The Jackson Five

By Muyiwa Adetiba

The Jackson Five exploded into the world’s musical consciousness some sixty years ago. It was a family band of five brothers. Chubby cheeked and ‘petit’, Michael was the youngest and the most endearing. He was also the most prodigious. It was no surprise that he became the most enduring.

Their father Joe ran a tight ship and deserves some credit for the role he played in identifying such enormous talents early. The boys produced music beyond their years and came up with hits after hits in quick succession.

Every young person at the time irrespective of their musical inclinations, had a Jackson Five album among their collections. One of the hit songs was titled ‘You better make a way for the young folks’. The sixties period with its feminism, activism and sexual liberation, was easily the era of the youths and the songquickly travelled round the world.

Being a ‘young folk’ myself at the time, I easily identified with the sentiments of the song like many other young folks in the world – White, Black or Yellow. We wanted the old folks to ‘shift their funk’ – pardon the language of the young – and leave the stage for the dynamism of youth.

Nigeria of the time might have heard, and heeded the call. General Yakubu Gowon, who was the Head of State at the time, was in his thirties.  Many of his lieutenants, were even younger. The leadership of the Civil Service was young.

The so called ‘Super PermSecs’ were in their thirties. Many of the captains of industry were also young. Everywhere you turned, it was the young running the show in Nigeria. To crown it all, it was also the era of new (young) money.

With large, almost inexhaustible sums of money at their disposal, these young, educated, confident and exposed men and women had the opportunity – and the means- to paint their Nigeria of the future on a new, vast, white canvas. Could what we have today as Nigeria be described as the imprints of the youths of that time? Would Nigeria have been better today if the old had not been forced to shift for the young folks?

Decades have flown past, and the powerful words of jazz singer George Benson, ‘the young becomes old; history to unfold’ have come to pass. In Nigeria, the young leaders of the 60s and 70s have become either old or dead and the history that has unfolded is that of missed opportunities and regret.

The portrait of Nigeria that has evolved from the canvas is so ugly, the trajectory of the country so worrisome that the refrain of the old Jackson Five song is being hummed again. ‘Let us make way for the young folks’ is the mantra in some quarters. It is as if the old in its entirety, has mismanaged Nigeria.

While I admit that many of those who have had access to the brush and paint which have resulted in the portrait of Nigeria today have very few new things to offer, we must be wary of wholesale dismissal because some young people at the time did great things. We must also learn from our past misadventures. Having untested hands under the guise of youth might end up being as disastrous as recycling the same old brigade.

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One of the unwholesome legacies of the ‘young that has now become old’ is the premium it put on wealth over the years. The result is that we are now a nation that worships wealth however gotten. We have now equated success with money.

The prosperity churches were a phenomenon that started in the 80s following the ‘Jesus for money’ consciousness which arose in the USA at the time before making its way to Africa. Now, even the orthodox churches have caught the bug.

A ‘Yahoo boy’ can easily be made the ‘Harvest Chairman’of many churches these days. He will even be encouraged to bring his friends to add to the coffers of the church. So when our religious institutions have bowed to the god of money, how can we expect our politics to stand up to it?

How can our political landscape put the power of ideas over the lure of lucre when our traditional institutions no longer pay obeisance to wisdom of the ages when money is in contention? It is undeniable that our politics is so expensive that those who have money to burn have a clear advantage over those who have worked hard for their money; those who have cash over those who have ideas. We might therefore end up having people with shady money occupying top political offices.

What we need along the freshness and energy of youth, is the experience of age by those who have kept themselves untainted. And there is no denying the fact that there are many successful youths who have not taken the path of ‘Yahoo’; or placed wealth over substance.

There are also those who don’t flaunt wealth as if money is the only currency of worth. Atedo Peterside was but a youth when he set up IBTC, a financial institution which has now become an international brand. So was Fola Adeola when he set up GTB. So was Biodun Shobanjo when he set up Insight Communication which has grown into one of the largest multi- service outfits in the country.

These were men in their 30s. Punch Newspapers was also set up by men in their 30s. These are just a few of the people who over the years, have shown ability, capability and staying power. They are people with antecedence. More importantly, they are people who took their chances when the opportunity came. They did not wait for the old to roll over. Like writer Harold Robbins said in one of his novels ‘nobody gives you a chance, you take it’.

We are again in the era of ‘the young folks’. Nigeria is a youthful country and young ones are in the majority.Are the ‘young folks’ poised to take over the reins of the country in 2023? Are they prepared to put premium on antecedence, capability and ability?

In other words, are they looking at people like the men I mentioned? Are they also learning from the mistakes ‘the young leaders of the 70s’ made? My advice is that they should not go for the topmost positions themselves but instead, have a major input in who gets there by looking out for people with ability and staying power instead of ‘flash in the pan’ contestants. They should try to effect the changes Nigeria needs from the grassroots. 2023 is the year to effect meaningful changes in the polity if they manage the process well.

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