A lecture presented at the 32nd Investiture Ceremony and Induction of the Rotaract Club of the University of Ilorin at the Geology Lecture Theatre, University of Ilorin on the 5th of November, 2016.
District Rotaract Representative Elect (DRRE), State Representative (SR), Past Presidents (PP), Board of Directors, Rotarians, Awardees, my colleagues here-present, other invited guests, ladies and gentlemen!
Permit me to quickly express my gratitude to the organisers of this event for giving me this rare opportunity to address our ever-vibrant and promising youth population on how they can free themselves from the spasm of ‘waithood’ in which they are currently trapped. To make this presentation easy to follow, I have structured my discussion into four parts as follows: first, I define two important concepts, namely ‘youth’ and ‘waithood’; second, I discuss how the ruling adults have failed the Nigerian youth; third, I examine if today’s youth are actually prepared for leadership role; and lastly, I discuss three crucial steps which the Nigerian youth can take to reposition themselves for leadership roles and thereby free themselves from the unpleasant waithood position in which they are presently trapped.
Youth: The Federal Government National Youth Policy of 2009 defines a youth as someone between the age bracket of 18-35 years. This I refer to as theoretical definition. In practical parlance, and in agreement with Alcinda Honwana, however, I will define youth, not as a function of age-group, but as a function of how an individual has been able to meet the numerous societal expectations and responsibilities expected of an adult. Adopting this approach, a 40-year old unemployed and unmarried person who would not have qualified as a youth based on the above theoretical definition, will be regarded as a youth based on the consequences of his real position.
Waithood: this term was first coined and used by Dianne Singerman (2007) and Navtej Dhillon & Tarik Yousef (2009). Subsequently, it has been frequently used by Honwana. In the Nigerian context, waithood refers to that period during which the youth wait to progress from youthhood to adulthood. In the context of this discussion, because the youth spent too much time waiting to progress to adulthood and become the leaders of tomorrow, it is said that they are trapped in waithood where they can neither go back nor go forward. Honwana perfectly explains the unpleasant experience of the youth in waithood as follows:
While their chronological age may define them as adults, they have not been able to attain the social markers of adulthood: earning a living, being independent, establishing families, providing for their offspring and other relatives, and becoming taxpayers. They are consigned to a liminal space in which they are neither dependent children nor autonomous adults.
Delayed Waithood: The Fault of Who?
To be fair to the Nigerian youth, the ruling adults are substantially responsible for consigning a sizeable number of them to an excessively abnormal period of waithood. It is important to ask the question: why is the ruling adults to blame? I discuss in the paragraphs below three of the numerous reasons why the bulk of the blame for delayed waithood should be laid at the doorstep of the ruling adults. Owing to these reasons, it is my operating hypothesis that the ruling class intentionally sets the youth up for failure by ensuring that they are trapped in waithood for more period than necessary.
The first factor is that the actions or inactions of the ruling class have led to a condemnable situation where very minute percentage of the Nigerian youth has access to education. To quote Nelson Mandela, ‘education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.’ It seems the ruling class is aware of this gospel aphorism and that explains why most of their policies on education are geared towards an indirect reduction in the number of the youth who can access primary, secondary, and tertiary education.
Why do I contend as above? At the tertiary level, the current budgetary allocation of the federal government for the education sector is a ridiculous 6.01% as opposed to the 26% lowest benchmark recommended by UNESCO. As if this is not enough to disadvantage willing youth who seek better education at the tertiary level, government has, in addition, repeatedly championed unfavourable educational policies which have the effect of denying tertiary institution admissions to a gargantuan percentage of the youth who sat for and passed the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) across the country. Let me situate this point in real live example for you. This year alone, the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB) record shows that one hundred and three thousand, two hundred and thirty-eight (103,238) applicants chose University of Ilorin for various courses. However, owing to no fault of its, the University could only admit eleven thousand (11,000) applicants, a paltry 10.7%. We, therefore, have youth who are willing to further their education and who have met the requisite cut-off marks of their chosen institutions but could not be admitted because there are no spaces for them. It is obvious that there are no spaces because the government has not established enough tertiary institutions to accommodate them.
