There are four different generations in Nigeria today – the grandfathers, the fathers, the children and the grandchildren. The grandfathers are those that fought for independence, who saw freedom as a worthy cause to be embraced and battled with everything against the British and they won. They considered themselves as civilized gentlemen and carried themselves as men of honour appointed by fate to birth a nation into prosperity, and they did. For a while. The remaining, disappearing vestiges of this generation are people like Anthony Enahoro, Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, Justice Oputa and several others who never had the limelight of fame shine on them.
The fathers in their childhood were spoilt indulged children who tasted and enjoyed the good of the new promised-land when it was still flowing with milk and honey. They were the first generation of Nigerians who bore themselves with pride in the knowledge that they had a collective heritage in nation bought by the sweat of the grandfathers. With awe and admiration, they watched as the older generation exacted their rights to self-rulership and they joined in the fanfare and celebration of independence, the fathers were the first recipients of freedom. They swarmed the faculty halls of the first Universities at a time when Nigerian Universities were worthy of their name – Ibadan, Nsukka, Ife, Lagos, Zaria – as students and later as lecturers. Others were pillars of the civil service, regarded then as the highest occupational calling. They went to Europe and America to prove the African’s intelligence; at Cambridge, Oxford, the Ivy League Institutions of America, they made their mark. But when they returned to the fatherland they bore little fruits of their exotic intercourse. Like the grandfathers, they had many lofty ideas for Nigeria and propagated it in many debates; they talked, maybe too much. It might have been a hobby, a way of flaunting their intellectualism, but it brought little apparent good. But we do not forget they were the generation that gave blood in the war, some more than others.
Their generation produced the devourers, like the gap-toothed evil genius and the dark-glasses-wearing scarified general of hated memory. They suffered too, victims of their own actions and inactions, the rich became poor as the economic climate turned hostile, and they suffered from bondage as their rights were stolen with the gun. Whether by purpose or not, the fathers failed Nigeria and their children. They delivered a hideous legacy of corruption, poverty and shame.
They did some good too, but the overwhelming decadence that characterized their days covered most of their good works. In retrospect, freedom was heavier for them to bear than the troubles of colonialism because, confronted with this complex entity called Nigeria, there was the bigger challenge of defining our identity and satisfying every group, which till today has proved intractable. The fathers are still in government, getting fattened on the national cake, they do not want to relinquish power to the children yet, it is too sweet to give up.
The children were spawn in the days of worsening hardship, when the fathers struggled to subsist amidst unyielding hardships. Their generation do not recognise the ideologies or sentiments of their forbears; they are fundamental adherents to the creed of survival (at all costs) and for many of them, national interests are at variance with personal interests, patriotism and nationalism means nothing to them.
They grew up to experience the darkness of NEPA, incessant strikes by ASUU, police abuses, unemployment and a multitude of privations so generously lavished on them by a bleeding country. They have grown to become good and bad, engineers, kidnappers, journalists, yahoo yahoo boys, writers, agberos, men of God, unemployed graduates, doctors, successful businessmen, craftsmen, designers, artists and musicians with strong, assertive, independent personalities. A very interesting thing about this generation is the age in which they now live- the information age, where everything moves at the speed of light. The vast array of tools of technology at their disposal- facebook, twitter, blogs and a host of social networking sites- have made them more vocal and confident than earlier generations could have ever imagined. They are products of evolution of a complex country.
I belong to this generation, like many others, I am confronted with the many-sided realities of our present situation. There is the frustration of living in a society where nothing works, but the tremendous opportunities we have to turn things around for our benefit is another thing, a very compelling fact we must not ignore.
We are the generation of change. This is the generation saddled with the responsibility of making Nigeria a nation indeed. Like a child born as the first or third or last of his parents we did not ask for this burden, we just found it on our shoulders. It would be a shame if our children were to experience the same or worse hardships we went through while growing up. I remember when I was in the University, one of the greatest lessons I received was summed up in these words: “there is no money.” It was the lecturers’ excuse for every practical we could not do, for the lack of a public address system in the lecture hall, I remembered that more than any course I took. Are we also going to tell our children the same thing, or give them the promise of a mirage our fathers gave us in their own misplaced optimism- the assurance of things turning out for good eventually?
