“Your past is not your potential, in any hour you can choose to liberate the future.” – Marilyn Ferguson
As we approach a hundred million Nigerian youths (age bracket, 15 years to 54 years), I am reminded of the old saying, that the youths of today are the leaders of tomorrow. Unfortunately, that may never be the case anymore, because for most of the young Nigerian men and women their futures have been taken away from them by a failing class that have decided to perpetuate themselves in power for the next several decades. For most of our youths their perception is that their futures have been stolen from them by the thieving politicians who are no patriots in spite of their protestations to the contrary on the campaign soap box. These frustrated unemployed, and unemployable youths unwittingly and sometimes deliberately engage in the pastimes of drug abuse, alcohol abuse, cultism, hooliganism, intended and consequential suicide actions; just about anything that can fleetingly and frequently take their minds off their sub-human existence.
It is no secret that most of our youths who still retain their sanity wish they are not Nigerians. The few who can, seek emigration. Some of them die in the process of their perilous journeys through the Sahara or Mediterranean. Some sell their organs to fund their trips or are forced into prostitution by organized crime rings in North Africa and Europe. In the end a good percentage of them get deported back into the hopeless country they fled from. How did we ever get here?
50 years ago this country had so much to offer her youths. The country was at the steep climb of her oil boom. The national coffers were swelling up by the day, students were being educated for free, graduates were employed as they left school, and fresh industries were springing up in the six geo-political zones in the country. West and East European nationals, Americans, Indians, Pakistanis and our brothers and sisters from the ECOWAS countries all came to partake in the economic boom that was the seventies. The telecommunication business was a major infrastructural investment that attracted technical prowess of the western world. Even the Brazilians came in a big way to join in this business and others like water resources development and railway bids. The perennial quest for electric power development was a major attraction for the heavy hitters in the business world of the Europeans and the Americans. And not to be outdone, the Russians also came to make their pitch and won the development of our iron ore extraction concern in Ajaokuta. The government of the day rightly decided to implement a massive educational grant in terms of scholarships for Nigerians willing to train in these emerging fields as future manpower to drive the national industrializing process.
As it was bound to happen, the Nigerian leadership dropped the baton in the alter of politics, greed, and corruption. Rather than build and strengthen the democratic institutions that will check the excesses of those in power, the military failed woefully in their mantra of devolving to superior powers by staging coups upon incessant coups that did nothing to stem the corruption the coup leaders professed to fight. Continuity of development programmes was jettisoned to the dust bins of countless probes that turned up massive mismanagement that largely went unpunished or uncorrected.
The inevitable results were
• The crumbling of the noble industrial revolution of the seventies in less than a decade. The manpower being prepared in universities all over the world suddenly had no jobs to return to.
• The new universities being built in the country with its burgeoning population growth were churning out graduates with no jobs to go to.
• Billions of dollars spent on infrastructures were a massive waste arising from poor contract administration and policy mismatch. For all that was spent on telecommunications, Nigeria had just about 200,000 telephone lines in 1999. For all the billions of dollars that were spent on electric power supply, Nigeria still cannot produce 7,000 MW of energy.
• The West realizing that we were failing had their financial institutions to design intervention programmes to aid fiscal management and infrastructural service delivery like the Structural Adjustment Programme of the IBB regime that led to massive naira devaluation, reduced funding of social and educational services, and further job losses. Other interventionist programmes like the World Bank’s water for all by the year 2000 largely engulfed billions of dollars without providing the thousands of water reservoirs, booster stations, pumping stations, and pipelines that were to be the expected outcomes, delivering portable water all over the country.
• These various interventionist programmes and our own development needs became the major drivers in our massive borrowings of the eighties and nineties. The crushing debts were too much for the nation that at Obasonjo’s second coming, he sought debt relief from the Paris Club and others. That was a genuine effort to retrieve some of the Nigerian youths’ stolen future by the erstwhile incompetent leaders. But again this was tied to yet another interventionist programme called the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that were as wont to be, poorly executed in Nigeria.
• Now, at General Buhari’s second coming, the country is back at the borrowing tables of the Western World, mortgaging whatever is left of the resources of the country that our youths could fall back to otherwise. This is our reality today.
Such realities make for intervention engagement which was what in my opinion the younger protesters of the #ENDSARS movement were hoping to achieve. In my article in this very column of Thursday the 29 of October titled ‘’Lessons From the Past Few Weeks’’ I wrote and I quote “How can we say our children are the leaders of tomorrow but we have refused to empower them to take positions of leadership? By this I do not mean just vacating positions for them to occupy when they have not been groomed with the right examples to lead any differently from their predecessors. I am talking of the various facets of national development and infusion of national patriotic fervour to seek and protect that which is Nigeria. Though arguably, we can all agree that a man of 75 years old has no business governing a nation like ours with 93% of the population being in the age bracket of 0-64 years. A leader that old should be retired and stay retired, spending time with his family and serving as a mentor to the young people in leadership positions.
Without getting into their minds, for the founders and the organizers of the #ENDSARS movement these are the questions that they were demanding answers to but everything went so very wrong, ever so quickly. They did not receive the engagement they expected. Rather, they were greeted with sponsored hoodlums and taxpayer purchased bullets from the guns of security men that have been trained in the acts of brutalizing fellow citizens, neglecting in the process their primary function of protecting these same citizens. The gerontocratic government also threatened and considered banning social media or the internet to cut off communications amongst the protesters. Such is their warped and ill-conceived thoughts that they do not realise you cannot regulate what you do not own. Currently, the national economy and financial services are e-commerce based. So, what part of the internet are you going to regulate? Besides, Nigeria is not Saudi Arabia and even at though they tried, the Saudis do not have much success in that archaic process either. What next for the usurpers? An on-going attempt to divide and punish the movement spearheads by the leadership class through blackmail, freezing of accounts, and state terrorism. The Government has not engaged them to discuss their seven-point agenda. Instead they are involved in a battle to crush the youths, ensure their personal survival, and steal some more. They have the guns, and the youths have the phones; so they are superior in their mindset. It is only a matter of time, cause one day ‘monkey go go market but e no go return’.
I will warn the national leaders again, that failing to engage may push the protest movement underground like was the case of the Niger Delta militants, OPC, IPOB, and perhaps, Boko Haram. This process which will take a few years to articulate must start now because implementation and institutionalization will take many administrations before it becomes our way of life. If we do not address this now, the anarchy I predicted in a previous article in this column some months ago will surely arrive, flowing from the North East passing through Kano, over the middle belt, across the River Niger and Benue, then meeting up with the militants in the creeks in Niger Delta before landing on the grounds of Oduduwa on its way towards the Atlantic through Lagos.
A lesson for the Ruling Class must be to move away from high-handedness regarding the treatment meted to the leaders of #ENDSARS movement. It is hard not to receive the support of Gen. Muhammad Buhari now or in a few years’ time, because he was equally disappointed with the way the country was drifting 30 years ago, and with Tunde Idiagbon they tried and demanded change. Therefore shooting peaceful protesters, freezing bank accounts, and taking away their passport will not help matters. If you as government continue on this part, all the good young men and women will die or move out of the country and you will be left with the bad eggs. When these eggs hatch there will be many bad and deadly chickens everywhere. And these bad chickens may grow teeth overnight.
As for the movement, do not be tempted into a political movement because partisanship will destroy your noble vision. There are times when being a king maker and a keeper of the democratic institutions as watch dogs are more noble causes; this is one of such times. The Youth Leaders, give yourselves not less than 10 years to build the movement, do not fight over leadership, allow such to emerge naturally. Continue to ask questions, demand accountability and there will be many down the line.