SIMONKOLAWOLELIVE! BY SIMON KOLAWOLE
In my previous article, ahead of Nigeria’s 60th Independence Day celebrations, I tried to examine the root of Nigeria’s divisive politicking. In what many saw as a sacrilegious criticism of our venerated “founding fathers”, I argued that their politics was founded on ethnic and regional sentiments and quite destructive. Most colonial-era political parties were formed along sectionalist lines. I argued that most of the politicians did not genuinely work to create a united country, even though they were excellent administrators. We inherited a Nigeria built on mutual suspicion and bitter political rivalry and it is this divided Nigeria that we have operated and are operating till today.
There are basically two choices before us today, I proposed. One is to continue to fan the embers of the disunity and unhealthy battle for supremacy bequeathed to us by our “founding fathers”. Some of the most dominant voices in national debate today are products or by-products of that era. They see themselves as the anointed custodians of this mindset and are working very hard, day and night, to perpetuate it — romanticising a return to the past that was steeped in ethnic chauvinism and cronyism which they tend to advocate as the ultimate solution to Nigeria’s multifarious challenges. They are still stuck with 1914 while progress-minded societies are already planning for 2114.
The second option for us, as I also proposed, is to chart a new course: to face the future by pursuing the right politics that will build a nation where justice, peace and equity shall reign. Nigeria desperately needs new “founding fathers” and “founding mothers” who will promote nation-building and progress, not those who will keep reviving and propagating the destructive colonial-era rivalries. We need new thought leaders and new activists who will turn the heat on the mismanagement and incompetence ruining every nook and cranny of Nigeria. We badly need solution providers, problem solvers and nation builders. We need a “New Nigeria” movement.
Unfortunately, we cannot build a “new” Nigeria with “old” Nigerians — particularly those who have made up their minds to see nothing but gloom and doom for the country. To them, Nigeria is finished and beyond redemption. To build a “new” Nigeria, therefore, we need “new” Nigerians — those whose passion is fuelled by a desire for the development of the country, those who look around and see massive opportunities for greatness, those who expend their energies on promoting what unites us rather than magnifying what divides us, and those who believe every part of Nigeria deserves to be treated with equity, no matter their population, tongue, beliefs or political leaning.
So who do we turn to in this “New Nigeria” project? The youth, of course. To build the kind of Nigeria I am talking about is not a day’s job. We are not going to go to bed tonight and wake up tomorrow to see a new Nigeria. We are not discussing magic here. Nigeria did not get here overnight and Nigeria will not be salvaged overnight. It took decades upon decades to ruin Nigeria, to create the mindset that shapes the leadership and controls national discourse. It will take decades to develop a new mindset that is focused, first and foremost, on Nigeria rather than “tribe and tongue”. But can we start this rebuilding today, hoping to reap the reward in the future?
When I said our hope is in the “youth” — defined in the National Youth Policy as those between 18-29 years of age, although the African Youth Charter prefers 15-35 — I’m sure you sniggered. Youth? The same chaps that are on social media hurling all kinds of obscenity at each other based on ethnic and religious prejudice? The same chaps that are implicated in yahoo-yahoo (internet scam) all over the world? The same chaps that are dosing heavily on hard drugs? The same chaps that would rather vote in Big Brother Naija (BBN) poll than on election days? The same chaps that are being churned out by our rickety educational system? Dear Simon, are you out of your mind?
No, I am not beside myself. Occasionally, I do come across the ill-mannered conversations on Twitter, mostly coated in bad grammar. I come across vile ethnic and religious hate being spewed in the crudest language possible. I come across twisted facts and outright falsehood being sprayed around in the name of politics. I read news of young people enrolling in special schools to learn yahoo-yahoo after swearing to oaths of secrecy in shrines. I read comments from the entitled youth, the disrespectful youth, and the badly behaved youth, on social media platforms. I see intimidating statistics of youth unemployment and underemployment. No, I don’t live on the moon!
But this does not tell the entire story of the Nigerian youth. For one, it is unfair to use BBN to judge them. Globally, entertainment draws more young persons compared to polling booths. There is nothing peculiar to Nigeria in this. More so, you can vote in BBN poll and still vote in elections. They are not mutually exclusive. More critically, we need to find out why there is political apathy among the youth. Is there something that discourages them? How can we get them to develop more interest? Off my head, I would say more young Nigerians are registering to vote, and more are turning out to cast their ballots compared to the earlier years of this democratic dispensation.
We need to acknowledge that there is a large army of young Nigerians who are thinkers and builders, who are doing things better than we ever did in our own youth, who are going to places we never went, and who are reaching heights we only dreamt of. And I mean in every walk of life: academics, science, technology, media, arts and entertainment. Under the same climate, temperature and humidity, we are producing resourceful youth, but we tend to see only the bad and forget the good. The major task before us is how to retain, refine and reproduce the good, and quite essentially, how to salvage the bad. We give up too easily, perhaps just to justify our cynicism.
