by Dele Momodu
Fellow Nigerians, I’m very sorry if I’m starting my weekly epistle with what may seem a rhetorical question today. Columnists are ordinarily expected to throw up certain questions from time to time and proffer answers. Let me confess right away that I may not be able to do so in this piece. My pessimism comes from the fact that my generation of youths complained against these same leaders and although some of us have managed to gain some ascendancy the truth is the older generation I am talking about still seem to call the shots! A sobering and telling indication of this is the recent picture of three of our previous leaders, Generals Abdulsalam Abubakar, Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida and Olusegun Okikiola Obasanjo, along with Otunba Fasawe, meeting in Minna to decide on the fate of the present leadership of our dear country.
One would wonder why these geriatrics, the last of whom was in power 10 years ago should think that they have any role to play in determining the future course of the country and its restive youths when they are collectively mainly responsible for the dire situation that we find ourselves today. The challenges of the 20th century are so diverse and distinct from those of the 21st century and these leaders are simply relics to be placed firmly in the realms of history and not that they should be part of our future. That they deign to have any semblance of influence to determine that future demonstrates the depths we have plumbed as a nation. Given this sorry state of affairs, my mission is only to establish a dialogue or start a debate on what our youths really want and hope that this would help us find a workable solution to the many challenges confronting our youths today.
It is not uncommon to see, hear or feel our youths grumbling and lamenting and groaning about how they have been short-changed by the older generation. I recently wrote about how most of those controlling Nigeria today started holding leadership positions in their twenties and thirties. That is no longer news. Some have been in, out and around power for the past 50 years or more. And they are not about to quit no matter the loudness of moans and grunts coming from our desperate or disillusioned young ones.
I truly wish I could understand the problem and its solution but it is so tough and confusing that I sincerely doubt if there is any clear-cut answer. The inspiration for this piece came all the way from Durban, South Africa, at the World Economic Forum, where the former President of Ghana, John Dramani Mahama, received thunderous and resounding ovation for his contributions during several of the sessions he participated in. One of the most important sessions he attended and addressed was the one on youth inclusion in power and politics. The conclusion is that there are too many things our youths want and it is practically impossible to have them all. The one they complain the most about is the most difficult to achieve. It is how to seize or wrest power from a generation they believe has become overbearing, overpowering and ancient. This is the crux of the matter.
There is no doubt that the youths want political power by all means but it is not so simple to attain. They must participate as contestants and as voters and remain focused and passionate all the way. If you don’t join a political movement you may never appreciate the process and procedure of becoming a leader. Our youths cannot sit down at home arms, akimbo and expect power to drop on their laps, just like that. It takes time to build one’s profile and brand. It takes loads of money to fund campaigns. There is no short-cut to power. How many of our youths are willing to contribute or commit the little they have or can afford the harsh realities of political life and the drudgery and scrounging that goes with it. The youths in other countries make donations to political parties and the political process and become stakeholders in the political millieu. As veritable investors, they would always have a say in how they are governed.
When potentially good leaders stand up as candidates, the young ones are the first to shoot him down. I can confidently use myself as an example. Not many youths believed I was serious and determined to win the Presidential election in 2011. Everyone was qualified except an experienced and versatile journalist who was also a publisher. My roadmap was simple. I believed that on my own accord, and with God’s guidance and help, I had built a successful brand. I was not tainted or tarnished by being part of the failed political class like most of my opponents who had achieved nothing but failure from the governmental experience that they trumpeted. My view was that since we perennially complained about the abysmal failures and corruption in our body polity, let us jettison our major political parties and start or develop new ones. I strongly believed our salvation belonged in forming new parties or rebuilding a few reasonable ones. I made substantial contributions to Labour Party, National Conscience Party and even KOWA. Till today, I have never been a member of KOWA Party. The reason I supported KOWA was because I saw people of like minds I genuinely admire in it, especially my big brother, Alhaji Fola Adeola. This is how it should be. How I had wished we had many young ones willing and ready to make similar sacrifice for the sake of our country.
