BLAME NOT THE YOUTH AND SOCIAL MEDIA FOR NIGERIA’S WOES
e begin this article with a caveat. People experiencing leadership crisis must do everything in their power to educate themselves about their history and ancestral memory. This is particularly crucial for the education of children or young people. In the words of Marcus Garvey: “failing to teach children history, will definitely foreclose who you are and your future.” A people experiencing crisis must defeat their fear and gain strength from knowledge of their history and culture. This is what Alexander the Great meant when he said: “Conquer your fears and you will live forever.” The ‘salvation’ of the oppressed is in their history and culture as a people.
This article is about the youth and social media. In a country such as Nigeria where teaching of history in schools is a taboo, the young people have taken to social media technology outreach to educate themselves in the history and culture of their people. This is a happy trend for Nigerian youth, who are denied the opportunity of learning their history in schools.
Therefore, neither the youth nor social media is the problem with Nigeria. This last assertion is very important because in recent time there has been some attempts to demonize the youth and social media as if they are problem with Nigeria.
In Nigeria today, one thing is certain: the present crisis in the country is not caused by the youth! Neither is it caused by the power of pen or modern social media. The architects of Nigeria’s present crisis and problem are simply and squarely those in corridors of power and the political class. They have failed and have continued to fail the country. Now, they are doing everything within their power to shift the blame of their incompetence and ineptitude leadership to innocent youth, the age-bracket users of modern social media technology revolution. The youth have done nothing to merit the recent bashing of those in corridors of power and the political class. The youth are NOT the architects of Nigeria’s woes.
Mind you, this is not about the question of a government or regime’s right to condemn the use of hate-language or of people inciting violence through speech and the social media. Hate-speech or language must be condemned in entirety wherever it rears its ugly head. Moreover, hate-speech has no age-brackets. It is common among young people as well as the older generations. Therefore, no one should play a holier-than-thou arbitrator in this case. Because if not for the continued use of hate-language by the older generations and political class, Nigeria by now, would have overcome the vestiges of the civil war and the ethnic-hate that has continued to eat deep into the fabric of the country.
This, however, does not mean that Nigerian leaders are bad in themselves. No. The country could not have been producing bad and corrupt leaders all year round, since independence in 1960. Nigerian leaders like every other political figure elsewhere, are good people.
The fact, however, is that Nigeria as a nation state was built on faulty foundation, corrupt structural system and institutions. No matter how good intention its leaders have, the result is always catastrophic. The political system, structure and institutions on which Nigeria is founded are not people oriented. They are founded on corruption and deceit. Nobody presiding over such country founded on corrupt system and faulty foundation, will ever succeed in fighting corruption, no matter how good intentioned the person is.
A system founded on corruption cannot fight corruption. Like in the story of the Biblical Beelzebul, how can Satan drive devils out? The Son of God must first, cast out the devils with the power of God, save the victim, so that a new society may emerge (cf. Matthew 12:22-32).
Presently, Nigeria is running a discriminatory and oppressive system. It is the inability of its leaders since independence to address this fundamental issue, take the horse by horn, redress the unjust system and structure, that is the problem with Nigeria! This is why one is at pain to comprehend why Nigeria’s political class and those at the corridors of power are blaming the youth as the architects of the nation’s problems.
What is at stake here, however, is the desperate exercise of a failed political class, which uses violence against its own subjects to suppress the truth in order to achieve a particular, narrow, self-centered political goal. It is the desperate attempt of a corrupt political class to hide its ineptitude leadership failure.
Blaming the youth or the masses for social discontent in the society is often the game of a totalitarian regime. Sometimes, a totalitarian regime indulges in this act of suppressing history and blaming the masses (in this case, the youth and social media) as the problem of the nation, in order to achieve a particular sinister goal. The sinister goal could be perpetuating itself – the dictator and cronies in power.
Instead of going on their knees to ask pardon from the Creator and seek forgiveness from the younger generations for disappointing everybody, the political class – those in corridors of power, are doing everything possible to suppress history, demonize the youth, blame them and social media for Nigeria’s present woes. This they do, in order to justify an archaic failed leadership and continue their business as usual.
Thanks to social media, today, the youth are beginning to have access to information, some important sources, founding history of the nation hitherto hidden from them. With the power of pen and social media revolution, the youth are beginning to say no to those at the corridors of power, and tell them that enough is enough! Nigeria needs a new direction and re-foundation.
