Our youth have quickly learnt that as was the case in January with the fuel protests, this is Nigeria where martyrs are soon forgotten and freedom is buried…
“You will not be able to stay home, brother.
You will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out.”
– Gill Scott-Heron
I spent the weekend holed up in a room poring over some statistics about Nigeria’s hydra headed monster of youth unemployment and national insecurity. After that experience, I have no doubt in my mind that our Nigerian spring is already here. We’ve just been willfully blind to it.
You must think I am crazy. I’m not.
Of course, three hundred protesting okada men on a major Lagos road do not an Arab spring make. Neither do the million other uncoordinated constant social-media powered pocket protests on every issue under the sun. Indeed, the closest thing to a movement we’ve experienced was with the fuel subsidy protests earlier in the year. However, haunted and humbled by endless bread-like lines required for access to just about any gas station in the country, I doubt the average Nigerian needs much convincing to never try such again.
The trouble is, like many of you, I have always imagined that when the “Arab spring” finally came to Nigeria, it would look very similar to what we saw in the Middle East; a bunch of the young and unemployed, openly challenging the institutions of government to be more democratic, responsive and transparent to them through courageous acts of civil disobedience.
But you see, our youth are too sophisticated to engage in such pointlessly altruistic tests of will. Our culture has encouraged us to be very bottom line oriented – and civil action against oppression, while a useful tool in unraveling authoritarian regimes doesn’t bear direct fruit for the individual till much later. Beside, it is really never truly worth it. It doesn’t feed you. Our youth have quickly learnt that as was the case in January with the fuel protests, this is Nigeria where martyrs are soon forgotten and freedom is buried alongside morals in the highest places by self proclaimed saints posing with wads of “transport money”.
So our youth, politically and economically stifled, have turned to violence to register their displeasure with a nation that has kept them hopeless and jobless. The signs of the Nigerian spring are very clear; a significant uptick in violence and robbery, Boko Haram in all its forms and phases, pirates, freedom fighters, militants and kidnappers – all frustrated youth using violence as a weapon of protest.
The Nigerian spring is not a street affair. You don’t see a government prescribed version of events on NTA in the safety of your home. No one escapes it – even government officials. It catches up with you in traffic and steals your car. Holds you up in your home, rape your daughters and carts away your valuables. It kidnaps your loved ones and makes your mobile phone an instrument of torture until you bring it an appealing sacrifice. It turns your work places into garrisons while you live in fear always ready to run at the slightest “boom”.
The factors driving the Nigerian spring are far from idealist. In fact, they are shockingly practical. It is really simple: there are no jobs.
As I mentioned in my piece last week, we will send 4 million young people this year alone from University into a work force with no jobs for them. Total unemployment is 20% and growing 16% every year. Youth unemployment is almost three times that at 56%. It will only get worse. In the last twenty years, we have welcomed 22 million youth into the work force and grown very few jobs for them.
Now keep in mind that about half of all Nigerians were born in the last 20 years. We are in fact, a nation of 19 year olds. The median age in Nigeria is 19. By 2020 when, our nation of 19 year olds is ready to jump into the work force, we’ll have 35-40 million of them with no jobs. It turns out even if we don’t lose any jobs in our economy right now, youth unemployment will still grow at 50% a year in the future. Given our starting point of 56% youth unemployment, it certainly doesn’t look like that future will be bright.
I don’t know what a good solution to the Nigerian spring is but I think the sooner we start thinking about what it will take to grow 50% more jobs a year, the more likely we’ll have a country still standing when this silent blood bath is over.
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.