I decided to deviate a bit from the central theme of most of my articles- international affairs- and focus today on speaking directly to Nigeria's youth, who make up 60percent of the general national population. My original article for today was supposed to be an analysis of the CNN-moderated Democratic Party Presidential Debate. It was already typed out on my laptop and waiting for upload, but I changed my mind just a few days ago. That article will now go up next week.
What informed my decision to write a different article was a particularly interesting piece I had read online which was written by Otunba Femi Pedro; a former Deputy Governor of Lagos State, and one of the founders of Guaranty Trust Bank. It was a piece titled “Buhari and the curious case of the young generation”, in which he basically analyzed via contrast, the involvement of Nigeria’s youth in the 70’s and 80’s, versus the involvement of Nigeria’s youth today in the political and economic landscape. He started by discussing how he and a few friends all in their 30’s- early 30’s precisely- started a financial institution that turned out to be one of the most sound banks in Nigeria today- GTBank. He then proceeded to list an array of young Nigerians in the 60's, 70’s and 80’s who distinguished themselves in the field of politics, the financial sector, the civil service and the army. These names included men like 37year old Obafemi Awolowo, 27year old Anthony Enahoro, 34year old Tafawa Balewa, and 42year old Nnamdi Azikiwe who amongst others, led the struggle for independence; 29year old Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu (a man whom I have read about, and whom I personally admire) who led the first coup, 32year old Yakubu Gowon who ascended to power as a result of the coup, and even a Muhammadu Buhari who was a Military Governor in his 30’s; in the civil service, the band of 30something year olds also included Phillips Asiodu, Allison Ayida, etc.; while the financial sector had the young Jim Ovia, Tony Elumelu, Herbert Wigwe, amongst others. The bone of contention and the reason Mr. Pedro’s article was written, was the fact that young Nigerians today feel left out of governance, and this grouse has been heightened by what has been seen as the filling of President Buhari’s cabinet with “old men”- the same who have been in power since independence. In contrasting the behavior of the youth of his generation versus the behavior of the youth today, Femi Pedro noted that the youth of his generation were faced with the same problems and challenges as the youth of today, that no one did them any favors, that power did not come easily or cheaply, and that they basically had to fight for what they got! Though he noted a few excellent young Nigerians today who have carved their own niche through struggle, perseverance and hard work, he also made a point that seemed to infer that these ones were the minute minority i.e., the exception to the general prevailing norm i.e., the ones who did not wait for opportunity to be handed to them on a platter of gold, but who simply went ahead to create their own opportunities. I could see Otunba Pedro’s point, and it was well taken.
I proceeded to read the comments- comments are usually always interesting- and I was not surprised at what I found. Most young Nigerians were not having any of it! Again, I could also relate with them- somewhat. There was a particular young woman- an entrepreneur- who sounded totally pained. Her grievance was that the financial institutions built by men like Pedro and his friends, have failed young entrepreneurs today. She noted how difficult it was for SME’s to obtain loans or grants for their businesses, even when the entrepreneurs had sound financial proposals and plans. She stated that the rot in the financial sector had been created by men like Femi Pedro whose empires have developed policies that serve the interest of only a select few, rather than the majority. She reminded Mr. Pedro that his bank (GTB) was set up in the “glory days” of the financial sector when conditions for establishing such institutions were not so stringent. As a young entrepreneur, she was struggling to establish a business. I could feel her pain. Another young Nigerian scolded the older generation and seemed to be terribly angry at the impetus of Femi Pedro! He/ She proceeded further to outline the failures of Mr. Pedro’s generation- election failures, the civil war, underperformance of the agricultural sector due to the emphasis on oil, lack of world class infrastructures in the education and health-care sector, etc. And all these failures have been handed down to the present generation- us- who are then miraculously expected to make our way out of this quagmire, and basically create water in the wilderness!