Is it not because of this historical discovery and boldness of the youth that those in corridors of power in Nigeria, suddenly turned to attacking them and social media, as architects of the nation’s woes? Instead of addressing the underlying questions raised by the youth in their social media outreach, the Nigerian political class and leadership have gone wild in blaming the youth as if the youth are responsible for the nation’s present woes.
This, however, is not surprising! It is something one would expect in a country where teaching of history is banned in schools, and where leadership by exclusion is the order of the day. In such a situation, attempts by any group or individuals on their own to educate themselves on their history and that of the nation is viewed by those in power as a threat to the status quo.
Not long ago, the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Mohammed Lai, said, inter alia: “Gone are days when Newspapers’ editorials used to pull-down a government.”
By implications, the Minister of Information and Culture, Mohammed Lai is telling us that the government of the day have already pocketed owners of Nigerian mainline Newspapers, other media houses and their editors with brown envelopes (bribery and corruption). No wonder, what used to be our revered privately owned Newspapers, Television Stations and Radios, now serve as organs of propaganda and apologists of the government-in-power!
Lately, however, those in the corridors of power are coming to the realization that even though they have bribed, pocketed and silenced editors of the mainstream media in Nigeria, the social media and their youth users have refused to be pocketed, silenced or bribed. Is this not one of the main reasons for the current furor against the youth and social media by the political class and those in corridors of power?
However, people of good conscience should not fold their arms and watch the political class, those in corridors of power, suppress freedom of expression, youth and social media. The woefully failed political class wants to subdue all of us – including the younger generations, and enthrone culture of fear and oppression for their selfish, particular sinister objective.
The Power of Words
The youth have right to words. They have right to express themselves and participate actively in the nation’s political debate through social media and power of pen.
Depending on how one interprets it, word is like a two edged sword. One could use it either to do good or wound someone else. Yet, it is through words of language that society is built, sustained or reconstructed. The words of language is the dynamism that sustains society. It is a common property available to every member of the society.
Word is mightier than sword! In its African context, however, this saying means that it is through the power of words (not swords) that Africans achieve reconciliation, justice, freedom and peace. It is through the power of words in public discourse that Africans reestablish a broken relationship and enact new laws for correct ordering of the society. This is what scholars, nowadays refer to as “African palaver.”
Through the power of words in a palaver discourse, Africans discuss public affairs, resolve conflicts, formulate juridical acts, etc. Palaver is a participative community debate, popular assembly, with the aim of finding solutions to pressing individual, family, and community issues. It is a community assembly through which everything that concerns the life of an African is discussed and resolved, amicably.
The constitutive elements of the palaver discourse, are the power of word, spoken or unspoken, word as dramatized in dance or mime or symbolized in art, “word” understood as action or “behavior – in the constant presence of the community in its three dimensions of the living, the dead, and those yet to be born. In the African context, any decision taken from top-bottom, which has not been first of all, debated and accepted at the grassroots level (palaver discourse) is hardly obeyed by the people. Such a decision taken at the top without people’s participation is viewed as an imposition. Africans privilege bottom-top (palaver) to unilateral top-bottom kind of dialogue.
At the palaver meeting, the personal voice and identity of each member of the community are constitutive of the engagement with the assembly talk and discourse. Each member is given a face and voice in the palaver discourse. There is no discrimination between youth or old individuals of the community. Each member is an equal participant in the palaver discourse.
This is why palaver discourse is done within a participative assembly in a public space, in an open courtyard or under a tree. It involves the use of simple words in order to tackle problematic issues touching on all areas of life and to seek relevant and workable solutions.
The healing words spoken at the assembly forum of palaver discourse are seen as abiding rule for the living because upon them depends their welfare and wholeness (Heil): healing, justice, reconciliation, freedom and peace in the community. They are words uttered through the guidance and ever-abiding presence of ancestors who in the first place, are invoked at the beginning of the palaver assembly gathering and participate actively, though mystically, in any of such village or family assembly of members of their community living in the flesh.
The palaver model in its modified and modernized form was employed in South Africa after the demise of Apartheid and in Rwanda after the genocide war of 1994, to restore the dignity of the victim of violence and make him/her bearer of peace and reconciliation with the wrongdoer. Both the victim of violence and wrongdoer are transformed in an atmosphere of fraternal discussion and community witness. This is the African palaver (palabre).
