By Donu Kogbara
Dear Vanguard Readers,
I AM writing this week’s column from New York. I came to America’s most dynamic and cosmopolitan city to hover on the fringes of the annual United Nations General Assembly, UNGA, meeting.
All 193 member states of the UN are represented in the General Assembly and this 2019-2020 session is the organisation’s 74th.
This year’s theme is “Galvanising multilateral efforts for poverty eradication, quality education, climate action and inclusion”.
And it’s a privilege to be surrounded by politicians, diplomats, activists, lobbyists, observers, academics, fellow journalists, etc, who have flown in from numerous destinations across the globe to express their opinions and, in some cases, to also listen and learn.
There have been more dramas than usual this year. A diminutive, pigtailed Swedish teenage environmental warrior, Greta Thunberg, grabbed plenty of headlines when she addressed the UN’s Climate Action Summit and angrily told world leaders off: “I shouldn’t be up here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean…How dare you?!
“You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words; and yet, I am one of the lucky ones. People are suffering, people are dying, entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the middle of mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth…”.
Reactions to this rather shrill adolescent harangue have been mixed. Some have hailed Greta as a messiah or expressed the view that she is talking rubbish. Others, I included, feel that she has made important points but should now go home to quietly face her studies.
Meanwhile, the ever-controversial President Trump’s UN speech at the New York, has been totally eclipsed by a huge whistleblower-triggered scandal that revolves around Trump’s attempts to persuade Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to dig dirt on Joe Biden (Obama’s Vice-President and Trump’s most high-profile 2020 election rival so far) and alleged White House attempts to cover up the murky goings-on.
As you can imagine, Trump’s supporters are coming up with excuses and trying to downplay their man’s considerable errors, while his enemies are thrilled and praying that he is impeached out of office. But most of the Nigerians I’ve encountered here are not particularly interested in little Greta’s complaints or Oga Trump’s problems.
Someone once said that all politics is local at the end of the day, and most of the Nigerians I’ve encountered here – whether they be visitors to New York or residents of New York – are much more concerned about various Nigeria-specific issues. One concern is the fact that our ambassador to the United States comes across as a very frail geriatric.
I don’t wish to insult Sylvanus Adiewere Nsofor, a distinguished retired Court Of Appeal Judge. But he is simply too old for any job, never mind a position in the most powerful country on earth that can only be managed competently if it is managed energetically.
According to Nsofor’s online biography, he was born in 1935, which would make him 84 years old now. But he looks a lot older than 84 and is trembly and walks very slowly with the aid of a stick. What in heaven’s name was Buhari thinking when he appointed this elderly gentleman and despatched him to Washington DC to promote the complex interests of the most populous nation in Africa?
I wouldn’t ask someone at Osofor’s advanced stage in life to run the boy scout troupe in a small village! And it shocks me that Buhari has allowed him to undertake massive responsibilities.
Even if embassy staff do the lion’s share of the work to spare him the stress of having to bite off more than he can chew, Nsofor’s presence makes Nigeria look bad. And yet, Nigeria is full of more youthful individuals who can be impressive envoys to key countries.
And before you think that I am being arrogantly ageist because I have time on my side and I’m identifying with those who have a few more decades in the workforce ahead of them, let me point out that the fresh-faced photograph at the top of this column is outdated and that I will soon turn 60 and will, therefore, soon be a pensioner!
Let me close this week’s column by quoting David Hundeyin, a brilliant young Nigeria writer I’ve never met but admire from afar:
According to the CIA World Factbook, approximately 62 per cent of Nigerians is between the ages of 0 and 24. A further 30 per cent falls between 24 and 54…Our population is heavily dominated by an extremely young demographic, which poses a challenge and an opportunity.
The challenge is that based on the most basic principles of democratic representation, Nigeria’s leaders…do not represent Nigerian people.
I certainly do not feel represented by President Buhari and his geriatric co-travellers – we have practically nothing in common in terms of worldview, economic ideology, intellectual capacity, technological awareness, political consciousness and even linguistic patterns, but somehow, he is my President nonetheless.
We are the generation that sees the rest of the world as a contemporary to interact and compete with, not a mysterious ‘other’ to hide from inside a prison of inferiority complexes, subsidies and import bans.
We are the ones who have the capacity and imagination to build multimillion-dollar businesses using knowledge and creativity, as against politically-weighted government assistance. We are the generation of genuine entrepreneurs offering local and international value and not government tenderpreneurs who survive at the mercy of who is in political office.
We are the people who had the vision and ability to create a multibillion-dollar international entertainment industry from scratch without assistance, while [Buhari’s generation] – limited as they are in thought and conception – can only talk about pencil manufacturing and fractional distillation of petroleum-like such things are rocket science. We are the ones who understand that mixing church and state is a fool’s errand. We are the generation that contains the human capital that has any hope of driving Nigeria forward.
Once our ‘heroes past’ have finally had their day…we will have the chance to take everything we have learned over the past 50 years and use it to thoroughly deconstruct the failed system they have left behind…”.
It is an absolute tragedy that my generation and my parents’ generation have not left those who will take over from us a halfway decent legacy…and that instead of thanking us for building a sound foundation they can build on, they cannot wait for us to go.