By Ayo Oyoze Baje
One distinguished, yet unsung nationalist who remained an inspiration to Nigeria’s youths in their educational development was the Efik-born Professor Eyo Ita (of blessed memory). Returning to Nigeria in 1933 after two masters’ degrees and a doctorate in Philosophy, the educationist saw to the birth of the Nigerian Youth Movement (NYM) in 1934.The mandate was on the palm philosophy with the five fingers of Health, Economy, Beauty, Knowledge, Patriotism and Religion.
So profound and influential the NYM became that in March of that same year, the Lagos Youth Movement was launched with Dr. J.C.Vaughan as the president. Other members such Ernest Ikoli, Samuel Akinsanya and H.O.Davies became the moving spirits. Its patriotic aim and cardinal objectives included seeking inter-tribal harmony, nationalism and selfless service.
In fact, soon after its coming into being, it saw to the training of the junior cadre of doctors, engineers and teachers in protest against the shoddy educational standard at the then Yaba Higher College. Eventually, it evolved as the catalyst for national cohesion that influenced the return of the great Zik of Africa from Ghana and the increased tempo in the demand for political independence.
The rest, as they say, is history. But, how would these patriots feel, were it possible to bring them back to life to witness the Nigeria of today, 57 years after independence? That is the billion (sorry, the trillion) naira question. Too often, we blame our youths for the escalating wave of crimes such as armed robbery, kidnapping for ransom, rape and terrorism, without asking ourselves if we, as their elders have been there for them, or played our part.
Do the perpetrators of these heinous crimes appear from Mars or Jupiter? Don’t they have parents, teachers, pastors or Imams? Have the governments (local, state and federal) acted as the father-figure to provide for their welfare and protect them against social and food insecurity as enshrined in Section 14, Sub section 2(b) of the 1999 Constitution,(as amended)? The answers are obvious.
Let us for a moment consider the mindboggling and humongous sums of public funds serially siphoned to feather the nests of members of the political class since independence in 1960. Couldn’t that have facilitated quality education, sustainable food security, sound healthcare delivery and the enabling infrastructural environment to provide mass employment for the youths?
Indeed, one’s increasing fear about the nature and texture of the future the current crop of Nigeria’s political leaders is bequeathing to our rudderless youths is predicated on the prevailing climate of institutional failure of governance. Consider the scary scenario where instilling fear in a hapless, hungry citizenry through flexing of military muscle in a pseudo-democratic dispensation has become the leadership rule of the thumb. Or, how else can we explain the recent controversial Operation Python Dance in the overtly marginalized South-East geo-political zone and the provocative Crocodile Smile version in the more peaceful South-South and South-West axes?
What moral lessons are we teaching our children, who have to grow up in a thorny, political jungle peopled by power-poaching hyenas and jackals; where rats and rodents chase the Lion King from the hallowed palace? Yet, there is more to worry about.
That a government has to ask its military (whose constitutional function is to protect its territorial integrity) to monitor the social media is simply preposterous! Talk shows on television stations are being closely monitored by the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to strangulate the views of the led majority. Perplexing still is that of government demanding details of its citizens on social platforms such as Google, Twitter and Facebook. No one is asking questions about Nigeria’s sudden withdrawal from some international collaborations and how they affect the future of the youths of this country.
These outrageous moves are clearly antithetical to the mores of the United Nations Freedom of Expression Law as the outcome of its conference on freedom of information, held at Geneva, Switzerland, March 23–April 21, 1948. Also known as access to information (ATI), it took root in 1766 when a Freedom of Information Law was introduced in Sweden-Finland. Since then, more than 110 countries (2004- 2011) have adopted such laws affecting about 5.5 billion (2012) inhabitants. The recent monitoring mechanisms also run against the grain of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 2011 which was duly signed into law by the then President Goodluck Jonathan on 28 May, 2011.
Perhaps, our current leaders should climb from their high political horses to drink from the fountains of knowledge of history. How did democracy evolve and what are its axioms? For the records, ancient city-states of Greece were, for instance, ruled by autocratic kings. But about 700B.C., they were expelled as more people wanted a share in the government process. Soon after, monarchy gave way to aristocracy as the lever of power was held by the few rich men. But, at about 500 B.C., many cities adopted democracy. This was a new type of government that was more people-inclusive.
What Nigerian leaders need to learn from Greek history was the different modes of youth development in the two city-states of Sparta and Athens. Sparta was governed by two kings aided by the nobles. While their youths were groomed under harsh, old-fashioned conditions; caring little for literature, commerce, art and science, their counterparts in Athens were brought up in a sophisticated setting in a more progressive and open-minded city.
According to H.A. Clement, the author of the ‘Story of The Ancient World’, while boys in Sparta who could not withstand severe conditions to become soldiers were left to die in a cold mountain valley, those in Athens were exposed to the arts, science, literature and commerce from an early age. While the youths of Sparta who survived were brought up as soldiers, who were taken from home at the tender age of seven and brought up together, to wear same clothes, with many physical exercises to build their bodies, there was a law in Athens that banished any leader that became too powerful for ten years!
Again, while Spartan youths were publicly thrashed once a year to be used to pains and conditioned to speak as little as possible, the laws in Athens honoured talents, guaranteed justice and threw its gates open to strangers. In all of this, Athens became a democracy but Sparta never became one!
The question before Nigerian youths, therefore, is to choose between the command-and-obey stringent structure of Spartan leadership style and the more liberal and mind-developing format provided by Athens. We are in a democracy and this is the 21st century globalised world. A word is enough for the wise.
Baje writes via [email protected]