Nigeria, the Past, Present and Future: The Role of the Youths in Creating a Better Tomorrow

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Nigeria, the Past, Present and Future: The Role of the Youths in Creating a Better Tomorrow

Lecture delivered at the investiture ceremony of the 6th President of the Rotaract Club of LAUTECH Teaching Hospital.

Let me firstly thank the organizers of this program for giving me the opportunity to speak to this audience. I must say that the topic you asked me to discuss is apt and very relevant at this moment of our history as a nation. There is no more appropriate time than now for the youths of the nation to be enlightened and prepared to participate in the work of nation building if indeed we desire a better country for ourselves. That said, I will proceed to attempt the sacred task you gave to me trusting God to grant me the appropriate words that will strike the cords of your hearts and move you to take appropriate and decisive actions from today onwards on the subject of our discussion.

The entity called Nigeria came into existence in 1914 through the amalgamation of the Lagos and Niger Coast protectorates (also known as Oil River or Southern Protectorate), and the Northern Protectorate by the British colonial masters for ease of administration and control. Prior to this time, many of the various peoples that existed independently then in this geographical location had established their own indigenous systems of administration. There were recognized political entities such as the Benin Empire, Kanem Bornu Empire, Sokoto Caliphate, Oyo Empire etc. The geographical location called Nigeria, according to the last Nigerian census, consists of over 250 ethnic groups, with more than 4,000 dialects. Indeed, people of diverse ancestry, history and culture were brought together as a country because of the British economic interest.
Because of the high handedness of the British colonial rulers, the indigenous people became alienated from the government and began to agitate for self-government. The history of Nigeria was therefore dominated by ‘struggle for freedom’ between 1922 and 1959. Prominent Nigerians like Sir Herbert Macaulay, Dr. Nnnmdi Azikwe, Sir Ahmadou Bello, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Chief Anthony Enahoro etc, were among the founders and fathers of Nigerian NATIONALISM.
On1st October, 1960, Nigeria obtained independence from British colonial rule and was administered at the center by the Federal government and three regional Governments in the East, West and North of the country. In 1963 when Nigeria became a republic, the Midwest Region was carved out of the Western Region making a federation of four Regions. A parliamentary system of government was in operation during this First Republic which lasted till January 1966 when it was terminated by the first military intervention.
It is important to note at this juncture that despite the ethnic diversity and cultural variation of the country the political experiment of the first republic could have succeeded if it was properly handled. One of the major reasons why the first republic did not last was that many of the founding fathers, though sincere, did not have enough nationalistic orientation to embrace people of other ethnic nationalities in the federation as equals, they were essentially tribal/regional leaders who saw other regions as political territories to be conquered at all cost. Hence, the continual political gladiatorial combats among the leaders, which eventually induced the military to intervene.
The first military intervention of 1966 effectively marked the beginning of a succession of military governments in the nation’s political history which lasted till 1979 when the then Head of State, General Olusegun Obasanjo handed over power to the civilian government of President Shehu Shagari. This first military intervention did not end without a devastating civil war which started in July, 1967 and ended in January, 1970. About 3 million people in all died.
In the second Republic of President Shehu shagari, Nigeria adopted the Presidential system of government with an Executive President as the Head of the Federal Government. President Shehu Shagari, though adjudged to be a morally upright person, could not control his ministers and allowed them to wallow in the mire of corruption. The administration was in power until 1983 when it was overthrown in a coup and the military once again came into governance.
The first among these military regimes was the Buhari/Idiagbon’s regime which struggled to instill some discipline in the Nigerian society, especially against the drug dealers and official corruption. Its popular slogan was “War Against Indiscipline”. Unfortunately the ‘discipline journey’ of Nigeria was cut short by another Military intervention, this time with the coup architect, General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida (IBB).
Babangida’s regime took the country to a very low point from which she has not been able to recover till date. The regime was full of craftiness and deception. Some of the key sinister achievements of the regime include the devastating Structural Adjustment Program, SAP; the obvious destruction of our educational system and the middle class; the total collapse of Nigeria infrastructure; the “institutionalization” of corruption; the promotion of another brand of economic sabotage popularly called “419”; and the annulment of the most credible election in Nigerian History, June 12, 1993.
The interim government IBB put in place at his exit lasted for only 3 months when it was replaced in a palace coup by the military. The new military administration was headed by General Sani Abacha.
General Sani Abacha’s Government ruled the country from 1993 to 1998 when the Head of State suddenly died in June 1998. We need to again point out that during this particular regime, Nigeria faced tremendous opposition from the International Community over human right abuses which culminated in Nigeria’s suspension from the Commonwealth. Indeed, at this period, Nigeria was treated like a pariah nation, tolerated only by a few and abandoned by other countries, including her traditional allies like Britain and Canada.
With the sudden death of General Abacha in June 1998 General Abdulsalami Abubakar headed the new military administration which handed over power to a democratically elected government of president Olusegun Obasanjo on May 29, 1999, marking the beginning of the current third republic, the longest ever since Nigeria’s independence.

