Does it ever worry us that history which neither personal wealth nor power can pre-empt will pass terrible judgment on us, pronounce anathema on our names when we have passed? We have lost the twentieth century; are we bent on seeing that our children also lose the twenty-first?
– Prof. Chinua Achebe
I deemed it necessary to do this piece in commemoration of this year’s International Youth Day, 12 August.
In his piece, “the generation that left town”, published in The Guardian newspaper on August 9, 2012, Prof. Pat Utomi did not mince words in telling us how his generation had benefitted from the nation’s commonwealth only to dash abroad and become useful to other societies, to the prejudice of their fatherland.
Said he: “The guilt of my generation is a big one. It is not the misleading of Nigeria. They were not around to do that. The guilt of my generation is that education did not give us enough character to stay and fight those who did not realize that the duty of every generation is to make its shoulders available so the Generation Next can better see tomorrow to make it better than yesterday. Instead of fighting off those who took power in the 1960s at age 30 so we can make ready a better place for the generation Y to build on with their ICT know-how and technology-savvy disposition, we simply said these guys don’t take prisoners and left town.”
We have heard about “the wasted generation”. That was what our own Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka told us about his generation some years back. They were the nation’s youth when we got political independence from our colonial masters; they were most fortunate to be active citizens of a nation with much promise, potentialities and possibilities. They had the opportunity to put our nation on the path of sustainable development, but alas, they squandered it; they made whooping sum of money from our natural resources, but they blew it. For the first time, we were told that “money is not our problem, but how to spend it.”
Ours is a nation blessed with vast human and natural resources, but bedeviled by inept leadership. We are where we are today largely because of the actions and inaction of these generations. Worse still, not a few members of the wasted generation are still keeping a tight rein on the soul of our embattled nation. They have succeeded in foisting on us, the younger generation, a nation wobbling and tottering, which grimly reminds us of the Titanic.
These are not the best of times for Nigerians; Nigeria has known better days. No wonder, the older generation keep assaulting our ears with stories and memories of the good old days; when Nigeria was truly the giant of Africa, full of promise. Now, Nigeria is on the precipice.
If Prof. Soyinka’s generation was a wasted generation fraught with forces of social decay, and if Prof. Utomi’s generation left town because it did not have the “character to challenge and stop the rot”, then it means my generation is the generation that was left and is still being left to rot. We are the bearer of the lion’s share of the brunt of their misdeeds.
Can it be gainsaid that we are the generation that is left to rot? The exhibits are everywhere and evident: Corruption has become our middle name – stories of millions and billions stolen from our public coffers have seized to shock us because they are increasingly commonplace. Our society has sunk so low on the moral spectrum that the country is reeling from shockwaves of various crimes. Our educational sector leaves little or nothing to be desired – the first Nigerian university in the list of the top 100 universities in Africa, according to the July 2012 Webometrics Ranking of World Universities, is in the 31st position. Youth unemployment is skyrocketing by the day as what now worries the President Jonathan-led government most is security. We must be alive before we will eat food. That much we have been told. Standard of living has drastically nosedived and many Nigerians now live in abject poverty – not a few people have resorted to begging on the streets. Human life has become unbecomingly cheap with many being killed daily by terrorists, armed robbers, reckless security officers, and many lose their lives on our bad roads.
It is true that the worst danger that confronts the younger generation is the example set by the older generation, but should we also become “a wasted generation” or “a walk-away generation”? Should we look on helplessly while our generation rots or should we rise up to stop the rot and better our lot? That is the question we must collectively answer.
Though ours is a generation that is left to rot; the good news, however, is that we have the power to stop the rot. To adapt the words of former World Bank Vice President for Africa Dr. Oby Ezekwesili at the 1000 Points of Light Summit held recently in Lagos, we have greater opportunities than our forebears. The saddest thing that can happen to us is to sit by lamenting and complaining that we don’t have opportunities. She described our generation as “the turning point generation” saying we have to understand what we are up against. “You have tremendous opportunities. Don’t complain about the constraints. Access to technology is important for your generation as an opportunity. Technology has democratized know-how. Today what you know is without boundaries… The world of the internet opens you up to the lowest cost of knowledge,” she added.
