Two events of the recent past sum up to redefine the engagement of the Nigerian youth, previously thought to be docile, and the leaders of his country. Added to this is the testimony by wife of political leader of Lagos State, Sen. Remi Tinubu, that youths besiege her home every day asking for handouts (matter for another day). The first two events are the attack on Sen. Ike Ekweremadu in Nuremberg, Germany, and the shaming of Governor Godwin Obaseki in New York, United States of America. Both events were executed by Nigerian youths who have become economic refugees in Germany, the United States and elsewhere.
While Sen. Ekweremadu suffered a humbling embarrassment in the hands of members of Independent People of Biafra (IPOB), Gov. Obaseki was shamed by Nigerian youths who had gathered, in protest, before the United Nations building in New York. The significance of the protest is deep. President Muhammadu Buhari and his delegation to the United Nations General Assembly were in New York when the protest happened. From video excerpts seen, Gov. Obaseki was caught in the middle because he arrived late, or early, to the building, and was seen by the protesters who now turned their anger on him. The protesters behaved themselves though. They did not heckle Gov. Obaseki. But having identified him, they called him names and insulted him. They asked if there was any road in his entire Edo State that was of same the standard as the one he drove and walked on. They pointed at him and asked why he was without security. “If it is in Nigeria,” they said, pointing at him, “he will have more than 25 policemen guarding him.”
But that’s not the real issue. The issue here is that Nigeria’s youths seem to have imbibed the challenged posed to them by Gov. Rotimi Amaechi (as he then was), who, in December 2013, during an event in honour of Nelson Mandela in Lagos, challenged Nigerians to stone their leaders on the streets if they want to see an end to stealing of the commonwealth.
His words: “If you see a thief and you allow him to be stealing, what have you done? You have stoned nobody that is why we are stealing. Who have you stoned?” He also said: “If you don’t take your destiny in your hands, we will go and other leaders will come and continue stealing.”
He probably believed that those words were some of those he used so recklessly in settling his disagreement with President Goodluck Jonathan and his wife, Dame Patience. But unknown to Amaechi, he set off a narrative that is now being enforced from abroad. It began in Europe. It has now entered the USA. It will spread in North America and move down to Asia, Australia and Oceania and even Africa. It is a narrative that may change the way things are done in Nigeria, eventually. It is one that will make the Nigerian youth the king, leaving his leader with no hiding place. It may eventually get back home where stones are not in short supply.
Quite often, politicians work their magic and turn the youths against expatriates and companies doing business in their environments as a way of diverting attention, and blame, from their rape of the nation’s resources. In the Niger Delta, it used to be youths/host communities against oil companies. No one in the region held their political leaders, elected and appointed, responsible for the lack of infrastructure even when sons and daughters of the region were, as a matter of privilege, appointed to head interventionist agencies. Niger Delta sons headed DFRRI, OMPADEC, NDDC, Niger Delta Ministry and other such. And rather than an improved Niger Delta region, one that could rival Italy’s Venice with the best of infrastructure, those appointees left office with fatter stomachs and bigger houses in Abuja, Lagos, London and Washington.
In the South East, there were, between 1999 and 2015, Kema Chikwe, Fidelia Njeze, Stella Oduah and Osita Chidoka as Aviation ministers. Yet, the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu, could not boast of standard infrastructure, not even night landing facilities, neither did Sam Mbakwe International Cargo Airport, Owerri, despite their strategic importance to the development of the economy of the region. The northern part of Nigeria is majorly undeveloped despite having elected and appointed representatives since 1960. As a resident of Mbaise Road Police Barracks in Owerri in 1988, we had wet taps from the Egbu Road Water Scheme. Instead of an improvement, it is today moribund. Instead of moving forward, we moved backwards. It simply says that, if all elected or appointed leaders in Nigeria since 1960 had delivered on their promises to develop the country, Nigeria would not have an army of angry youths, chastised by poverty, seeking greener grasses and in Europe, America and elsewhere.
Many of those youths went through hell to get out of Nigeria. Some died in the Mediterranean while feeling Spain from Morocco. Many are now camped at Lampedusa, praying not to be deported. Many are hiding around Europe hoping that law enforcement doesn’t get at them. Many of those who jumped at the Air Peace offer to return from South Africa recently probably were stuck and had no hope of returning home because of high ticket fares. The reality tells you that, if the situation at home was better, many compatriots wouldn’t be out there hoping never to return to Nigeria.
The irony is that a human being of the Nigerian breed is elected governor over a state. He sits in office through eight years managing state resources. However, he flies to Europe or America or India for healthcare because he was unable to either build a new world-class healthcare facility or even upgrade any of the unequipped and ignored general hospitals littering local government areas in his state, to a reference health facility with the right kind of equipment, personnel and financing. Yet, he expects society to accord him all the courtesies accorded reasonable human beings.
The reality, as it presents itself, is that Nigerian youths will begin to take advantage of the freedom they enjoy in Europe or America to humiliate our political leaders. That, perhaps, may help reset mindsets and force them to focus on delivering development as promised at campaigns.
I am not an anarchist and not likely to approve of the option, but it seems that such behaviour will force a leadership rethink and herald a new era of leadership in our country. For a fact, many Nigerians out there are willing to return but they fear the crime rate, the lack of infrastructure, the poverty, the very poor healthcare system, etc., despite Nigeria being 59 years independent.