Nigerian elders, ruling class and generational injustice
By Al-Amin Abba Dabo
It is a popular saying in our part of the world that “to mock your elders is to wreck the house where you have to stay tonight”. As youths, our culture instils an almost dogmatic behaviour in us to recognise the voice of the elders as that from the skies. It teaches us to trust their judgements by thrusting our future into their 'capable' hands, to delegate to them the daunting task of decision-making with regards to life-defining and future-defining resolutions, to keep them pivotal in guiding and influencing our thoughts, and to seek from them wisdom and spiritual guidance before setting out on our journey into adulthood. It is expected that once an individual attains socially acceptable levels of maturity and mental capacity, they be given the opportunity to get integrated into societal functions, to contribute their quota to its development, and determine and govern its future. This is essentially what coming of age is. This is essentially how leaders of tomorrow emerge.
In Nigeria today, this developmental process is virtually stalled. We the youths are shackled. We are deliberately excluded from the executive affairs of the nation. We are denied the opportunity to express our views on governance, let alone govern. We are not seen as the leaders of tomorrow but rather the burden of today. We are dismissed as naïve and unproven when we've always been denied the opportunity to prove or express ourselves, let alone be judged on our performances. We have been mentally thwarted to accept incapacity, mis-governance, and mediocrity as our fate. We have been reduced to helpless pawns and zombies only to be used to promote religious and ethnic bigotry. We have been and still are victims of generational injustice. It is said that “parents who wonder where the younger generation is going should remember where it came from”. Why therefore, does the older generation and ruling class overlook the importance and potential of the youths?
The ongoing National Conference is a glaring testimony of the generational injustice in Nigeria. The average age of the delegates at the conference is reported at 61. Ironically enough, the agenda of the conference centers on discussing the today and tomorrow of Nigeria. Isn't it a paradox that yesterday's men gather to discuss the present and tomorrow of Nigeria while the supposed leaders of tomorrow are left out? What have the older generation and ruling class achieved yesterday and today to warrant their eligibility and worthiness to deliberate on tomorrow? Is it the 75 million people without access to clean water or the 45 million unemployed youth that is the achievement of the ruling class and elders? Is it the failure to provide stable electricity after decades of 'trying'? Is it the collapse of the nation's refineries that has virtually condemned us to importing fuel or is it the violent insurgency crippling the North that is congratulatory of the ruling class? Is it the transformation of public offices into wealth amassing avenues? You are talking about a clique of people that ignores the palpable financial inequality in the nation, the disproportional budget allocation, the dilapidated state of education, the unrivalled looting and disregard for due process and the law. How on Earth do they deserve to represent anyone other than themselves? Like local neighbourhood magicians, we have seen and figured out all their tricks. It is said that “the words of the elders do not lock all the doors, they leave the right door open”. In our case, their words and actions shut all the doors, padlock them and swallow the keys. There is nothing new they can offer us. They really have no executive role to play in a nation that seeks to right its wrongs. They have tried and they have failed, miserably. The ruling class, power elites and elders seem to live by the following philosophy: “To serve our equals is a duty, but serving the young is humiliating”. In a nation where 65% of the population are youths, how else would one explain the millions of children out of school and roaming the streets, the millions unemployed, and the millions in poverty?
If Nigeria needs a national conference, then it's a conference for the youths. It will certainly have only one agenda: how to take control of our future. It may be unpopular, but majority of people know that the resentment we see being expressed amongst elders and the ruling class for ethnic and religious differences is not echoed in the majority of youths today. We the youths do not have the scarring memories of the Biafran civil war permanently etched in our heads; we do not have strong recollections of coups and counter coups and the countless religious and ethnic clashes; we do not have to buckle to pressures of god-fatherism and premeditated signed agreements; therefore if there is anyone to foster ethnic and religious reconciliations in Nigeria, then who better than the youths? Who better than the individuals whose future depends on such reconciliations? For example, the President identified the break-up of Nigeria as a no-go area in the national conference. However, amongst the delegates are regionally-minded hotheads that have made various threats of Nigeria's break-up or bloodshed in the past should one thing or the other go against their desires or expectations. It is almost like giving a kid an inflated balloon in one hand and a needle in the other, and expecting not to hear a pop. On the other hand, the youths have more in common than they have differences. We all are victims of hijacked futures, poor governance and neglect, with a collective objective of achieving a working and viable Nigeria. The following words of Wynton Marsalis very much apply to Nigeria today. “The young very seldom lead anything in our country today. It's been quite some time since a younger generation pushed an older one to a higher standard”. Now, is the time.
Our culture discourages one from blaming their elders for events in the present, let alone the past. The case however, differs if you realise that your elders are threading paths of immorality. For example, If you grow up to realize your father is the village drunk, and he deliberately ended your education and forced your becoming a palm wine tapper, you are really short of people you can blame other than him. If your mum were known to lack morality and decent upbringing, you know who to blame when your mouth rattles like the barrel of a gun with swear words. This ofcourse is not a rule of thumb, but it applies to majority of cases.
The same class of people has virtually ruled Nigeria for the past 50 years. They are often described as elders, and respected senior citizens. They've occupied the highest-ranking offices in the nation, have set up arguably the most unsustainable form of government, have set out laws and regulations that they break at will and have misappropriated the resources of this nation to the best of their abilities. We are living through the consequences of their actions and decision-making, their leadership, and domination. The ruling class overlooks the starvation of the masses while they dine with their cronies in royal fashion. Unfortunately for them, we can only judge them based on the current state of the nation. The days of allowing them to judge themselves are over for we know that “the lizard that jumped from the Iroko tree to the ground said he would praise himself if no one else did”.
I have deliberately used elders and ruling class interchangeably in this write-up. Anyone familiar with the complex spectrum of Nigerian politics will appreciate the fact that both groups of individuals are stakeholders of the social political class and have played major roles in making Nigeria what it is today. It is also clear that the ruling class/elders problem is not independent of any political platform. In my opinion, any political party that is not youth-oriented should be sidelined. If my dream were to come true, both the APC and PDP would be kicked out and all-youth parties be introduced. As youths, we are bound to make mistakes but to get lost is to learn the way. We have closed our eyes to facts and have learnt by accidents. To not act is to give up on our present and our future. To not act is to be defeated. Ears that do not listen to advice, accompany the head when it is chopped off. We have to be determined and united in the push to achieve the Nigeria of our dreams. As Criss Jami said, “A rebel adult often seems like a glorious saviour, whereas a rebel child often seems like a little devil.” Devils are not new to Nigeria. Lets all brace up for more.
God bless Nigeria
Al-Amin Abba Dabo