“Ti Nigeria ba ti da” was a Yoruba expression my dad used often when I was a child in the eighties and early nineties to answer my request for something expensive like a bicycle or a dog, it means when Nigeria becomes good. It was a day that was to outlast my childhood and still appears illusory today. My father usually said it with sincerity, his eyes reflecting earnest hope and conviction that left me in no doubt each time. But those loving paternal assurances changed nothing.
The long years of mishap we lived under have conferred on us a responsibility to ensure no one else goes through that. Like a father who sacrifices so that his son will never pass through the hardships he passed through, we owe the next generation the reality of the prosperous life that was denied us. We recently celebrated Nigeria at fifty and though many of us in this generation have only lived a fraction of that, and the question we should ask is: when we are fifty, sixty, seventy, will we be proud of the country of our creation? The planning begins now. Planning for the future is not a well practiced concept in Nigeria. We do not think of the next fifty years and our leaders, with the exception of a few, are mainly concerned about doing only that which will get them re-elected. This is the tradition of failure we have lived under for most or all of our lives and the repercussions are very grave. Let me cite a recent event to explain.
An earthquake occurred in New Zealand on September 4 and at the time when I watched the report on BBC, I was surprised to hear that nobody died! An earthquake and nobody died? All I could think of at that moment was Haiti, still reeling from the devastation of a 7.0 earthquake on January 12 2010. Haiti has now become a country almost totally dependent on foreign aid and yet very far from seeing real reconstruction soon. However, there are facts that make the differences of the aftermath of these disasters quite significant. Firstly, Haiti, which is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere is known as a country with no building standards so it does not come as a surprise that most of its buildings were no match for the earthquake. In that BBC report, the journalists made repeated reference to New Zealand’s strictly enforced standard building regulations adopted as a protective measure against earthquakes.
I am not a geoscientist or seismologist, so I do not presume to make an educated analysis here but any observant layman can see the obvious. Both were regions prone to earthquakes and one nation decided to plan against such an occurrence while the other did not. It is possible that the people responsible for drawing up New Zealand’s building regulations are dead or old or out of active life but their works are bearing fruits today. That is how nation-building works; you do something good for those who will come after you.
The generation before us did not understand this concept, they failed to plan for the future and now we are paying for their lack of foresight. But now, we are the generation who have been made wiser by our experiences and so we know that now is the time to plan for the years ahead. Many of us are quick to criticise the old leadership for putting us in the present mess we find ourselves in today, but we must remember that children do grow up to become fathers and their own children will hold them responsible for not preparing for them.
The next generation – the grandchildren are a precocious group, growing up very fast and learning quickly too. While most of them are playful school children still discovering the world, they are at a position of great advantage we could not have imagined during our own childhood years. As it is often recited, they the leaders of tomorrow, but it is a very close tomorrow.
On the other hand, we are the leaders of today, not the fathers. The burden of leadership comes with responsibility and we bear the greatest responsibility of all today. Our responsibility does not come with political mandate, not yet; it is the challenge of freedom from bondage of poor education, below standard healthcare, poor physical and economic infrastructure, tribal and religious feuds, and the basic human drive to outdo the past in unprecedented excellence.
At this time the election is the major national issue, we owe it to ourselves and our country to register and vote. The main issue is not who to vote for, it is about voting first of all, if that process is undisturbed we can be sure that the elected officers were chosen by us. Our choices reflect our aspirations and desires, which these candidates have convinced us they would live up to. So even in our electoral differences, we can still produce a government that will make our dreams come true.
It is not only in voting we have a responsibility, we have to develop a culture of excellence and honesty, I know this will take time, but we have start now. The mediocrity and corruption that has characterized majority of our affairs has kept us in the background and branded us with an unworthy reputation. In India, the embarrassing situation with the uncompleted Commonwealth games village was described by someone in Delhi as a manifestation of their general unserious attitude to work, another person said it is as a result of corruption. If it could happen to India, then we are also in danger of falling into similar or greater show of shame if we do not repent from our poor uncompetitive work ethic.
Now let’s get to work children of Nigeria. We have a great burden of responsibility and those that come after us will never forgive us if we fail. We can, we must, we will!