“The esprit-de-corps amongst military personnel has been destroyed; professionalism has been lost. Youths go into the military not to pursue a noble career but with the sole intention of taking part in coups and to be appointed as military administrators of states and chairmen of task forces.
As a retired officer, my heart bleeds to see the degradation in the proficiency of the military.”
– President Olusegun Obasanjo.
This statement was made by Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo on his inauguration on May 29, 1999. It was in reference to what was prevalent at that time. Youths were eager to join the military not because of serving the nation but for their very own desire or better still quest for power, influence or for the goodies that come with it. Unfortunately, that is the trend we are witnessing today. It is just that more than two decades ago the moving train was termed military whereas presently, the train has metamorphosed into politics.
I must admit, the rate at which youths join politics has outnumbered the rate at which youths joined the military then considering the fact that presently, youths constitute more than half the population of the country compared to the little above one quarter of the population of those days. Beyond reasonable doubt, the ultimate dream career of most youths in my fatherland today is politics and, unfortunately, the aim is not to serve, innovate or help bring effective solutions to the challenges the country faces but because of the illusionary goodies that the human heart desires or craves for the most. It is very sad that most youths believe the surest and easiest way to a better life is by joining politics although they have every reason to believe so. Sincerely, I don’t blame them rather I blame the system that they grow and live in. A system that respect anyone who has something to give irrespective of how they got it. It is so shameful that today criminals in the society are celebrated despite knowing full well that they are criminals. Indeed any society that has no moral values is a society that has no future. I pity myself and my fellow youths because it will take a great effort to rid this society of this trend. No doubt, a room is not built in a day but can be demolished within minutes and that is exactly what is happening today. I cannot forget some words that I once heard though I cannot remember where I heard it or who said it but these are the words; “How can you convince the upcoming generation that education is the key while they are surrounded by rich criminals and poor graduates?”
Few years ago, every political campaign, talk show, programs or any opportunity politicians get to express their plans about my fatherland will be; good roads, electricity, pipe borne water, schools, and so on but today, the rhetoric has changed to; youths, employment opportunities, skills and acquisition programs, entrepreneurship development and empowerment! Believe me, tomorrow if the tides change, the politicians will be quick to change thereby capitalizing on the changes. And that reminds me of something very important.
With all due respect to our highly rated youth entrepreneurs but sincerely, most of them are just people that find alternative ways of selling a product as entrepreneurship is not about selling but rather about innovation, problem solving ideas. Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple Inc. did not just find alternative ways to sell computers but what he did is simply innovating computer into PC and making it available to the masses and the same applies to Colonel Sanders, the founder of KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken). He did not just sell fried chicken but rather he developed a new way of frying chicken, a way that has never been seen before and luckily it suits the taste of the majority then and till today, it is still being enjoyed all over the world. John Davison Rockefeller, the founder of Standard Oil and worlds first billionaire, founded a conglomerate that controls more than two thirds of the world’s oil in the early 20th century and he said in an interview with Times newspapers; “I did not just join the oil business but rather I capitalized on the weakness of the oil boom thereby finding a more efficient and cost effective way of running a business and that is specifically what entrepreneurs do”.
Youths did not need all those peanuts grants or subsidies that governments give every now and then neither do they need to hear all those fake and sweet tongue promises of opportunities. What youths do need is a standard and sound education just like that of our counterparts in Asia, Europe, or anywhere in the world. I remember reading a book, “But Always as Friends” written by Sir Bryan Sharwood Smith, one of the Nigeria’s colonial administrators, in which he talks about a memo that he sent to Sir Ahmadu Bello informing him of the need to establish more schools in the Northern Region as it is the only way the region will meet up with its Eastern and Western counterparts. Also, late President Shehu Shagari, then minister of economic development in the Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa administration, n his ministry’s £800 million 1962-68 Development Plan,.devoted more than one fifth to education and research. Standard education in Nigeria has now become accessible to those with a silver spoon and the saddest part is, those that enjoyed it the most made it what is today.
Moreover, opportunities should be readily available to everyone. It should not be reserved for only those that are born with silver spoon. I know some will say that this writer hates those born with silver spoon but believe me, I do not, not at all. No one chooses his parents, race, tribe, country, location, gender or above all, how and when they will be born. But all i want and all that I am advocating for is an open playing field for everyone such that a person will be regarded in as much as that person has something to offer just like decades back in my fatherland when both the child of somebody and that of nobody have equal opportunities. Although, I must admit that at times the fault is from those without a silver spoon as in most cases when they are entrusted with a responsibility or an opportunity, they tend to use it negatively thereby betraying the trust and in return, foster the perception or the believe that anyone like that is unworthy, is someone that cannot be trusted. Youths should be given responsibility at all levels. Julius Caesar, the legendary Roman Emperor said; *“I trust young Commanders the most because they view every battle as an opportunity to write their names in history books with gold.”* This is absolutely true considering the examples of noble statesmen like; Yusuf Maitama Sule, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Herbert Macaulay, Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh, Adeniran Ogunsanya, Zanna Bukar Dipcharima, Alhaji Aliyu Makaman Bidda, just to mention a few. They sacrificed their time, energy and resources so as to build a stable foundation for this country which unfortunately has now been destroyed completely by their successors.