What is playing out at the state level for primary and secondary school pupils/students is not entirely different from the above scenario. These two preparatory institutions of elementary learning seem to have set the stage for the failure of our effervescent youth population. For some of us who are so unlucky to attend public primary schools, we can testify to shortcomings in the system such as insufficient staff strength, lack of adequately experienced teachers who majorly asked their pupils either to pluck vegetables or break melons while in class or do other unauthorised chores for their teachers. Some of these public primary schools are without sufficient learning materials in spite of the government’s claim of free education at the primary and secondary school levels. Furthermore, if you attend public secondary schools, you can easily attest to the fraud of state governments covered in an empty platitude of free education. Let me share the experience of my state for which I have first-hand information with you. While the governor of my state, just like those of several other states, is busy counting free education at the secondary school level as one of his government’s achievements, students of these schools are being instructed by their school authorities to bring their chairs and desks from home, to buy their books, and to pay PTA fees. The problem with my state is that the government is ready to punish any principal, vice principal or teacher who asks students to pay for any of these things. A very embarrassing incident affecting the once-great AbeoGramms (Abeokuta Grammar School) was reported by Sahara Reporters a couple of months ago. Students of this school could not get their report sheets after examination because the government did not supply the school with needed materials on which to print the report sheets. Meanwhile, students needed to know whether they were promoted to the next class or not. Some of the teachers who were hinged on solving this problem decided to hand-write the results on plain sheets for these students. Sahara Reporters got wind of this and made it a national issue which, apparently, embarrassed the government. Can leaders be built in this kind of environment?
Let us come back to us at the tertiary level. As a student, can you truly say that your learning environment is conducive? How many of your lecture rooms have air conditioners? How many of them have projectors for PowerPoint presentations? How many of these lecture rooms or theatres have comfortable seats or clearly audible public address systems? How adequately equipped are your libraries? Do you have access to world-accepted electronic databases such as LexisNexis or Heinonline or Jstors? How many of you students can connect to the university WiFi even after paying for it? How many of you get information from the school authorities through your students’ email addresses or how many of you even have these email addresses? How many A-rated journal articles of your lecturers have you come across in the course of your research? To the science students, how much access do you have to the needed laboratory equipment? How conducive are your students’ accommodations? I can go on and on. My point is: it is to whom much is given that much must be expected. We cannot dump ‘shits’ on the youth and expect them to give us gold. It should, thus, follow that to whom less is given, less should be expected in return. I will, therefore, be right to argue that the ruling class has failed the youth by not providing them with good quality education as well as adequate education opportunities.
Another indication of how the ruling class has set the youth up for failure and get them trapped for long in waithood is evidenced in the high rate of youth unemployment in Nigeria. After going through the above unsavoury conditions to become graduates, our promising youth have to face the menace of either unemployment or under-employment owing to no particular faults of most of them. At present, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) puts the youth unemployment rate at 42.24%. This means, in practical terms, that out of the 38.2 million youth labour force who had laboured so hard to graduate, 15.2 million of them are either unemployed or under-employed. This whopping figure is what is currently trapped in waithood such that even though some of them ought to have entered into adulthood, lack of job and inability to get married keep them stuck in waithood.
Finally, in addition to poor education and high unemployment rate, the ruling class has added nepotism and favouritism to their crimes against the youth population. It was reported some months ago how the children of those politically connected were secretly employed to ‘juicy’ positions in CBN and Immigration without following due process. This practice is equally common in other strata of our public lives. If you’re politically connected, you stand a better chance of getting admission into tertiary institutions with just a note from your political figure. You can easily get lecturing jobs or any jobs for that matter even without attending any interview. This sounds the death knell on both merit and due process, while also promoting mediocrity. On the long run, the waiting period of the so-called ‘unconnected’ youth who happen to be in the majority becomes indefinitely elongated, thereby leaving leadership to the few manipulative adults and their children.
But Do Today’s Nigerian Youth Really Deserve Leadership Role?
While the ruling class has, no doubt, been significantly responsible for the delayed entrance of the Nigerian youth into leadership positions, we must also admit that the actions, utterances and performances of some of the majority of the youth class in various spheres of tested leadership positions have been very worrisome, if not disappointing. Let me quickly take you through a voyage of real live events involving the youth and leadership positions.
Let us start with Student Union Government (SUG) elections and governance in our universities. What will you expect from a student-aspirant to an SUG elective position who rigged his way into office, should such occupy a public office later in life? This is not a made-up story. Some sessions ago, elections were held into various offices of the SUG in this university. There were several instances of students who were unable to vote, not because they did not want to, but because they could not vote. The reason they could not vote was later discovered to be that some student-contestants had compiled students’ matric numbers and surnames before the election so that they accessed their portal pages and voted for themselves before the real owners of the pages could attempt to vote. Not only is this despicable, it is also discouraging and is enough to create reasonable fear in the minds of the ruling adults as to what these acclaimed leaders of tomorrow would do should they be given the opportunity to near leadership positions.
