The fireworks are in the air and the funfair continues. Nigeria is 50 and though many feel there is little or nothing to celebrate, some
quite few believe that for the fact that we are alive and our nation is still existent despite the challenges it has undergone, there is a
reason to jubilate as Nigeria celebrates her independence anniversary 50 years after it ceased being a British colony on 1st October, 1960.
The exploit of Nigerians in various parts of the globe is one of the things that often bring joy to many Nigerians. For this reason, many
say we could celebrate but most of these high achievers were able to make their mark on individual platforms. But let us not forget, that
in one way or the other, many of them passed through the Nigerian system.
A closer look at many of these Nigerians of class shows that they were young when they reached the heights they attained, of which has
brought great prestige to Nigeria.
Chinua Achebe, who is known as the father of modern African literature is known world over for his literary prowess. His most popular work
which has been translated to over 40 languages, ‘Things Fall Apart,’ was written when he was just 28!
In recent times, after several years of retrogression in Nigerian literary circles, there is a sudden bounce back and resurgence of
Nigerian literature in the international scene. The new faces of Nigerian literature; multiple award wining Helon Habila, Chimamanda
Adiichie, Chika Unigwe, Uwem Akpan, Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani and others are mostly young people. Adichie’s second novel,’Half of a Yellow Sun’ (named after the flag of the short-lived Biafran nation) is set before and during the Nigerian Civil War. It was awarded the 2007 Orange
Prize for Fiction. Chimamanda is also a 2008 MacArthur Fellow.
Emmanuel Ifeajuna a young military officer brought great joy to the nation when he clinched the first gold medal in an international
competition. Before he joined the army, Ifeajuna, then a medical student at the University College Ibadan, earned for himself the
honour of being the first black African to win a gold medal when he won the high jump in Canada at the Commonwealth Games in 1954. He also set a record. Many years after, Chioma Ajunwa, a young police officer brought the first Olympic Gold medal to Nigeria in the long jump event at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia, United States of America. Nojim Maiyegun, a boxer was the first Nigerian to win a medal at the
Olympics. He won the bronze medal in the light middleweight category in Tokyo’64 Olympics.
Richard Ihetu, popularly known as Dick Tiger a renowned Nigerian boxer became the first man in the world to win the Middleweight Category on 23rd October, 1962 and the Light Heavy weight category in 1967.
Kanu Nwankwo at 20, captained the Under 23 team, pioneering them to also pick the gold medal in the Atlanta Olympic Games. The team showed a lot of promise that it was tagged the Dream Team by the Nigerian press. Kanu who is the most decorated Nigerian footballer, won the
African Footballer of the Year in 1996 and 1999 becoming the first and yet the only Nigerian to win it twice.
Before then, the Under 17 team and the Under 16 team had emerged winners in the then World Youth Soccer Championships staged in Japan
in 1993 and China in 1985 respectively. The 1985 youth team captained by Nduka Ugbade showcased Nigeria’s soccer prowess to the world. The
golden eaglets, again in 2007 won the Under 17 world cup. The senior national team won the African Nations Cup in 1980 and 1994. The Super
Eagles were in the world cup for the first time in 1994 where they had an amazing display but crashed out in the second round.
Samson Siasia, a young Nigerian coach who led the Flying Eagles to the second place in Holland 2005 Under 20 World Cup as well as the Under 23 team to pick the silver medal in the Beinjing 2008 Olympics was rated the 15th best coach in the world and the 2nd in Africa in 2008
by the Federation of International Football Association (FIFA) and Confederation of African Football(CAF).
In the Nigerian music industry that had the old and the young, Innocent Idibia popularly known as Tuface brought a new dimension to
industry when he won the inaugural MTV Europe Awards African Act award in 2005 at 29. His feat seemed to open doors in the industry as it was followed by a boom and explosion of talents in the music scene. Today, Nigerian musicians are known all over Africa and the world at large
churning out technically sound videos. Most of these videos are produced and directed by very young Nigerians.
Before then, Nigeria’s Agbani Darego became Miss World in 2001. Her emergence also brought an upsurge in beauty pageants and fashion
shows in the country. The same could be said s regards reality shows after Bayo Adetomiwa’s participation in Big Brother Africa 1 in
2003. In 2009, Nigeria’s Kevin Pam Chuwang emmerged tops in the 4th edition of the reality show winning a whopping $200,000. Dare Art Alade had earlier been part of the first Project Fame academy (before Project Fame West Africa).
Nollywood, which is Nigeria’s movie, rated the 2nd in the world in terms of volume of films produced, by the United Nations Educational
Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 2009 is majorly what it is today because of many talented young Nigerian actors and
actresses. The production of Living In Bondage, the first contemporary Nigerian home video by young Kenneth Nnebue, an entrepreneur, is said to be what kick-started Nigeria’s multi billion-naira movie industry, Nollywood, which is one of the highest employers of Nigeria’s’ youth.
