Youth and elite binaries in the Nigerian project, by Prof. Abubakar Liman

Professor Abubakar Aliyu Liman
Professor Abubakar Aliyu Liman

Nigeria is a nation of paradoxes. I don’t really have to drum that truth into anybody’s ears. It is common knowledge within and outside our shores that the country is in a total mess. Except of course to those that do not know anything about Nigeria and its potentials to greatness as well as disaster. Youth have always been the backbone of the nation. They even constitute the DNA of the social groupings that make up Nigeria in the past and the present, and possibly even the future. Talking about the future, in saner climes young people are always seen as the future of society. That’s why their psychosocial development is collectively taken as a serious business. The story is however different in Nigeria. Until recently, the credo of liberalism, which is taking over all social spaces, has, based on its individualism streak, deemphasized social spending on youth in its laissez faire quest for profit, as if educating the youth is not a process of guaranteeing the future of society itself. This divestment process is happening not just in the developing countries like ours, but also in the so-called developed nations that compelled us to ape their social system.   

However, our concern here is with our precarious situation in Nigeria under the tutelage of bad leaders. In our history as an emergent postcolonial African power, young people have played very crucial roles in national development. As a matter of fact, throughout the eons human society has always been dependent on young people for wellbeing, security and development. Pre-colonial communities in the Nigerian territories solely relied on the youth for their wellbeing. Young people it was that engaged in major economic activities like farming, fishing, masonry, warfare and security. This is the sense in which in traditional system of education, elders in the community that take very serious the processes of preparing the youth for future. Initiation procedures, ceremonies and rights of passage into different age groups in our pristine communities used to be very strict because it involved the training of the young to takeover the leadership of society. Such training is tough because it aimed at preparing the youth for the challenges of the future. Similarly, colonial administrators have not ignored the training of the youth in order to perpetuate colonial enterprise while it lasted.

Even the system of modern education introduced in the Nigerian colony was all for the enhancement of colonial interests. The system built up by colonial officers would not have been deeply entrenched in Nigeria without the indoctrination of the youth through the agency of colonial education. The same youth formed the vanguard of anti-colonial struggles for political independence in Nigeria. The three gladiators of Nigerian independence, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo and Ahmadu Bello, were in twenties when they fought for our national independence from the British. Again, when the British eventually handed over power to them, they too handpicked other younger Nigerians to man the Nigerian state. John Paden has for instance recorded in his book Ahmadu Bello Sardauna of Sokoto: Values and Leadership in Nigeria that the northern regional government had people that were very young appointed as permanent secretaries. Ali Akilu, Ahmed Talib, Muhammad Lawan, Ahmadu Coomasie, Bukar Shuaib were all very young when they were given enormous responsibilities. And these young people had in their functions and responsibilities performed creditably well. Northern Nigeria, despite its late start in education, had in all indices of development performed remarkably well in its competition with other regions of Nigeria.

Our trouble as a nation (and in the entire African continent) has actually started with the adventure of the military officers in politics. The taking over of power by the military in the run up to Nigerian civil war, during and after the war, has, with the benefit of hindsight, proved to be the beginning of our socio-political crises without end. Indeed, it was the military regimes that distorted the patterns of Nigeria’s development through the unitary system they imposed on us; it was the military that destroyed any semblance of order and planning inherited from colonial times and under the rule of the first generation of leaders after independence; it was the military that abandoned the idea of carefully planned national development plans; it was the military that destroyed our values and professional ethics in all sectors; it was the military that introduced profligacy, self-aggrandizement and unbridled corruption in governance; it was the military that embarked on reckless spending and useless white-elephant projects when the country was awash with oil petrodollars. In short, there is no denying the fact that the seed of unending crises in Nigeria were planted by military regimes.

The military are a significant component of elite formation in Nigeria. They are part and parcel of the undoing of Nigeria, which they deliberately orchestrated, and other segments of the elite helped them to achieve their destructive agendas. Significant sections of the Nigerian elite are really a burden to the nation. Instead of being the engine room of social transformation, they are everywhere turning out to be social parasites. In their backwardness and unthinking proclivities, they only bothered about what they can grab for themselves and select members of their families. They always repeat the mistakes of thinking if they can accumulate much wealth to secure their future regardless of the deplorable conditions of the rest of society. Nigerian elite never understands that the fate and wellbeing of any individual is closely tied to the fate and wellbeing of the entire society. This therefore means nobody can exist as an island. But you cannot isolate yourself because of the privileges of power granted to you by the office you are occupying, deny members of society their rights due to your corruption, and then expect to live in peace. Impossible!

Corruption is singularly the most devastating malaise afflicting Nigeria. But the bulk of our elite do not seem to realize its implications because of the manner in which they keep forgetting, especially whenever you saddle them with leadership responsibility. In their big offices, they will rather do things to jeopardize the collective interest of the nation. They will rather collude with enemies of the nation to bring untoward hardship to the people. They also seek comfort in fleecing the public finances entrusted to them. In office, they always avoid operating by the book. They always prefer to cut corners in their functions and responsibilities. They ruin rather than build the institutions that were put in their care. Little wonder that under the private sector driven laissez faire system that they introduced in Nigeria, they hid behind the notion of government divestment from social spending to steal resources meant for infrastructure development, health and education as if there is not going to be tomorrow. Nobody needs to tell you that the system of good public education that the elite enjoyed freely from elementary to tertiary levels have now been completely decimated due to corruption and the blind following of private sector driven development mantra. The elite seem to be content with the collapse of public education insofar as they can use their stolen resources to send their wards to schools outside Nigeria where the system is functional. 

The fear of society that grips our corrupt elite can be seen in how they build prison walls to protect their mansions from the army of dispossessed “marauders and hoodlums”. The elite also keep German shepherds for security; they employ a number of security men to guard their residences round the clock; they compete in purchasing bulletproof vehicles with stolen money; and, they also purchased other security gadgets that they used to cage themselves from the torment of socially deprived. As our state of insecurity intensifies by the day, be rest assured that if you are not waylaid at home, armed robbers and kidnappers will certainly ambush you on our dangerous highways. Nigeria is now on the brink of total systemic collapse from which insecurity will take over in our cities, towns and villages. And the most annoying dimension of this ugly development is in how our myopic elite imagined that the antidote to our overwhelming state of insecurity lies in more stealing and more corruption by those lucky enough to be occupying oleaginous political offices. At least, the attitude of our political office holders to our hydra-headed corrupt social order seems to suggest as much.

Nigerian youth have to wake up from their stupor and lethargy to face our brutal realities. The youth cannot afford to allow the elite to perpetually deceive them. At your age the people that are misruling Nigeria now were the same elements that manned the most important offices in the land. The youth must therefore equip themselves with education, enlightenment and sense of patriotism for the inevitable rescue mission to save Nigeria from vicious elite. Dreaming to succeed our visionless elite in their style of leadership will remain a mere pipedream that it is. As you can see clearly, Nigeria has been pushed to the edge of the precipice. We either strive to rescue it collectively or we allow it to be plunged into an abyss of self-annihilation. A stitch in time they say saves nine. Time is not on your side, and the options are very limited.