Why government matters: Olusegun Adeniyi reviews Chude Jideonwo’s ‘Are We The Turning Point Generation?’

by Olusegun Adeniyi

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And the Lord spoke to Noah and said: “I will give you six months to build me an Ark at the end of which I will send rain to cover the entire landscape called Nigeria. I will destroy all the bad people within but I want to save a few good people. That is why I am ordering you to build an Ark for me”.

In a flash of lightning the Lord delivered the specifications for the Ark.

“No problem”, said Noah, trembling in fear and fumbling with the blueprints.

“Six months, and it starts to rain”, thundered the Lord. “You’d better have my Ark completed, or learn how to swim for a very long time”.

And six months passed. The skies started to cloud up and rain began to fall. The Lord saw that Noah was sitting in his front yard, weeping. And there was no Ark. “Noah”, shouted the Lord, “where is my Ark?” A lightning bolt crashed into the ground next to Noah, for emphasis.

“Oga Lord, please forgive me,” begged Noah. “I am at my tether’s end. First, they said I needed a building permit. I went to the Ministry of Works so many times that I was totally frustrated. Then, I was told I had to bribe some officials before they could allow work to commence.

But after I had successfully navigated that problem, even though you made no provision for bribe in the budget, I was at the Forestry where I encountered a similar challenge. Well, I also applied wisdom and they allowed my people to cut the woods. But taking them out of the forestry was a different story on its own. On the road, I had to settle the police, I settled soldiers, I settled customs, I settled immigration, I settled local government officials.

“Finally, as I started to build the Ark, the local government chairman of this area came to stop work. He says none of the carpenters working on the Ark come from his village. Every day his boys would come here to extort money, always threatening to scatter the Ark. Yesterday, they came to abduct many of my workers and they are now demanding ransom before releasing them. Oga Lord, I am tired. Let me even tell you the truth, I am not sure I can finish this your Ark, even if you give me six years to complete it” Noah wailed.

Almost immediately, the sky began to clear. The sun began to shine. A rainbow arched across the sky. Noah looked up and smiled: “Oh, Lord, you mean you will not send flood…and you will not destroy Nigeria, after all?” he asked, hopefully.

“Wrong!” thundered the Lord. “But being the Lord of the Universe has its advantages. I fully intend to smite Nigeria, but with something far worse than a flood. Something man invented himself. I will smite Nigeria with something called Government!

Let me begin with a confession: I ordinarily would not have been here today if I knew the book being launched is a collection of essays that have been published before. However, it says so much about the reputation the author has built for himself over the last couple of years that when he sent me a mail to ask whether I would be kind enough to do a review at his book launch, I instantly said yes. And I am glad I did because I have enjoyed the rich collection titled “Are We The Turning Point Generation?” which speaks most eloquently to the Nigerian condition.

Therefore, I must first commend the author, Mr. Chude Jideonwo, a young man who is doing so much to impact not only his generation but also the generation ahead of him to which I belong. “Are We the turning point generation”, is without any doubt one of the best books I have read in recent times and I can summarise the message therein in just two words: Government matters!

We all know the greatest problem confronting Nigeria is the failure of government at practically all levels, and whoever reads this collection would easily understand why. But the real message of the book is that if things would change in our society, no matter how much we try as individuals in our little corners, a government committed to the public good remains the real vehicle through which we can all realise our potentials.

Take Part One of the book. From the first chapter, “There is something about government” where the author quotes a friend posing to him two salient questions: how far will we be able to go in transforming our society before we have to connect those efforts with what government is doing or what it needs to do? How much could we achieve if the government fundamentally remained the same?”; to the chapter on why Nigeria’s anti-homosexuality bill sickens him, the narratives are not only interesting but they reveal quite clearly that in our country, government can regulate almost anything, including what people do behind closed doors and how they do it!

In the familiar chapter titled “Unity at any cost” which delves into the age-old national question, it is easy to understand the nexus between what ails us and the absence of good governance at practically all levels. But any careful reader will also see that the author is not just an arm-chair critic, his passion shines through and he is not afraid to offer his own ideas without sounding brash. He agonises over the challenges we face while at the same time, offering his support for those genuinely interested in public service and it is within that context that one can situate the tribute to Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi, until recently the Minister of Sports, though the piece was done in 2012 when he was still manning the Youth Ministry.

Part two opens with “Achebe’s last gift to us”, which is both a review of some of the literary works of the late Prof. Chinua Achebe and the author’s own interpretation, and defence, of Achebe’s clearly controversial last book, “There Was a Country”. Even if some of us have our misgivings about the thesis which in itself flows from our disagreement with Achebe’s own account, it is easy to understand how the failings of government and governance in our country at a most difficult epoch in our history led to a major catastrophe that still haunts us as a nation even today.

In part three we see accounts of the futile bids to replicate, or perhaps more appropriately recreate the Arab spring by some youth groups, including the ones led by the author, using the power of the street. I find the collections in the series stimulating and at the same time amusing because as a participant observer in the events that triggered the demonstrations recounted by the author, I could see beyond the superficial understanding of the nuances of the time. The essay, “Another birthday, another march”, indeed illustrates that fact though for me the less said the better, lest I be reminded of the days of some imaginary cabal in Aso Rock for which I was fronting.

Part four deals with the Twitter generation as I describe them. Titled “Online Nigeria: Social Media and the new age of governance”, it reels out statistics about internet penetration in Nigeria and the number of people that are now hooked on the platforms. That the author belongs to this generation is not in doubt but his idea that to be productive we must also belong is without any foundation. I don’t belong and I take comfort in the words of Leha Elisabeth that with user-generated content platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc., people can easily get caught up in cultivating their own image that at the end of the day we stand the risk of surrendering our future to “a generation where everyone acts like the star of their own reality show.”