There are also cases of corruption against SUG executive members in various universities. Let me use my university as an example again. A couple of sessions ago, there was a strongly-worded petition written by some anonymous students, claiming that the then SUG president admitted on the floor of the House that he inflated the contract sums for producing souvenirs for Unilorin students by a certain amount of money. It was not clear whether this was investigated or not by the authority but, surprisingly, however, despite the fact that a couple of other executive and legislative members present at the House attested to the occurrence of this event, the said president, though initially suspended, was later reinstated and even won the best SUG president at the national level for that year. Please, tell me, how is this different from what is happening in the bigger society?
Similar to the above is the wasteful disposition which is now being adopted by our universities’ SUGs. Apart from paying salaries to executive, legislative and judicial members of the SUG, the president is also empowered to appoint and pay certain numbers of special advisers. If we are complaining of governmental wastages at the national level and we are looking for a way to drastically reduce this, I cannot see any sense in raising our youth in this way. It is a way that breeds corrupt practices.
Corrupt practices are so rife among our youth in the universities and other tertiary institutions that even class committees for special class projects embezzle the money meant for such projects. I have personally witnessed this a couple of time and I will only give account of my recent experience at the faculty where I work. I was recently approached by some final year students who claimed that the chairman of their class’ final year committee (in collusion with few others) had embezzled the money meant for their yearbooks. Like the typical Nigerian adult in government, the said chairman initially told his committee members how he had a brother who could do the yearbooks for his class at a cheaper price and better quality. He practically awarded the contract to himself. Thereafter, he kept assuring his classmates that the yearbooks would be ready before they would depart for law school that year. Unfortunately, no yearbooks were produced, neither was any money refunded. What a way to behave for self-acclaimed leaders of tomorrow!
The activities of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) are even worse. This is a body created by law to protect the interests of the students. It is, however, sad that this body has become a political platform used by politicians as they deem fit. It has also become a frequent trader of awards for money from interested politicians without carrying out any character check to justify their awards. Some of its members were even alleged to have been employed to rig elections in return for money.
Let me close this section of my lecture by asking: how many of the few younger persons who have been appointed to leadership positions have really outperformed their adult folks? Abdullahi Bolaji was appointed a Minister of Sports in his mid-30s; Labaran Maku was elected as deputy governor of Nasarawa State at age 41; Dimeji Bankole was elected to the Federal House of Representative at age 34 and became the speaker of that House at age 37; Reno Omokri was barely 40 when he was appointed into Jonathan’s government; Goodluck Jonathan became the deputy governor of Bayelsa state in his mid-40; while Yahaya Bello is currently the governor of Kogi state at age 41. Again I ask: can we remember anything exceptional in the leadership of these people? If anything, most of them seem to be better than their adult counterparts in corruption and other similar vices.
All the above actions of the youth indicate that it may be difficult, if not risky, to bestow on the majority of them, key leadership positions. But then, what is the way out? Must we consign the youth population to waithood for the rest of their lives? I answer this question in the last section below.
Turning the ‘Leader of Tomorrow’ Mantra from Rhetoric to Reality
The ‘Youth are the Leaders of Tomorrow’ mantra has remained a rhetoric as opposed to a reality because of the collective failure, first by the government to put in place atmosphere conducive for growing exceptional leadership skills in our youth, and second by the youth themselves who have failed to impress in the few shots which they have at leadership. In order to make this mantra a reality, I suggest that the youth must do the following:
First, it is imperative that our youth imbibe the culture of patriotism towards the country (not necessarily towards the leaders). While they have been repeatedly disappointed by the leaders, lack of patriotism on their part will only exacerbate their current situation. There must, therefore, be a patriotic connection between each individual and the country. Patriotism is when the youth jealously guard public assets from destruction and when they insist that each of them does what is right. It is lack of patriotism, for instance, that will make you litter the ground, or that will make you dump garbage in drainages, or that will make you destroy the insufficient infrastructure that the university or the government has put in place, etc. Patriotism also extends to eschewing religious bigotry and ethnic jingoism.
