Wouldn’t we all end up like them? That was the multi-million petro-dollar question I pondered after I recently read online accounts of the spat between two erstwhile presidents of Nigeria. Nothing could have been more reminiscent of my yonder childhood years than the unbecoming bandy of expletives between two elder statesmen (I grimace as I reluctantly pen that clause). While that saga held sway in the national dailies I was busy wondering what my generation would be like when grey hairs begin to dot our skulls and the hairlines begin to recede, resisting the alluring nourishment of yet-to-be-discovered chemicals. Would we not be like the generation past, basking in personal wealth without any legacy to pass on? Would we not do worse than these dansiki and agbada -garbed ex-servicemen only that our generation would give such squabble a touch of technology using on-line communities like twitter or facebook? Would we not end up like them?
That question may have a rhetorical ring to it but it does merit an answer. The youth of this generation consider themselves the next best thing. Being part of the subset I hold such optimism – but only with a loose grip. We do know that the current crop of leaders were once brimming with verve and energy at their prime gloating at the prospects of their tomorrow. They were called the leaders of tomorrow. They dreamt big dreams for their nation, travelled across oceans and time zones to earn imported degrees and learn the art of politics. They mapped out Vision 2010. Their tomorrow is our today and if anything it is characterized by mediocrity. It wasn’t that they failed to dream; it was more like they failed to act right when they got to the corridors of power. They got it wrong when they allowed nationalist ideologies to be overrun by personal lust for power, money, and fame maybe not in that order. The vision died along the road for everyone was too busy stuffing his or her nest in preparation for the rainy day. Well here’s the good news: The rainy day is here and we are all going to suffer for it. From the politician ensconced in a palatial abode to the businessman touring the world we all will suffer the consequence in one way or the other. It may be a wary look from an immigration officer or a frozen Swiss account the effect will surely ripple through the pond.
So here we are now, another generation of warm-blooded youths beating their chests, cursing the old, chanting cries for intellectual revolution: Time for Change, We are leaders of TODAY, The Young Has Grown, Power Must Change Hands etc etc. I was not there but I trust the present leaders shouted more. They hated the military, drumming it in every print that Nigeria must be a democracy. The poets of their time wrote enchanting verses about the country of their dream. The architects of their time drew inspiration from foreign cities and drew such blueprints desiring and longing for its actuality. The orators of their time travelled the length and breadth of this country and beyond giving apt description in free-flowing tenses and sentences on how we can be the giant of Africa. Their time did come but there was no change. There are two possibilities: either those activists got to power and forgot their roots or they did not get there. I’ll let the historians deal with the conundrum. Many years have passed since then but while the date has changed – also, computers have replaced typewriters, colour television has replaced black-and-white television, internet has replaced town-criers – the current status is a relic of the past – maybe even worse. Politicians-cum-motivational speakers are sprouting like weed everywhere speaking in abstracts about how we can climb that mountain and soar through that valley. Poets have become sharper with rhyme and more adept at using obscure words. The internet is replete with articles on how we can change this country. Journalists have grown in confidence with a technological twist to it. But the dirt is still there looming menacingly over us. It is déjà vu all over again.
Two words: Act right!
Beyond flyers and essay competitions, beyond seminars and talk shows, beyond dreams and daydreams we must act right. We must decide our future not in newspaper columns but the industrial plants. Nationhood must come first. When we run for elective offices we must put country first. We must learn from the mistakes of our predecessors who got to office only to find power intoxicating. Our children must not suffer what we suffer. We must be the ones who finally get it right. Fancy your child singing the national anthem and thinking the expression ‘our heroes past’ refers to the current pool of senators whose inspiration for governance comes from their sugar teeth or the set of presidents we have had who constantly fiddle with the potential for tenure permanence (the short-sighted call it ‘elongation’) at the expense of national welfare. Our generation must be different not because we know how to send text message while driving but because we visualize the future and deliberately take steps to reach it. We must act! Talk is cheap! Tell the motivational speakers that there are no mountains or valleys in sight. Rather, we have a deluge of unemployed youths roaming the streets like a time-bomb. I’m not belittling motivation – this article may pass as motivational in certain quarters – but what’s even more important is that we pick up tools: spanner, pliers, scissors, stethoscopes, keyboards, stencils, spades, frying pan and so on. Let’s work our way to greatness and not dream it away like Alice in Wonderland. That way when our children sing of the sweet labour of their heroes past they would be referring to us and not the two elephants comparing trunks in the middle of sinking sand.