We understand rights and responsibility better because we did not grow up under a colonial overhang. We are not afraid of the white man, or to think our own thoughts. We actually grew up with less fears because we didn’t grow up with many handouts; we haven’t been spoon-fed, and we have fended for ourselves and many of us are today entrepreneurs, intrepid startup guys who bulldoze any impediment rather than whine!
I met one of the many sons of one of Nigeria’s early leaders just last week. The burly guy from the East of the Niger was quite remarkable. As I saw him out of my office, he made a remark about the generation of leaders that his father belonged to. He said he loves and respects his now late father, but that in their era, they neither obeyed the law nor subjected themselves to simple, clear rules and regulations. He said they would usually defy the law and do ‘gra gra’; that even when they were wrong, they refused to admit. Yes, many of our leaders in that era simply lived like Lords, were seen as legends and held in awe and so some believed they were above the law. Growing up in the 70s and 80s, I heard so many legends told about those leaders, stories ranging from the bizarre, to the fantastic and the downright scary. Most were thought to have supernatural powers, or to have immersed themselves deeply in the occult or in native magic. Whereas that may be true, however I believe many were simply normal human beings who just happened to be in the right place at the right time.
We can psychoanalyse the era, and indeed the eras after it. The leaders who fought for Nigeria’s independence were truly remarkable and, if you like, a lucky bunch. They were first among so many of their equals. As at Nigeria’s independence, for example, there were just a small gang of university graduates in the north of Nigeria; due to no fault of theirs but the way colonisation panned out. Even in the south, a university graduate was worshipped. Today, they are a dime for a hundred. In different eras, certain attributes convey unwarranted advantages. For example, the entertainers that people worship today may be looked down upon tomorrow.
Look at someone like Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. He was known by the whites as the ‘Golden Voice of Africa’. I mean, the whole of Africa. And he did not only have a commanding guttural voice and control of the English language, but outstanding intelligence. He was on top of global political affairs, and was quite erudite. Videos of his visit to the USA in 1961 still make the rounds, and make us proud. Those who have watched it discovered that Tafawa Balewa may remain, till date, Nigeria’s most eloquent national leader, bar none. Nnamdi Azikwe was an orator par excellence, and Obafemi Awolowo was reputed for his intelligence. But after the truncation of that era, what happened really? Nigerians have been complaining about the scrapping of history in our secondary schools. But what do we know as history? Are we talking about rehashing what the colonialists bequeathed to us (the Mansa Musa stories and Songhai Empire, Mungo Park and Landers Brothers), or can we try something else; perhaps examining, debating and documenting the way we ourselves have evolved? This is the purpose of my article today.
The next generation of leaders after the nationalists were a mixed bag of military men and politicians. The politicians had a checkered journey as the military constantly heckled them. But overall these were even more privileged leaders. I recall Alhaji Yayale Ahmed recounting, while being feted at his retirement party, how he had jobs waiting for him before leaving the university – which he must have attended on full scholarship – and how cars and houses were being thrown at him. Asides ruminating about the good old days, it should occur to us that though they were few, the lucky leaders of that era actually didn’t think about the sustainability of the privileges they enjoyed. They had a great time until everything ended. All the free education, free housing, easy jobs, were certainly unsustainable because the population was growing. Today, they complain with the rest of us who never benefitted anything from Nigeria. And unfortunately some have continued with that unsustainable culture in some parts of Nigeria.
Then we had a civil war. And after the war came the oil boom. At the Nigerian end, it was jollofing, jollofing and more jollofing. Not that people did not suffer. But the newly urbanised Nigerians had a great time, while rapidly leaving the rural farmers behind. That era was captured by great writers like Cyprian Ekwensi, in his book Jagua Nana, among other literary works of the time. It was a heady time, full of hope. Nigerians and most Africans thought they had arrived; that independence was all it took. Agriculture collapsed. Crude oil reigned. There was money to be spent. We may blame the youth of today for their predilection for enjoyment and their songs about champagne, bumbums and fast cars, but in those days the handful of Nigerians who would become leaders and those who had jobs, boasted of jetting out to London every weekend for swanky parties. They laid the foundation for unsustainable profligacy. Femi Fani-Kayode proudly wrote recently about how Nigerians lived large in London. Hear him: “Is this the nation whose wealth once knew no bounds and whose middle class once owned the finest cars and properties in London, Paris and New York? Is this the nation whose beautiful people once graced the streets of Belgravia, Chelsea, Hampstead and Knightsbridge?”
