by Lekan Olanrewaju
“The youths, who are supposed to ask their leaders questions are the ones carrying brief cases for them.”
Besides the work-free day and a presidential address, one of the certainties of a Nigerian Independence Day is a flood of ruminations about the country and the way forward. One source of such, this year, was Charly Boy, who, through the above quote, attempts to offer something of a solution (or at least some form of direction) regarding solving what we know to be the problems of Nigeria. He goes on to question the commitment of said “youths” to “sagging their trousers” before asking “Why can’t they stand up and take their future in their hands by holding their leaders accountable?”
Nothing here is shocking, really, or meant to be. Charly Boy, after all being “area fada” is perhaps one of the few truly iconoclastic Nigerians in the public eye today and who better to deliver a call to action? But, fascination with his general charlyboyness aside, my concern is with a certain sort of peculiar sentiment echoed, not unwittingly, by his statement.
“Sometime in 1988, I received a call from a good friend about an interesting investment opportunity with a few colleagues. After a series of meetings, it became very clear to me that we were about to embark on an audacious but incredibly special journey, and I was excited about the prospect of being a part of such a project. For almost 2 years, I worked alongside the likes of Akin Akintoye, Fola Adeola, Tayo Aderinokun (of blessed memory), Gbolly Osibodu, Bode Agusto and a few others on this investment project. As of 1988 when we began the journey, Fola was 34, Tayo was 33, Gbolly was 33, Bode was 33, Akin was 35 and I was 33. The objective: To own a BANK.” – Femi Pedro, 2015
The one-time Lagos governor begins a popular 2015 piece with the above quote. He goes on to end the first part of that missive by saying “A group of young boys in their early/mid 30s OWNED a bank! We simply dreamt big, and turned this dream into reality.”
Now, if this made you think to yourself “man, what is the point of having friends If I cannot call them up for lunch and open a bank by dinner,” fret not, for you are not alone. But besides standing out as a uniquely accomplished entry in the uniquely Nigerian art of saying a lot about nothing about the business of success (a sprinkling of “work hard,” a hint of “dream big” a dash of “it’s God,” a single-minded commitment to the total non-acknowledgment of nuance and/or specificity,) Pedro, much like Charly Boy, points us in a critical, if fairly obvious direction regarding our journey in state-building.
It is a matter of pure logic that the future belongs to young people. But embedded in the deeply questionable notion that we (young people) are right, and they (everyone else) are wrong, is the suggestion that we exist as a uniform entity at all.
What is missing from the messages of Charly Boy, Femi Pedro, and countless others by whom public space is populated with similar rhetoric, is even the most remotely cursory look at just what the definition of a “nigerian youth” is. Sure, we already know the statistical margins, but it might be useful to question whether or not being within the limits of the ages 18 and 35 is really enough to draw us together, and simply will ourselves to a better tomorrow.
There exists far too many isolated bubbles in terms of experience as Nigerians, for “youth” to be as exhaustive a signifier of easy solutions as we might like to believe. A more useful line of discourse to be had might be one that permits acknowledgement of the necessity of different kinds of experiences in Nigerian life to the path to statecraft, and one for which a singularity of experience is not required to band together in the business of nation-building.
Lekan is a media professional and enthusiast with a passion for storytelling and building innovative platforms. He has served as Features Editor and Associate Producer with Generation Y!, in addition to working as a screenwriter, with credits including Mnet’s Tinsel and Hotel Majestic, and EbonyLife TV’s Dowry.