African palaver has implications also as an introduction in an African context, to the catechesis on the “Word of God”, revealed in Jesus Christ as the language of God the Father to humanity and entire world. As the “Word of God” made flesh, it is through Christ that God has spoken with humanity and the world. It is through Jesus Christ, the Word of God that God himself has restored humanity in reconciliation, justice, freedom and peace. The Word of God that took flesh in Jesus Christ is the source and goal of our public discourse not only in theology but also in public debate.
This is because, for us Christians, Jesus Christ is our language of dialogue in public domain. What every Christian is expected to bring to the table of dialogue is nothing else but Jesus Christ, his saving mercy and message of healing communion in our social context. Again, in Christian parlance, public discourse, is animated and guided by the Word of God, revealed in Jesus Christ.
In the African context, youth like every other member or group in the society, are not discriminated against in palaver discourse. The healing word at the palaver assembly meeting could even come from the contribution of a child or young person as happened in the Biblical story of Daniel and the trial of Susanna (cf. Daniel, chapter 13).
Why is Nigerian State Afraid of the Story of Young People?
The question is: why are those in the corridors of power in Nigeria today afraid of youth participation in the palaver discourse? Why is the nation’s political class afraid of youth telling their story – recounting their ancestral memory and probing the inefficiency of those in government, through the power of pen and social media? Because if they are not afraid of the story of the youth, there is no way the political class, those in corridors of power will be after them or ban teaching of history in schools.
Is there something foundational to Nigeria’s present dysfunctional structure and leadership crisis that those in corridors of power want to hide or shield the public from knowing by working against the story of young people and the social media?
In other words, would we expect the youth to keep silent when the government in power bans the teaching of history in schools? Won’t the youth ask the simple question: what does the government want to achieve by this singular act? Again, who would expect Christian youth, for example, to keep silent when government removes the teaching of Christian Religious Knowledge (CRK) from school curriculum, favoring only the teaching of Arabic/Islamic Knowledge in a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country such as Nigeria where Christians are more in number than Muslims? Won’t the Christian youth ask the simple question: what is it that the government in power wants to achieve by this singular act?
In a country where butchery of innocent citizens by terrorist groups – Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen militia, receives no reprisals and condemnation from the government in power, why can’t the concerned youth raise their voice through the power of pen and social media against government’s complicity in Nigeria’s internal terrorism?
In the face of pre-genocidal threat from some individuals and groups from the North against the Igbo, and the government’s seemingly incapability of arresting the culprits, why shouldn’t the youth of Igbo extraction ask the simple question, why all these? Why has those in corridors of power not been proactive in its response to this looming doom?
In the Arewa groups pre-genocidal threat against Ndigbo, where is the nation’s Constitution and rule of law? Where is the government in power: Police, Military, DSS, Ministry of Justice, Judiciary, National Assembly and what have you? Why has the law of the land not been applied to the announcers of the pre-genocidal threat? Why has the government not clamped down on them as they usual do when youth from certain region of the country organize peaceful, non-violent protest for self-determination? Where is justice in all these?
These are the questions, youth are posing through the power of pen and social media outreach. A serious government that means well for all its citizens, without discrimination, should answer these questions and act proactively within the confines of the rule of law.
In a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country such as Nigeria, where those in the corridors of power show favor to one particular group (Hausa-Fulani Sunnis Muslims), discriminate against the other ethnic and religious groups, why can’t youth of these other groups raise their voice of condemnation against ethnic and religious discrimination pervading the country today?
Furthermore, in a country where the federal government since after the civil war in 1970, have been pursuing a policy of exclusion, pushing forward a systematic agenda of marginalization, impoverishment and pauperization of people of a certain region, who would not expect the youth of the affected region to rise up and say, enough is enough?
In a multi-ethnic and multi religious country such as Nigeria, where there is preference to a particular ethnic and religious group (Hausa-Fulani Muslims) over the others, and where there is regular occurrence of genocide against the most hated ethnic and religious group (Ndigbo), why wouldn’t the youth of the hated group voice out their anger against their precarious situation?
In a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country such as Nigeria, where people of Southern Kaduna and Middle-Belt of Nigeria that are mainly Christians, have recently been decimated by the marauding Fulani herdsmen, without any significant reprisal from both federal and state governments, how would one expect youth of those regions to keep silent?