Divided into five sections which address different themes and comprising 40 chapters and spanning 187 pages, “Are We a Turning Point Generation” is a collection I will strongly recommend because it contains several lessons that will serve us both as individuals and as a nation. But the book comes with the flaw generally associated with collections of essays written over a period of time and on sundry, most often, unrelated issues. The challenge is that of focus and in this particular case, the confusion begins from the title. Is the book targeted at a specific generation in which case it would be deemed an agenda setting manifesto for change? I do not know. Also from the slant of the book, it is easy to conclude that once Nigeria addresses the challenge of its public sector, without necessarily paying as much attention to the private sector, all will be well.

Notwithstanding, three particularly columns stand out for their message. The first is “A roadmap for incremental change: 52 things we need to do” which highlights the role each one of us must play in the process of changing this society. The second is “Are We the Turning Point Generation?” from which the book derives its title and the third is “What happened to the Nuhu Ribadu we fell in love with?”

Having read all the 40 offerings, incidentally for the first time, I am impressed by the author’s style which is refreshingly different and positive. Most young Nigerians today do not readily take to an argument which makes for an optimistic view of the future of our country as the author has done in the collection, even when dealing with personal choices.

I consider the thrust of the writings remarkable because as earlier said, many Nigerians of the author’s generation see nothing but a failed state; a nation which, in their imagination, would cease to exist by next year (and they will cite a non-existent American prediction to buttress their point). For these Nigerians, and you find them on the internet every day, there are no positive dreams about Nigeria to inspire them. While there is nothing to suggest that the narratives in “Are We The Turning Point Generation” are in denial about our numerous problems, it is noteworthy that the author can also see the endless possibilities even amid the difficulties and challenges we face as a nation.

I share the author’s optimism that it will take our collective efforts to build a nation ruled by logic and ideas, rather than blind faith and fanaticism; a nation where girls would be able to attend school without the fear of being abducted by some criminal gangs who would turn them to chattels of pleasure; a nation where the poverty of the majority would not be cynically explained away with the number of private jets owned by a few individuals; a nation where sustainable growth and development go hand in hand. He may not have said so in those words but the message from “Are We The Turning Point Generation?” is very clear about the nation envisioned by the author and the choices we must make to achieve it.

On that note, let me now go to the three essays that I believe stand out though I find all of them very interesting. From his roadmap for incremental change and the “52 things we need to do”, I have synthesized ten takeaways:

Number One: Whatever you find your hands to do, you must do it well. I guess this is for members of his generation but it is also for every one of us, especially at a time when mediocrity is fast becoming a national ethos.

Number Two: Take an active role in what goes on within the government. I will gladly add that when we say government, that includes at the local level.

Number Three: We must pay special attention to education. This is particularly important because not doing so is already exacting heavy toll in a section of our country today.

Number four: Those who demand accountability of others must themselves be held accountable for their words and deeds.

Number Five: We must meet our obligations as citizens and that include paying taxes.

Number Six: Never allow cynicism to win.

Number seven: Compromise is not necessarily a bad thing.

Number eight: Learn to question authority—including, if not especially, that of your pastors, or Imams as the case may be.

Number Nine: Stand firm on the courage of your convictions.

Number Ten: Never give up on democracy.

Of course, there are lessons to learn in the remaining 42 and it is instructive that the author believes one would serve for each week in a year.

The second essay that strikes me is “Are we the turning point generation?” from which the title of the book is derived. What I take from the essay is the fact that many Nigerians often judge others by their own standards and for that reason you hear the phrase “all Nigerians are corrupt” being uttered not by Ghanaians or some nationals of countries who do not like us but rather by our own citizens. But it is not true. The author shares his own experience of how he was almost criminalized for what he knew nothing about. But there was no bitterness in his account as he could put the whole ugly experience in perspective.

Finally, by far the most profound chapter in the collection is the piece titled “What happened to the Nuhu Ribadu we fell in love with?” Although it is a critical appraisal, it is nonetheless a friendly intervention that is filled with words of wisdom. Without griping, the author dramatised the political misadventure of the founding EFCC chairman to bring home a very poignant message and I quote a few lines from the piece:

“…there are some jobs that you should not take, some assignments you should not accept, and some roads you should not travel. One should not be so blind either with ambition or with passion for change that one makes a step that ultimately limits one’s capacity to actually change anything…”

In conclusion, it is important for us to go back to the story with which I started so that the discerning reader will understand the essence of “Are We a Turning Point Generation?” Why did ‘Noah’ fail in his bid to build the ark? His failure arose because he could not get the institutional support necessary for him to carry out his assignment. Put simply, he failed because government failed him!

What the story tells us is not different from Chude Jideonwo is telling us in his book, “Are We The Turning Point Generation?” which is simply this: While government may have become an affliction in Nigeria, it is an affliction we can fail to cure only at our own peril.

Now, it only remains for me to offer my final piece of advice to the author and I take it from his book even though it is originally from Shakespeare’s play, HAMLET. It is the immortal advice Polonius gave to his son Laertes, who was in a hurry to get on the next boat to Paris: “This above all: To thine own self be true!”
Thank you very much and God bless.

 

–  Text of the review by Olusegun Adeniyi, Chairman of ThisDay Editorial Board, at the public presentation of Chude Jideonwo’s book, ‘Are We The Turning Point Generation?’ in Lagos.

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Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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