The 68 million generation

 

(By Dolapo Aina)

our generation is full of global influencers – known globally for their community development work; 30 CEOs who make Forbes list – making global headline in Business; young political strategists – engaging political bodies and forming policies; movement builders – forming alliances to draw attention to national issues; entrepreneurs – creating innovative businesses that tackle social issues; socially savvy youth – organising events that shape national scenes; technologically advanced technocrats – leveraging on technology to do just about anything and intelligent – highly educated middle-class.’’

“The glory of an elder is his experience but the advantage of the young is his strength” – King Solomon

“Leadership must never be accidental in Nigeria. Must be deliberate and we must never assume that people are by default able to govern effectively. We go to driving schools before driving a car, why won’t we attend a Governance School before governing?” – Kola Oyeneyin

THE fifth Bola Tinubu Colloquium was held on March 29, 2013, at the MUSON Centre. The theme for the colloquium was “Beyond Mergers: A National Movement for Change; A New Generation Speaks.” As a member of the new generation, I was interested in what the veterans of the old generation had to say and the well-rehearsed and now too familiar rhetoric of blame games.

The speakers were young individuals from Kola Oyeneyin, convener of SleevesUp; Myani Bukar, lawyer; Bankole Wellington, the R and B artiste better known as Banky W and Hafsat Abiola-Costello, daughter of the winner of the annulled June 12, 1993 presidential election. The lead speaker was Femi Edun, a veteran financial analyst while the chairman of the occasion was Prof. Wole Soyinka, who had to attend another function and passed his role to Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, the Central Bank Czar.

If the theme were to be taken with any iota of seriousness, then the proverbial Nigerian time of lateness wasn’t adhered to. The booklet stated that a documentary on Bola Tinubu, welcome and introduction, would begin at 3.30 p.m. and 4.10 p.m. respectively. And true to the organisers’ itinerary of events, the colloquium commenced on schedule. While Mr Myani Bukar related his topic with personal experiences, saying that political ethno-religious conflicts aren’t new in Nigeria. Banky W basically clamoured for the youths to be part of the process and, if necessary, engage in peaceful protests. Mrs Hamsfat Abiola-Costello clamoured that Nigeria has to have a functioning economy. She asked a pertinent question, “How can a minister stay for four years and can’t reveal any project he/she has accomplished?”

The aforementioned speakers were quite eloquent in their various presentations but it was the first speaker, Kola Oyeneyin who steered the entire auditorium into several rounds of uproarious frenzied yelling, shouting and clapping, all in agreement with what he had to spill out from his belly. So much so, he espoused the practice of “sexy politics”. Governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Fashola and Bola Ahmed Tinubu were “flabbergasted” and “overwhelmed” by Oyeneyin’s oratory that they were stunned, open-mouthed, with the no-holds-barred speech. Oyeneyin, the convener of SleevesUp, enumerated and elucidated many astounding facts.

While introducing the 68 million generation, Oyeneyin uttered some startling statistics which ought to prick at anyone’s thought process. In his words, “youth, not oil, will be the country’s most valuable resource in the 21st century. With an estimated population of 68 million, Nigerian youth is easily a demographic majority. If the Nigerian youth population were to be a nation, it would be the fourth largest country in Africa and 19th in the world. Oyeneyin went further to state that currently, the above mentioned 68 million generation is twice the population of Ghana and more than the population of South Africa bigger than the population of the United Kingdom. As he rolled out the statistics, he said, “with the sheer numerical strength, it would therefore be a major country.”

While the enthused audience were literally chewing the startling figures, he said “but we are a generation that have never witnessed a good nation, a good Nigeria.” In his words, “all that myself and those within my age bracket have ever seen are kidnapping, coups and counter coups, military dictatorship and now fragile democracy, weak institutions and fractured mentality, election annulment, Structural Adjustment Programme, vandalised pipelines, exiles, epileptic power supply.” As the majority of the audience roared in agreement and urged him on, he went further and didn’t apply the brakes. He continued by adding, “infrastructural dilapidation, dysfunctional educational system, and that dreaded ‘C’ word, corruption.” According to him, “these experiences have shaped who we are and how most of us view Nigeria.”

If there was one statement which triggered a frenzied applause from audience, it was when Oyeneyin stated that “politics and politicians have used and dumped the Nigerian youth time and again.” He quoted Reuben Abati, special adviser to the President on Media Affairs, as saying that “this generation are “children of anger” ready to explode at every opportunity.” He also quoted Governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State who once painted this generation as ‘children of entitlement’, waiting for opportunity to “chop”.

