The other day, I participated as a guest analyst in a programme broadcast on one of Nigeria’s leading television stations. I was very delighted to speak on the politics of 2023 and youth activism, as we count down to what is most likely going to be the most consequential election in our recent history.
Let me quickly add, that in my roughly six years of policy analysis and social commentary across major platforms in Nigeria and beyond, including the one with BBC World Service, that outing should rank as one of the most insightful I have had.
The anchors were brilliant, their questions cut across the role of young people, my latest advocacy for Nigeria’s vision and how young people could galvanise the numbers to influence election outcomes.
I recall that the first question I was asked, which must have triggered this intervention, borders on what young people are doing at present to decide the outcome of the next general election. Although it was very thoughtful, I thought to myself that the focus now should be more about what the country is doing for young people and maybe not what young people are doing for the country.
What I meant is quite simple. For too long, we young Nigerians have put up with other people telling us that we are not doing enough for the country. Some of these people have even chosen to blame us for the country’s failings. For a long time, I used to think that, perhaps, we have not done enough. But God bless the day I got convinced that young Nigerians have never been the problem. The real problem has always been about a country that has failed to meet even the most basic needs of its younger generation, yet demands absolute patriotism from them.
It is the reason why a set of people, whose opinion I now take exception to, are those telling us not to “think about what Nigeria can do for you, instead think about what you can do for Nigeria.” I have come to see those people as not only disingenuous, but also very dishonest. How do you ask us not to think of what the country can do for us? The country owes the people, especially the younger generation, a lot. If you are a young person reading this, never allow anyone to manipulate you with that twist and heap of guilt. It is a statement that is used to reinforce oppression and even divert from the real issue. This means that government has a major role to play in our lives.
When people claim that young people lack patriotism, I tell them that is a very uncharitable thing to say. Patriotism has never been a given anywhere in the world. Patriotism has always been first about the commitment of government to provide and protect its people. This is very fundamental.
I read somewhere that between December 2020 and May 2021 more than 600 school children across the country have been abducted. Some of them were released after ransom was negotiated and paid, while others lost their lives (may God rest their souls and comfort all those who mourn). At least, I remember the case of the Greenfield five, who were recently murdered. They were young people in their prime whom the country failed to protect. The other day in Akwa Ibom, a promising young woman and job seeker, Iniubong Umoren, was murdered in cold blood. Most of us, including myself, are yet to recover from the shock of that classic act of inhumanity.
How can you demand patriotism when there are 23 million unemployed young Nigerians and the underemployment rate is perpetually rising? How can you demand patriotism when at least 13 million children are still out of school? How can you talk about patriotism when the purchasing power of the average Nigerian is low, inflation is rising and the prices of food items have shot up astronomically? How can anyone demand patriotism from young people when our lives are endangered and we have become prey to kidnappers, bandits, hoodlums and terrorists?
State responsibility has been and will continue to be the basis for patriotism. It is true that I am one of the biggest proponents of a united Nigeria. I recall saying on TV that the people who propose secession may have lost their minds. My argument is that all of us have already invested so much in Nigeria to think of living outside it. Personally I can’t think of spending the rest of my life outside this country. I want to remain a Nigerian, but Nigeria must do better than this.
I am glad that my new book, which will be announced in a few days, has also explored some of these vital arguments and will be followed by an inter-generational dialogue to strengthen mutual understanding between the old and young, particularly the political leadership and young people. What we need is an inter-generational cooperation. We must all come together across all ages to identify a common way forward.
There is no doubt about what we can achieve as young people, but everyone must understand that patriotism is not a given; it is earned. Earned because it is first the result of the firm commitment of the state to prioritise its people and make them the primary purpose of government.