By Muyiwa Adetiba
I don’t know about you but each time I read about the positive exploits of Nigerians in the diaspora, I feel elated. And there is a rash of them recently – from high level international appointments, to sensitive appointments in the Biden administration, to impressive, mega million dollar strides in the IT world, to elective positions in Western democracies.
There is no field of human endeavour, from sports to space travel, from brain to brawn that Nigerians are not excelling in. These achievements didn’t start today; or even yesterday. We had the first African, a Nigerian, presiding at the World Court. We had the first black African, a Nigerian, as a Nobel Laureate. We had an urbane Nigerian co-ordinating the diplomatic affairs of the Commonwealth countries. We had a Nigerian coordinating the economic affairs of Africa. We had a Nigerian blazing the trail in basketball as a member of the American Dream Team. We all know that, one on one, Nigerians can hold their own in any field. After all, Nigerian students attend and cart away academic prizes at some of the best universities in the world.
We need to be reminded of these feats and what they mean because of the constant negative facts about the country. Facts that tell us we are now the poverty capital of the world; facts that tell us we have the largest number of out of school children in the world; facts that tell us our unemployed youths are honing their skills in internet fraud and crime; facts that suggest we are incubating one of the fiercest terrorist groups in the world; and put together, facts that insinuate we are heading towards becoming a failed State.
How is it that a country with so much brain power, resources, abundant energy and creativity like Nigeria can find itself at the bottom of the political and economic barrel? As Dr Doyin Okupe suggested in his Vanguard interview a couple of weeks ago, the answer might be because Nigeria has been unable to consistently put its best, most committed brains at the helm of its affairs. And that is putting it mildly. So because those running the country can only give what they have, we find ourselves mired at the base of human development when we should be flying.
We are still talking today about open grazing and seasonal farming; we are talking about narrow gauges for our trains; we are talking about electricity for our homes and factories; we are talking about feeding the ravenous appetite of our refineries; we are talking about ethnic representation irrespective of merit. The same basic things we talked about fifty years ago are still on the front burner today. The way we are talking about gas today as the future engine of growth was the way we talked about crude oil some fifty years ago. We have different faces in governance but the same leadership vision because the selection process has not changed.
Over time, the children we have refused to put in school have grown up. The desert encroachment we refused to stem has eaten up the land. The infrastructures we refused to upgrade have sent companies and jobs away. The population we refused to control is roaming wild, unskilled and unschooled. But while we put ourselves in a time capsule, the rest of the world has moved on. And the internet which had become a phenomenon during our decades of hibernation brings it all home today through the social media. Our youths see the world literally through their phones – no longer do they need to enter a plane to see how their future has been short changed.
They can see the stark reality of their existence in a land that is supposed to flow with milk and honey. They can access the evidence of corruption; of bad leadership and this makes them angry. They are angry because they are hungry. They are hungry because the commonwealth has been compromised. So they fight back the way they know; Yahoo, yahoo leading to #Endsars for the more enlightened, and sheer banditry for the lowest level. And whatever we may think of the lull, neither will give up without being appeased. We can only hope the two don’t join forces before we find a solution.
The solution is to take these kids off the streets – and bushes – by finding jobs and food for them. In other words, we have to keep them occupied in a gainful way. I have always thought this was a no brainer. After all, an idle hand is a devil’s workshop they say. In previous articles, I had suggested farming with its numerous value chains as low hanging fruits; but the trees bearing them must be tilled and watered by government. I had also suggested sports – another low hanging fruit which must be nurtured. Asiwaju Bola Tinubu suggested a novel way a couple of weeks ago during his birthday lecture. He suggested a massive recruitment of our young unemployed into the Armed Forces. I don’t know about the feasibility of employing fifty million or even five million youths as he suggested, but the idea has its merits.
He believed, correctly in my view, that those who can assemble and service guns cannot be said to be untrainable. In other words, why fight our own if we can bring them to our side. The reality is that we need more boots on the ground to fight crime. It seems a win, win solution because the money for the purchase of sophisticated artillery can then be used to pay for trainings and salaries. But I see major problems if the recruitment system is perfunctorily done.
If Tinubu’s option is being considered, then there has to be a process of serious de-radicalisation and training. Otherwise we might end up having moles within the forces and training of people who might turn our own guns against us.
We should also be mindful of the fact that we might not be able to pay what a life of crime fetches some of them. So they might eventually return to their old ways better trained and with a better knowledge of our security system. Or worse, commit crimes with the cover of uniform. The other side of course is that some of them might also give useful insights into how insurgents operate.
I am all for any means which takes our misguided and frankly marginalised youths away from guns. I am for whatever can bring them into the orbit of family and society. The leadership which pushed them out owes a duty to bring them in. We can only hope it is not too late for many of them.