If Nigeria’s young are timid, tractable and apathetic to economic and political issues affecting their country, blame the anvil on which they are forged. The government, the formative schools, the universities and the predatory politics – all are the forgers of today’s youth. A system, which lobotomises the young from nascency has already denied them not only the ability to emote, think, act, but also the power to speak up for themselves, fight for their rights and defend themselves.
There was a time in Nigeria when the youth held the fort. They were unbending to the caprices of the military and to the stimuli of fear and avarice. I will cite two epochs for emphasis – the dawn of Segun Okeowo, the provocateur of the Ali Must Go uprising of 1978, and the dusk of Omoyele Sowore – the trenchant voice of the June 12 struggle.
In April 1978, the Ministry of Education led by Ahmadu Ali announced an increment of 50 kobo (from N1:50 to N2:00) to the cost of the daily meal of students. But the National Union of Nigerian Students led by Okeowo will not have it down its throat without some justification. The union asked the ministry to revert to the status quo, but it balked shifting responsibility to the Supreme Military Ruling Council. A head-to-head was inevitable.
Students poured into the streets to press home their demands but received police bullets as rejoinders. Eight students were reportedly killed. But this did not stop the righteous movement which engulfed the entire country. The youth held their ground. They made their statement and their power was felt by the military government. I call this epoch the dawn of youth activism in Nigeria.
Only 50 kobo increase in the cost of daily meals for students actuated a nationwide revolt. But today, what has changed? I will explain. Our formative schools and universities are no longer centres of critical learning. They are now robot factories where anyone who goes in as human comes out as a machine with flesh – beaten, broken, pliable and malleable. The mould from which the like of Wole Soyinka was shaped at the University of Ibadan which made him assertive and daring has long been smashed to smithereens.
University administrations in cahoots with scourges in the highest realm of government have over the years sterilised student unionism. Student leaders no longer represent their constituencies but the school leadership which most times select them. Students are stampeded out of reason and seized of the power of independent thought and critical thinking. They are instructed to parrot whatever the lecturer and the school say. In fact, the methods of some universities today are not distant from concentration camps – only that there are no gas chambers.
Another reason why we have a soluble youth population is our predatory politics. I believe student unionism was corrupted from 1999. Youth activism as we know it ended with the epoch of Sowore and the June 12 struggle. It is the reason I regard it as the dusk of student unionism.
The National Association of Nigerian Students is now a club of men battling middle-age crisis. The association is, in fact, a chapter of any ruling party of the day. It is utterly porous of ideas and intellectual grit. There is no shade of difference between today’s NANS and the National Union of Road Transport Workers – led by MC Oluomo. NANS only thrives for its sheer industry of violence and capacity for noise.
Members of NANS leadership live like the quotidian Nigerian politician in unearned luxury, coursing through cities and towns in convoys labelled with vanity plates. The end of student unionism ensued with the meddling of the political class. Agitators became one with the oppressors.
Fundamentally, if there was to be a revolution in Nigeria; it would not come from the BBNaija-loving Nigerian youth on social media. They are already seized of the mental alacrity for action. I believe the biggest uprising in the country will come from hard-pressed young Nigerians insulated from the disempowering academic system and its corollaries. It will come from boys on the streets like we witnessed in Katsina when some protesters burnt the billboard of President Muhammadu Buhari.
I hate to say it, but Nigeria’s revolution (protests for change) lies in the hands of the Almajiris – even though they themselves are exploited for political gains. But they are the outliers of the system. It is the reason I see no point haranguing young people taken over by the reality show -- BBNaija. They are victims of the situation themselves.
And why am I mulling protests for change in Nigeria? With the shocking revelations from the NDDC probe and the mindboggling disclosure of sleaze across all sectors of the economy, I believe we cannot make any progress as a country this way. Something must give.
It will happen. That change that Nigerians seek will come by the hands of the forgotten.
Fredrick Nwabufo is a writer and journalist