By Muyiwa Adetiba
The debate in town is about our youths; whether they are too young to run for the highest political offices or too lazy for their own good and the good of the country. Like everything in Nigeria, what should have led to a robust debate capable of moving the country forward has been politicised and thereby, made pedestrian.
Yet, sooner rather than later, the future of our youths would need to be thoroughly and comprehensively discussed if we are going to have a country at all not to talk of a country that would hold its own in the comity of nations.
I really don’t want to get into the politics of what the President said about our youths in faraway UK. Those who are using the speech to castigate the President and cause disaffection between him and the young people are neither helping the nation nor the youths themselves.
We cannot deny that there is an attitude of entitlement, of wealth by whatever means among many of our young ones today that needs to be pointed out and not glossed over for the good of our nation and her future leaders.
A good father scolds and sometimes flogs an erring child in order to get the best out of them. I think that is how we should see the President’s admonition. I question the venue and the occasion however. Home truths are best told at home. And home truths should also include elders accepting their responsibility when they have been derelict in their duties.
Those who are trying to defend the President’s speech by saying the word, ‘lazy’ was never used are being clever by half. There are many ways to describe a thief without mentioning the word. What the President said and implied are clear and unambiguous. Unfortunately, by playing pedestrian politics, the two sides have missed a golden opportunity to adequately address the plight of Nigerian youths in the current dispensation and probably to make it an election issue.
Some three and a half decades ago, a sitting President said ‘For their tomorrow, we gave our today.’ That statement implied that the country was making sacrifices to ensure a better life for her young ones in the near future. It has turned out to be a lie, blatantly told to a gullible nation as if tomorrow would never come. That tomorrow is here now and it is haunting us. A toddler then is now in his 40s. Many have grown up to be angry, bitter and unfulfilled.
They have seen their hopes dashed; their dreams turned into nightmares. Many have very little in terms of values and resources to hand to their own children. Many are lost in the diaspora having fled a nation which has led them down and leaders who have fed them nothing but false promises. Many are following them in droves in search of a fresh hope and a new future. Professionals in all fields are deserting the country.
Only a few, a tiny few have the quality, the exposure and are prepared materially and emotionally to take over the baton of leadership if only the current leaders would identify let alone hand over to them.
Now, let’s see what we ‘sacrificed our yesterday’ for. Over 30 years ago, this President with the catchy sound bite, met a university system that could hold its own and graduates who were employable anywhere in the world. Now, it can’t compete even with its neighbours. He met a civil service yearning for a re-direction.
Now, it is a service of anything goes. He met a people fighting for identity. He divided them even more by annulling a free and fair election. Today, the religious and tribal divide is sharper. He met infrastructures that needed revamping. They are worse today. The divide between the rich and poor was high.
Today it’s even worse as we spend over 70% of our resources to maintain the lifestyles of one per cent. More importantly, he met a people yearning for a better tomorrow for which he claimed he was sacrificing ‘the elder’s today.’ The mass exodus of desperate youths today speaks volumes of what they think of that ‘sacrifice.’ Every successive government has worsened rather than improve the country because they are wrong choices and because the culture of impunity has not been addressed. No one is held accountable for their misdeeds.
So whatever we say of our youths has to be in the context of what we provided for them. If our youths are idle and seemingly unemployable, we have to look at the mirror. If they feel a sense of entitlement we have to look at the leaders and their profligate lifestyles. If they worship money and disdain integrity, we have to look at the elders in the society. If they seem lazy and unproductive, we have to look at the National Assembly.
For a child to be successful in the future, the foundation has to be right. And that starts with the parents who must provide a loving and stable home. A home where honesty, self-respect and family values are placed over all else. It goes to the early teachers whose teachings must go beyond academics to civic and moral values in the moulding of the child. To secondary and tertiary teachers who teach skills that should add value to the society. Teachers who must emphasise the dignity of labour and the importance of focus and merit.
To elders who perform their roles as elders; scolding when necessary and extolling virtues when expedient. Elders who use personal examples of probity and integrity to shape their malleable youths. To a society which provides stability by obeying its own laws and bye laws. A society that does not put a premium on wealth however gotten.
A society that respects the rights of the poor as well as the rich. To a government which must provide the infrastructures that would make the young adult feel motivated and fulfilled. It must promote unity by providing a level-playing field irrespective of religion or tribe. A government that provides the best by using the best.
A government that uses the resources of the people for the people and not for a few elite. A government that encourages her young people to dream because the future truly belongs to them. And finally, a government that constantly looks out—and sacrificing if necessary—for the things which will make the tomorrow of their children better.
So Mr President, our youths are a reflection of us. Their values and work attitudes are either what we teach them or what they see us do.