According to Forbes, Nigeria is blessed with numerous billionaires and hundreds of millionaires but with all due respect to them all, those billions or millions is directly or indirectly from the government. It is not a closed secret how Nigerian businessmen benefitted from monopoly, unchecked business practices, tax cuts, and things related to the aforementioned. I read some few days ago that amid cement price hikes, three cement companies namely; Dangote Cement, BUA Cement and Lafarge Africa, reported a combine net profit of N356.228 billion for the period between January and September 30, 2021. Sincerely, there is no responsible government that will allow something like this to happen as it is a national embarrassment. Let me not forget to mention a report published by the Premium Times on November 24, 2021, stating how President Muhammadu Buhari backed the Minister of Transportation Rotimi Ameachi in a fight between the minister and his Chief of Staff Ibrahim Gambari over how the Ministry of Transportation has awarded a lucrative contract to a firm that does not deal in any way related to the awarded contract.
Sincerely, this is not a new phenomenon in Nigeria. History is just repeating itself because if we go down the memory lane, we will definitely come across numerous examples. One of which is a billion-dollar contract negotiated by Late M.K.O Abiola, a blessed memory, with Murtala Mohammed’s military government to install a nationwide telephone system. The telephone system was renowned for its grave deficiencies plus the fact that is has never been completed. It is worth noting that it was with Abiola in mind that the legendary Nigerian musician, Fela Kuti composed the popular hit “ITT—International Thief Thief”.
I remember a proverb often used by a famous second republic politician according to a book, This House Has Fallen: Nigeria in Crisis written by the renowned journalist and writer, Karl Maier. “To kiss somebody, you have to get near them; to bite them, you have to get near them too.” This words have been the motivation of numerous politicians and I believe that it is up to this day. Beyond reasonable doubt, Nigerians are corrupt because the system under which they live in makes corruption easy and profitable and they will cease to be corrupt once corruption is made difficult and inconvenient. I believe that the Nigerian problem is not corruption but the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise up to the responsibility, to the challenge of personal example which are the hallmarks of true leadership. In a nutshell, Nigeria can change today if she discovers leaders who have the will, the ability and the vision.
Above all, Nigerian youths should know that politics is not only activism. It is awareness thereby keeping themselves informed of the happenings not only in country but in the world entirely. Also, it is caring about the facts, casting our votes responsibly during elections and if we believe we have got something to offer, something that we believe no one can do it the way we can, then we should contest in elections. Politics is a tool through which we structure ourselves as a group, society or nation. Politics governs every aspects of our life and by not participating in it, you are literally allowing other people who are mostly incapable to decide on education, health care, accessibility, your freedoms or even what you can eat!
Furthermore, it is high time for our leaders to understand that there is a generational shift in every aspect that one can think of. The world of today is not that of a decade back. The challenges of today are not that of yesterday although I must admit that those challenges have more similarities than differences. It is just that the same approach cannot be applied. And indeed, it is only when you are within the grid that you can control the grid and the moment you are off the grid, you cease to control that grid. The world of today is dominated in every corner by the youths, from Business to Aviation to Entrepreneurship to Academics and in fact, everything. Sincerely, one of the reasons why my fatherland or Africa at large is still backward is the failure to realize this simple truth. The elderly still think that there hay days has not yet pass, their ideas are still best. Believe me, it is only in this part of the world that you can see this. The people that are supposed to be enjoying their retirement are those that have crowded every department, parastatal, or any position one may think of both in the public and private sector and without an iota of doubt, the aforementioned is the reason why there is a dormant workforce in this country. The elderly needs to understand that, this is a natural phenomenon as life entirely is a like circle and one cannot be active forever. No doubt, goodbye is the saddest thing but it is inevitable. You just have to go someday for someone to take over after all, someone used to be in the place that you are today. My father used to tell me that; “My son, always leave when the applause is loud because you will not like it when the applause dies down because you will be forced out”. Well, be it today or tomorrow, honorably or not, the time will come when all those elderly people will be forced out of office.
Finally, I will like to end this with a message to those youths that will eventually make it there. Please, make the best use of your chances thereby doing nothing less than your best and just like what Malcolm X said; “If someone puts their hands on you, make sure that they never put their hands on anybody else again”. Do not give the old folks the reason to say; “They cannot do it!”.Bear in mind that it is one thing to get opportunity and making the best use of it is another entirely different thing. A gentleman, Harold MacMillan captured it nicely with his words; “Power? It is like a dead sea fruit. When you finally succeeded in getting it, there is nothing there” . And also, Abraham Lincoln also said; “Nearly all men can stand adversity but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power!”* Will the youths deliver whenever they gets the chance? I don’t know but believe me, time will tell.
In conclusion, I believe that knowledge only becomes power when it is put into use and in life, it is not what you know that matters but rather, it is indeed what you share. As always, I am just a boy with a pen.
Bashir writes via [email protected]