Second, it is equally important that the youth prepare themselves for leadership position and the best way to do this is to acquire the right education and cultivate a deep reading habit. Today, we are in a society where the bulk of our youth have more knowledge about the likes of Davido, Olamide, Tiwa Savage, Dbanj, Dr Sid, etc. than they have about great men and women who have shaped and who are still shaping the face of the world. Instead of memorising the whole lyrics of Tiwa Savage’s ‘My Darling’ or Olamide’s ‘MeloMelo’, etc. I advise the youth to spend their precious time in reading informative and skill-acquiring books which can prepare them for leadership roles in the nearest future. Spend more time to read the biographies and autobiographies of great men and women like Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Wole Soyinka, Yakubu Gowon, Nelson Mandela, Kwame Nkrumah, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Mahatma Ghandi, Margaret Thatcher, Rosa Parks, Marie Curie, Bill Gate, just to mention a few.
The youth must also cultivate the right etiquette when it comes to using the internet and social media in particular. While the internet, and, by extension, the social media (facebook, twitter, Instagram, whatsapp, BBM, etc.) are good innovative platforms, a youth who has the dream of becoming the leader of tomorrow must effectually allocate his time on these social media. He must also duly discipline himself regarding what to and what not to do with his social media account. For instance, time spent on mere social chats with friends on these platforms should be reduced to the barest minimum, as wasting of time on chatting or uploading facebook or Instagram pictures are things meant for lazy minds. The witty words of Thomas Edison that success is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration are very apt here. To make impact in this world, you must, during your youthful age, forgo some comforts. You can use your facebook page, for instance, as your news repertoire by liking newspaper pages on facebook. This kind of healthy use of social media, together with reading motivational and educative books, will definitely widen your knowledge and thereby prepare you for future responsibilities.
The last thing, for the purpose of this speech, that the youth need to do to reclaim their loss mandate of leadership is collective and constructive activism. As individual, each youth may not be able to bring about the needed change in the society, but as collectives and constructively, the youth can move the government to act in accordance with their desires. Little wonder that Wendy Lesko rightly opines that ‘if you ever think you are too small to be effective, you have never been in bed with a mosquito.’
But what kind of collective activism am I proposing? It is important to define this because, across Africa (from Egypt to Libya to Sudan to Angola to Burkina Faso to Malawi to Nigeria to Tunisia to Mozambique to Senegal, etc.), the youth populations have often orchestrated and carried out collective protests, either peaceful or violent ones, with the intention of effecting a change of governments or of some policies of the governments. Regarding this type of activism, I agree with Honwana that little or nothing have been and can be achieved through this approach as we have already seen in places like Tunisia, Egypt, Nigeria, Libya, etc. where established political or opposition parties have always benefitted from the aftermaths of such youth-engineered protests. I am, therefore, advocating for a collective and constructive activism which will see the youth come together to closely monitor the impart of government’s programmes on the populace with the aim of exposing any identified ineptitude; to verify government’s claims regarding dividends of democracy; to educate the generality of the voters on the gravity of their collective voting powers; to incessantly put the government of the day on its toes; to form themselves into groups for the purpose of monitoring elections across the country; and, ultimately, to form political parties which can give platforms to youth who have distinguished themselves in the art of leadership. The population of the Nigerian youth is too enormous not to be reckoned with, but as a Yoruba adage says, it is a bunch of broom that can teach flies a lesson, not a single broom. The youth should therefore act as a collective. Though I admit that the implementation of this proposition may turn out a herculean task, I believe it is the right way to go for the Nigerian youth who have repeatedly been the victims of monumental governmental failures.
In the final analysis, the delayed waithood of the Nigerian youth has always reminded me of the Mike Ross persona in the ‘suit’ legal series, which has a high number of viewers among lawyers and law students. In that series, Mike Ross is cast as a brilliant attorney who never attended Harvard Law School as claimed on his CV or any law school for that matter but who is exceptionally naturally intelligent and has outwitted, in courtrooms, even lawyers who have actually attended ivy league schools like Harvard. The reality is, regardless of this intelligence, because of his fraudulent foundation, Mike Ross will EVER remain an associate and can NEVER become a partner because to make him one will trigger background check into his past and expose him for the fraud that he is. Thus, Mike Ross is, in reality, trapped in associatehood just like the Nigerian youth are presently trapped in waithood. But while Mike Ross will have to go to prison to wipe the slate clean, the good news is the Nigerian youth do not have to go to prison for redemption. They only need to increase their level of patriotism, prepare themselves for leadership positions by reading informative and inspirational books, and embark on collective and constructive activism through which they can police government’s activities and checkmate government excesses. It is my vehement belief that if our youth can religiously and collectively follow these suggestions, they may succeed in freeing themselves from the current extended waithood period in which they are trapped.
Olugbenga A. Olatunji, LLB, BL, LLM, MIP