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The harvest season

By Sinem Bilen-Onabanjo
17 October 2020   |   4:14 am
“You get back what you put in.” “What goes around comes back around.” “As you make your bed, you must lie in it.”


“You get back what you put in.” “What goes around comes back around.” “As you make your bed, you must lie in it.”

“Sow the wind, reap the whirlwind.”

“You reap what you sow.”

There are so many proverbs in every culture, every language that warns us about our actions and their consequences. Yet, we rarely remember those chickens that will come home to roost when the time is right. The harvest will be a whirlwind when we carelessly, callously sow wind.

This is exactly what those in power in Nigeria face now daily – the consequences of their actions: decades of incompetence, poor governance, corruption; generations of citizens unheard, ill-treated, abused eruption in the youthquake that is now Nigeria’s Generation Z – a generation, like their peers in the world, that are far more ‘woke’ and far less complacent than the dutiful boomers, individualistic Gen Xers, apathetic millennials.

I am wary not to categorise individuals into generational groups and paint them all the same with broad brush strokes – same as many other movements around the world, people from all age groups and walks of life are on the streets day after day in widespread protests over Nigeria’s hated Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). However, it is important to note, it is the exasperation of Generation Z, which is likely to fan the whirlwind that is the #EndsSars movement.

Broadly defined as those born in 1998 and after, this group already makes up 30 per cent of the global population and circa 50 per cent in parts of Africa. ‘A Generation without Borders’ report by OC&C Strategy Consultants acknowledges the geo-political turmoils this generation was born into but states that the members of this generation are far better defined by the seismic shifts in technology following the commercialisation of the World Wide Web and adds:

“For growing up alongside the Internet and the subsequent dawn of social media, meant a childhood punctuated by the many seismic events (the Arab Spring, Donald Trump’s Presidency, Brexit) directly influenced by this medium. Add to all this contemporary events and trends involving rights and equality – such as the Syrian Civil War and the refugee crisis, the legalisation of gay marriage, the #metoo movement and the rise in populism across the Western world – and it becomes clear that Generation Z have lived through, or were born into, times of extraordinary change.”

As a result, both in Nigeria and beyond, we have a new generation, now of age, who are more connected than ever – to each other and the wider world, more concerned than any generation before them about equality, diversity, social responsibility and justice.

Is it a coincidence then that, in the UK, the loudest voice against government cuts in June to free school meals for children in need came from a Generation Zer? A 22-year-old footballer Marcus’s open letter to the government forced a major U-turn resulting in the extension of free school meals through the summer holidays. More recently with government plans to cut down support, Rashford vowed to continue his fight when it pushed back against his latest petition which went live on Thursday, but surged through the 100,000 threshold to be considered for parliamentary debate in just 10 hours.

Quoted in the report are the words of another British Gen Z: “What makes us different from any other generation is that we are more cautious and pragmatic. We grew up during a global recession, war, and terrorism. When planning our futures we seek stability and security rather than the optimism and flexibility of Millennials.”

While each country’s Generation Z has their own quirks, seeking stability and security in a cautious and pragmatic way can be seen in Nigeria daily. Every naira and kobo collected being accounted for, peaceful protests with no room for provocation or agitation, protesters collecting their rubbish in bin bags at the end of each day. Making up a huge number of the peaceful protestors are Gen Zers who account for 60% of Nigeria’s population.

“It is the sort of gathering that security personnel are quick to label criminals, but in truth, these are largely hard-working young people who have mostly had to fend for themselves without support from the state,” a BBC reporter wrote on Tuesday.

“What have I benefited from this country since I was born?” says Victoria Pang, a 22-year-old graduate, who was at one of the protests in the capital, Abuja, “Our parents say there was a time when things were good, but we have never experienced it.”

Another Gen Zer Bright Echefu, a 22-year-old website developer, told the BBC, “My estate once called police officers to come pick me up because I was always at home and turning the generator on and living well.”

The dreaded and now rebranded SARS and the government are now faced with oceans of young people who have long been targeted, labelled as criminals, harassed for bribes, maimed or even killed; young people who are often educated, entrepreneurial, cautious and pragmatic.

Ironically, on 15 October the news broke that digital payment platform Stripe acquired Lagos-based payments firm Paystack in a deal reportedly worth more than $200 million. The images of Paystack co-founders Shola Akinlade and Ezra Olubi which appeared in tech publications announcing the news show two young men who could have easily been targeted by SARS – young, dreadlocked, casually dressed.

Incidentally, 15 October was also Fela Kuti’s birthday – a coincidence, which Falz commented on: “Happy birthday baba, your people don wake up.”

Could it be that, finally, after 60 years of post-colonial yoke under the guise of independence, it will be the Generation Z who will wake Nigeria from a long slumber and serve the government the whirlwind that would have made Fela proud?