By Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha
I often encounter a puzzling question on our historical past from some younger Nigerians, sometimes in the classroom or on social media.They believe that Nigeria had never been good or will never be a good place for citizens to attain happiness, because they were born into a country that has not served them right. There is another category of youths who believe that Nigeria was good before, but our generation spoilt it for them, something like getting to the top and removing the ladder to prevent them from climbing to the top.
When I place this perception against the background of Professor Wole Soyinka’s assertive and philosophical declaration that his was a ‘wasted generation’, I get puzzled too, like some of my bewildered mentees! If his was a ‘wasted generation’ yet managed to produce a Nobel Laureate, where do we place the current youths? I once had a police orderly who did not know that Nigeria fought a war between 1967 and 1970, who knew nothing about Biafra or Emeka Ojukwu or why the Nigerian government rallied other ethnic groups to bring back the Igbo to the federation. The war slogan ‘To keep Nigeria one is a task that must be done’ meant nothing to him. He was born in 1975! The past was a blank to him because no one taught him the history of Nigeria in school. I spent one hour while travelling through Igbo country educating him on the Nigeria-Biafra war.
Of course, this leads me to some serious, disturbing questions: how much of Nigeria do our young people know? If they are not familiar with the history of Nigeria, how can they connect with the future of the country? Why does Nigeria draw a negative for most young people from southern Nigeria these days that they all want to migrate from the country? What is the implication of a disconnect between the past and the present in the minds of people whom we believe may run the affairs of the country in the future? Where did the rain begin to beat us, if I may borrow this expression from Chinua Achebe the great Nigerian novelist? Can an umbrella, can any umbrella still save us from the downpour still pounding our roof?
The title of my essay this week is drawn from a question which a young lady asked on a thirty-five-thousand-member platform which I struggle to mentor on Facebook. Somebody had sent me a post of a Volkswagen beetle car with a receipt which showed that the car was bought for three thousand nine hundred and eight naira, forty kobo only (N3908,40) in 1982. As if that was not surprising enough, one John Evwierhoma commented thus: ‘I paid N3700.00 for mine in 1977 and after three months received a refund of N294.00 when the Price Control Board revised the price down to N3406.00! One commentator, Edafienene Vincent Onoriode, asked: “Price Control Board, supervised by whites or Nigerians? Oghenemine Jane Etseyatse a young lady then asked Mr. John Evwierhoma: ‘Please sir, they returned money to you in this country? So, Nigeria was good before now! The subtexts of the comments and the questions make a poignant point about where we were, where we are and where we shall end up, except something urgent is done!
Was Nigeria good before? Yes, Nigeria was good before. The educational system. Social support. The economy. Belief in the dream of One Nigeria. The Post Office. Road travel. Honesty. Low crime rate. The level of public funds looting was low. Politicians talked about ten percent bribes, not carting away the whole monies meant for project execution. The big truth is that Nigeria can be good again- if we do things right. In the first national anthem we sang in prayer to God,‘Though tribe and tongue may differ/In brotherhood we stand’ and‘Help us to build a nation/Where no man is oppressed’. The question before us is whether we have been able to abide by these lofty ideas. We seemed to have jettisoned the ideals as we dropped the anthem. This is the main cause of the disconnect which young people feel with the leadership class in Nigeria.
Youths in all parts of the country feel the harsh and biting economy which has emasculated them and made some of them lose self-confidence. It has made cybercrime crime attractive to some. As earlier observed, some have chosen to flee the country by embarking on the dangerous trip to Europe through North Africa. Unemployment or hunger or insecurity does not understand ethnicity or religion. Despondency as people watch unfolding events knows no religion. How can these young people enjoy the good life which some of enjoyed in the university?
The federal and state governments must do some deep thinking about this and take some practical steps. It is not about reinventing the wheel. There is enough literature on this subject that can engage any government that is ready to work. Massive construction projects will stimulate the economy and create jobs. Paying twenty thousand naira to young people is a mere stopgap. Such monies will not last beyond a week. It is like free money. Such funds should be channelled into production or manufacturing. Small loans with starter packs which can engage over ten million youths in a year will also help the situation. Office jobs are not the real thing. Good as opening more universities is, it could be counterproductive if not properly handled. It simply defers the evil day and feeds the ego of politicians that they established higher institutions in their time in government. Where are the jobs for them after graduation?Skills acquisition should be the focus as some state governments have done. Exhortations do not work on people who go about hungry because there are no sources of income. The youths want to see a government that cares about them. I see a lot of young people who want to work hard and make a success of it. But the environment is suffocating.
It is an urgent situation. The generation of men and women controlling political power currently can only ensure the continued existence of Nigeria if we prepare the youths for the task of self-reliance, independence, and competence. But the message from political leaders right now is conflicting. Mixed messaging is dangerous. Nigeria was good before. Nigeria can be good again, even better if we take that path. The current challenges should prepare us for a radical transformation.
-Professor Eghagha can be reached on 08023220393 or email@example.com