The passionate convener of SleevesUp, espousing the positive side of this generation, had stated, “our generation is full of global influencers – known globally for their community development work; 30 CEOs who make Forbes list – making global headline in Business; young political strategists – engaging political bodies and forming policies; movement builders – forming alliances to draw attention to national issues; entrepreneurs – creating innovative businesses that tackle social issues; socially savvy youth – organising events that shape national scenes; technologically advanced technocrats – leveraging on technology to do just about anything and intelligent – highly educated middle-class.’’

Oyeneyin, who it must be said, is in touch with the present economic and social realities went on to say, “despite the push back from the system, young people continue to create social, economic and political initiatives and platforms that shape our nation from LightUpNigeria Campaign; Slum to School Initiative; North Youth Agric-prenuer Move; Dustbin Village; Occupy Nigeria Movement; Youth Presidential Debate; RSVP – Register; Select; Vote; Protect, Campaign for elections. He also mentioned some youth-led platforms such as Leap Africa, Rise Network, Enough Is Enough, Ajegunle.org, Co-Creation Hub, The Future Projects, Beacon – Grassroot Empowerment

Nigerians are known to always ask a rhetorical question which goes thus, how come the same people still hold sway in the Nigerian political terrain?    The initial answer to the aforementioned question was revealed by Oyeneyin, who wasn’t done with facts which can be verified. The elder statesmen who still have influence began meddling in politics at an early age. Examples were given by Oyeneyin: Shehu Shagari (federal legislator at 30, minister at 35). Richard Akinjide (minister of Education at 32) M.T. Mbu (minister at 25, High Commissioner to the UK at 26), Maitama Sule (Oil minister at 29) Yakubu Gowon (military head of State at 32). More than half of the Balewa cabinet were 40 years and below.

With an astonished audience including the press section, Oyeneyin revealed the current situation of the young generation, stating, “at best, young people are only involved at these levels: voters, political thugs, electoral watchers/monitors, commentators/bloggers, attending party meetings/rallies.”

He stated every young individual’s unspoken apprehension(who was present at the event) when he said, “but if this merger will truly deliver on its promise and failure is not an option, then what the younger generation are allowed room to offer has to be beyond these”(the aforementioned footmen involvement).

With the knowledge that majority of the present elder statesmen were in the early 20s and early 30s in the First and Second Republics, Oyeneyin proffered this: “Politicians should squash ‘the leaders of tomorrow mentality’, future is now upon us, deliberately make young people leaders of today!”

According to him, this can be achieved through, creating access, not just opportunity, for opportunists. Good Governance Kindergarten—this can be achieved by fielding young people as councillors, local government chairmen, state legislators etc. and also, by creating generational transition plan through the younger generation.

Also, he spoke at length on political mentorship, stating that there is nothing wrong with positive God-fatherism. Joel Bricks was one of Obama’s Chicago Godfathers; a positive one at that. He challenged the prominent politicians at the gathering to “identify the leading light in this younger generation and begin to provide the right kind of mentoring.”

But one new terminology of Oyeneyin at the colloquium which took everyone by surprise and is now a part of some government officials’ glossary is the act of making politics “sexy”, stating that “the days of rice-based politically rallies are numbered.” In continuation, he said that the proponents of the new party should “engage and create a Democratic Party-Style Convention that appeals to the intellectuals and filters down to the grassroots.”

Oyeneyin quoted one of Chinua Achebe’s books, “Nigeria is the way it is because her leaders are the way they are.” This cannot be wished away by any right thinking Nigerian. With passion, he stated, “the question is not whether the fathers and mothers in this room can; the question is whether the fathers and mothers in this room will.” This writer can’t but re-iterate a pertinent observation made by Oyeneyin. If truly Nigeria has had exceptional leaders, why aren’t or as aptly put by Oyeneyin “where is Awolowo, Sule Maitama, Nnamdi Azikiwe or Bola Tinubu’s School of Governance?” This and more questions, the 68 million Nigerian young generation should be asking elected government officials, so that the statement by CBN Czar, Mallam Sanusi that “Nigeria is a giant with clay feet” won’t become a reality. For Nigerians’ dignity, we need to be asking questions about our politicians.

• Aina lives in Lagos.

“Opinion pieces of this sort published on RISE Networks are those of the original authors and do not in anyway represent the thoughts, beliefs and ideas of RISE Networks.”

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