We all know the numerous problems the Nigerian State is currently battling with- endemic corruption; pervasive abject poverty; dysfunctional educational system; unemployment/underemployment; insecurity (kidnapping, Niger delta militancy and Boko Haram insurgency); widening ethno-religious divide and rivalries leading to wanton destruction of lives and properties; lack of basic social, economic and physical infrastructures etc. The country has never been this divided along ethnic and religious lines; corruption has been taken to the highest level ever in the history of the nation.
An x-ray of the current situation of Nigeria shows a country that is full of all kinds of economic paradoxes.
We are the 7th largest exporter of crude oil in the world, yet we import refined petroleum products for consumption.
We have natural gas, coal, waterfalls, wind and sunshine in abundance, yet we do not have enough electricity. We generate less than 4,500 megawatts of electricity to take care of over 170 million people, whereas the Republic of South Africa with a population of about 48 million people has about 40,000 megawatts of electricity generating capacity.
We have a population of over 170 million people, of which more than 55% are in the productive age group, yet the GDP per capita is grossly abysmal (1052.34 US dollars as compared to 6003.46 US dollars for South Africa in 2012). Majority of the people are either not employed or underemployed, hence, they are not productive.
We have a market for almost anything anyone can think of, we consume so much, yet we import a sizable proportion of the things we consume. The manufacturing sector contributes less than 5% of the GDP.
We have a massive expanse of uncultivated fertile land with a clement weather to match, yet we keep emphasizing subsistence agriculture that can barely sustain those who are engaged in it. We import many of the staples we consume. We have the second largest deposit of bitumen in the world, yet our road networks are very poor and unplayable to say the least.
We have many potential tourist sites that could generate income for the nation, yet we travel abroad for tourism because these sites remain undeveloped.
We have abundance of solid mineral deposits in the land, yet they remain useless since they are untapped.
Apart from the highlighted problems above, the Nigerian youth needs to also contend in the psychological ream with various ‘road-blocks’ that have been deliberately placed on his/her way by the system in the pursuit of personhood. Some of these include-
The limiting influence of upbringing in a paternalistic society. The youth is not allowed to openly express himself; he has no opinion as far as the ‘elders’ are concerned.
The limiting effects of exposure to raw power display by different military and militarized civilian regimes that have ruled the nation for most part of the post- independence era. Most Nigerian youths have not really experienced what it means to live in a civilized society. All they have seen is human right abuses, military and police brutality, extrajudicial killings, oppression by government officials, abuse of court process etc. It is therefore not surprising that a Nigerian youth does not know that he has any fundamental right(s) as a human being. If he knows at all, he does not have any hope of enforcing them since there are no structures on ground to do so.
Self-doubt. This is particularly important because the youth has seen only a few people succeed through hard work and honesty around him. This is also compounded by the fact that the environment is not congenial for the expression of his talents and gifts; hence, he remains an under-achiever. This is the major reason why many Nigerian youths have left and are still leaving the country to seek for greener pastures abroad.
The corrupting influence of the leaders. The leaders have refused to establish a system that rewards honesty and hard work, rather, reward is based on attainment of political power, occupation of a top government position or having a personal relationship with the people in power. Merit has no place in the scheme of things. Mediocrity has been enthroned. The Nigerian youth now believes that there is no need to work hard anymore. All he needs do is to find a way of connecting to ‘power’ and his fortune changes.
Lack of faith in the Nigerian system. There is disillusionment everywhere. The youth has been disappointed too many times; he does not believe any good can come out of the system again. He has no attachment whatsoever to the name Nigeria.
Though this list of Nigeria’s problems may not be exhaustive, it suffices to say that all these problems are products of bad leadership and followership.

What is the future? How do we break the vicious cycle (Oppression- Agitation- Change of Government) that has bedeviled the nation since its inception and convert it to a virtuous cycle? Although there were some periods of respite, a keen observer will notice that the story of Nigeria has not really changed since the colonial era. The big question we need to ask ourselves is- how do we break clean form our dark past in order to create a bright future for ourselves and the future generations? All things being equal, the future of an individual is the cumulative product of his past and current actions and inactions. Hence, the future of any nation is the product of the past and current collective actions and inactions of its citizens. It is very easy to predict the future of any nation. All one needs do is to look at the current actions and inactions of the citizens of such nation. One of the unbreakable universal laws is the law of sowing and reaping, also known as the law of cause and effect. Just as no individual can reap what he has not sown, so also is it that no nation can reap what it has not sown. It is either we continue to do things the way we have always done things and continue to get what we have always got or we change our ways for better to get a better future.
Despite the fact that Nigeria is blessed with all it takes to become a prosperous and great nation these have always eluded her because of negative seeds she has been sowing. Hence, nations that were at par or were at worse standing as at the time of her independence have left her far behind by every index of development. Such nations among others include- Singapore, Malaysia, China, South Korea, India, Brazil etc.
It is very important that we bear in mind that the future does not exist in isolation of the present. If we continue to celebrate mediocrity in governance and indulge in tribalism, nepotism, sectionalism, religious intolerance and other forms of corruption, the future will be worse than the present. But if we change our ways and begin to demand for good governance and accountability from our leaders, abhor every form of corruption, and develop a meritorious society, the future will be bright.

