pray often to our gods, to give us the gift of age and the wisdom that come with it, and to keep us until we mount the holy stairs of immortality that comes from being part of “Ndi Iche” – the great, and immortal agnates of the land. Age thus confers upon the individual, great grace, and great regard, and sometimes, youth is required to pussy-foot around the elders in order not to offend the laws of the earth (“Iwu-Ala”).

A great offence does happen for instance when a young man dares to lift an elderly man clear off the ground in a show of strength. That would be considered extreme abomination, one that, should the young man, according to Igbo secular and religious laws (“Iwu-Oha”), fail to appease the earth and the fellow involved, may lead first to ostracization by his peers, who would to force upon him the demand to do right, and impose high fines upon such a peer called “Iri Iwu,” and sanction by the community, to avoid the anger of the goddess of the earth. “Ikpari oke nye” – to insult an elder, in an undeserving way is considered not only highly dishonorable conduct, but conduct in which, should the community keep silent, might have even great spiritual consequences, according to this belief system.

So, age is an ideal that we aspire towards, because it confers not only regard, but sacred authority. In the Igbo system of conciliar governance, the elders of the land are the true rulers of the land – and that is why the true Igbo do not have kings. The eldest men have the highest authority, and when they gather as one, it is often said, “the land has gathered,” and that gathering assumes the force of the sovereign.

I think this is rather the prevalent situation, not only in Igbo culture, but also in the culture of presumably all traditional Nigerian societies, before even the emergence of the modern nation. The Yoruba, for instance, call folk like that, “Agba –alagba,” closely translated would mean, “the transcendent.” And so, it is understandable that youth in these societies have developed a very predictable aversion to challenging these “elders” in the modern politics of the land.

Although ironically, those who have governed Nigeria, from Yakubu Gowon, who was 29 years when he became Head of state, through the military regimes, until much later assumed office at under- 40 years. Shagari broke the cycle, and it resumed with Buhari, whose first coming as a military ruler saw him assume power at age 41, and so on.

But since the return of civil governance – that pathway towards democracy – a gerontocracy has taken what might be regarded as an absolute strangle hold on power in Nigeria. I know it might not be an exact picture, because we have also had young men and women emerge in power since 1999, but much of the aggregate of the powerful forces are those recycled from the past, like Obasanjo and the cohort of power around him, and Buhari, and his cohort.

The foot-soldiers have always been young men and women, and certainly, we can say, that we do have some definite inter-generational mixes. It is just that the catalyzing force of youth, and the transformations that could come from its synergies, have been missing, largely because the contemporary Nigerian youth is far too fatalistic to engage with the process of power. They seem unable to organize, and make a move on power. There is a debility of the imagination, and a recourse mostly to superstition.

They wait for God and the miracles of Pastor Joshua; the Nigerian youth is confused by too much involvement in fanatical religion, they blame supernatural forces for their lack of progress; they have been waiting for others to define the agenda of their generation, and in spite of being the most educated generation at any other time in the history of Nigeria, the Nigerian youth is ignorant, badly-read, and unable to apply the profound capacity of knowledge available at their finger-tips to a ground shift in the affairs of the nation.

When you examine the situation of the Nigerian youth, and you compare it to the activities and conduct of their peers across the world, it becomes very clear that this generation of Nigerians are socially repressed, and are in dire need of the message that the great Zik brought home to the “new African” youth of the 1930s and the 1940s, that led to the activation of a powerful anti-colonial nationalist movement. And so today, I bring the same message for a cultural revolution, an intellectual revolution, and a political revolution among the youth of Nigeria, as this nation prepares for political activities leading to 2019.

My late friend, the political theorist and scholar, Abubakar Momoh and Chike Osegbue have attempted to tease out the basic framework of Zikism as a redemptive national philosophy, first articulated in Zik’s Renascent Africa, which must become the basis of a pan-Nigerian nationalist resurgence led and articulated by contemporary youth in Nigeria, and in all Africa; and which must shun the divisive, fascist, and right-wing merchants and retailers of the hokum of permanent, ineluctable difference: Today, more than ever, the new Nigerian youth needs (a) Spiritual balance as the basis of toleration and empathy, (b) Social Regeneration: the willingness to embrace others to work towards a nationalist renaissance of shared values for peace and prosperity, (c) Economic determinism – the charge to rise from dependency at both the micro and macro levels; at the level of self and at the national scale; (d) mental emancipation – the necessity to be free of the slavery of the mind brought about by all kinds of fanaticisms – religious and ethnic. The idea that if the God you worship do not look like you, then you are suffering from a mental illness of a kind that produces cultural schizophrenia and bi-polarity.

The kind that most Nigerians suffer today, which results from the idea that the self is not enough, cannot gaze inward, but can only measure itself by what is often described as the “external gaze.” The kind that would compel 26 young Nigerians to die at sea in search of an illusion; and (e) Political resurgence – the idea that to be free, and to enjoy the benefits of the dignity of political liberty, one must participate in the political process, and create the basis of true sovereignty for the nation: sovereignty that would buffer Nigeria from dangerous and deadly external control, and from complicit domestic control that ultimately compromises the political future of the nation. This is a historic imperative.

The true age of achievement; the kind that inscribes a permanent memorial in history is the age between nineteen and forty-five. The demography of Nigeria currently gives advantage to this group of Nigerians within that bracket.

They have the power to take control and radically transform Nigeria, and imprint their era permanently on the scroll of time. But where are they? Where are the true, articulate representatives of this age in Nigeria?

While their peers were staging what we have called the “Arab Spring” and the “Orange revolution,” they were busy cringing, and hiding behind the shadows of their parents. This generation must rise, and organize, and shift the debate democratically.

They must retire the old, exhausted men and women from politics, and they must do it by networking, organizing at the crucial local and community levels; they must raise money, choose and volunteer for the candidates of their choice; lead campaigns; build alternative movements, defend the ballots with their lives against any attempt to steal or revise it, and they must never let the barrier of their current social inadequacies be the wedge to their political future and obligations.

Yes, we revere age. May providence continue to give us old people. But the Igbo also have a saying: if propriety forbids youth from looking the elder in the eye and telling them the truth, then they must don the basket over their eyes, and speak truth to the elder. It is imperative that the youth of this land must rise to their historical responsibility, and re-define the politics of Nigeria from 2019. They must start by retiring Muhammadu Buhari, and the likes of him.


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