Could it also be that we are under-appreciating our youth and, thus, using the deviants to define the entire demography? When I set up TheCable, the online newspaper, in 2014, I was initially frustrated by the quality of applications. I almost despaired. We still managed to recruit a very youthful team, average age 23 — and most of them for their first jobs. It soon became an unofficial company policy to “catch them young”. I can testify that from the same vilified army of youthful Nigerians, we have been recruiting talents, some of whom have gone on to win awards or get international jobs. I am proud of them every minute of the day, even if the process of mentoring can be quite challenging.
We also have to admit that we have failed our youth. We cannot complain about the output without appraising the input. The school system, both traditional and vocational, is a shambles. That is not their fault. More so, as a teenage boy, even in my pre-teen, I had several avenues for my mind to be properly built, for me to express my masculinity positively, to escape idleness. We had the Boys Brigade, Man O’War, Boys Scout, Royal Ambassadors, etc. Today, youth groups are collapsing and pre-teen boys are joining cults. How much blame can we apportion to them for this? There used to be several local and national sports competitions to harvest their talents. Where are they now?
Whether we like it or not, the youth are the leaders of tomorrow. This is not subject to argument. It is a natural fact. They are the building blocks of the society. They will end up in different fields — business, sports, media, politics, civil society and civil service. They will end up calling the shots. If we lose them today, we lose the future of Nigeria. If we mismanage their today, we mismanage our tomorrow. What we owe them is the duty to encourage the positive use of their energies, to correct their mistakes, to celebrate their successes and to show them the light so that they can find the way, if I may adapt the motto of the West African Pilot. To make Nigeria great is a long-distance journey.
Nigerian youth, home and abroad, have to form the core of the rebuilding the nation. Mentoring and re-orientating the youth should form the key strategy, not just for the government but also for corporate bodies and individuals. I am putting in my shift as an employer and as a newspaper columnist. We all have a part to play to bring out the best in our youth. We should remember that the youth played a key role in combating colonialism. There was the Lagos Youth Movement, which metamorphosed into a political party called Nigerian Youth Movement. It was a melting pot for Nigerians from different ethnic and religious backgrounds, although mainly southern.
We need a new Nigerian youth movement, not in name but in mentality — a movement of informed and interested youth who want a great Nigeria. I read a joke about the Diamond Jubilee. Someone said since retirement age in Nigeria is 60, is it time to retire the old Nigeria for a new one? It was meant to be a joke but it really serves my purpose: we need new Nigerians who want to “side with Nigeria” in this troubled journey to nationhood. We need youth who would turn on the heat on leadership at all levels — federal, state and local — to “force” them to start doing the right thing today for the sake of tomorrow. These new Nigerians must hijack and dominate public discourse.
AND FOUR OTHER THINGS…
The nomination of Mrs Aisha Dahir-Umar (from the north-east) as the DG of the Nigerian Pension Commission by President Buhari has been opposed by Senator Eyinnaya Abaribe, who argued that the previous DG, Ms Chinelo Anohu-Amazu (south-east), did not complete her tenure and the PenCom law says under such circumstance, someone from the same zone must replace her. Anohu-Amazu barely served three years before her removal and the dissolution of the board. But there is now a new board. The previous board, dissolved three years ago, is history. Technically, therefore, Dahir-Umar has been nominated as a successor to, not as a replacement for, Anohu-Amazu. Right?
President Buhari, in his Independence Day address, said something to the effect that it makes no sense for petrol to be cheaper in Nigeria than in Saudi Arabia. However, if we are going to make a good argument for the removal of fuel subsidy, we should not be referring to Saudi Arabia. In a country with so many idle presidential jets, where public officers are taking chartered flights to attend weddings, where governors are buying brand new SUVs for judges and traditional rulers, where hospitals routinely reject patients saying “no bed space”, where potable water is a luxury, and where public schools are an apology, we need more than Saudi comparisons. Dissonance.
Now that US President Donald Trump has caught the coronavirus, perhaps the world, particularly conspiracy theorists, will take the pandemic more seriously. I believe that the world can overcome the coronavirus if we all behave responsibly. It is so disturbing that like Trump, people are showing little or no regard for face mask — despite evidence that droplets from the mouth and the nose easily transmit the disease. Physical distancing is too much to ask of some people. The good news is that the infection rate is slowing down, so also the death rate. But I can’t stop imagining how much safer the world would be if only people would conduct themselves with responsibility. Upsetting.
Who has the power to conduct recruitment into the police force? This was never anything to worry about until the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) and the Police Service Commission (PSC) went to war last year. NPF believed it had the powers while PSC said it was its function. It ended up in court. The high court ruled in favour of NPF, and the force went ahead to recruit 10,000 men and women. Now, the court of appeal has ruled in favour of PSC. I honestly don’t think two government bodies should be fighting in court, but that is by the way. NPF has expended enormous resources on this recruitment and it would be too absurd for this to go down the drain just like that. Waste.