When Oyetola applied to attend one of the numerous capacity building conferences in London last week, it was done out of an attempt to escape from the depressing circumstances around him. I have known Oyetola for many years now. He is one of the few people I try to avoid as much as I can because each time he strikes up a conversation with me, it is always themed around how he can relocate out of Nigeria.
Yesterday, he alerted me online to announce that he was in London. Apparently, he was selected by an international organization to represent Nigeria at a conference in London. As he later recounted “I just applied for the conference and I got in…” I paused for a few minutes; confident that his next line will be to tell me he was using the opportunity to abscond, after all, being away from the shores of Nigeria is something he has always wanted. But was I disappointed! “I took part (in the program) and I was inspired. Now I know it is better for me to return home, because there are a lot of things I could do there… Trust me, I will be home in about two weeks…”
“It would take a whole generation to change Nigeria because it took a generation to destroy it.” Oyetola said, reflecting on how the program impacted his perspective about the current socio-political landscape in Nigeria. “Whose generation then?” I asked. “Our generation. But it has to be a collective effort…to effect a total revolution” he said. I paused to mull over his words. I didn’t hide the excitement about his sudden change. It is the kind of excitement you feel when you see your best friend give up on doing drugs.
No longer is Oyetola obsessed with the idea that real life begins outside the shores of the continent. Although he admits life in the continent is stressful, he said for the first time he realized that to make a good life for himself, he would also need to contribute to Nation building. If it took a week conference for the young man to experience such a paradigm shift, I am beginning to put aside my beef against youths who are always excited about attending conferences after conferences instead of committing their time and resources to doing hands-on development work.
The condition in Nigeria today damages the self-esteem and aspirations of many youths. Oyetola compared it with walking on the street of London aimlessly without a sense of direction. Nigeria has so many resources and potential, yet it is out of the grasp of the average Nigerian youth. Nigeria really puts her youth’s backs against the wall with the level of hardship and strife it inflicts on her youths. It is really difficult to be optimistic and hopeful in such an environment.
But like Oyetola, many of us need a re-awakening experience to enable us re-channel our energy, passion and commitment to nation building. If we want to see our country liberated from every form of oppression, then we must choose to be that generation that rise up to greatness- by taking up responsibility, shunning corruption, being accountable and keeping our integrity etc.
When Nelson Mandela, the former South African President, addressed the crowd at Trafalgar Square in London’s Make Poverty History Campaign, He said: “Sometimes it falls upon a generation to be great. You can be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom. Of course the task will not be easy. But not to do this would be a crime against humanity, against which I ask all humanity now to rise up.” That was five years ago. But his words resonate to youths today, in Nigeria and everywhere.
“Sometimes it falls upon a generation to be great…” We, the present youths of Nigeria, are that generation…