Manifesto for a cyclical generation

by Tolu Ogunlesi

Warning: If Nigeria doesn’t drive you to anger and/or despair, please skip this entire article.

When the Nigerian experiences uninterrupted power supply, courtesy of PHCN, guilt and befuddlement are bound to follow. What have I done to deserve this? Has the man (or woman) on duty, who is supposed to ensure the supply of darkness, dozed off? Or is s/he late in resuming at his or her candlewax-strewn desk?

This cynicism carries over to every aspect of life in this country. When, in 2008, JAMB released the results of its 2008 University Matriculation in record time (eleven or so days after the exams), I recall a friend musing aloud on the possibility of the Board merely (re)releasing last year’s results or simply allocating fictitious results to candidates, in a fraudulent bid to convince the world of their new-found efficiency. He simply could not believe that a public body, especially one with the kind of reputation that JAMB has conscientiously garnered over the years, could be that efficient.

Is it our fault that we produce arguably more cynicism than crude oil? I daresay “No!” For decades now Nigerians have consistently been taken on merry-go-rounds – paid for with our (National) wealth – only to be dumped in the middle of nowhere.

In 1999 President Obasanjo told us that in within months, power failure would be a thing of the past. This year we will celebrate the 12th anniversary of that Promise. Our darkness will be there to “pop something” with us. In 2007 the late President Yar’Adua (then President-in-waiting) promised us that within 6 months of his assumption of office he would declare a state of emergency in the power sector. When he died, three years later, the state of emergency was still blissfully trapped in its own state of emergency.

For these reasons and many more we have grown to cherish our cynicism – it is our protective shell against continued disappointment.

There are of course those who count it as pure negativity, to be disdained. They speak of positive thinking and positive confessions, of choosing to see and speak good about Nigeria. The banner over that clan bears the words “It is well”, or “It shall be well.”

Indeed, it shall be well. But not because we say “It shall be well”.

Let me make it clear: I will befriend a clear-eyed cynic before a blind optimist any day. It is that brand of “Clear-eyed Cynicism” – there is a Yoruba proverb that says something about how, even when we are crying, we still manage to see – that I have devoted myself to becoming a proselytizer for.

The Clear-eyed Cynic understands that grand paradox, that you can be cynical and hopeful all at once; and that there is actually something of benefit to be found in holding on to both qualities, for this reason: We are angered by our Cynicism, fueled by our Anger, and steered in the direction of change by our Hope.

Indeed that ability to hold and live with contradictory feelings about Nigeria is a testament to our capacity to make the impossible happen.

So, whatever you are, motivational speaker, mayhem-monitor, maverick, or mocker-of-national-foolishness, let us all make space for one another. If you, like me, constantly feel angry or cynical or despondent about Nigeria, don’t beat yourself about it. There’d be a problem if you didn’t feel that way.

I want to assure you that there’s no chance of you being led astray by your anger, despair or cynicism if you:

  1. Remain self-aware regarding your cynicism, i.e. learn to think about your emotions towards Nigeria, as opposed to merely ‘feeling’ them (it is that self-awareness that helps us convert cynicism to productive anger), and
  2. Find a way to plug into the outpouring of youthful change-oriented energy in today’s Nigeria. It’s there, in abundance, offline and online, you only need to be willing to connect to it.

Comments (2)

  1. Fluid prose Tolu. But then again, you cannot hold cynicism and hope simultaneously, just in the same way you cannot doubt and have faith in the same breath. Cynicism might very well produce anger, which could in turn be positively channeled. This, like you rightly stated, requires self awareness which, quoting you, "helps us convert our cynicism to productive anger." Note: self awareness 'converts' cynicism into productive anger that inspires hope, it does not remain cynical, angry and hopeful all at the same time. It is this impractical paradox you suggest we sustain that makes our "angry" movement forward a halting process. We cannot keep relapsing into cynic mode, and expect sustained progress. Rather let our cynicism generate productive anger, and let productive anger inspiring hope be sustained. This i reckon is a more practical development and proposition. Interesting piece though, as always.

  2. Hmm..

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