You see, it may be something in our DNA or in the water we drink; showing off too soon. Not thinking about tomorrow. Did anyone question the practice of gracing ‘Belgravia, Hampstead and Knightsbridge’ and driving the finest cars in London at that time to know whether it was sustainable? Really, who are we to have luxuriated so much? What did we have; a country just coming out of colonialism? But there you have it. And till date, Nigerians allegedly own most of the properties on Edgerton Street in South West London, reputed to be the most expensive in the world. Some of the properties there cost as much as 50 million Pounds. I won’t even bother converting that into naira. Google it and listen to a white lady boast about how most of her customers are Nigerians. Some of the Nigerians could be fairly young oil and gas subsidy thieves, but most of them are elderly people; especially those who had established the practice of showing off in London for generations. In that era, Nigerians never lived in the South East of London. They lived in West London, on Bond Street, Regent Street, and Harley Street. They bought properties in Piccadilly and Sloane Square and even on Oxford Street. Of course these are not earned income. They just had the advantage of being close to the commonwealth.
At the lower end – those closer to 35 – all they’ve seen is a Nigeria that never worked for a day! As we drill down to the younger ages, Nigerians started to feel more and more disenchanted with the country. It occurred to me that my children are growing up at a time when they will find it difficult to see anything good in their country. I didn’t grow up like that.
Justice Rita Ajumogobia of the Ikoyi High Court is presently being prosecuted for bribery and corruption. The main case states how she collected bribes in dollars to purchase an expensive property in London. She belongs in that era. The Saraki case is still fresh on our minds. What about Diezani? These guys have one thing in common. They, or their parents who established this tradition, lived in a time of privilege, and actually benefited greatly from Nigeria. They established the basis of Nigerians scrambling to buy properties in London and elsewhere; properties which many cannot maintain once the avenue for looting government funds end.
If we would concede to the nationalists, that they actually were valiant heroes who tried to give project Nigeria a shot at a time when there was no Google, no email, no social media and no textbook to read about how to manage a black nation post-colonialism, we have to agree that the generation which came after them; that generation of scholarship beneficiaries whose whole villages went along to the airport to see them fly away to ‘obodo’yibo’ to study, that post-Okonkwo era, aptly and romantically depicted in the travails of Obi Okonkwo by no less than Chinua Achebe; that generation who had an egg a day on the tab of Nigerian taxpayers and proceeds of agricultural exports, whose beds were laid by janitors at the nation’s prime universities… yes, those guys were really spoilt! Yes they were! And they grew up under too many illusions. A friend recently narrated an argument that took place between Tai Solarin and Obafemi Awolowo on this same matter. Tai believed that students should be made to develop solutions to their own problems from ground up. Awo was more concerned with ensuring the rapid spread of education. Today, we have the results.
To make matters worse, the military leaders of that era were even luckier; where they were able to escape being shot for planning coups. A few were not very lucky because they lost their lives. I tell people these days that these now old former military men will never quit the scene of leadership because they feel very entitled. They have it at the back of their minds that they risked their lives to get political power. And so for them, it doesn’t matter what they deliver with political power. What matters more is that they wield power and maintain their positions. Younger generations asking them to relinquish power are thus deceiving themselves. This generation has felt quite entitled over time. They awarded themselves rapid promotions into Generalship due to the coups. Many of them were running entire states in their early 30s, and were national figures in their mid-30s or early 40s, by which time there were senior Generals or the equivalents of this rank. Alas, they are still very much on the scene as I type this. Our current president was a State governor at 32 and that State (North East) is now six states today at least. He became Minister for Petroleum at 33, and Head of State at 39. He has come back at 74 and will come back again at 77, to quit at 81. Who can convince someone like that to leave political power?
