Nigeria’s future will not simply be a dry extrapolation of demographic data or projections from history. I believe Nigeria’s future will be driven by generations: the values they imbibed in their youth, their most enduring image/understanding of the Nigerian State, their readiness for the future/prime time and very importantly, the behaviour of the most vocal and influential members of each generation.
The first generation were the Founding Fathers. The trio of Azikiwe, Awolowo and Ahmadu Bello were the most influential members of this generation. A departing British official described these men as “talented, but flawed politicians”. They were not, by any means, perfect men, but they were men with a vision. They also had a broad education, and could hold an argument with the best political thinkers of their time.
Founding fathers were not limited to politicians, there were educationists like Tai Solarin and Enoch Ifediora Oli. They saw the fruits of Western education and the best of them sacrificed to educate the generation that followed them. This generation had “old school values”; they valued hard work and delayed gratification and tried to pass on these values.
Our short-lived First Republic was the only opportunity this generation had to govern an Independent Nigeria. Unfortunately, it soon descended into chaos and the next generation took over.
In 1966, a group of young Army officers triggered a series of events that ended the First Republic and led to a civil war. This set the stage for the next generation, the Usurpers. This generation reached adulthood in the years preceding Independence, and even though the smartest among them were meticulously educated, they were not prepared for prime time.
Fifty-one years after, they still are unprepared to guide the affairs of Africa’s most populous nation.
The best were never given an opportunity to steer the affairs of the nation. This was left to poorly prepared mid-level and junior Army officers. In 1970, the nation emerged from a civil war and a “pecking order” was established – the “victors” and the “vanquished” knew their places. The political structure that emerged from the Civil War was designed to prevent a reoccurrence. It imposed a crude command and control form of “unity”, which sacrificed the economic viability of sub-national units for the rigid control of the centre.
That structure remains in place today.
This generation squandered an oil boom, wrecked education, healthcare and social services, and most damagingly, hover over Nigeria like malevolent spirits, refusing to leave the scene even though it is clear they have nothing useful to offer.
The Buhari Administration is probably the last (failed) attempt of this generation to impose its will on the rest of Nigeria.
I refer to the next generation as the Stop Gap Generation. They reached adulthood during the period between the Oil Boom and Babangida’s “Structural Adjustment Programme”. This, is arguably, the best prepared generation in Nigerian history. They were educated when Nigeria was flush with money, when Nigerian universities were the best in West Africa, when primary and secondary schools were of reasonable quality and when unity schools were world class.
The best of them speak in glowing terms of the Nigeria of their youth, a Nigeria that stood up to the World to defeat Apartheid in South Africa. Some still believe such a Nigeria is possible. The best of them have a “residual nationalism”, and a significant minority truly (and passionately) believe in “Pan-Nigerianism”, even though all evidence points to the contrary.
The worst of them took advantage of the permissive environment of the Babangida and Abacha regimes to establish international drug trafficking and advanced fee fraud cartels.
The most important failing of this generation is their inability to successfully challenge the usurpers.
I call them the “Stop Gap Generation” because their time in power is likely to be short. The Acting President is a metaphor for this generation: a man of considerable talent in his sixties, limited by a less capable and older boss.
Five events shaped the next generation; the rapid decline in quality and availability of public goods, the June 12 Crisis, Ken Saro-Wiwa and the rise of Niger Delta Militancy, the return of democracy, religious polarization and Political Sharia. These events, taken as whole turned out to be more traumatic than positive, and some influential members of this generation rose in response to these events. This is one reason why I refer to them as Challengers.
While the “Stop Gap Generation” met a Nigeria brimming with potential, this generation met an unjust, failing state. Democracy was a great opportunity for remedial action, but that opportunity has been largely squandered.
Niger Delta Militants rose in response to historical injustice. The trend is unmistakable, in several parts of Nigeria; from Southern Kaduna to the South East, voices are rising to “challenge” the existing order – and a generation appears to produce the most vocal of these voices.
And this is just the beginning.
Nigeria’s future depends on this generation. The “Stop Gap Generation” will not be in power long enough to guide the transition to a post-oil Nigeria. This generation will be forced to challenge the fundamental nature of the Nigerian State within a decade – out of necessity, and without the malevolent influence of the “Usurpers”.
The final generation came of age during Boko Haram and the 2015 elections. This generation screams “income inequality”. A tiny but vocal minority (children of middle and upper class parents) dominate the “Africa Rising” speaking circuit in Western Europe and North America, while the clear majority are products of a broken Government run education system.
It is too early to speak at length about this generation, but their present appears bleak: unemployment, underemployment, drug abuse, poor education, poor job prospects, wide spread violence and insecurity and the general acceptance that Nigeria is (at best) a failing state.
Nigeria is a “valley of dry bones”, and whether these bones come to life is entirely up to the last three generations I described in this essay.
By Onye Nkuzi | Follow on twitter @cchukudebelu
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