And finally, the Nigerian youths, whom President Buhari sometime ago described as lazy and therefore unproductive and clueless, have woken up from their deep slumber. ‘Taa bu gboo’, says an Igbo proverb that goes further to explain that when one wakes up remains one’s dawn or morning.
So, good morning, Nigeria and Nigerian youths! In one of my essays on this column sometime ago, I had lamented the cluelessness and lack of national or group focus of the Nigerian youths as they are seemingly sold to pop culture (music, football, drinks, sex and superficial education and shallow knowledge) evidenced in the absence of socio-cultural engagements that are capable of changing society. It has not always been like this in Nigeria.
Recall that even though Africa has been buffeted by myriad of socio-cultural, economic and political problems, which challenged the youth of Africa, yet each generation has meet the challenges and resolved them one way or the other.
When Europeans invaded Africa between 18th and 19th centuries in the name of bringing civilization to the people, but rather designed to conquer, enslave and exploit the communities, the youth did not keep quiet.
Be it Kosoko or Akitoye in Lagos, who were youths as at the time British Consuls and soldiers (Beecroft, Brand, etc.) were setting up and playing the princes against each other in the mortal game of ‘divide-andrule’, Kosoko and Akitoye challenged them and were deposed and banished.
Jaja of Opobo was a young man, barely 40 years when the British traders, especially the commercial buccaneer, Sir George Goldie and Frederick Lugard, his chief security, manning the Royal Nigeria Company in collaboration with the British consuls and commissioners in charge of Niger Coast Protectorate, confronted him with a ‘treaty of friendship and protection’ but King Jaja even though not educated in English language and British law requested that the term ‘protection’ be explained to him.
The trade monopoly created by the Goldie’s Royal Niger Company chartered by Britain and given control over the Niger Coast that covered the present South-South, South-East, North-Central of Nigeria and later the Niger Territories that covered the present North-West and North-East of Nigeria was challenged by Jaja, Nana of Itsekiri, and several other African potentates.
Of course, it is on record that when British consuls confronted the Benin King, Ovonranwen, he did not cower before them but maintained his ground and when Consul Philip decided to derogate the authority of King Ovonranwen by flouting his orders, he and his entourage paid with their lives.
So, there are no historical antecedents to ground the hypothesis that Africans, and more particularly the youth were not assertive to defend their rights and freedoms. Mandela in South Africa spent 26 years in prison as his price for fighting oppression and slavery against his people.
The early nationalists that challenged British imperialism were in their late twenties and early thirties when they summoned up courage to do so. Azikiwe, Earnest Ikoli, Bode Thomas, Awolowo, Samuel Akinsanya, Macaulay, Enahoro, Muokwugo Okoye, Funmilayo Ransome Kuti, Margaret Ekpo, Aminu Kano, etc. were all young men dedicated to liberating Nigeria from imperialism before Azikiwe betrayed the national struggle thereby allowing Britain to structure Nigerian state as it liked and imposed a rigged constitutional framework and political infrastructure on the people.
It was Azikiwe’s betrayal of the Zikist Movement and the national struggle thereby allowing Britain free rein to bastardize Nigeria by making it a British neo-colonial state forever tied to the apron sting of Britain and its allies, especially the United States of America that has been the problem with Nigeria.
But the important point to note is that despite Azikiwe’s failure to seize Nigeria from Britain and disable British imperial clutches despite the youth’s commitment and support and together with Nigerians influence or even dictate the decolonization process, the youth persevered. The Nigerian youths have always shown themselves worthy of good causes and committed to bear true allegiance to their God, Nigerian state and society.
The Nigerian youths had deployed their intellectual energy to challenge British imperialism. Under the aegis of National Union of Nigerian Students in Britain and Kings College students having noticed the rudderlessness of the political parties of the 1930s, especially the Nigerian Youth Movement where Azikiwe and Awolowo were fighting over the choice of candidates (Akinsanya or Ikoli) for Lagos Legislative Council election seized the moment to engineer and establish the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons with Herbert Macaulay and Nnamdi Azikiwe as president and secretary.
NCNC, the first national political movement started quite well, but the youth again noticing the absence of ideological depth and focus created the Zikist Movement in 1946 without the contribution of Azikiwe or other NCNC leaders.
For over four years, the Nigerian youths cutting across tribal and ideological lines and led by Kola Balogun, Nwafor Orizu, Raji Abdallah, MCK Ajuluchukwu, etc. dazzled Nigerians with its organizational structure and focus on the nationalist project of freeing Nigeria not on British terms, but on the Nigerian people’s terms. In its membership and leadership composition, there was no tribe in Nigeria that was not represented.
And it was a truly national organisation not wracked by tribalism and lack of focus that had hobbled NCNC and even worse, the tribal Action Group and Northern Peoples Congress.
The Nigerian youths have always played positive role in Nigeria’s development except when their energies were misdirected by the tribal champions as was the case in the coups of 1966, the Biafra War, the Military rule.
During the Western Regions crises (1964 – 1965), Wole Soyinka, then a youth challenged the electoral frauds being foisted on the people and also during the Biafra War, Soyinka thinking of charting a nationalist course different from the hegemonic war between the Nigeria and Biafra, accepted Col. Banjo-led Biafran forces’ proposal to enter Western State and force out the hegemonists in Nigeria and Biafra and thereby create a new Nigeria based on universal brotherhood and justice. He paid dearly for his troubles as he was arrested and kept in solitary confinement until 1969 when he was released.
Then under the military rule, the youth, especially in the universities were the backbone of resistance to military autocracy and misgovernance and there were several civil actions taken against military governments to free the people from the clutches of oppression and enslavement. Up till 1999, Nigerian youths remained the ‘unsilenced’ voice of the people and their efforts were acknowledged and saluted by General Ibrahim Babangida who paid tributes to Chief Gani Fawehinmi and Nigerian students for their resilience and principled challenge to his government.
The present stupor only came with the Abacha government when the government successfully penetrated some of the civil society organisations especially the youth bodies such as the National Youth Council which it set up while leadership were subtly foisted on the National Association of Nigerian Students. Now, it is common to see student bodies in universities behaving like Nigerian politicians and in most cases they are being used for vile electoral purposes.
Some of the leaders now became agents of governments (federal, state and even local governments) and they are remunerated and benefited in the patronage system. This situation has led to complacency we see now in the youth body of Nigeria until the present ENDSARS protests.