Interestingly, Chineze Anyaene, the producer of Ije the journey- a Nollywood and Hollywood movie collaboration which is currently making
waves in Nigerian cinemas is just 26. Another young Nigerian, Kunle Afolayan, directed “The Figurine”, a movie that clinched most of the awards at the 2010 African Movie Academy Awards. Notable young actors and actresses in the Nigerian film industry such as Genevieve Nnaji, Omotola Jalade Ekeinde, Ramsey Nouah, Desmond Eliot, Stephnie Okereke, Ini Edo have become house hold names in Africa, the Carribean and among Nigerians in diaspora. Only recently Oprah Winfrey described Genevieve Nnaji as the Julia Roberts of Africa.
Jelani Aliyu of General Motors (GM) in the United States of America, one of the worlds top ten car designers lead the Team that designed Chevrolet Volt, a car that is seen as the future of GM. Fifteen-year-old Kimberly Anyadike became the youngest African American female to fly coast to coast in a private airline. She made history piloting a single-engine red-tail four-seater Cessna 172 airplane from Compton, California to Newport in 2009. Today, in Nigeria and in the Diaspora there are many young Nigerians who have perfected in the art of website designing and hosting.
Many young people have also risen to become an inspiration to their generation through advocacy; motivational messages and laudable
projects aimed making life better for their peers. Worthy of note is Fela Durotoye, a youth sensation who is immensely popular among young
Nigerians. In his ‘Mushin Make Over’ project, held in December 2009, he was able to galvanize 800 professional painters and about 5000
volunteers who painted buildings, and cleaned drainages, painted culverts and roundabouts in the slum.
Nigerian youths have also been victims of manipulation by the elites and political class. Mainly young people perpetuate the fieldwork of election rigging and thuggery instigated by politicians. The arson, maiming and looting during ethnic and religious clashes are often carried out by youths. One would also not deny the menace of various campus cult groups over the years.
Nigerian youths have had causes to get involved in mass protests, which turned violent in some instances as a result of clashes
with security operatives during the military junta. The “Ali Must Go” riots in 1977 when University undergraduates protested the hike in
their school fees led to the closure of Universities for months. Some students lost their lives in the process. The SAP (Structural
Adjustment Programme) riots of 1990 and the June 12 riots of 1993, which came after the annulment of the 1993 election; are also instances where Nigerian youths stood up against oppressive policies and decisions. It came with a price-the loss of many innocent lives from the gunshots of ruthless military men.
While Nigeria and its youths are celebrated and their misadventures are pointed out, a lot of empathy needs to be shown to the legion of
unemployed Nigerian youths especially the graduates, roaming the streets and stuck in cyber cafes applying for advertised jobs that
might already been taken. The presence of only few job openings has made the Nigerian labour market over saturated, yet several thousand youths still graduate yearly to join the market.
At, 50, Nigeria can boast of many internet savvy young Nigerians while at the same time there are still many ignorant without formal
education or not privileged enough to be in tune with the modern times. As Nigeria steps into the beginning of the march to another
golden jubilee or rather, a march to centenary of its existence, would the future be better for Nigerian youths? Or would they continue to
suffer from the abuse meted out by a failed older generation?
Many foreigners with close ties to Nigeria often wonder how Nigerians manage to take life easy even in a myriad of poor infrastructure and
bad leadership. You would see a bus conductor calling out the names of the rickety bus’s destinations in a very melodious manner. The truck pusher working under the hot sun would still give you a smile even though he has not had a meal. School children trekking long distances to and from school would still not fail to greet their elders who walk past them. For these reasons, Nigerians were once rated the happiest people in the world. Perhaps, it is because of the kind of resilience that Nigerians, especially the young ones have shown in their quest to make
it in life against all odds. Nigerian youths are capable of doing big things and tackling big challenges.
As 2011 election approaches, it is interesting to know that a coalition of various Nigerian groups pioneered by youths have decided to rise up
and educate their peers on the need to vote and vote wisely. They maintain that if the young people do not stand up now to make a
statement then the polity would be so depleted by the time the leadership of the country would come into their hands. It is such that
their being conversant with the Internet vis-a-vis the various social networking sites would be an asset to bring this to pass. It would be
exciting to see video clips of attempts to rig elections and some of the misdemeanors of the law enforcement agencies on CNN I-report,
Facebook and Twitter!
With such awareness, Nigeria’s young people would not only secure a better leadership for themselves in future but would also make many
individual breakthroughs in various spheres of life.
Image via Myspace