Yes, it behooves us to rise up to the challenge and not to wallow in the cesspool of self-pity and hopelessness. That is the only way we can avert making an encore of their errors. We must break with precedent. This is our time. At a time like this, we can no longer afford the luxury of apathy and un-patriotism, born out of frustration; it will deprive us of our dream Nigeria. We cannot afford to mortgage our future just because some set of people have disappointed us. It is our responsibility not to disappoint ourselves.
We must constantly be guided by the fact that youth is a marvelous period of life which must not be wasted. In spite of the socio-economic challenges that confront our nation, we can still make the most of our youth. Our energy, creativity and talents can still be tapped and channeled into productive uses. We destroy our youth and injure the future, if we allow the present state of our nation to drive us into social vices such as cyber crime, prostitution, kidnapping, armed robbery, political thuggery and electoral robbery. We are only young once, that’s a fact of life. Youth is a wonderful thing and it’s a crime to waste it on frivolities.
In the words of Frantz Fanon, the French thinker, “The future will hold no pity for those who have the exceptional privileges to speak the truth to the oppressor, but have taken refuge in passivity, mute indifference and, sometimes, cold complicity.” As Nigerian youths, with our population being the largest, there is so much we can do to make this nation a better place. I have said it before, and at the risk of being repetitive, I must say here that we must stop running away with the long-peddled notion that we are the leaders of “tomorrow”. Perish the thought! Waiting for that “tomorrow” is like waiting for Godot! It’s high time we realized that we indeed have a special responsibility towards shaping the future of this nation. We are the single most important determinant of the future of our nation.
It is bad enough that those who have been gang-raping our nation for decades are still struggling to retain their grip on the soul of a nation crying out for deliverance. Their much-touted slogan that we are the leaders of tomorrow is belied by their brazen sit-tightism, do-or-die philosophy and cavalier attitude to the plight of the Nigerian youth. In the words of Fela Durotoye, we must ‘deliver the future” of this nation from the grip of these Neanderthal forces.
As Nigerian youths, we have a crucial role to play. We must be actively involved if we really want the desired future. “Nigeria is once again on the brink of a precipice. We have to face up to our responsibilities before it is too late,” said Prof. Chinua Achebe.
“We must make up our minds that the time has come for us to take more seriously, in fact, as a matter of urgency, our involvement in our national life. We can begin to cast this vision across the country from our immediate environment. Things have got to change, here and now. Let us be the catalysts that will jumpstart Nigeria’s economic greatness and propel national progress.” Those were the words of Mr. Linus Okorie (now a member of the House of Representatives) at the Lagos Youth leadership and Economic Summit organised by Guardians of the Nation International on January 17, 2009.
The future of our nation rests on our shoulders, and to transform our nation is a herculean task; hence, we must continue to prepare ourselves for this task. We can only transform our nation by constantly improving ourselves. We must strive to increase our knowledge base, sharpen and expand our skills, broaden our horizons and maximize our potential.
Writing in The Nation newspaper’s op-ed of Tuesday, September 2, 2008 – headlined “What’s Wrong With Nigeria?” I expressed my conviction that if we, as proudly Nigerian youth, choose “hope over hate, the promise of the future over the poison of the past” (apologies to Bill Clinton) and act right, we will be astonished at the rapid transformation it would effect in the material conditions of our lives.
Let us all, to paraphrase the words of Carl Sandburg, see Nigeria, not in the setting of a black night of despair ahead of us; but in the crimson light of a rising sun fresh from the burning creative hand of God. Let us, in the words of U. S. President Barack Obama, begin this hard work together. Let us transform this nation. Let us be the generation that reshapes our economy to compete in the digital age.
‘Femi Asu is a freelance journalist, founder and Editor-in-chief, Stand.Out.And.Reign!