So as far as leadership goes, because of the 40 years minimal entry age to contest for the top positions, there is one more generation we need to profile. That is my generation. Anyone between 35 and 50 basically. The upper part (those close to 50), enjoyed a bit of what was left of a sweet Nigeria. Federal Government Colleges worked and they were progressively at the standard level. We had hope in Nigeria. We did not hate the country. Some of us had some free education but the scholarships started to dry out, especially in the south of Nigeria, as we came of age. For us, of course, all that pampering at universities had ended; no free lunches or eggs to eat. No cars or jobs after universities but some still found opportunities to be gainfully employed without suffering for too long. At the lower end – those closer to 35 – all they’ve seen is a Nigeria that never worked for a day! As we drill down to the younger ages, Nigerians started to feel more and more disenchanted with the country. It occurred to me that my children are growing up at a time when they will find it difficult to see anything good in their country. I didn’t grow up like that. We grew up believing that Nigeria was the ultimate place to be. But before anyone blames these young people, check yourself to ensure you are not one of those who ate their today, yesterday.
Now, let me find you where I lost you and pull you back to the issue of the day. I’m thinking that given the profile of these generations here chronicled, the increasingly disenfranchised and hungry generation may offer Nigeria its best experience in leadership, compared with the pampered generation of current leaders who wouldn’t want to relinquish their positions. Or perhaps I’m working to the answer, having a bias for younger people. Even if we look at it that way, we must admit that Nigeria has given this lucky generation of fast-risers, coup-planners, Belgravia and Hampstead ‘gracers’, a fair share of leadership space and time, and they have made a pig’s dinner of Nigeria. What is more, it seems like they can no longer catch themselves and we are on a further free-fall into the abyss in this blessed country.
That is why I started to think that perhaps, a generational shift, for whatever it is worth, is what we need in Nigeria presently. I thought of 10 reasons for this change.
With lucky but now old leaders who can hardly open their own emails, and simply get tired and bogged down by all these fast-evolving technologies, how does Nigeria find itself in a crazy, globalised world? Can Nigeria get anywhere with leaders who have to dictate letters to clumsy secretaries who wear coke-bottle ‘recommended’ glasses..?
My friend whose dad was one of the nationalists from the East said that was the generation when men beat their wives and children. Not all men did though. But most beat their children; sometimes for no reason. Many men then just struck terror into their own children who disappeared anytime they approached. They were coming from archaic backgrounds and believed in flogging and scarring children where necessary. The new generation – even my generation – does not believe in this. Our ego seem to be taming; thank God for our increasingly assertive women, private school fees for children, soap operas and globalisation. We have become more Obama than Trump. That is not to say we don’t have a few of us with larger-than-life egos and chips on their shoulders. But I believe that if we want leaders who will enter the train like Joe Biden, or the tube like Mayors of London and use what government provides, we are likely to see them among the younger generation.
2. Machismo Kills a Man
My friend says that their generation was not a very considerate one. That men of that era married wives without thinking of their first loves. They brought the wives to the same house where they lived with the first wife and simply allocated a room to the new wife! No one will dare to do that these days except in some deep jungle in Nigeria. Well, this shows that that generation did not value women as much as we do today. And it probably shows in Nigeria’s contemporary leadership history; whereas Goodluck Jonathan gave more women opportunities, Buhari simply rolled back almost everything. The old generation were too much into male chauvinism. That is very wrong.
3. Passion, Pride and Prejudice
My readers will notice that I like a quotation that goes, “Passion is the sin of youth, pride is the sin of middle age and prejudice, the sin of old age”. The sin of passion could be harnessed to create something good, but prejudice – now exhibited by that generation who are now old – simply locks out talent. This lucky generation, who are now old, usually judge people by where they are from, their religions, their lineages and whatnot. Younger people do not care much for that. Again, in Buhari’s cabinet, most of those he chose to be ministers and confidantes – especially from the North – are either his personal friends from way back, or children of his friends. Prejudice.
4. Energy and Fitness
This may be an increasingly important factor given the hiccups we now regularly have in government. Whereas many of our youth may use their fitness, good looks and energy to steal and destroy, but history forgives the youth who tries and fails in governance, than a person who fails to show up in the office willy nilly. Speed and accuracy is important in today’s global economics. The youth are poised to do better in that area by far.
