By Tabia Princewill
ACCORDING to estimates 170 million votes (30 million during the final week) were recorded during the recently concluded Big Brother Nigeria finals, earning the South African production company N5.1 billion (of which N900million was made in one week).
Notably, viewers were billed to cast their votes. In comparison, the 2015 elections were decided by a mere 31 million people out of 68 million registered voters (INEC figures). With this in mind, let’s unsentimentally reassess President Muhammadu Buhari’s comments on “lazy” youths.
Valentino, an Italian luxury brand, is currently selling a green-white-green handbag ostensibly targeted at Nigerians. Another luxury brand, Emilio Pucci is selling a dress tagged “Nigeria printed silk-satin kaftan” (no different in style from anything made here, mind you, except for the “Pucci” label) also obviously targeted at Nigerians. Foreign brands know the power of the Nigerian consumer who is willing to spend heavily to achieve a certain look, buy into trends and appear to be a member of a certain class. Would Nigerians buy these same designs from local brands without foreign seals of approval?
Democracy and social justice
The same Nigerians who pay to vote for Big Brother expect to be paid during elections, therefore, devaluing themselves and allowing the wrong candidates to come into office. In much the same way, many of us don’t respect hard work, talent or patience.
We only admire fast money (no matter how it is acquired) and quick, superficial gains. We ridicule those with 9 to 5 p.m jobs who can’t afford to spend crazy amounts on women and alcohol but we hail the “yahoo boys” who can.
Unemployed men and women frequently say on Twitter and other social networks: “I can’t date someone who doesn’t earn at least N200, 000″, forgetting they bring nothing to the table!
Many will be quick to call these people the exception rather than the rule.
I don’t believe most young people are scam artists or lazy. However, those who’ve watched politicians and other figures of authority get away with murder in our lawless society have turned such goings on into an element of our culture therefore encouraging the narrative that only illegality and dishonesty pays.
So, many people want to “blow”, to become overnight successes; this more often than not obviously involves corrupt practices. We often want the dividends of democracy, a government that cares and delivers on its promises but none of the struggle to achieve this: we want comforts but very few of us are willing to become active citizens to ensure government does right by us. Democracy and social justice won’t be hand delivered to us on a platter of gold.
Citizens of developed countries can afford to be relatively laid back because certain fundamental battles for equality have been fought and largely won. Indeed, their countries provide basic amenities and welfare. Nevertheless, periodically, they ask for more. Nigerians are yet to make real demands of anyone outside of social media. In that sense, yes, we are all somewhat lazy. Our oil rich economy has got us used to a wasteful life where we are all dependent on hand-outs from some rich man or other who steals to satisfy our common greed.
Rather than denounce corruption, we only complain when people don’t share their loot. Our senses have been dulled by luxury consumer goods produced abroad but sold mainly to people from the developing world. Arabs, Asians and Africans are the biggest consumers of Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Moet etc. Most of the world’s poor are also concentrated here: Is this the final stage of global capitalism?Rich people from poor nations don’t realise on whose backs their comfort is based. Economic slavery is the new colonisation, and this time, not only are the oppressors home grown, they have an army of easily manipulated, working class young people ready to defend their own oppression.
Nigerian youths are commonly deemed “unemployable” despite their university degrees which don’t equip them for the 21st century workplace or enable them to compete with their global counter parts, mostly because our system doesn’t encourage analysis, critical thinking or independent thought. Our system produces clones fit for the military era, people who neither critique society nor question their place within it. Nigerian youths are not lazy, but many have neither a real understanding of politics nor a real interest in public affairs beyond arguing over what ethnic group is the most marginalised.
Those responsible for killing public school education to fund private schools attended by only the elite, pose themselves as defenders of the youth by criticising Buhari’s comments while the same youth clap, forgetting that when these people were in power they killed affordable healthcare and education for their own personal gain. How many former vice-presidents or first ladies in the US etc. own schools or hospitals? Where would they get the money from? Yet, so many of our politicians plunder the public purse to start these businesses to the exclusion of those who really need these services.
Political illiteracy is the real issue in Nigeria. One wonders if Buhari’s media team prepare him for public engagements by writing down talking points and helping him to practice explaining his views. As effortless and easy-going as Obama, Macron or many foreign Presidents sound, a small army of aides works with them behind the scenes to ensure that when they get on stage at any public event they use words which cannot be misconstrued and hammer home their point.
In management courses they say to be well advised or counselled is to be surrounded by people just as competent (or even more so) than oneself. Nigeria never seems to align both well-meaning leaders and competent hands to assist them. Jonathan’s cabinet had a few stars but a sun that couldn’t shine.
In Buhari’s case, even if the sun couldn’t shine as brightly as 1984, it could have been aided by stars who love Nigeria beyond their self-promoting ways. Nigerians should be celebrated for their resilience in such a hostile environment but until we become politically savvy, make informed decisions and agree to fight corruption in our everyday lives (which is difficult to do because many of us benefit from chaos and injustice in one way or another), we will be blamed for the state of affairs in our country.
We’ve chosen back breaking resilience in the face of adversity to finding pathways to independence and true freedom. Our inability to analyse and scrutinise the game played by politicians reduces us to pawns in their hands: our political illiteracy is perhaps today a greater weapon than the inability to read or write.
THE question of whether allegations are true or not never seems to come into play in Nigeria: the accused and their fanatics (young people used as thugs or mouth pieces on social media) focus on would-be victimisation.
Senator Ben Bruce tweeted his support for Senator Melaye by saying: “It will be very unfortunate if the same government he fought for turns around to be the one fighting him”. So support for a government grants you immunity?
A twitter user answered: “Stop ranting on social media and get a lawyer to defend you in court, a supposed law maker like you should not be desecrating our justice system. Face the prosecution and defend your innocence, end of story”. End of story indeed.
MANY were left puzzled and angry by his statement. He couldn’t understand, he said, why Nigerians made such a fuss over his annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election (and also couldn’t forgive him), especially given that the elections of that year were the freest and fairest in our history, which he orchestrated.
The irony of supposedly organising the best elections in our history only to cancel the results is lost on Babangida. Like Obasanjo, he should accept retirement and stop commenting on the national issues he and his cronies helped create.
Perhaps, they can’t because they are haunted by the ghosts of missed opportunities and dead prospects left in their wake.
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.