When I was younger, my late mum (bless her beautiful soul) told my brothers and I stories of a time when Nigeria was so rich that the nation’s leaders basically “begged” foreigners to come share in our wealth. I have personally met older Nigerians who were trained on Nigerian scholarships- scholarships which were handed out much more freely and generously. Professor Wole Soyinka’s generation went to universities that could be said to be of international standard in their day- those were the days when university students had access to affordable meals and laundry services for their clothes. I believe it was so much easier for the young generation of the 60’s to get involved in governance in the immediate aftermath of independence when “godfatherism” did not prevail as much as it does today. My mother seemed “astonished” the day she was told that a bottle of Fanta now sold for 20 or 25naira- I'm not so sure now. She could not understand what was happening! I remember my first day of university when I had to stand in a crowded classroom crammed with the sweating bodies of hundreds of young students like myself- you see, there were very few seats and no functioning fans. The lecturer did not have the aid of a sound system and couldn’t be bothered to raise his voice. Needless to say, I heard nothing! I have witnessed the struggles of the entrepreneurial young, firsthand. On many nights I have shed silent tears for my amazing business-minded younger brother, the most business-savvy of all my siblings. I have witnessed the struggles he has faced navigating the murky waters of entrepreneurship. I have watched him change his plans time and time again, in order to adapt to new realities. He still trudges on, and I am so proud of him. I myself am a rebel. I have basically gone against expectations, and painstakingly created a path which is greatly at odds with societal expectations of me. I have had my failures, but they are greatly overshadowed by an enduring determination to succeed.
I could take sound lesson from both Otunba Pedro and the “commenters”. While I greatly admire the gut and drive of Mr. Femi’s peers, I also know that these qualities are not in short supply amongst the young of today, of which I am a part. Agreed, far too many of my generation are carried away by irrelevant distractions created by technological advances- social media has been a blessing as well as our greatest curse! But also, there are a great many of us who have great visions, and who are on the path to fulfilling them. Mr. Pedro, we face lots of challenges- challenges which were largely created by your generation- but we have not given up, and do not intend to. Maybe you can help, by doing more to aid our success. Maybe you can come up with new financial policies that do not only favor the children of your peers. Maybe you and your friends can see the young Nigerians who do not have the advantage of name or societal status; but who possess the tenacity, the doggedness, and the stuff of what successes are made of, and maybe you can render just a little help to these ones. And then I say to my generation, expect miracles, but also acknowledge reality. Instagram is a fantasy world, and things are not always as they seem- behind every true success, there is usually blood, sweat and tears. Develop yourselves…never stop learning. When opportunity is not given, sometimes, it can be created. Remember that original ideas are few…most likely, there are others who have trudged before on your chosen path, and have succeeded- seek them out for advice if you can. Make demands of the older generation (i.e., Otunba Pedro and Co.), and make demands of life…but make sure they are “sensible” demands. Spend more time crafting a life plan than you do taking selfies. Write your own self-help manual…what you read in foreign books will not always apply to your own situation- this is Nigeria. Think for yourself. Be a civil participant, not an uninterested bystander. Listen more than you speak, and be intelligent when you speak. When you are faced with a brick wall, there is always a choice to get a ladder and climb over, to sit still by the wall and re-strategize, or to just walk away…either way, no one will ever know your vision more than you, so the choice is completely yours to make. Yes, we live in a time of great uncertainty and harsher realities; but then again, there are also advantages and opportunities, however few and far in-between- dwell on those and try to be balanced in your judgments and criticisms. Be creative. Be re-creative. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to get involved...there will be many more elections- we must find ways to be adequately positioned for leadership. We must stop selling ourselves short and stop being readily-available instruments for mischief and violence, in the hands of the same politicians we criticize. It is hypocritical to demand positive change while continuing to propagate the same negative traits you claim to despise! Finally, always remember that if there is one great failure about Femi Pedro’s generation, it is that our generation does not feel like they created an enabling environment for us to thrive. The failure of our generation will be that the next generation thinks the same of us, in the future. Let’s make a difference.