By Achilleus-Chud Uchegbu
Nigeria’s youths are angry; they are revolting against their elders. From the south to the north, there seems to be agreement, among youths, that it is time for elders to take the back seat and allow beardless youths run things. The youths are speaking up for an environment that will recognise, use and reward their potentials and talents. The youth seem to be saying they are done with being used as political thugs and are now demanding to be at the centre of the debate on their future. At least for now, that seems to be the charge.
Sitting back and watching the rise in ethnic nationalism in Buhari’s Nigeria, one observes that the trend is being driven by youths who no longer listen to their elders; and who rather than kowtow, ask to know who empowered their elders to speak, or negotiate, on their behalf. Somehow, the youths are rising and in a ferocious manner. Obviously, they have watched their elders, including governors, run their affairs for personal family benefits. Now, they want a reversal of roles. They are pushing their elders behind and going for the front row. This is a development the elders may not have envisaged. But it promises to have some crushing effect on leadership of ethnic nationalities in the country. Though it is still the elders that government dialogues with whenever the need arises, the situation does not remove the feeling that the elders have gradually lost control.
Fact is that the failed experiment with the economy, which the APC administration of Mohammadu Buhari wrought on the country has created more activists; some for rights, some for rice. These are all ‘fighting’ from the prism of failed economy and empty pockets. Some argue that if the economy is fixed and more youths find jobs and expendable cash, they will refocus their energies. That may be true. But before then, they have been chastised by the economic situation that they now find activism as meaningful engagement. Though there are those who are genuinely engaged in such ethnic activism and for the right reason, the majority seems to be persons driven to the point of alienation and despair by the nation’s failed economy. This situation created the desperation to survive. Within this context, it is difficult for the youth to listen to any elders especially when they see such elders as encircling government and perhaps, taking advantage of their nearness to power to secure contracts and corner existing jobs for their kids.
In the wake of the recent ‘quit north’ order issued by Arewa Youth on the Igbo, one saw the reaction a harmless comment by Aliko Dangote, Africa’s richest man, attracted. He had dismissed the Arewa Youths as a bunch of idlers who seek recognition. Their response was not only abusive but also showed why Dangote may have domiciled his investments in southern Nigeria. One may argue in support of southern Nigeria having more infrastructures to support such investments, but the tirade of Arewa Youths against Dangote suggests that his investments may be targeted in times of such outbursts if they domiciled in the north. Besides, reaction of the Arewa Youths against position of northern governors against their ‘quit north’ order, proves the growing dissent. It is such lack of control by the elders that provoke fears that attacks against Igbo people, and other southerners resident in the north, may still be possible after October 1.
Down south, one follows response of Oduduwa youths when their elders speak from the platform of Afenifere. Gradually, the Pan-Yoruba association is losing grip and control of its youths who also, gradually, seek other platforms to express their views and concerns. Often, one hears southwest youths questioning the authority of Afenifere leaders to speak on their behalf, especially, when their views are considered not representative of the general view. This often gets to the point of use of abusive language in response to some positions taken by the members of the group on certain national issues. There have been videos shared on the social media platforms of students in some schools in the southwest standing up to their governors in most condescending manners. The trend is seems more pronounced in the southeast where youths are taking advantage of the gulf between them and their leadership to create their own platforms for self-expression.
This situation is seen clearly in the growth of Independent People of Biafra (IPOB) and Nnamdi Kanu. While organizationally Kanu is designated as Director of Radio Biafra, his followers prefer to address him as ‘Supreme Leader’, a title that has no bearing on the leadership of Igboland, but means a lot to his followers. The void created by the elders in their brand of leadership, which created a gulf of understanding and connection with the youths, is now filled by irate youths who are driving a new narrative that satisfies their desire to also be heard. It is for this reason that Kanu seems larger than society. Of course, he has broken every of the conditions attached to his bail, but having created a hero out of him, the federal government may be constrained not to beatify him with another round of incarceration.
So far, he commands enormous following, which is deaf to the elders; thanks to the President Buhari’s quick-tempered decision to incarcerate him in the pursuit of the 97% v 5% governance model. As it is, the only person who sits in a position to call the IPOB crowd to order is Kanu. This shows that the youths around him listen to him alone. It classically says that the elders have lost control. So, from the south up to the north, elders successfully crated leadership vacuum by ignoring their youths and leading nationalities all by themselves and for themselves. And for this, the youths constantly ask such questions as ‘why are we not invited to talks like the elders’? While it is true that the elders have the benefit of experience, and institutional knowledge, it is also important to bring in the inexperienced youth at such discourse so that they may learn and begin to appreciate certain realities they are not privy to. This is important. But again, so many people argue that such infusion would mean recognising the rampaging youth –something they look forward to: but common sense says it is better to get them close to the dialogue table than ignore them outrightly.
A look around the world of revolution shows clearly that no elders have ever started one. Beardless youths have always been at the forefront of revolution. They have always been the fighters, armed and unarmed. Elders often sit back to monitor and guide. Malcom X was only 40 when he was assassinated. Martin Luther King was 39 when he was also assassinated. Ernesto Che Gueverra was also 39 when he died. Nelson Mandela became involved with anti-colonial activism in 1943 at the age of 25. Joshua Wong who rattled China with the umbrella revolution in Hong Kong was 18 years old when he hit the world stage and asked for change in the political future of Hong Kong. Patrice Lumumba, Thomas Adhiambo Mboya, Amilcar Cabral, Thomas Sankara, Steve Biko were just some youths who overlooked their elders and pushed the limits for change in the social and political structures of their various countries.
Recall that at the victory speech of Barack Obama after he was elected President of the United States of America, Jesse Jackson, among other black leaders did shed tears of unbelief and of joy. They knew what road the blacks had walked. And together, they paid tribute to the likes of King and Malcom X for igniting the fire that delivered the first black president of the US several years after they were assassinated.
The 2014 National conference had youth representatives. The benefit of that engagement, for the youth delegates, cannot be quantified. Nigeria may be in need of such engagement and exposure. Giving the youths a voice may help stem the speed of the slide. We have seen that while the many elders preach tolerance and peace and are accused of ‘selling-out’, the youths are eager to pull down the foundations. This represents a signal which Nigeria’s leadership ought to study deeply.