WHO IS A YOUTH? The word “youth” can be defined as “the time of life between childhood and maturity.” It can also be defined as “the state or quality of being young, especially as associated with vigor, freshness or immaturity”. It also connotes “A period of transition from the dependence of childhood to adulthood’s independence and awareness of our interdependence as members of a community”.
The United Nations’ defines it as the years between ages 15 and 24 years.

The African youth charter’s (AYC) defines a youth as “every person between the ages of 15 and 35 years”. I think AYC’s definition is more relevant to us in our discussion today.

I’ll like to encourage the listener not to lose hope because of these numerous challenges he has to contend with. Realize that you have been adequately equipped by providence for such a time like this. There is no better time to be a Nigerian than now.

What do we do? Prepare your mind to be a solution provider. It is not enough to see the problems and lament.

1. Mental development: We need to accept the current realities. We cannot wish all these problems away. All of us have to contribute our own bits to make a whole. There is no need to run away. We need to bear in mind that it is only a body of enlightened youths that can help the nation to develop. Hence, we need to take time to understand the problems and know their root causes. Find time to read Nigerian history and history in general, especially of countries that were in similar situations like ours but have overcome their challenges substantially. Read inspirational books, attend leadership seminars and workshops. Take time to develop your mind. An untrained mind is worth nothing in the market place of life.

2. Character development: Develop integrity. Be humble. Banish covetousness and greed. Be courageous. Banish fear and hopelessness.

3. Choose a vocation or profession: be focused. Don’t be a jack of all trade. We need researchers, academics, politicians, business men, bankers, medical doctors, engineers, inventors, entrepreneurs, clergy men etc. Choose one area and acquire all the knowledge and skills you can. Take time to study and understand the business side of your profession/vocation. Knowing the technical side is not enough. Be the best you can. Develop an excellent spirit.

4. Participate in the leadership selection process of the nation
a. We need to re-orientate ourselves and our people. We need to do this at every opportunity available: in churches, mosques, town hall meetings, classrooms, lecture theaters, at home, on posters and bill boards, in print and electronic media. Let the people know that their neighbor is not their enemy but those who misgovern them are the enemies. Let them know that the prevailing administrative incompetence in the land is the reason why they are wallowing in abject poverty. Let them know that it is the reason why their children are not doing well economically.
b.We need to connect more through the internet. Instead of pacifying ourselves on facebook while we are still suffering, we need to use social media like facebook, twitter, youtube to connect and mobilize ourselves. We need bloggers too. If you have the ability to write clearly, this is the time the country needs you most. We have in our hands one of the most powerful instruments of change in the internet, let’s use it well.
c. We need more nonviolent protests on the streets of our cities. More human right activists and protest organizers are highly needed now. We need not be afraid to protests. It is our fundamental human right. No nation called ‘developed’ today has been able to do so without it. Speak out against oppression and injustice. The oppressors will not just relinquish power without any confrontation.
d.We need a vibrant, formidable and noble student union movement like we used to have in the past and not one that is a willing tool in the hands of the politicians because of pecuniary gain. Let our students now wake up and deliver the nation from the hands of the impostors masquerading as leaders.
e. Participate in politics if you can. The ‘good boys’ have left that terrain for too long to the ‘bad boys’. Run for an office if you can. Register and get your voter’s card. Participate in the national debate. Be an enlightened voter. Take time to scrutinize the candidates and select the best among them without sentiment. Don’t forget that a good political leader is not necessarily the person who claims to be religious
5. Be a responsible follower. Avoid sycophancy. Avoid blind loyalty
6. Above all be a leader in your chosen area. We need leaders who can build public institutions that will endure for generations. We need industrialist and entrepreneurs who can build multinational companies. We need educationist who can build universities that can compete favourably with the best in the world etc.
There is work to do. Nation building is serious work and we have to be ready to work if we really desire true change. Angels will not do it for us. God will not come down from heaven to do it either. It is basically our responsibility.
Are we ready ?
God bless you all.

Dr Abiodun C. Jemilohun

F: Abiodun Jemilohun


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