by Chude Jideonwo
Without a doubt, last year was my most memorable birthday yet. Until then, that honour belonged to my 18th – a colourful day of music, celebrity and enough food to last a village; the only adult birthday party I have had. But then last year came and blew it away in every material particular – significance, purpose, magnitude, relevance, novelty.
It’s ironic – that I always boasted even from high school, that if I would be a lawyer, I would be an FRA Williams rather than a Gani Fawehinmi – cosy as a professional, focused on soaring as high as possible and leaving society to take care of itself. But then I should have known – between constantly inciting classmates against unsavoury school conditions and lecturers not worth their weight in chalk, as well as irritating my very first boss – and many after her – with an uncanny ability to rally colleagues around a common grievance, I should have known.
So it was that on my 25th birthday March 16 last year, I led friends and associates to a memorable – some would say historic – march in the Federal Capital Territory, where we together faced down the barricades of armed men and spineless legislators and made our voices heard loud and clear, ringing across the world.
What was remarkable about that March was that up to 80 per cent of us had never joined a rally, never publicly protested, never been on the frontlines of a demonstration, never even thought that that would be the case – and yet there was such giant ripple across the nation following that one small step.
Indeed the whole process from idea to manifestation took less than one month – it was, if there ever was, a spontaneous decision by Nigeria’s young people not to take it anymore.
It was also an incredible empowering moment. It was a birthday well spent – and more so for a landmark year. It is even more gratifying that that organization has become one of this election’s most influential civic forces – as one of its board members put it, it is now “front left and centre” in these elections, making real change happen on a national scale.
One year after the rallies that Nigerians staked their lives and livelihoods on ushered President Ebele Jonathan into office, it seems to me that the president has forgotten too soon the same young people who sat and walked in the sun and who have now requested, politely, that he join the nation’s first-ever youth-centred Presidential Debate. It seems his memory fails him because the president has not just said no, but completely decided to ignore this perfectly regular request…”
So why do I find myself back on the streets on my 26th birthday?
Because, as we have found out, the work of keeping a government on its toes, so that it continues to work on the right side of the people it is supposed to lead, is never done.
One year after the rallies that Nigerians staked their lives and livelihoods on ushered President Ebele Jonathan into office, it seems to me that the president has forgotten too soon the same young people who sat and walked in the sun have now requested, politely, that he join the nation’s first-ever youth-centred Presidential Debate. It seems his memory fails him because the president has not just said no, but completely decided to ignore this perfectly regular request.
He, alongside General Muhammadu Buhari, both positioning themselves as bastions of an old guard.
“What About Us?” is our campaign and the debate is fixed for March 25 – showing live on Channels Television, and hosted by the near-legendary Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and TV personality, Ebuka Obi-Uchendu – and already confirmed are Alhaji Nuhu Ribadu, Prof. Pat Utomi and Chief Dele Momodu, who are the candidates invited alongside Messrs Jonathan and Buhari.
Because of this peevishness, to show them yet again that the youth mean business, this morning we are marching under the sun to the campaign headquarters of each candidate in Abuja to submit yet another letter of invitation in the full glare of the Nigerian press – to demand that they pay attention to the youth and the issues that affect us – all 100 million of us across the country, a huge percentage of whom have registered for these elections.
Our message is clear: we will not vote for you if you will not engage us.
So it happens that, thanks to a leadership un-alive to its responsibilities, I will be sacrificing yet another birthday – or will I? Is this an unfortunate sacrifice – or in fact a fortunate exercise in civic responsibility?
I go with the latter. Perhaps it’s a metaphor for our generation – that it doesn’t matter how long it takes and it doesn’t matter where the chips fall, we are determined to secure a Nigeria worthy to be called our country, and we will be on the frontlines of change until that is secured.
If that is true – and I do think it is – then there is nothing unfortunate about the work that I have set upon myself today: the work that the many change workers across the country are sacrificing much more than birthdays to achieve.
It is our future, it is our country, and it is our responsibility. If anything therefore, I am honoured – to be able to find myself useful in the service of the change that we seek. Today – and everyday.
#Join the movement on www.eienigeria.org. Look for EiENigeria on Facebook and Twitter.
“What About Us?” on www.whataboutusnigeria.org