Last week was the commemoration of yet another international youth day. Notably marked on August 7, 2020 with this year’s theme being “Youth Engagement for Global Action” as projected by the United Nations for all member countries. This year’s theme sought to highlight the ways in which the engagement of young people at the local, national and global levels is enriching national and multilateral institutions and processes, as well as draw lessons on how their representation and engagement in formal institutional politics can be significantly enhanced.
For some reasons I did not share the usual optimism and comradeship with other young people the day had connoted for me in the last 10 years. Unfortunately, this had nothing to do with COVID-19 not enabling physical gatherings for events or other fanfares that normally accompany the day. It came more out of a deep reflection on the state of things for a demography whose future is presently being orchestrated to their detriment while they look on in amusement. I started to ponder if the International youth day was not gradually becoming more of ritual merely acknowledging our existence in respective of the existential threat that befell us.
I thought maybe a better way for us to spend the day perhaps would have been to begin a campaign pushing for the declaration of state of emergency declaring Nigeria as a failed state, it definitely isn’t working for our collective lot. So I drifted towards social media to see what the youth in Nigeria were trying to make out of the day. Aside from a few virtual conferences anchored by youth-focused non-profits and colleagues in the civil society space, the bulk of the hype online was on the Big Brother Nigeria reality TV program. What actually caught my attention was the backlash His Imperial Majesty, the Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Ogunwusi was getting on social media based on a video that was trending where he attempted to shed light on the perplexity of what he considers as the misplaced priorities of Nigeria’s youth. In the clip which was a recording from an event he held at his palace to commemorate the International Youth Day, he berated the Big Brother Niaja show as a misrepresentation of the goodness and integrity of Nigeria’s youth and he drew a disappointing parallels as far as he was concerned, with the analysis of the 27 million total vote cast at the 2019 elections compared to the 170 million paid-for votes at the 2019 Big Brother Naija reality show to buttress his point on ‘misplaced priorities’. He advocated for the show to be cancelled and replaced with ‘The Big Nigeria Reality Show’ that will be more professional, talent-driven and project peer ‘role models’ amongst the youth of Nigeria.
As expected this message of his erred in the ears of some of the youth across the country who have taken a liking to the Big Brother show and in the common behavior pattern of Nigerians, when you don’t like a message you cast aspersion on the messenger. Some even went as far as bringing up unverified previous shady business dealings of the King. So the argument moved to the moral rights of the king to pass such a message. Likewise, the statement credited to former President Olusegun Obasanjo on the same day prompting Nigeria’s youth to take their destinies in their hands and root out the present ruling class made of up of men and women who should be in retirement if they really wanted a Nigeria that would work for them, did not get a better reception from my people asides from serving as a good headline for newspapers.
While I am all for the new proposed show, I do not share in the opinion of the King for the scraping of the Big Brother show as I believe that particular statement only reflect the indignant refusal common to the older generation of Nigerians to come to terms with the changing times and the realities of a constitutional democracy and a free capitalist state. Morality is a subjective concept and the Big Brother show is a business with billions of naira involved. That being stated, the crux of his message and that of the former President cannot be overemphasized.
We are gradually becoming a generation without a breaking point; we have gotten so accustomed to standing on the edge of a cliff that we are presently showing off our Alanta, Shoki, Legwork, and Zanku skills while throwing Marlian banters there. Before I start sounding sanctimonious, let me clear that I also brand myself to be an ‘Executive Marlian’. I am celebratory of how far the Nigeria entertainment/music sector has come. Once upon a time Eedris Abdulkareem, was perhaps the singular most revered Afro beat/Hip hop crooner. While his controversial hit single of over a decade ago with the hook-line ‘Nigeria Jagajaga, everything scatter, scatter, poor man dey suffer, suffer, Gunshot in the air…’ might still be a relevant message in Nigeria today, I am delighted that the Nigerian music industry has so much expanded with an ever increasing attendant value chain, that is creating more job for a few of us, and is one of the leading export putting Nigeria on the global stage beyond our geographical expression on the world map. All of these were done on our terms without much of government support and against all odds. It is worth celebrating that Nigeria’s Entertainment/music presently dominates the Africa continent and is presently taking the world by storm, but is that all there is to us?
Without undermining the role of art and creativity as food for our soul, but should that totally consume the essence of our existence, or should it inhibit our ability to organize across religious and ethnic proclivities for socio-economic and political advancement of our lot. Why is it easy for us to find uniform in our dance steps and proclaim the domination of our new era of music to the older generation, but we are quick to run back to our inherited social claves when we are faced with the imperative for action on a new era of socio-economic and political governance?
In words of the Ooni of Ife, ‘Every day we go to bed, we have a good sleep and wake up with the hope to meet a Nigeria we did not create’, that the establishment has failed us will be stating the obvious an amount to flogging a dead horse, the greater issue now is that we failing ourselves. We are all in an abusive relationship with Nigeria, yet we refuse to set boundaries, we are presently proving that there is no limit to the assault we will withstand.
Unfortunately, I have more bad news for our collective lot. Things don’t look like they are going to get better and we cannot dance, sing or pray our way out of it. Our educational system is presently facing its greatest challenge of the century based on the realities of COVID-19 pandemic and against the backdrop of a pre-existing structural comatose of the sector and the over 13 million out of school children before COVID-19. The recent 2020 multi-dimensional poverty index released by UNDP, still has Nigeria as the poverty capital of the world and our Northern region took the lion share of that national statistics. Little wonder, the recent outcry by the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJFT) about the massive recruitment of child soldiers by the Boko Haram sect, yet the upper echelon of the Nigerian military complex wants to re-integrate captured or ‘surrendered’ Boko Haram fighters back into society, while the war is still on-going.
The recent 2020 second quarter unemployment and under-employment report released by the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics is 27.1% and 28.6% respectively. This means that 55.7% of Nigerians between the ages of 15- 64 years are either unemployed or underemployed. Particularly, for the same period the unemployment and underemployment rate among young people (15 -34 years) was 34.9% and 28.2% up from a previous 29.7% and 25.7% respectively in the third quarter of 2018. Clearly, things were not getting better before the COVID-19 pandemic, which has now brought in its wake an avalanche of other socio-economic challenges.
As critical as the above situation is, that should normally catalyze a state of emergency; it still is not on the front burner of the national discourse. Our leaders are presently preoccupied with the machination for the 2023 elections and ethno-religious argument for whose entitlement it is to occupy the highest office in the land.
I cannot think of any other higher disregard to our destinies as young people in Nigeria, yet we are dancing.
In this reality show called Nigeria as it stands, there will be no winners amount us, the fraction of us with a little privilege here and there who are presently been recruited to uphold the status quo, or those of us whose network of friends and family have afforded us some leverage to escape our collective misery, might have been able to buy time, but eventually if we do not act, we will come to terms with saying that ‘Insecurity Anywhere, is a threat to security everywhere’.
While I continue on this elusive search for our tipping point, I want us to be reminded that just recently, the government of Lebanon was brought to resignation by wide-spread protest due to the devastating impact of the explosion in Beirut causes by government negligence to secure the storage site of confiscated explosive materials at the port, killing about 185 people, with 6,000 people and over 300,000 people homeless. That is a fraction of the damage caused by Boko Haram in Nigeria.
When are we going to stop dancing on this cliff?
Opeyemi Oriniowo is an International Development Practitioner.
He writes from Abuja, Nigeria.