MY OPEN LETTER TO YOUNG NIGERIANS – OJ Ayansola
Dear Young Nigerians,
I sincerely hope this meets you well. For my ink bleeds only for the urgency of this matter, permit me to waive long and extended pleasantries. It is a truth universally acknowledged that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Considering that those words of George Santayana are as true in the 19th Century as they are now, I am tempted to conclude that the Spanish philosopher and poet must have had Nigeria in mind. Because today, the screaming across the sky of over 18 million underemployed or unemployed youths is the price we pay for our short-term amnesia induced by ourselves!
Remember, that it was we who successfully repackaged a 1980s military head of state, as the symbol of democratic ideals in 2015. We probably forgot because only poor knowledge of history and inability to call a spade what it is can make anyone believe that a leopard can change its spots overnight. Sadly, that is the unfortunate place we have found ourselves because we forgot history and now we are condemned to repeat it.
Again, let’s pause, look and tinker the idea for a bit and then ask ourselves, why are we not alarmed? Why are we not alarmed that in a country of 65 million effervescent youths adorned with a fecund mind and such dauntless spirit, some of which have given themselves away in abnegate service, the best we could find ourselves are septuagenarians who ruled us in the 1980s with no comprehensive economic policies and have been back again in the last two decades to do the same. But did we really think could teach old dogs new tricks? See where that landed us!
The opening lines of David Adeleke’s February 2017 Article titled “The Real Reasons Why Africa’s Young People Vote for Old Men” reads: “Africa is young at heart, but the people leading her are too old to relate with her youthfulness” and somehow we are not alarmed. With over 200 million between the ages of 15 and 24, Africa has the youngest population in the world. But if you look at the list of heads of state on the continent, out of the 54 countries, at least 24 of them have presidents that are aged above 70. South Africa and Nigeria have presidents that are both 74, but their countries’ median ages are 26.8 and 18 respectively.
The year is 2018, and we are once again the subjects of 1980s champions. What could be more anachronistic! Yet we are not alarmed. Once bitten twice shy, they say, but not us! We are not alarmed that the same cycle of gerontocrats have sailed this Nigerian ship for over 40 good years. We are not alarmed that over 18 million young zealous Nigerians are either underemployed or unemployed. Somehow, we are not alarmed that 58 years after independence over 115 million Nigerians still live below $1 per day. But don’t be mistaken, this viral cycle will continue unless we all get involved and kill this change before this change kills us.
Once upon a time and a very good time it was, one dollar ($1) was equal to one naira (N1) and one British pound sterling was two naira (N2). So where did we miss it? We missed the opportunity of being a great economy when we saw oil and abandoned agriculture, the backbone of the economy. And somehow none of our foreign-trained economists could tell the then rulers (who by the way are still ruling us now) that Netherlands is also an oil rich country but produces agriculture in large quantity. Or maybe they didn’t just listen. We were so bashful in oil wealth that we told the whole world the problem with Nigeria was not money but how to spend it. This is all the aftermath of how we spent it. Today, we cannot produce most of what we consume and cannot consume most of what we produce. We missed it when we decided to build bridges, exquisite government houses, taking multiple trips abroad and enjoying the scenery instead building systems. Systems like America, China and even India. Systems that don’t need an excellent president to work!
Did you know that at the close of the 1980s, Nigeria and China had the same GDP per capita? Four decades later China is the world’s biggest “factory” while Nigeria’s economy continues to decelerate and her people are left to squirm in the lukewarm hands of poverty. Somehow, we have consistently,since 1999, given power to the same people who failed to think for the future, who failed to think for us then because then we were the future. But ironically in 2015, we thanked the same men who stole our future away with our votes and yet we are not alarmed!
Dear young Nigerians, from time to time, you will agree with me that all we have had in recent history are men of words but what we need are men and women of action! We can go on and on about the problems of Nigeria, what makes all the difference is what we do now and not what we say. Let’s stop theorising and identifying problems, let’s start thinking about solutions. We the millennial are solution providers and that it exactly what we will be when we take this nation for ourselves.
As a way forward, young Nigerians, have you asked yourselves why Nigeria, with such a young population, is voting in old men as presidents and former governors as senators. One of the most common answers these days is that the youths are inexperienced. The irony in this is that the same people who call us inexperienced where themselves youths in the 1970s and 80s when they took power for the first time. Today, we continue to help them steal our youth from us in their old age. Another yet common but valid reason why young Africans vote for old men is because voting for old men is the only choice we have. But the signs are everywhere. That season is almost over but it all depends on YOU!
With the level of decay in the nation, young Nigerians ought to be alarmed but we are not because it seems we are the root cause of our problem. According to an independent analysis done by Wale Micaiah, in 1999 the population of Nigeria was 115,114,302, with about 36,491,820 youth population and 57,938,945 registered voters. While in 2015 the population of Nigeria was 175,150,084 with about 55,523,469 youth population and 85,186,873 registered voters. From his analysis, Micaiah made two observation. One, the youth population is approximately 32% of the Nation’s population. Two, on the average, over 67% of registered voters are youths. From the foregoing, it can be safely submitted that if the youth actively participate in the electioneering process, whosoever they choose to support is as sure as winning the contest.
Against this backdrop, I clearly see now why we are not alarmed. We are not alarmed because we are part of the problem. We are not alarmed because all we have always just wanted to do is survive. So, we ventilate our grievances on Twitter and Facebook but go to sleep on Election Day. We are not alarmed because some of us are political gladiators, who were so vocal during the election period but were later gagged with millions by the same old rich politicians. We are not alarmed because some of us sold our votes for even cheaper, as low as N5000. So, we must be too ashamed to be alarmed. Maybe I should ask those who took a full bag of rice in exchange for their conscience if they are still full. I hope miraculously that bag of rice has not finished. I hope that N5000 is what is still sustaining you till now. I hope you have already landed your dream job. Or NO?!
Let me especially speak to those who pride themselves as apolitical, as having no business whatsoever with the way the destiny of our nation is determined. I am sorry to say, but you also a big part of the demonic problems of Nigeria. Because sometimes in the eye of the law, we are guilty not only for our acts but also for our omissions. Your failure to vote, to get involved landed us in this mess. And I hope all is well at your quarters now. I hope you have another nation to run to. But I hope you are not affected by the fuel scarcity. I hope your children go to the best schools. I hope you can afford 3-square meals. I hope you are where you saw yourself as a 5 year-old kid running around the compound in your panties. I hope now that you realise that the way the affairs of this country are run affects all of us — student, trader, corporate worker, civil or public servant, you will get your voters’ card and make a statement in 2019. I hope on the day of the election, you will be as angry as all of us. Because on Election Day, it will not be about the Igbos or Yoruba, Itsekiri or Urhobo, Hausa or Fulani, it will not be us against them. Those who have held this nation to ransom for four decades (40 years), who were in our past and still determine our future. I hope you will arm yourself with your voter’s card and unlike our parents, I hope you will use your vote to secure the future of your children. The time is now!
In conclusion, whether we shall turn out to be the hero of our own lives, or whether the Aso Villa will be held by these same despicable cycle of gerontocrats, will depend solely on how you vote in 2019.
Oluwaseun Joshua Ayansola
Co-Founder, The WokeGen Initiatives