In a volatile multi-ethnic and multi-religious country such as Nigeria, how does one expect the youth of Muslim Shiites to keep silent after the military attack at their Headquarters in Kaduna and the continued intolerant attitude of Hausa-Fulani Sunnis Muslims dominated federal government towards them? The recent incident in which Nigerian Army (ethnically dominated by Hausa-Fulani Sunnis Muslims), massacred over 1000 faithful of the Shiite Muslims in Kaduna State, and wounding hundreds more. Since then, Nigeria’s security agencies (dominated by Hausa-Fulani Sunnis Muslim), have been keeping in detention and incommunicado, in spite of court orders for their unconditional release, Sheik El Zak Zacky and wife, leader of the Shiite Muslims in Nigeria.
Again, in a country where citizens of the coastal region of the Niger Delta (home of Nigeria’s natural and mineral wealth), have continued to live in an inexplicable environmental degradation, poverty and neglect, in spite of their strategic contribution to Nigeria’s wealth and well-being, who would expect the youth of Niger Delta to be pleased with Nigerian state and government? Why is it that in spite of the strategic position and contribution of the Niger Delta to Nigeria, successive federal governments have been playing thirty politics with the lives and demands of citizens of the area? Now that the youth from that region are saying enough is enough, some people instead of blaming the government for its long-term inefficiency and insensitivity to the demands of people from the Niger Delta, have shifted their artillery towards the young people from the area. This is very unfair.
Again, in a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country such as Nigeria, where in spite of the infamous quota system and federal character principles (which those in corridors of power respect only when it serves them), the cut-off mark for University Admission Matriculation Board is determined not by academic proficiency and excellence, but by one’s ethnic and religious identity. In such a situation, why can’t the youth cry out and condemn the injustice?
In Nigeria today, a student from Anambra State in Eastern Nigeria, for example, may score 240/400, and not offered admission into the university. While some other student, a Muslim who scored only 90/400, is admitted immediately into the same university, simply because of his/her state of origin and Sunnis Islamic religion.
Young graduates seeking employment in federal government establishments and parastatals experience similar discriminatory situation. Employment opportunities for young Nigerians are determined, not by merits, but by one’s ethnic and religious identity.
In Nigeria today, International Airports, Seaports, headquarters of Multi-National Companies and Parastatals, first class constructed railways, roads, high ways as well as other infrastructures of international standard and industries, are concentrated only in the North and West of the country. Foreign embassies are sited only in the West and North of Nigeria.
The question is: where is Eastern Nigeria in all these? How do the Easterners survive in Nigeria today in the midst of all these lopsided and discriminatory developmental system? This is the genesis of discontent of youth of South Eastern region with the Nigerian state.
Moreover, in Nigeria today, where freedom of religion is threatened, where general perception is that, the sole interest of those in corridors of power is Islamic agenda, pursued through political domination by Islamic North and Fulani herdsmen terrorism, who would not understand the reasons for youths of different ethnic-nationalities in Southern Nigeria, agitating for self-determination of their own people?
In a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country such as Nigeria, where the heads of the three arms of government (Executive, Legislature and until recently, the Judiciary), at the federal level, are all Muslims, why can’t the Christian youth demand explanation from those in corridors of power?
In a country like Nigeria with its sensitive ethnic and religious composition, why can’t youth from the Christian dominated South cry out when almost all the Service Chiefs (in the Military and Police), Heads of Customs, immigrations, Road safety Corps, over 80% of federal ministers and heads of sensitive ministries, parastatals and commissions, are all Muslims?
As one author once said: “It is the Islamic agenda being pursued by the North and Fulani herdsmen terrorism and not the agitation for Biafra that put the death nail on Nigeria.”
Who would expect young people from Christian dominated Southern Nigeria, for example, to be silent while they watch those who preside over the federal government, run a kind of ‘Taliban Jihadist’ brand of government in Nigeria? Who would expect youth from Southern Nigeria to fold their arms and watch Hausa-Fulani Sunnis Muslims’ dominated federal government, set in motion, structures and programs through government machinery and domination, which aimed at obliterating Christianity from Nigeria?
In other words, our young people have taken to social media to condemn the evil bedeviling governance of Nigerian state today. We can now see why those in corridors of power are against the youth who have taken to social media to voice out these things.
There is nothing on the ground today to show that the government of Nigeria is prepared and ready to toe the way of modern democratization and transparence in its style of governance and institutional discipline. In Nigeria, the Presidency can disrespect court order at will and nothing will happen. It can starve any state government it dislikes its governor, their national revenue allocation or fund, and nobody will question it. The President is like a ‘super-human.’ This is the system’s problem! Not the President as an individual. Sometimes, one wonders if the Nigerian Presidency is above the nation’s Constitution and rule of law! Are we running democracy or autocracy?
