The fault is not in our youths but in their fathers
It is immaterial whether or not President Muhammadu Buhari said all or some Nigerian youths are lazy. He impugned the integrity of our youths all the same. They are right to be angry. The president was most probably reacting to the currently whispered agitation by the youths that it is time to end their relegation to the side lines of politics and leadership. The contest between the analogue leaders and the potential digital leaders has begun.
We must recognise Buhari’s verdict, unfair by all standards and from what we know generally of our youths, as part of the ancient and continuing contest for tomorrow between an ageing generation faced with the inevitability of their permanent absence and a new, youthful generation anxious to step in because they believe their tomorrow has come. It is not always such a comforting thought for the old codgers to be told that darkness is closing in on them and the dawn is breaking out on the other side of their lives. They may wish they could delay both. Sorry, no one can hurry the sunrise or delay the sunset. And thereby hangs the human tale.
The president’s statement is a reflection of the reluctance by the ageing generation to step aside so the new generation can step in. To disqualify them as lazy is to suggest that it would be irresponsible to pass on the batons of power to them unless they get up from sitting on their hands, expecting the Nigerian state to take care of their personal needs. They need to mature; they need a paradigm shift in their ethos, to wit, you sow and then you reap.
During his transition to civil rule programme, General Ibrahim Babangida tried to hurry the sunrise for the youths. He tried to do the impossible by attempting to put the old brigade out to pasture and leave the fruitful fields of Nigeria to the new breed. He failed because it was not part of the natural design and, therefore, not in the nature of human societies.
Two points need to be made here. The first is to admit the obvious – and that is that there are lazy youths just as there are lazy adults in our country. Their expectations from the Nigerian state might differ but they do expect to reap rather than sow. It can also be said that given their privileged positions, the lazy adults are less conspicuous than the lazy youths. But each nation has to contend with which has the upper hand; no nation has all lazy people and none has all hard working people. Their failures and successes, as the spirit of laziness or hard work moves them, constitute the stuff the nation is made of.
Secondly, whatever we may think of our youths of today, we cannot deny that our country owes its independence to the young men who fought for it. They might not have been youths in the context of our NYSC, but most of them were just about old enough to serve tea and coffee to the venerable potentates at the Kremlin and Beijing when the Soviet Union and China placed premiums on old age at the expense of youth. General Yakubu Gowon was only 32 years old when he had to manage a nation in deep and critical crises. Our youths have always proven themselves admirably.
Nor should we forget that our young peasant farmers gave us the groundnut pyramids in Kano; made the country the leading producer of cocoa in the west and long before Malaysia displaced us, made the world acknowledge us as the leading exporters of oil palm produce. They worked from sun up to sun down to help build the nation. It was not their fault that adults were unable to make the nation deliver on the delicious promises of its independence.
The groundnut pyramids have long gone; the cocoa plats are now idle trees in the west and the palm trees in the east are aged palm trees. Who is to blame? Not the youths but the fathers of the youths.
But our youths are not waiting to be called to the feast. They are earnestly pursuing the Nigerian dream in Nollywood, IT and a host of other endeavours at home and abroad – and are succeeding against obvious odds. They deserve to be encouraged, not mocked or written off the way the president did.
It should be possible for us to admit the obvious fact that the Nigerian state has generally not done well by its youths. We, the old codgers, should understand the depth of the desperation and the frustration of our youths. Those of them who take to a life of crimes and anti-social behaviours, are throwing it back at the adults who hold the reins of political and economic power. So, they rob and they kidnap in a self-help system that is detrimental to the health of the Nigerian state. This is what happens when a nation leaves its youths to their own devices. They devise means of fending for themselves that tends to destroy the nation. The state is nowhere to be found when they need it most, as in job placements.
We face two critical problems. One, our youths are denied role models and mentors to keep them on the narrow path of virtue, honesty, integrity and honour for self and families. They see what the adults do to our common wealth by freely helping themselves to the public till. They see justice dragged through the mud because it is in thrall to the power and the corrupting influence of the Naira. When they see the adults act with impunity with scant regard for the rule of law, justice and fairness, they resort to self-help measures to be part of the system in their own way.
Imitation remains for all time the sincerity form of flattery. It is dishonest for the adults to set bad examples of stealing and corrupting the system without shame or remorse and expect the youths not to pick their lessons from what they do and how they do it. They see that the adults do not work or work hard and yet they become billionaires over night. If people had a choice between working for a pittance and amassing wealth at public expense without sweat, not many of them would choose a life of grind and sweat for a pittance.
Two, Nigeria is a nation of two nations – the nation of the rich and the powerful and the nation of the poor and the deprived. It is no way to build a nation that should be the pride of its citizens. Yes, there are thieves in every country; and yes, there are corrupt men and women in every country. But while we treat our thieves and those who cynically abuse public trust with kid gloves, other nations make a point of making them pay for their sins and deny them the right to enjoy what they stole and thumb their noses at the society itself. And that is why, despite the gallant efforts to wrestle corruption to the ground, this blight on our national character still defines Nigeria and the Nigerians.
Youths constitute critical challenges in every country. What a nation does for or to its youths today would determine its future among nations. According to the latest estimate of our national population, we are 198 million strong. Some 60 per cent of this number, or 118,800,000 people, are youths below the age of 30. A nation with a youthful population is a lucky nation. It means its progress and development is assured. Nigeria is a very lucky country. But I can see no national plan to take advantage of its incomparable luck and ensure that our youths are properly trained, properly mentored and properly guided on the path of honour, honesty and integrity. Our very defective educational system which, according to the World Bank, produces educated youths devoid of learning makes a powerful statement about our national ambivalence.
Our youths are not lazy or idle. They are pathetic products of the bad examples they copy from the adults by merely reading and listening to the news.