By Chude Jideonwo
Being Keynote Address, delivered at the launch of The Future Awards Season 6 at Terra Kulture, Lagos on Thursday, September 30, 2010.
Last year, on this same stage, we spent a few words reminding Nigerians about what we have to celebrate as a nation. One year after, celebration is, literally, in the air. Tomorrow, our country completes its 50th year, and Nigeria begins yet another cycle in its evolution.
But is there, really, anything to celebrate? For the month or two, many Nigerians have relocated to Abuja, joining a posse of our compatriots looking for a bit – any bit – of the billions of naira budgeted to celebrate 50 years. All over the country, tomorrow, there will be concerts and parties, raves and grooves, all to celebrate this nation that many of us have regularly criticized and cursed.
Shouldn’t it be a day for, as Nigerians say it, sober reflection? Shouldn’t we be having summits, conferences, seminars, work and talk shops, instead of feel-good parties, dissecting where we went wrong as a nation; and how the next 50 will be different?
Allow me quote liberally from Ako Amadi, a columnist with NEXT newspapers. “On October 1,” he said this week. “Nigerians will surely wake up to the pounding of marching boots and martial music, complemented by a rumble of armoured vehicles, the flight display of combat aircraft. What else? The inspection of a guard-of-honour and, in the evening, a state banquet, valedictory speeches, laughter and music, cultural dances, comedians and clowns.”
But, rejoice though we may, the truth is none of this will help us find out when young school-leavers will get jobs, or how tens of millions of Nigerians who live on less than a dollar a day will find that basic of all needs – food. It won’t answer where the many displaced from their homes in shanties in Lagos will live or where the banned okada riders will find jobs.
At the drop of a hat, we will rejoice and we will felicitate, but it would seem that when it comes to the urgent business of nation building, we are found wanting. We have been called a neo-failed state; we have been described as a sleeping giant, we have been identified as one of a club of Africans countries that have qualified the continent to be called, by The Economist, the “basket case of the world”.
And so when many say that October 1, 2010, must be marked, not celebrated, one sympathises, understands; in fact almost embraces, that point of view. Those are the people that say this occasion should be a serious warning that time is running out for this nation; that “vultures are hovering above in expectation of a putrescent cadaver, when a very sick Nigeria is finally strangled to death by its corrupt elite.” Because, indeed, our dear country has not fulfilled, or even neared its potential. Our leaders are fiddling – paying for carnivals to declare for president of a crippled colony – while Nigeria decays and burns. “The masses don’t care about anything, anymore. This jubilee will be anything but golden. The thrill, perhaps, is gone.
Still, we announce today, not with wanton excitement, but with guarded optimism that there is yet something to celebrate. It is instructive for us that The Future Awards, founded to show hope in our future, is passing its 5th year in the same year that Nigeria is passing its 50th because we see it as a fantastic opportunity to emphasise our message.
Our message is and has always been that we have something to celebrate in the fact that young people have managed to excel in spite of our many problems. That faith that the young people have retained in the country is most responsible for its existence and most responsible for the hope that we have in the nation’s future.
We tagged today TheAuthenticCelebration because we said to ourselves that we cannot allow this symbolic occasion be hijacked by the old guard, the same old destructive forces.
This is the cusp of a truly new dawn, and we must seize this moment to lay claim to our future; to our country; to our vision of a society that works, and which people can truly achieve their potential. Sitting at home or shouting on Twitter and moaning, while they spend our national resources in a farce is not acceptable. We also must celebrate – celebrate the possibilities, the opportunities, the vista. The old guard counts on the fact that we will continue to cede the field to them, same way they expect that next year – after all our noise – we will not Register, we will not Select, we will not Vote and we will not Protect our votes. From tomorrow, the new beginning of a new dawn, we must begin to more strongly send a message that the game has changed.
We must state that any national celebration or nation building effort that does not have the youth at its centre and at its core is not legitimate. That is why today we have gathered 50 of Nigeria’s best, whom we describe as the Face of the Future; past winners of these awards – scientists, engineers, innovators, pioneers, professionals, entrepreneurs, artists – who have made continued impact and are relevant at the moment. The old rank of leaders has had the last 50 years. These young people are icons for the thousands who will chart Nigeria’s course for the next 50.
Because we, who almost singlehandedly built new industries in technology, IT, new media, music, fashion, style, events, movies, comedy, development, are the real Nigeria. We are the ones who decided against fleeing the country in a moment of frustration; who have stuck with it through rain and shine; who have maintained a resolute faith in the works of our hands and the power of our visions. We are Nigeria, not them! Not them!
Enough of allowing them – and you know who the3y are – claim a destiny, a country that belongs to you and me.
In 2008, The Future Awards campaign was “We are the future”, last season we made bold to say “We represent Nigeria”. But this year, we are leaving no room for error or ambiguity. We are not just Nigerians, we are not just the future, we don’t just represent Nigeria; weare Nigeria.
We are a generation of pioneers, of innovators, we are roses that grew out of thorns, the generation they called wasted but the whole world is now celebrating; we are the generation that will go out into the lections next year and take our country back. We are the generation that, in the last year of Nigeria’s first cycle of 50, finally said: enough is enough.
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the future.