In 2011, I was greatly inspired by the emergence of Barack Obama in America, as the first black President. It was a miracle that I thought could be replicated in Africa. But I was told by my peers that I was a day dreamer. The same people who clamoured for youth participation in politics were the ones who treated us with disdain. I chose a 26 year old man, Ohimai Godwin Amaize, as my National Campaign Coordinator but many could still not see the statement I was trying to make. We had a parade of some accomplished Nigerians at the time but many preferred to maintain the status quo. I was almost certain that one of us, or a combination of us, Nasir El-Rufai, Donald Duke, Nuhu Ribadu, Usman Malami, Yunusa Tanko, Fola Adeola, Awwal Tukur, Oby Ezekwesili, Pat Utomi, or Dele Momodu would be massively supported in order to correct the faulty Nigerian trajectory but I was very wrong. I interacted with all but we were not able to make appreciable progress.
I went all the way, even if only as a symbolic gesture. Those who should applaud my guts for trying at all were more interested in dissing me and my family. One reporter wrote nonsense about my wife not voting for me despite the fact that it was in broad day light that we voted in different polling booths. But that is the tragedy of our generation. We prefer to trivialise serious issues and amplify mundane topics. Just imagine where Nigeria would have been if we had assembled some of our best eleven in 2011.
What Nigeria needs is a sort of bloodless ethical revolution. The youths would have to do it now or we will all remain in this terrible quagmire. We talk and sermonise about almost anything and everything but do nothing about the terrible conditions we face. Those who are serious about doing something are often told to get lost. We prefer our oppressors to our liberators. It pains me to the marrow that at a time the world was savouring the euphoria of an Obama, we did not seize the initiative. Anyone who tried to replicate the same Obama magic at home was rebuffed and treated with disdain. They would tell him he can’t do it. They would discourage and disparage him. Some would prefer to queue behind the same people they alleged stole their money. They would do this for money that would barely buy them a meal handed over from the filthy lucre that they incessantly complain about. They would defend the old as experienced people who can be trusted and entrusted with power. But if their experience was that good and useful, how come we have found ourselves in this “peculiar mess” in Nigeria with no solution in sight? We have continued to move from frying pan to fire.
Let’s examine what else the youths want so desperately apart from power. The youths want good jobs but these jobs are not readily available. And where and when available many of the applicants are not employable. What President Mahama did in Ghana was to tilt Ghanaian education in the direction of vocational studies. The reason was simple. Why do we keep mass-producing graduates like popcorns when the ones before them and the generation beyond would never be able to get the jobs of their dream? Many go to school to read courses that may not bear fruits. The jobs that are readily available hardly find enough hands on ground. More often than not, nations are in dire need of capable artisans and innovators. Every country, whether developed or developing requires its youths to be a mix of artisans, technicians, scientists and IT personnel and computer whiz kids. A good example of the youth employment conundrum in Nigeria is the case of students that are rushing to read irrelevant courses and yet expect to find jobs in other disciplines pronto.
There are no easy roads to getting jobs whether good or bad. It is only a man who has one job in hand who can complain and then proceed to seek another. A man who has none would have to manage the one that he can land in hand, especially if he or she is from my kind of background, the proletariat. It takes time to create jobs and spread opportunities. But the youths need the jobs like yesterday. Mahama thought he had a perfect solution by investing heavily in infrastructure development but this would become his albatross. The youths said they were hungry and needed food before anything else. The same seems to be the case of the youths in Nigeria who would seem to prefer to be fed rather that acquire the skills of how to feed people.
Any continent with the type of infrastructure deficit that we suffer in Africa is already in big trouble. It is always a Catch-22 situation. There can be no jobs without adequate preparation for facilities. The facilities cost an arm and a leg. Mahama built or revamped many hospitals, schools, new roads, airports, and so on hoping to secure the future of the youths but he ended up eating his pounded yam as boiled yam. The youths kicked vehemently and got him out of power. It is one of the ironies of life that doing great work is no longer enough. You have to balance it with stomach infrastructure. It is a major lesson for leaders out there that the youths are not interested in long tales, all they want is instant results with talismanic effects. Unfortunately, if they are to better their lot the youths must first learn patience and understanding. They must appreciate that ‘panda’ can never be gold no matter how much it is burnished!
It is obvious that the problems we confront in the world today are grave. As 2019 approaches in Nigeria, this question would have to be asked and adequately addressed by our youths. What do they want for themselves? Self-governance or handouts and hand-me-downs? May God make our youths see clearly on how to set themselves free from the bondage of the aged and the past. No one can do it better and faster than our younger generation. The time for them to act, and claim what is their right, is now!