“When I started running for president, everybody said a black guy named Barack Obama wasn’t going to win the presidency of the United States. But what I was banking on was the fact that with all the problems that still exist in the United States around racial attitudes, etc., things have changed, and young people and new generations had suddenly understood that, in Dr King’s words, you have to be judged not by the colour of your skin, but by the contents of your character. That doesn’t mean that everything is suddenly perfect; it just means that young people can lead the way and set a good example. But it requires some courage. Because of the old thinking, people will push back at you, and if you don’t have the convictions and the courage to be able to stand up for what you think is right, then cruelty will perpetuate itself. So you guys are on the spot!” – Barack Obama speaking at the 2015 YALI Summit in Washington D.C.
Last year, I wrote a book, Lazy Nigerian Youths, where I wrote: “Lazy is one of the most dismissive descriptions of us as demography; it’s a trigger-word that gets young people very enraged. The last thing you can label a Nigerian youth is ‘lazy’ because we’re anything but that. The devil works hard but a young Nigerian works harder! We put blood, sweat and tears into eking out meaningful livelihoods so it is utterly disparaging and unacceptable to suggest that such industrious base is indolent.”
The Coconut Head Generation
I have seen a lot of capping on the timeline, talmbout how the Gen Z and the millennials are especially unruly. It’s disingenuous and infantile to paint all of them with the same brush without a holistic interrogation of the issues. Are we just looking at the apple or are we considering the entire orchard? Do we expect people who have seen their future being robbed before their very eyes to be buoyed or sing kumbaya instead? Most young people have never experienced good governance and have lost a chunk of their formative years to terrible political leadership. They grew up with stories of how their parents graduated and had blue chips poach them with juicy jobs from the jump. They long for the days when competence and merit trumped ethnicity, religious and partisan affiliations. They read about people who led this country in their 30s and 40s. They heard that not too long ago, you could casually travel (not japa) to the United Kingdom without a visa.
God abeg o, who go help o? Mid-20s wey everybody dey enjoy, e reach their turn, the dollar is exchanging at N666+ in the parallel market. ASUU strike, which isn’t a “critical issue” has been on for six months. Rents are rising like mercury on summer’s day. Staple foods are getting out of their reach. D’Tigress qualified for the 2022 FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup in Sydney but lost their tournament slot to Mali owing to some ridiculous self-imposed ban. Terrible sports administration not only earned us a national embarrassment but also cost us a whopping $2.76 million kit deal at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics! ‘Yoots’ hardly get recruited into entry-level jobs even with their university degrees but folks are outchea running for public office with affidavits. They cringe at the thought of not being able to leverage new media as a socio-economic tool because it can be summarily banned without recourse to any extant law. The biggest threats to their businesses are predatory policies. They can’t grind on the streets without being profiled, harassed and extorted by security personnel. Essentially, this adulthood is not adulting for them as it should adult. Na young dem young, dem no kill person.
Na We Dey Run This Town!
Young people are the soul of this country; not just owing to our being the largest demography but for the thankless job of constantly putting the collective on the map. Our doings get level! Whilst there is a plethora of home-grown successes, some of our significant feats are by young people who are abroad or are operating in climes where opportunities have been largely democratized. Imagine if we had great leaders who could match the talents and ambitions of our teeming youths with an enabling environment. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was right when she said: “Nigeria’s most important resource is her dynamic and hardworking youth.” Our face show and our shoe shine! Let me mention just a few:
- Tobi Amusan’s smashed a World Record while winning Nigeria’s first-ever gold at the World Athletic Championships. Little Miss Consistent, Ese Brume with the rest of our young contingent, particularly the women at the Commonwealth Games racked up an impressive haul of 35 medals.
- Big Tems isn’t playing this year, we still don’t know how to act after hearing the leading vibe’s vocals on what is poised to be the biggest movie of the year, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.
- Israel Adesanya is on fire in the UFC, The Last Stylebender no get joy inside octagon – every opponent just dey collect woto woto.
- Multi-talented Nissi Ogulu was one of the designers of one of the latest models of Range Rover, which the company described as “the most desirable ever created.”
- Illustrator Chidiebere Ibe, highlighting the need for diversity in medicine, specifically the paucity of dark skin tones in textbooks created a drawing of a black foetus in the womb which went viral globally.
- Pop star, CKay’s anthem, Love Nwantiti did crazy numbers on Tik Tok and went on to become the first African song in history to cross one billion streams on Spotify.
- Mustapha Abubakar Gajibo designed and built Nigeria’s first fully functional electric-powered buses in Borno State.
- Giannis Adetokunbo is one of only three players in NBA history to win two MVPs before the age of 26. Last year he led the Bucks to their first Championship since 1971.
- Gossy Ukanwoke is the founder of Beni American University, the first digital university in Nigeria.
- Tope Awotona built Calendly, a scheduling business out of sheer frustration. Hard work and multiple funding rounds later, today the Atlanta-based startup has 10 million+ monthly users and is worth over $3 billion.
- Tolani Alli is the chief photographer to His Excellency, Prof. Yemi Osinbanjo (SAN), the Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The Hat is one of the continent’s best documentary photographers.
- Sandra Ezekwesili is the host of Primetime radio show, Hard Facts, on Nigeria Info 99.3FM. Her thought leadership in President Sandra from the over one million listeners to her show every weekday.
- Nigerian women’s national team captain and striker at FC Barcelona Femení, Asisat Oshoala, is easily the most decorated African female footballer of all time.
- Odunayo Eweniyi is the co-founder and Chief Operations Officer of PiggyVest, the first online savings and investment app in West Africa. She is also a co-founder of the Feminist Coalition.
- Lieutenant Tolulope Arotile was the first-ever female combat helicopter pilot in the Nigerian Air Force.
Sorry, Not Sorry
Beyond marking the 2022 International Youth Day, the dividends that are due to the most dominant demography must be documented. We cannot have a future where the bulk of the population has been systematically side-lined from decision-making but has been made to carry the brunt of abominable governance. It’s my job as an ethnographer to tell the story of our own generation in a language they will understand because there are a lot of sinister attempts out there to propagate some puerile, feather-brained and poorly-concocted narratives.
Ours isn’t an off-your-mic generation; Sóró Sóké represents a counter-culture that says no to institutionalized mediocrity and dysfunction. It’s not a franchise for tone-deaf opportunists to profit off our pain! It’s beyond politics; it’s what pushed Bamise to speak out courageously even in the face of danger. It’s why more people are bold enough to walk out of abusive relationships. The same ideology has seen young people speak up against toxic bosses. It’s that same mindset that going forward, will choose leaders who have our collective interests at heart, not those who have ‘experience’ in mismanaging public resources.
Right-thinking people don’t reinforce failure or sugar-coat mediocrity – only anarchists do that. They hire the best candidate for a job, not anyone whp believes such job is his or her birthright. No amount of asinine and eloquent spewing of malarkey will make well-meaning people choose charlatans over competent hands. Deep reflection causes young people to take decisions that improve their personal and collective futures. We’ve recovered ke? No way; we’re cooking! Nigerians will hear our own side of the story; we will get back to you. Next year, we go jam for junction and everybody go bow for the result. E go be.