by Editi Effiong
“1950. Very few schools. Great education. 2012. Lots of schools. Little education. #Nigeria”
In 1944, a young Chinua Achebe, started out at Government college, Umuahia. It was a revealing narration, which gave this generation a glimpse into the quality of education that was available to young Nigerians who had the privilege of attending these schools. As Achebe’s account of his time in secondary school unfolded, I could not help but think that even in the 1950s, he and the young people of his time had access to much better education than I did.
As a result of the excellent education in few schools which existed then, Nigeria was able to produce, a generation of leaders, who were able to take over the running of the country, the movement the colonial masters left. The clear evidence of this leadership advantage in the age (and actions) of the leaders of Nigeria in the post-Independence generation.
Chukwuma “Kaduna” Nzeogwu, Yakubu Gowon, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu and Murtala Muhammed were names that dominated most of the 1966 – 1970 era. They were mostly principled Military Leaders, but most importantly, they were mostly in the 28-36 age bracket. They were young people who were ready to take the leadership of the country in their hands, making tough, historic decisions in the process. We may argue their politics and decisions with the benefit of hindsight, but it cannot be argued that when they needed to make decisions they shied away from them.
Achebe, from whom much of the historical background of these paragraphs are drawn, was already holding significant national positions in the Federal Civil Service under the age of 35. The ‘60s anyhow one looks, was a generation of leaders.
Based on the premise of the independent generation and their imprint on National leadership, the question that needs to be asked of Nigeria’s current generation of youth, my generation, is, “are ready for the responsibilities of National leadership?”
Are we growing?
This question is intended to be taken literally. No thanks to our friends in PDP, the cutoff age of youths has be stretched beyond recognition – yes, 65 is the new “youth”. But beyond the joke that Nigerian Politics often is, there exists a seeming regression in the rush for attainment in our generation, which was what seemed to drive the Independence Generation.
General Yakubu Gowon was 32 years old when he was accepted responsibility to lead Nigeria. Yes, let’s have that sink in- 32. Whatever one says of the circumstances of his leadership, it is almost unimaginable for our generation to produce a National Leader aged 32.
It’s good to mention that the regression of leadership potential in my generation is most likely linked to fallen education standards. We are Under-educated, our degrees hardly qualify our young people for proper jobs, and most twinklings of greatness coming out of our generation has been mostly from foreign educated returnees.
Based on that premise of very little education, it would be safe to say that any Nigerian educated within this broken system and actually makes something out of their lives, ought to be congratulated. However, poor education cannot be blamed for all the failings of our generation.
Away from the circumstances of Gowon’s ascension to power, we can also look at his principles in refusing to allow Nigeria break up. Young as Yakubu Gowon was, he was already set in his philosophy of what his country was supposed to be, an attitude prevalent in that generation of Nigerians. It is similar decisiveness, and strength of character that drove the secession of the Igbos from Nigeria. You may argue with their politics, but you could never argue with their drive. They were mostly between 25 and 40.
In Dec 2012, I was home in Akwa Ibom, hanging out with old friends and other young people. Over the course of the evening, we had discussed a wide range of topics, including jobs, government responsibility, the oil industries, finances and marriage. In the end, I was filled with deep sadness.
When I was growing up, my dream was to go to school, come back and get a job in an Oil company which wasn’t a bad dream, except none of us had any idea how to get into an oil company.
Naïve as we were back then, I see now that we had dreams, honest dreams, That naïve dreaminess of youth as now been replaced, at the evening wore on, by a naked frenzy, a drive for wealth, irrespective of source or legitimacy. Making a living has an aspiration has been replaced by a drive just to be rich, IN order to show it off – a simplistic dream of wealth and ostentation summed up in the word, “hammer“. For many of the young people I spoke with, politics is now viewed as a shortcut to wealth. Too young people my age have forgotten about the concept of making money – they are more fixated on the concept “sharing the money”.
Closely tied to the hammering mentality is the aversion to serve. No, not NYSC. At job interviews everyday, recruiters are hearing “How much will you pay me” even before the young job-seeker have even understood the requirements of the position. One could blame the horrible economy – but the bigger issue lies in our values and priorities. Any recruiter in Nigeria would tell quickly attest to the difficulty of finding basic talent from Nigerian Graduates. If fitting into jobs is making a difficult proposition, how then can we lead?
Great as the independent generation was, they stumbled, a lot. The biggest stumble of all, they got caught up in the oil economy, and were last seen haggling over the crude oil benchmark, a number which may soon be irrelevant. This is why we know that our generation has not lost out completely.
We are the mostly privileged generation of them all, blessed with the most powerful tool of them all – the internet. The “greatest” Nigerian generation did have the benefit of top quality education, but that education was dominated by endless rounds of academic subdution – they hardly had the opportunities we have today, to independently test learning against worldviews outside of the classroom.
The internet has changed learning. It has changed business, politics and leadership. The internet has shrunk the world, and indeed, our country, allowing us to interact and engage in ways previously unthinkable. With the internet, and social media platforms, young people can connect with each other and even national leaders, interact and exchange ideas.
Most importantly, the internet is allowing Nigeria’s young people build businesses the way their generation around the world is doing. Internet startups are mushrooming around Lagos and other urban centres around Nigeria, and there is a chance here to finally extricate ourselves from the only economy and the crude oil benchmark.
But the questions remain, Are we ready to lead? Are we ready to be different? Are we ready to work jobs, in other to learn business leadership? Are we ready to accept the authority of a Boss before we pitch out our own startups? Questions remain because the biggest challenge to greatness in this generation in information and education, and that learning, with the experience that it brings, is difficult to get outside of establishment organisations.
We really have a chance to change things, to change it all. But we need to work really hard for that change, and accept the responsibility of learning.
This article featured in Y! Africa’s Issue 11 | 2013
Photograph: iwcmediaecology.pbworks.com & www.photius.com