5. Image, and Gestures for Unity
Recall when Mark Zuckerberg came to Nigeria. Many were shocked that someone so rich would jog on the streets. He too was shocked at our shock. Image is something. Nigeria needs to tidy up its image and very quickly too, across several fronts. We are today known as a nation going nowhere, with leaders wearing huge Babarigas all over the place, heading nowhere too. Young leaders may do the trick, plus also help the image of our youth known in the world as criminals. We need an Obama, Trudeau, Cameron type. We need presidents who can wear suits and blend with global leaders, and engage them on sound intellectual issues, not those who stand out in crowds all the time with their funny parachute native attires like Yahya Jammeh. This is not to say that we cannot wear our own clothes. The trick is to be dynamic and eclectic. See how long it took Goodluck Jonathan to ditch his Niger Delta dress and wear suits; it was six months to the election before his handlers started repackaging him. He looked good and refreshing in suits, but by then it was too late. We heard about Baba Buhari’s war during the campaigns before he agreed to wear a suit or even any other native Nigerian clothes but his own for photoshoots. Once in power, he promptly swore off suits and all the native dresses of other nationalities that he wore when he tried to convince Nigerians to vote for him. I believe a younger president may experiment more and help the unity of Nigeria. They say you cannot teach an old horse new tricks.
6. New Ideas
With lucky but now old leaders who can hardly open their own emails, and simply get tired and bogged down by all these fast-evolving technologies, how does Nigeria find itself in a crazy, globalised world? Can Nigeria get anywhere with leaders who have to dictate letters to clumsy secretaries who wear coke-bottle ‘recommended’ glasses, or worse still, as is now embarrassingly our case in Africa, rely solely on some archaic speechwriter to plagiarise and put other people’s words in their mouths? On that note, Nigeria needs younger, eloquent leaders who are also futuristic thinkers, not those who are in the typewriter generation mentally, thinking of manufacturing jobs and agricultural exports when the world is in the milieu of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. I have never heard contemporary intellectual issues being discussed among our current or past leaders. They just mouth stuff about industry and infrastructure and remain in the past, while Nigeria engages in reverse.
7. What Einstein Said
Did Old Albert not say that you cannot solve the problems of today by using the same instruments that created them? That is why they gave the man a Nobel Prize and made him the man of that century 1900-1999! I needn’t say more, but he has just told us that the lucky generation of military politicians who caused our problems can never solve them.
But the younger generation must also be careful. Dogging our every footsteps are our own vices and sins. We are a generation of hecklers. We believe we can outsmart ourselves, so we don’t cooperate at all. We mock each others’ ideas. We get involved in PHD (pull him/her down).
8. Expired Traditions and Demystified Leadership
Nigerians need leaders who are free with all. How many of Nigeria’s leader will allow a child touch their heads like Barack Obama did? How many have we seen come out of their official cars and offices and interact with Burrito sellers like Barack would do? Ok, Fayose does that and while I now see that he is holding on to the only thing he can – the connection to his hoi polloi (and that is very valuable) – many Nigerians condemn him to high heavens. Barack is/was like that. Trump belongs in the prejudiced generation and would never step out among the people, lest he be shot. He is afraid of his own shadow because has a sordid past as well. We can see the age and prejudice factor in Trump’s governance already; he has prejudged everybody and is rolling the world back a few centuries. Nigeria needs such leaders who can help upcoming generations DEMYSTIFY leadership and raise their confidence that they too can do it. This will help those younger generations to start shaping their actions and thinking for leadership from henceforth. Invaluable. We need leaders who do not exist in the realm of superstitions, dark and evil practices and expired traditions, many of which are extremely wasteful and often destructive in nature. Nigeria needs modern leaders jare!
9. More Democracy
Who will give us more democracy? My friend from the East again spoke about how the leaders of yore easily engaged in thuggery and obfuscation of democracy. When they lost, they scattered the process. My little experiments with politics has shown me just how debased the entire process can be; starting with the electoral process. If in this country one can no longer vouch for any political process, it is because of those old guys. They abhor transparency. Of all the 40 registered political parties in Nigeria presently, only seven or eight have websites, simply because they don’t want the public to see what they do. Whose idea is it for people seeking electoral offices to go swearing at some three-way junction in the middle of the night? Or to go bathing in some murky river with the blood of chicken or pigeons? These are the ideas of old politicians who lived in a lucky era. Not much of their fault. Many of them grew up under traditional worship, and the sacrifice of all sorts of things and though they may profess another religion today, in truth their hearts belong in the past. Will these ones allow for more democracy? Will they allow for diaspora voting? No they won’t. Why? Haaa! They will say electronic voting or any such innovation will lead to rigging. Did you see how Jega spent hours tallying presidential votes using calculator, wasting hours on a job that could be done in nanoseconds on Microsoft Excel? Jega didn’t finish until 3.30am in the morning. It is not a sin to be old; the problem is the age of their ideas. Jega even tried his best. Many of Nigeria’s archaic politicians took him to court for introducing biometric card-readers into the political process. Such ‘leaders’/politicians will NEVER agree for votes to be tallied with Microsoft Excel! They are scared of technology and the transparency it brings. Not for the old politician any innovation. They abhor improvements and embrace darkness.
