Sometime in the last decade, my generation became politically active. Almost as a collective, the privileged young elite woke up to the realisation that there was something deeply troubling about Nigeria.
To be sure, my generation has participated in Student Unions and played our ignominious role as political thugs and hangers-on. We have even commented on political affairs in beer parlours and voted once or twice. But sometime between the protests over the absence of an ailing President in March, 2010 and another against an increase in fuel price in January, 2012, we got REALLY active. Social media helped us along the way.
Political news broke first online – unfiltered, immediate and gritty – and then in the papers and on TV. Numerous political scandals and national tragedies provided enough fuel for the activism fodder. Political action groups were formed; professional pundits, bloggers and commentators sprung up overnight; committees and initiatives convened; international grants were secured and nation building workshops held. Some joined political parties and crafted youth agenda; others went to their home towns to contest elections. A new “job” description even emerged – Twitter Activist.
Yet in spite of everything, our generation has scarcely made a dent on the political landscape. We have failed to match the generational achievements of others in Nigeria’s political history; men and women who led Nigeria in their 20s and 30s. We have failed to translate our proficiency in entertainment, business, sports and so on to politics. What on earth are we doing wrong?
I think some of the blame for our ineffectiveness lies with our Pride, Presumption and Laziness. There’s a marked difference between apathy and laziness in my generation. Apathy says: “nothing I do will matter and Nigeria doesn’t deserve it”. Laziness says: “I can do something but it will take too much to do so”. Pride & presumption ensure we do not play well with others in our generation. Gather young people together in a room and they’ll argue about any and everything but the crux of the matter. They’ll argue about who should lead and how things should be done, instead of just getting it done. It’s like a congregation of egos clapping to a melody of discordant agendas.
More often than not, within the group will be the mockers and scorners dripping with condescension. Then there’ll be those who feel they know better than the older generation and refuse to be accountable. Pre-meditated plans will clash with a general unwillingness to confront facts or respect empirical data. Around the table will be those who feel those who shout the loudest or contribute the most money should be listened to and not those with the brightest ideas. A poor man they say has no voice.
I find all of this extremely distressing but not surprising. This is the nature of humanity. Yet, it seems at odds with our online behaviour. This is the generation that has embraced social networking with open arms. We readily meet and share data with new people every day. We run complex remote projects by email and digital dashboards. We carry on hour-long conversations via chat. We crowd source donations. So why is it so difficult to translate the same principles of collaboration to politics? Why is it hard to network effectively, build bridges and form alliances? Why can’t we go a step further to build real relationships and commit real resources. After all, talk is cheap.
The political transformation of Nigeria will only happen by collaboration. If 70% of Nigerians are under 35, then imagine those numbers coming together as one to deploy the strengths that are unique to us: Dynamism, understanding of technology, energy and idealism. We can’t all be political candidates. We can’t all work at the grassroots. Some will be strategists, financiers or policy wonks. Others will help build bridges to political fathers. We all have a part to play and until we consciously and deliberately build a matrix of alliances and contributions, and stop pulling down each other’s efforts, we won’t get very far.
There will be Kings and there will be King’s Men. An isolated leader will soon be exterminated even if he attains leadership. He must have trusted lieutenants to execute his vision. A technocrat may be blessed with incredible wisdom, but he needs a political platform to execute those ideas. He needs the politician who glad hands, silences political opposition and negotiates compromises so his vision can become reality. A technocrat soon realises that very rarely do people do things for the good of the nation. They do so because of a confluence of interests.
As a generation, we need to tap into the best resources available to us and combine them, each person doing what they do best. Isolated bursts of activity will lead to splintered effort and minimal results. We must be willing to work very hard and sacrifice something for the greater good. Showing up for or convening events is not enough. We must put our money, brain and time where our mouths are, even if we are not the centre of attention. We must join political parties, drive agenda in those parties as a group, support and endorse the candidates we want, take up appointments and do the work we say should be done. And we must act as targeted, united groups.
We should also scrutinize the character of those who put themselves forward for leadership in our generation. While we celebrate the willing, we must also insist on the qualified and competent. Leadership must not be entrusted to inexperienced men and women with no credibility or track record. It’s not enough to run an initiative. Have you successfully led men and women before?
Our quest for leadership may start small. We can use quick wins as pilots to showcase our ideas, policies and resolve. But we mustn’t fail to realise that the real job of transforming a nation is national in scope. The decisions at the centre of a developing democracy like Nigeria affect the States and Local Governments. They impact a State’s ability to attract investment. Our States do not control the ports, oil wealth, mineral resources or key infrastructure.
Our generation now stands at the cusp of a turning point. We must get prepared for leadership. We must not become accidental leaders. If the opportunity for leadership arises, we must have qualified men and women who are ready to take on the role and do us proud. This is the dream behind GenVoices and the reason why I endorse the movement. It is a deliberate and structured attempt to groom credible leaders; ensure young people have a seat at political tables; create schools of governance and develop policies focused on moving Nigeria from Third World to First.
If we succeed in transforming our nation for good, our own personal dreams will come true. We will create an environment that nurtures enterprise. But if we do nothing; no matter the heights we personally attain, we will still be looked on as “those Nigerians”. We will be subjected to the vagaries of Government policy and we will always be defined and limited by our citizenship.
I have chosen to get involved. What about you?