Nigerian Youths as Selfenemies – By Bolaji Abdullahi [A Rejoinder to Chude and Ohimai]

In the last couple of days, I read two
articles by two of Nigeria’s most talented youths, Chude Jideonwo and
Ohimai Amaize. The two articles were asking essentially the same
question: why are African youths voting for old men? This is a very
important question indeed.
“It’s odd to see so many engaged,
empowered and angry youth turn to symbols of the same old order to make
change happen in countries desperate for a turnaround,” Chude wrote, and
then gave reasons why it may not be so odd after all.
He said when young people are confronted
with a choice between a bad candidate and an old candidate, a sense of
“responsibility” makes them to overlook age as a factor. “Pragmatism”,
“cynicism” and a “ferocious mix of anger and hope” he said, are other
reasons young Africans are helping to bring old men to power.
For Ohimai, everything boils down to a
“conspiracy of the elite class”, who has continued to disempower young
people, using the potent tools of illiteracy and poverty.  In other
words, youth participation in politics has been limited largely to
playing in the supporters’ club of the same older politicians who have
denied them the means and the opportunity to take to the field
themselves.
Both writers have offered us valid
interpretations. However, I tend to disagree with Chude where he appears
to suggest that the political fortune of young people on the continent
are changing. Young people, he said, have “only now begun to build the
street savvy that can win elections or hijack political systems.” In
particular reference to Nigeria, this would appear a little like an
overstatement. I have not seen the evidence anywhere that young people
are developing the essential capability that could win elections or
“hijack political systems.” Worse still, I can’t see even a theoretical
movement in that direction.
On his own part, Ohimai has tried to
frame the youth as hapless victims of some elite conspiracy. This may
not be completely correct. Young people are victimised by many things
and at different levels, but in recent times, they are no longer as
passive as Ohimai would want us to believe. And as Chude rightly noted,
2011 was the age of “real” participation in politics for the youths.
That was also arguably the golden era of youth enlightenment and
participation in social enterprise and entrepreneurship. Interestingly,
Ohimai himself is a prime example of this coming-of-age, when he became
the youngest Nigerian to manage a presidential candidate at the age of
26! It was the era of “Futures Award”, pioneered by Chude and his
irrepressible companion, Debola Williams, which recognises and
celebrates exceptional young people. It was the era of
“Enough-Is-Enough” and “Occupy Nigeria”.
I was Minister of Youth Development at
the time. And I experienced quite intimately, the sheer energy and
ingenuity of the Nigerian youth at the time. While so many factors
combined to make Goodluck Jonathan president in 2011, his “Breath of Fresh Air
arrival was surely a creation of Nigerian youth. It is also clear that
the decline of the Jonathan presidency started when he lost the youth
population with the fuel subsidy removal of January 2012. If ever there
was a time that the youth were going to truly come to their own in this
country, it was 2011 and 2012.
However, if 2011 was the golden age of
youth political participation in Nigeria, 2015 would go down as the age
of decline. Shortly after the election, I asked my friend, Chetta
Nwanze, another incredibly talented young man of that era, what went
wrong. Ever perceptive, he pointed out that ‘youth’ is a finite
identity.  Many of the youths of that era have grown to become men and
women with their own families. I think there are bigger issues as well.
The Nigerian youth was a powerful force
in 2011 because they were able to build a consensus and mobilise around a
common political agenda. Even though a 2011 report indicated that being
Nigerian was a fourth-level identity to most young people at the time,
Nigerian youth were able to subordinate those other primordial
identities of tribe, religion and region that mattered to them to an
overarching considerations for good governance, rule of law and social
equity. This was not the case in 2015. Things, literally, fell apart.
Looking back at the 2015 election, one
should ordinarily be delighted that youth participation in politics was
even more intimate and more clearly defined along political party lines
than on the previous occasion. Unfortunately, this has turned out to be a
destructive force, at a level we have not witnessed before.
Two years after, the youths are still
carrying on as if the election was not over. Those on the losing side
are still smarting from defeat and have allowed their pains to determine
their reaction to everything. They have proudly adopted the banner of
the “wailing wailers” that was thrown at them and appear to
constantly be in need to justify the political choice they made two
years ago. When they should be sober, they have been gleeful. When they
should be reflective, they have been vengeful. Their political
affiliation appeared to be more important to them than the Nigerian
nation itself.
On the other hand, those on the winning
side have indulged in suicidal triumphalism. They are intolerant of even
the slighted criticism and have gone round with annoying sense of
entitlement and exaggerated patronship. Meanwhile, the people that
really mattered, the political elite class that Ohimai blames for the
disempowerment of young people,  have responded to new realities; they
are now busy working on new relationships and building new alliances.
They have forgotten about 2015. The Nigerian youth is however, still
there, locked in a fight-to-finish, abusing, cursing, caricaturing,
falsifying, and doing everything to win a battle that had long been
over. The actual players are busy seeking new opportunities, the
Nigerian youth is locked in a mortal combat over who could blow the
loudest vuvuzela.
It speaks to the weakness of our
political parties that a single electoral defeat would lead to the
collapse of one of the strongest political parties in Nigerian history,
the PDP. However, despite its factionalisation, we could see efforts
being made to rebuild the party. One would expect that this presents a
good opportunity for the youths be truly involved and ensure that
whatever comes out in the end reflects their aspirations. But you don’t
see them do this. Rather, it is the same “elite class” that Ohimai said
is the problem that is now left alone to be the solution. The “PDP
youths” appear content to just play their politics on social media.
A couple of weeks ago, the APC
inaugurated its constitutional review committee. Given the frustrations
and grievances that the so many “APC youths” have shared with me in
private conversations, one would expect that they would see this as a
great opportunity to push for a real youth agenda by actively engaging
the committee members. Regrettably, you don’t get a sense that this
engagement is happening. Our youths are rather busy returning
“fire-for-fire” and tearing at one another on twitter and Facebook.
If we are to see the kind of savviness
that Chude mentioned in his article, which would bring the youths to the
centre of political power, Nigerian youths will have to be guided more
by what they can think, rather than what they can feel. They have to
rise above sheer egotism and cultivate the social skill that would
enable them to understand that a political opponent is not necessarily a
personal enemy. Nigeria is in desperate need of a successor generation.
This can only emerge incredibly talented youth population. However, as
long as the youths remain trapped in a culture of hate, cynicism,
talkativeness and self-destructive egotism, young people will continue
to see themselves running back to the past to find a solution to the
future that belongs to them. SIGNAL
Abdullahi is a former
minister of youth development and sports, and the National Publicity
Secretary of APC. This article is a personal opinion and does not
represent in any way the opinion of the APC.
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