The Presidency can through backdoor, register Nigeria secretly, as a member of an Islamic (fundamentalists’) organization, without recourse to National Assembly or Constitution. In fact, without prior consultation with diverse peoples and component groups that constitute the Nigerian state. The government-in-power can alter the school curriculum at will to favor one religion (Islam) or region (North) of the country without consideration to the multi-ethnic and multi-religious nature of Nigeria.
The political structure of Nigeria is still as contentious as it was at the heart of Nigeria-Biafra War (1967-170). Since then the country has been subjected to a Military Junta inspired Constitution, which favors only the North in all intent and purpose. As a unitary system, the Constitution makes the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria look like an absolute monarch, with almost an unlimited power, sometime exercising control even over the legislature and judiciary as well as state governors. It is like a feudal structure and system of the medieval era.
Nigeria is one of the few modern nation states that has never been governed with a referendum approved Constitution. Since the amalgamation of Northern and Southern Nigeria Protectorates by British in 1914, Nigeria has never conducted referendum for people to approve the Constitution. Till date, the country is governed with an imposed Constitution from a privileged group, Islamic North dominated Military Officers and Generals.
This is particularly evident in the so-called quota or federal character system where the most favored region (the North) cheats others in all facets of national allocation and developmental projects. No development of note may take place in any part of the country as such, without the fiat of the Presidency.
Important events such as political elections at all levels and national census, for example, are directly under the control of the Presidency. This means that the Presidency determines who wins at elections in any part of the country. He determines which figure of population count should be ascribed to each region or state of the federation.
In the same way, developmental projects and availability of funds to states are at the whims and caprices of a federal government that is lopsided in its composition, structure and leadership style. The security of the masses is also at the hands of Military and Police, dominated by officers from a particular region and religion (Sunnis Islamic North (Hausa-Fulani).
These disturbing situations, the youth have decided on their own, I guess, to confront the government with and seek an answer as a way towards fashioning a ‘new Nigeria.’ For the youth, things cannot continue in this way. Nigeria needs re-foundation and new direction. People are yearning for a nation-state that is home to all, irrespective of ethnic or religious affiliations.
Nothing threatens oppressors more than when the oppressed or common masses have continued to remember their ancestral heroes and recount their victorious history. Because as long as the oppressed and masses continue to recount their history, the oppressors would never have upper hands over them. This is why dictators would do everything possible to erase the history of the oppressed. Reliving of their historical memory in the present by the oppressed is a threat to the oppressor’s evil design of tyrannical and dictatorial repressive regime of vendetta and exclusion.
This is why the nation’s information machinery, religion and school education are always the first victims of an oppressive regime. The first thing the oppressor does when he assumes political power is to control the nation’s information channels and to change the school curriculum or system in order to pursue his sinister goal and draconian principles. The oppressor also does everything possible to impose his own religion and make it that of the state.
In a country under dictatorship, attempts are often made to erase history from the memory of younger and future generations. They are fed only with the twisted history and lies the dictator and his conspirators would like to feed them with, which they may tag, ‘civic or social studies.’ Once the oppressor gets hold of the nation’s information channels, religion and school education system, he begins to use military threats to bully any person or group that dare not comply with the new order.
Sometimes, threats of genocide, assassination and torture are meted out to the perceived ‘unrepentant’ individuals or groups. The oppressor rules by bully, creating culture of fear. This means that the greatest enemy of the people is not the dictator as such, but fear. Because the moment the oppressed decide to defeat their fear and confront the oppressor bravely, their liberation has come. Every dictator is an insecure individual. This is why they govern with brutality and impunity to hide their insecurity. Only fearless people can dismantle tyrannical and dictatorial regime.
This the reason for the banning of history in schools and recent government officials’ rhetoric, condemning the youths’ participation through the power of pen and social media in Nigeria’s political debate. Those in power and political class prefer a political naïve youth. They are afraid of enlightened, fearless, political conscious young generations in Nigerian political landscape.
Nigeria’s problem is the failed leadership of its political class at all levels: civil, religious, traditional institutions, intellectuals, professionals, etc. Not the youth! Until recently, the youth have always remained on the receiving end, as spectators, victims of maladministration of an inefficient political class. Today, however, thanks to the power of pen and social media, the youth are making their voice heard in public discourse. This is an encouraging development, which promises brighter future for our land.
Fr. Francis Anekwe Oborji is a Roman Catholic priest. He lives in Rome, where he is professor of missiology (mission theology) in the Pontifical University.