By Musibau Akanni
Permit me to renew or share with you some didactic, relevant literary experience availed the world by the duo of Ghana’s Ayi Kwei Armah and Nigeria’s Chinua Achebe, both writers of indomitable renown.
We resorted to Armah because of the similarity in the political history of Nigeria and Ghana both being former British colonies. A constant reminder of this tie today perhaps is the Nkrumah Award for Good Governance which contemporary Nigerian politicians are always excited to be honoured with.
Armah via his probably best-known work The Beautyful Ones Are not Yet Born tells the story of a corrupt society such as contemporary Nigeria presents. But we all know that no matter how pervasive the decadence of a society may be, some of us will still be consistently critical of the situation at whatever cost. This is also in addition to steering clear of unworthy benefits corruption as much as possible.
The protagonist in the novel made all efforts to steer clear of corruption to the delight of the fair-minded compatriots and others. However, the tribe of the critical mass is slim. Unfortunately, the least likely solution, a military coup happens. We are all too familiar with the regular tendency of coup plotters as opportunists always out to suppress or exterminate dissenting voices. Even the protagonist is not to be spared by the rampaging army. He is lucky to be rescued. Guess the Messiah: Some visibly corrupt members of the society. This is no doubt a most sobering end capable of plunging readers into hopelessness. But that’s how strong and overwhelming corruption can be. Corruption fights back, you must have heard spokespersons of the sitting, anti-corruption government of President Buhari say, repeatedly.
Our own Achebe presents in No Longer at Ease what qualifies rather as individualised scenario such that you and I could reflect much more deeply. Obi Okonkwo, the central character in the novel, having been awarded a scholarship to study English in England emerges the hope of his community. On return, he gets invited for a job interview at the Scholarship Board, a prestigious public service department. Obi is stunned when asked if he has sought to be employed there so he could take bribes. Eventually, Obi still gets caught up by the whirlwind of corruption even as he is contemptuous of the question that signaled its possibility in the first instance. Obi is jailed. From both Armah and Achebe, spirit-dampening stories, you would conclude. Achebe and Armah are however far from being simplistic about the societal challenges we have. They are no prophets of doom either. Rather, they are challenging the rest of us to adhere to deep thinking and strengthen our patriotic zeal.
Would I be wrong to say that it is most tragic that unguarded use of social media today is robbing this generation of the capacity to deepen our thoughts? Just imagine how supposedly knowledgeable and radical undergraduates no longer compete to get published on the opinion pages of newspapers but rather dwell on ceaseless, resource sucking Facebook gossips. As a mark of genuine commitment to this Leadership Summit of the Unilorin Student Union, it’s time you all had a rethink on this.
Far from being simplistic, Achebe did not ignore the impact of the international environment. In his essay, “Africa is People”, he argues that so many challenges for governance, especially economic challenges have derived from the inevitable international cooperation among governments which unfortunately appropriates more advantage to the western world than Africa. Recalling the memory of a session he had attended with some World Bank experts and others in 1989, the great story teller and sage recounts how he registered his displeasure against some of the distasteful policies of Bretton Woods Institution for Africa which are hardly dispensed to any country in the West:
“Here you are, spinning your fine theories to be tried out in your imaginary laboratories. You are developing new drugs and feeding them to a bunch of laboratory guinea pigs and hoping for the best. I have news for you. Africa is not fiction. Africa is people, real people. Have you thought of that? You are brilliant people, world experts. You may even have the very best intentions. But have you thought, really thought, of Africa as people?
But the reality is that the instability often triggered by weak economy has led to political crises in a number of African countries even as the latter have also deepened the former most disturbingly.
Against this tide of darkness looming large, the irrepressible scholar, Wole Soyinka, in the early 1980s co-wrote a song with a reputable musician, Tunji Oyelana, titled, “I Love My Country”. Some four decades later in 2013, DJ Cuppy, another Nigerian, a young lady based in the UK, daughter of oil magnate and Forbes-rated multimillionaire, Femi Otedola, caused a rebound of the celebrated Soyinka-Oyelana title with a remix. Don’t we all owe our great country all the love and commitment it needs to be greater and measure up?
Perhaps, the most exciting development in the recent time in the history of party politics in Africa is the seemingly impossible victory of opposition in 2015 over the ruling party in Nigeria. Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, had swept the polls in 1999 and repeated the feat in 2003, 2007 and 2011. It was therefore convenient for members of that party to claim that their party, the biggest party in Africa, would rule for 100 years or so. It was difficult to fault.
But then the strategists in the opposition refused to resign to fate, as Ola Rotimi would assert. They organized and re-organised fusing forces- the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, which had earlier transformed from Alliance for Democracy, AD, worked out some concessions and to unite with CPC. Quite interestingly, youths disenchanted with the 16-year misrule of PDP took to social media with their unprecedented advantages of multimediality and immediacy. The mileage earned, not only for the APC, but also for themselves as individuals remains historical. It is on record today that some of these social media influencers, and most of them are youths, now have followership that readily dwarf those of established media institutions that had been in existence before some of them, like majority of you, were born. It is not how far but how well. This is different from chatting away precious time on social media.
I’m not in doubt that a major dividend accruing to the youthful activism was the motivation to start and sustain the ‘Not Too Young to Run Bill’ campaign. It is now a success story. The constitutional amendment was signed May 31, 2018. The Bill seeks a reduction in the minimum age to contest presidency and legislative positions at both the state and House of Representative levels to 35 and 25 years respectively from the former 40 years and 35 years. It is in fact interesting to note that apart from Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe who was 56, none of the rest of the first set of regional, post-independence leaders including Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Chief S. L. Akintola and Tafawa Balewa was 50 year old. Chief Matthew Mbu who later became Labour Minister at 25 became Nigeria’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom at 26 after he had been a parliamentarian at 23. Not to forget, the current Minister of Communications, Chief Adebayo Shittu, also became a member of the House of Assembly of the Old Oyo State at 26. So, who says the good old days are not here already for you, with all the capabilities that the digital technology has come to arm you with, as digital natives?
It is worth stressing here that the Cybercrime Act of 2015 has only been used to highlight the need for youths to be alive to issues and strive to offer meaningful interventions. Incidentally, this age of maximally liberalized public communication offers limitless opportunities.
“You Must Set Forth at Dawn”
There can hardly be any greater signal on the need to heed the elders’ call to “set forth at dawn” than the personality of President Macron of France. As recently as 2002, he was at the French Embassy in Lagos as an intern. The rest is good story today.
Permit to end this my short address by echoing the honouree of the day. When he was the Vice-Chancellor, he had charged the first set of students who matriculated under him to set forth at dawn, himself echoing an older scholar, Prof. Wole Soyinka. His appeal on that day remains as relevant as ever:
There is no better time to begin to muster efforts for excellence in your pursuits here than now…
You are expected to work very hard from this very beginning. When you do this, you stand to keep improving by the day… I want you to be mindful of your enviable status… particularly of a fast growing university with high flying credentials. I plead with you to conduct yourselves in the most lawful manners. If you do this, you stand to attract all possible support… We believe you are anxious to become great ambassadors of this university in no distant future as the present leadership of the university demonstrates. We equally believe you would make good assets to the institution.
Originally titled “Deem Yourselves Beautiful,” Dr. Musibau Tunde Akanni delivered the lecture abridged above at the Sixth Leadership Summit organized by the Student Union Government of the University of Ilorin in Honour of former VC Unilorin and JAMB Registrar Professor Is’haq Olanrewaju Oloyede at Ilorin.