By Tabia Princewill
NOTHING in the average Nigerian’s behaviour points to a positive response. The rich are quite content with our feudal system which keeps the majority poor and subservient, unwilling and unable to ask questions of their leaders and their accomplices while the poor barely question a system that is designed to work against them.
If we believe the youth are the future then we should be very worried about the sort of future we are producing. It promises to hold even more inequality and injustice than the present time if nothing is done to make young Nigerians (and young Africans more widely) take ownership of the future, realise the role they have to play and most of all, develop the ability to think critically about the future.
Most Nigerians shy away from the difficult conversations we need to have as a nation: it isn’t enough to say, for example, that politicians shouldn’t instrumentalise ethnicity and religion for electoral gain, when appointments, contracts and other benefits in our society are awarded based on zoning and ethno-religious calculations. What we do, in Nigeria, never seems to quite match what we say. We are a deeply polarised nation and every aspect of our social life reflects this. All many of our young people do is re-create, at their own level, the issues found at the top.
I am always surprised to find how many young people, even those who are the so-called “lived abroad” ask people what is their state of origin. If young Americans were still wasting time asking each other about their state of origin so many of the top business men, entertainers etc. would have had a hard time achieving what they did in a nation that defines itself as a country built by immigrants, despite today’s white supremacists’ attempt to deny this fact. The National Assembly, due to the political class’ faulty understanding of nationhood, might not have the courage to review the outdated federal character idea, but the society does not have to allow itself to be held hostage by such backwardness.
Vice-President Osinbajo’s “new tribe” of Nigerians can only be composed of people who dare to think and do things differently despite whatever the status quo claims is the ineffectual norm. Sadly, too many young people are content to repeat the mistakes of the past, waiting for one generation to retire and simply fill vacant positions of authority without challenging the misguided ideology which has destroyed this country. Many of our leaders were once young men who also complained of the state of Nigeria: where did their revolutionary outrage go? The propensity in Nigeria is to carve out some comfort for oneself, to share the national cake, ignoring how bloody the knife is from the sacrifice of those who don’t have such opportunities, and to ignore injustice especially when the victims are of another community, tribe, etc.
I am quite frankly irritated by those young people who proudly announce they won’t vote during the next elections because they are disappointed or whatever other flimsy excuse they give to make unpatriotic behaviour and cynicism (the enemy’s greatest tool) seem cool.
Nigerians, we do not have the option of disappointment. We must keep going till we get it right. The many who spent this festive period away from their families for lack of funds or who simply could not afford expensive food items, etc., do not have the luxury of “disappointment”, they keep finding new ways to survive. To whom much is given, much is expected: nobody with a roof over their head can be allowed to give up on Nigeria; so many others are counting on you to use your voice and your talent, whatever it may be, to highlight the forgotten and their suffering.
Nigeria’s youth (and adults) have an escapist tendency: from the mindless television we watch to the vapid music we listen to, we would all rather pretend that the solution to our problems lies somewhere else in someone else’s hands.
The average Nigerian is all too content to turn his brain off and to gobble up whatever his pastor tells him (or any other “leader”) for that matter without stopping to think or analyse just how interlinked all the power structures in Nigeria are.
Social media affords young people the opportunity to see the world from their bedroom. From the depths of whatever misery or despair you might be experiencing, educate yourself, learn something, there are so many free resources online to be used by anyone with an interest in self-development. Instead, the “30 billion for the account” trend which dictates that one must have fast cars, etc., to show off with online (no matter how they are obtained) is ruining lives.
As for women, true sisterhood is virtually inexistent in Nigeria. The competition for men, status and money only serves to belittle and harm women: you were not created to be anybody’s plaything but to find your own purpose and to grow at your own speed. So many of us in Nigeria, of both genders, are not content with what we have. Greed is destroying this country which isn’t to say that one shouldn’t be ambitious but we must also accept that there is a season for everything: the season to reap cannot come before the season to sow.
Ours is a cutthroat society where quiet reflection or any form of decency can condemn you to failure in the face of those cutting corners to succeed. For all these reasons, mental health issues are on the rise, both for those who are angry at how their lives turned out and those whose sudden, unwarranted access to new money destroys in the end. Young Nigerians don’t appear to be doing more than conforming to the situation they find on ground.
Youth, in other societies, is the time to dream and to challenge, not to embrace the cynicism and defeatism of those who’ve lived, fought, won or lost. The average young Nigerian has not been trained to believe in democracy which guarantees equality and freedom not the paper-thin system we call democratic. Neither have young people been taught by parents or their schools to understand facts and analyse them. The true sadness, for me, this new year, is the realisation that many of our young people are even more corrupt than the generations who came before them, wrecked by a system which never planned to help them become independent, thinking adults. The rest are lost in apathy and unconcern.
To the few who understand the perils and the challenges of our society, I’ll say, history will remember those who were brave enough to tell the truth and to go against the grain. Happy New Year! You will live to see a new Nigeria. It is yours and within your reach.
Tabia Princewill is a strategic communications consultant and public policy analyst. She is also the co-host and executive producer of a talk show, WALK THE TALK which airs on Channels TV.