• Wednesday, May 22, 2024
businessday logo


Nigerian youths: Historic challenge to nation building (1)


If you wanna be somebody, if you wanna go somewhere, you better wake up and pay attention” was Whoopi Goldberg’s message to her exuberant young students in Sister Act. At a time when everything was crashing, lawlessness became pleasurable, conventions were no longer tenable and all initiatives ended up producing negative outcomes, something different was needed. What? And how? These were issues that needed very practical, not hypothetical, responses. In the context of a rigid Catholic setting and without really planning for it, a Whoopi Goldberg, acting as accidental Sister Mary Clarence, who on account of running from a criminal gang found shelter in a Catholic school, offered unique and ingenious services that saved the school from closing.

That is the situation Nigeria is in today. It is a situation that is best reflected in the lives of our young people – Nigerians under the age of 35, people born between 1978 and today. Unfortunately, this category of Nigerians has never experienced anything near a functional society, a society with guaranteed water, power, healthcare delivery, quality education, etc. Many, although born in our so-called urban centres, have never witnessed water flowing from public water source. They have never seen electricity from PHCN (NEPA) uninterrupted for up to 6 hours, sometimes less. Hospitals have regressed from being “consulting clinics”, as Buhari described them while overthrowing Shehu Shagari in December 1983, and have become public mortuaries. In the circumstance, therefore, most Nigerians when they are sick look for “babalawos” or all types of miracle/magical healers across all religions rather than go to hospitals. The narrative is endless and pathetic. It basically mirrors the lives of the exuberant youth in Sister Act.

One of the major challenges is the expectation that government initiative is what is needed to produce something different. There is a dominant attitude among young people concentrating energy towards contracting relations with government, largely because of the notion of government being a reservoir of “free money” on account of which being in government or close to people in government may not be more than access to “free money”. And since our curriculum of education at all levels is increasingly becoming abstract, government for our young people is fictional and at best obtainable in foreign countries. It is hard to explain to this category of Nigerians that our educational institutions were among the best in the world in the 1960s and 1970s. At that time, our Ahmadu Bello University, University of Ibadan, University of Ife and University of Nigeria Nsukka were in the league of Cambridge and Oxford. This is now Tales by Moonlight as even graduate from these universities produced in the 1960s and 1970s have to (or believe they have to) garnish their qualifications with some, often short-term (in some cases one week), certificate qualifications obtained from leading commercial educational centres, mainly in the US.

Since the notion of government is that it is a reservoir of “free money”, politics simply means being part of the team that leads to the reservoir and eventually controlling it. The leaders of these political teams are mainly “successful elders”, mostly those graduates of the 1960s and 1970s, with few among them products of the 1980s, and rarely any of the 1990s. These “successful elders” provide the finances largely based on personal aspirations for political offices – if you like, aspiration to control part of the reservoir. Being a reservoir, therefore, it just means unregulated supply, not tied to any projected outcome other than transfer of “free money” to “political loyalists”, money which is often unreceipted. Because of the absence of projected outcomes, almost everything goes. Qualification is first and foremost raw courage and formal education. As they often say in human resource language, it is an advantage but not a requirement.

In the context of Nigerian politics, whereby the major preoccupation of politicians is not about winning the support of citizens but preparing to rig mainly through ballot box snatching, writing results of elections, voter intimidation, etc, and against the reality that many Nigerians are unemployed or under-employed with poor means, our young people become a major source of patronage. Based on this reality, it can be argued that politics is today the biggest industry, perhaps more on account of the amount of resources being expended but hardly on account of employment. It is an industry that is in the real sense worse than the informal sector of the economy. No records are kept; nobody engaged has anything near formal contract.

In terms of our young people, it is an industry that destroys virtually everyone on account of the dirty job of ballot box snatching which requires some level of insanity on the part of the individuals carrying out the task – insanity produced more by substance abuse. Alcohol is weak and not attractive. Just as some officials at the federal level have promoted certificates from Harvard, etc, as attracting jumbo pay package, at our local levels, the equivalent of Harvard is drugs and substance consumption by young people which enables them to execute all the dirty work for our politicians.

As a result, we have in our major cities serious cases of abuse of young Nigerians, resulting in high disorientation, psychological and psychiatric incidences among young people. Unfortunately, these are incidences that have assumed a reality of normalcy. Those affected are regarded as normal human beings with many protected by powerful politicians and sponsored to offer “protection” to these politicians, which may include violent conduct.

This is predominantly our unfortunate reality in which majority of our young people find themselves today. This is a situation created by the generation of Nigerians that had good education provided exclusively by public schools, Nigerians that enjoyed good healthcare services while growing up; in summary, Nigerians whose humanity was guaranteed by a state that was responsive and responsible to all irrespective of status. Unfortunately, years after, these Nigerians have degenerated into a Hobbesian state of mind and downgraded citizens, especially Nigerian youths, to nasty and brutish conditions thereby shortening their lives. It is a situation whereby our leaders regard government as their private estate and all other citizens, apart from members of their family, are animals that deserve no dignity. It is just about crude obedience without any decorum, more to produce a political victory resulting in taking control of position in government.

In the circumstance, our youths are coerced or drugged into playing very critical dirty roles. Can this be halted? Is it possible to create a new reality similar to what we had in this country in the 1960s and 1970s? If the common saying that “the youths are the future” is anything to go by, negative answers here simply mean that Nigeria is doomed. Already, the signs are evident and traumatising.



Lukman writes from Abuja.


Send reactions to: