Sometime ago, a Nigerian ruler called Nigerian youths lazy. Also, oldsters, by this term I include all persons above the age of fifty years, do misunderstand the youths in their struggles to realise their innate abilities by discharging their personal and generational duties. Sometimes also, the oldsters misdiagnose the problems afflicting the youths and come off handing down misarticulated diagnosis and consequently apply improper remedies. This is the situation that Nigerian youths have found themselves and it is not particularly pleasant for the oldsters generation and this generation of Nigerian youths. I must confess that I, who just crossed the Rubicon of oldsters by being in the early 50s, was guilty of this oldsters’ pastime of youths-bashing until the ENDSARS when the Nigerian youths staged a spectacular mass protest that nearly rocked or even capsized the boat of Nigerian state. Having been an active observer of that protest I did an essay extolling the virtues of youthful life and the very positive ends it could be directed for positive social transformation of society. As I said, before that I was among the chorus reciting the litany of trivialities which occupy the Nigerian youths since 1999 when this civilian government was instituted. Very respectable and sincere leaders of this country, such as Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah had in one of his numerous lectures and talks devoted his concern to the seeming rudderlessness of the Nigerian youths. He cited the fact that Nigerian youths now allow themselves to be swamped by supposedly mundane issues of life such as sex, music and booze. Outside these banalities, Nigerian youths seemed to have succumbed to the undisciplined lifestyle of their oldsters by mimicking them and even notched up their own peculiar cultural identities that separate them from the oldsters’ generation. The other worthy Nigerian leader that has given a thought to the condition of the Nigerian youths is Dr Reuben Abati, who in his the Guardian column interrogated the musical artistry of this generation of Nigerian youths and submitted that thematic currency of the music springing forth from them is suffused with sex but lacks ideological content quite unlike their forebears such as Fela Anikulapo Kuti, Osita Osadebe, IK Dairo, Ali Chukwuma, Celestine Ukwu, Dan Maraya Jos Osayomore Joseph, Victor Uwaifo; Sonny Okosun, and several others that spanned colonial Nigeria to its Independence and post-independence eras. And quite unlike their forebears, these youthful musicians are upper or middle class of the society.
Let the two generations present their cases: If you confront a Nigerian youth, he would most likely put up a defence that his oldsters-controlled governance system did not treat or use him well as nobody could hope to rise beyond their cultural impediments and expected to excel and do great exploits for self and society. The oldsters would point to the fact he was a victim of slavery having been sired by fathers who were colonial subjects of the British Empire and even though born between 1930s and 1960s, he had no real joy of liberty as he grew up to taste colonialism and at adulthood was reconquered by military autocrats who seized Biafra conundrum as an excuse to conquer and hijack Nigerian State for their selfish interests. So, let nobody envy them as having enjoyed a better condition different from the current Nigerian youths. To the oldsters the conditions that gave birth to the oldsters generation is organically linked to the present generation of Nigerian youths. The Nigerian youth of today in presenting his case, would invite whoever care to know that he was given birth by oldsters between 1979 and early 2000s, and as a toddler he grew up under the worst period of Nigerian history, that was the Shagari government corrupt which gave way to Buhari autocracy and a succession of Northern generals who turned Nigeria into a plaything and made life intolerable. Nigerian youths would point to the fact that despite the problems of colonialism and military autocracy, the oldsters enjoyed good and affordable education as Government Colleges at Zaria, Ibadan and Umuahia and the lone university, University College Ibadan was soon quadrupled by the creation of Universities of Nigeria, Lagos, Ife and Zaria which gave them very good educational opportunities virtually free. The oldsters were also the managers and beneficiaries of the petro-dollar economy that assured good jobs and good life. Some sincere oldsters acknowledge the fact that they had a good start but messed up the system hence Wole Soyinka tagged themselves “a wasted generation” while Chinua Achebe bemoaned the cultural deficit that left behind dysfunctional leadership for Nigeria.
An official bystander invited to give verdict with respect to the standpoints of the oldsters and current Nigerian youths may if he knows some history point to the redeeming features of the oldsters generation (then as youths and workers) whose dreams for a great Nigeria was sabotaged by Nigerian foremost leaders – Nnamdi Azikiwe – who the Nigerian youths of that colonial era adopted and severally propped up to assume leadership of Nigeria but who rather out of ignorance or personal weakness thwarted their efforts. In 1944, the Kings College Students, National Union of Nigerian Students and West African Students Union, Nigerian chapter and the Nigerian Labour Congress ably led by Michael Imoudu and hundreds of tribal and syncretistic unions spurred Herbert Macaulay and Nnamdi Azikiwe to found a pan-Nigeria political party and this singular effort of Nigerian youths and workers resulted in the establishment of National Council of Nigeria and Cameroons, later renamed National Council of Nigerian Citizens after the plebiscite carved out Western Cameroun from Nigeria. National Council of Nigeria and Cameroun became pan-Nigerian political party quite like the Congress Peoples Party led by Kwame Nkrumah in Ghana. NCNC drew up a Freedom Charter structuring Nigeria into a secular state with at least 16 regions with basic freedoms such as the right to life, to bear arms, expression, association, and religion/conscience. Instead of fighting the nationalist battle on Nigerian soil, Azikiwe’s NCNC choose to led delegation to British imperial office in London to grant Nigeria Independence and that misadventure coupled with the allegation of misappropriation of fund raised by Nigerians questioned Azikiwe’s leadership integrity. But Nigerian oldsters as youths and workers were undaunted as they gave Azikiwe the benefit of doubt and followed him loyally. By 1946, NCNC was failing in the nationalist fervour and seeing this failing, the Nigerian youths and workers again came to the rescue of NCNC by forming the Zikist Movement in 1946. to strengthen the NCNC and this effort was without any material contribution by Nnamdi Azikiwe apart from allowing his name to be used for the organisation. The organisational structure and robust activities of the Zikist Movement was so effective that Britain acknowledged they had not experienced anything like it in Africa. After the Zikist Movement, I bet that there has not been any other national political organisation in Nigeria properly structured and peopled by persons from diverse ethnicities in Nigeria. Sample: Raji Abdallah, Sa’ad Zungur Kola Balogun, Mokwugo Okoye, JCJ Anakwe, Tom Idowu, Aliyu Attah, Peter Osugo, Nduka Eze, Oged Macaulay, H. Obioha, Mbonu Ojike, Adegoke Adelabu, DK Olumofin, Mogaji Danbatta, Othman Zarma, D. Mosindi, A. Oduah, MCK Ajuluchukwu, Andrew Bassey, Ekukinam Bassey, A. Dawodu, JBC Eboh, L. Onwuegbuna, AK Blankson, FS MacEwen, Dr. MI Okpara, Dr. Mabayoje, Kate Burnley, B.O.B Eluwa, Emmanuel Uruakpa, Osita Agwuna, S. Okafor, S.O. Masi, P. Ubani, John Umolu, Bob Ogbuagu, PI Nwokedi, Mbazulike Amaechi, S.O. Achara, HAP Nwana, Friday Nwankwo, HRH Iheukwumere, Nausa Amosu, Margaret Ekpo, JB Adelowaye, Ikenna Nzimro, A Ibok, Paul Maijoh, Onyejioke Uchendu, Okei Achamba, Peter Ezenwa, Odi Chiedozie, JCP Nwagu, J.O. Fadahunsi, Tanko Yakassai, Adewale Fashanu, Idase Dafe, Aduaye Emeni, Barrister Odumbaku, GB Akinyede, Yamu Muma, Dennis Osadebay, Samuel Nwabara, Tayo Akpata, Michael Imoudu, Aminu Kano, GC Nonyelu, KOK Onyioha, Jaja Wachukwu, Emmanuel Araka, NC Ikejiani, Okechukwu Ikejiani, Macdonald Nwariaku, Francis Igoh, Marshall Kebby, Smart Ebbi, C.C. Udou, Jacob Odu, Sa’ad Zukogi, Francis Jibunoh, Nwafor Ekwuyasi, Eskor Toyo, Abiodun Aloba, Nduka Eze Bukar Dipcharima, Bayo Daniel, Ralp Aniedobe, Fred Anyiam, Paul Majah and numerous others not prominent enough to be listed. But in listing these, the diverse ethnicities are meant to point the Nigerian youths of today that they have a rich past that establishes that Nigerian youths of all ages have risen up at critical junctures of Nigerian history to reshape the country but somehow they have been sabotaged and their mission thwarted. The Nigerian youths of the Zikist Movement (1946-1950) believed they were in partnership and collaboration with their oldsters in NCNC leadership to wrest political power from Britain without conditions but Azikiwe thought differently but did not appraise the fact of his rapproachment with British colonial authority so that the youths would consider and if need redirect their efforts. By the 1948 Lecture that called for revolution, which lecture Azikiwe was to chair, Azikiwe instead of identifying with the struggle rather betrayed them. When British colonial authorities pounced on them, arrested and incarcerated these beleaguered youths, they did not get the support or at least the sympathy of Azikiwe, the man they called ‘father’, but rather Azikiwe dismissed them as “viviparous lieutenants and cantankerous followers.” Many of them were jailed as a result.
Let’s hope that the Nigerian youth intervention in 1946 by forming the Zikist Movement to prop up and galvanize the NCNC leadership of Azikiwe is about to repeat itself in the Peter Obi political resurgence under the Labour Party. The same way the Nigerian youths and workers led by Kola Balogun and Michael Imoudu intervened for Nigerian freedom so also the current youth formation under Peter Obi movement will etch their names in history by doing their best to change the religious and tribal politics of Nigeria by winning power from the traditional power-holders encamped in the Peoples Democratic Party and their poor cousin, the All Progressives Congress in the 2023 general elections. Let’s hope the Nigerian youth will not be sucked up by the Nigeria system and get distracted and their mission thwarted. So, Nigerian youths and workers arise for a generational mission whose outcome will define Nigeria for good or ill.