10. Understanding of Rights and Standing Up for the Vulnerable
Young Nigerians have been able to travel more because of globalisation – at least until hurricane Buhari came and sent everyone into penury. I was recently with a young man who took me to an amusement park he is trying to build in Kubwa. As I made to leave, he told me I gave him the idea. I halted. Me? Gave you this big idea? This was a billion naira venture that even I couldn’t imagine, even though he has problems running the place properly. He then reminded me of once when he came to my office and said he wanted to travel abroad and I told him only Dubai made sense for someone like him, because he will see a lot of business ideas that he can bring back here. He said he has been going to Dubai ever since and brought the idea of the amusement park from there; that he always marvels when we sees Nigerians frolicking at foreign amusement parks and wondered why we couldn’t do that for ourselves. Anyway, the point here is that Nigerians now have much more exposure than the lucky generations. They were relatively few who traveled then and enjoyed Nigeria’s money in Belgravia and Knightsbridge. But today, millions of young Nigerians have traveled to all sorts of places and they went on their own dime, understanding how systems work and using what the common man of those countries use. They have lived in the worst place and so understand what it takes. I believe these ones can use their anger to create what they’ve seen abroad, like my friend has done with his amusement park. What is more, because of our exposure, we’ve seen how they order their countries abroad, and how they plan from the ground up, thinking first for the most vulnerable and underprivileged. Our younger generation are not intimidated by skin colour or anything of such. The lucky generation – many of them – interpret vulnerability differently. Some think to be disabled is God’s condemnation for people’s sins. Some just don’t care that much because they weren’t trained to care.
In some parts of Nigeria, it is still a thing of pride to have the poor and disabled line up to be fed in the morning, in the house of the rich. Young modern leaders everywhere in Nigeria know that this practice is unacceptable, stupid and unsustainable. They are imaginative enough to know that Nigeria’s famed abundance can go round more sustainably, and are ready to unshackle the poor. Only modern leaders can push for an end to practices like Almajirai-ism, area-boyism, overdose of religionism, vast income inequality, justification of crass poverty, debased environments, energy wastages and many other things that paint our country in bad light. What is more? Our socialisation as younger people, is different. We understand rights and responsibility better because we did not grow up under a colonial overhang. We are not afraid of the white man, or to think our own thoughts. We actually grew up with less fears because we didn’t grow up with many handouts; we haven’t been spoon-fed, and we have fended for ourselves and many of us are today entrepreneurs, intrepid startup guys who bulldoze any impediment rather than whine! We have more entrepreneurs in the younger generations than we did in the older generations, in absolute and percentage terms. Yes, we are the STARTUP GENERATION! And you have to be afraid of startup people. They make the world go round. There are unintended consequences to everything. The unintended consequence of years of wastage and recklessness is that it is made our generation stronger, more stoic, unstoppable.
But the younger generation must also be careful. Dogging our every footsteps are our own vices and sins. We are a generation of hecklers. We believe we can outsmart ourselves, so we don’t cooperate at all. We mock each others’ ideas. We get involved in PHD (pull him/her down). Since social media has now leveled everybody, and we all have a voice, we do not have the maturity to use such voices responsibly. We are thus better at tearing down than building up. We need to seek for maturity, and understand how to go the long haul. We need to develop the ability to defer gratification and not react to years of deprivation by selling our loftiest dreams for a mess of pottage – a few dollars. We are too taken by material things still. It is all about Moet, Hennessy, Champagne, fast cars, huge mansions, and faster women. It shows in the songs we sing and dance to. Immorality is becoming us, and a majority of us just don’t bother to think. Those who do, are concerned with the self. They want to game the system, cheat and take undue advantage of everyone else. But ultimately, we are shooting ourselves in the foot.
And we need to know ultimately that, like General IBB told a friend of mine in 2010 when he toyed with the idea of contesting for presidency; ‘my son, nobody gives you power, you have to take it’.
Photo credit: Pulseng.