By Femi Abbas
Letter to Nigerian Youths
“We cannot always build the future for our youths but we can build our youths for the future”.
By Franklin D. Roosevelt (a onetime American President)
The above quoted reasoning is fitting only to to a serene society where institutions are built to nurture their managers and not one in which some dubious elements are fraudulently groomed to fracture institutions to the detriment of serenity in the name of managers.
The writing of this letter to Nigerian youths of today is warranted, not by the current calamitous situation of insecurity and hunger into which today’s Nigerian youths have fortuitously found themselves but also by the seeming thorny path to the future which is lying dangerously ahead of them and threatening any certainty of their passage to the same future. This letter is, technically, a response to a Yoruba axiomatic adage that compares the reaction of an elderly person with that of a young person in a situation of downfall. The adage goes thus:
“When a kid slips and falls down, he looks forward to see if someone is around to lift him up. But when an adult slips and falls down, he looks backwards to see the cause of his fall”. That is an adage that clearly shows the distinction between potentiality and experience. Youths who symbolize potentiality are supposed to be the heirs to men who personify experience. And, the only way they can demonstrate their readiness to become their hairs is for them to prepare to convert the invaluable legacy of the elderly citizens into a worthy heritage for themselves. Until those youths have attained the maturity that is capable of qualifying them for the status of the elderly, they must not aspire to hijack leadership from the elderly in their own interest. Doing so will amount to jumping the queue of life which is a euphemism for erecting an insuperable huddle on their way to the top.
Contents of the Letter
Below are the contents of the letter:
Dear Nigerian youths,
This historic letter being addressed to you through this medium (The Message) today is not coming to you by accident but by design. Nigerians of our own age (about 70) never had to be so addressed during their youthful time.
Let it be known to you that besides life, sound health and freedom, no Allah’s bounties for man is as treasurable as youthfulness.
Definition of Youth
The definition of youth varies from place to place and from culture to culture. But generally, youthfulness spans from teenage or puberty through adolescence to the age of reasoning (at about 40).
That is the second stage of human life after teenage or adolescence.
You must have noticed that all Prophets of Allah, except Isa (Jesus) were designated as Messengers and Prophets at the age of 40.
That is a confirmation that the juiciest segment of human life is what people call youth. And whoever is blessed with valuable youthfulness is surely blessed with positive hope and sustainable life.
Spur of Ambition
It will be well with you to note that youthfulness is the spur of ambition and propeller of risk taking. It is the period of determination and resolution. It is the period that sparks off the feeling of attraction between male and female genders and elicits the sense of associations across the boundaries of societal stratifications. All efforts in human life that yield results at old age must have been made at youthful age. To an average youth, anywhere in the world, the sky is never the limit. There are still many firmaments beyond the sky. Youthfulness is the stage at which hard work becomes manifest. It is the stage of planning. It is the stage of vision and mission. It is the stage of planting today’s seed that will germinate and grow into gargantuan trees which will yield edible fruits tomorrow. That is why the youths of any nation are seen by foresighted observers as the future bone marrow of such a nation and the beacons of the future. Incidentally, it is the youths that invariably constitute majority of the existing human beings at any given time in any given nation.
In the years past, when life had meaning and culture had value, youths were seen as the pride of the nation. They were the natural arrows fixed to the parental bows which were often shot by parents through the iron gate of life. This was the case in Nigeria before and during the colonial era. And, after the country’s independence, the youths constituted the glory and hope of their parents as well as that of the nation. Their role in the family encouraged the bearing of as many children as possible. In that case, the males among those children partnered with their fathers in tilling the farmlands, in tendering the plants, and in harvesting the crops while the females among them joined their mothers in making their families comfortable to enable those families thrive gloriously in dignity. In short, the youths of those days were, unconsciously, the live wire of their parents and by extension, that of the nation to which they belonged.
When a father was said to be rich in those days, it was not because of the money or property he possessed but because of the many children (male and female) that he was blessed with to serve as the needed workforce and economic security for the family. Interestingly, a father’s pride, in those days, was not just the number of children he was privileged to bear but also, the volume and quality of contribution that those children made to enhance his wealth.
Besides, the youths of those days were not just helpers of their parents on the farms or in their trades; they also assisted them in training the younger ones among their siblings. In short, they were the invaluable assets for those parents as different from today’s situation in which the youths are permanent liabilities to their parents. Yet, the esteem which the youths of those days accorded their parents in utterances and actions, even in the absence of their parents was nonesuch.
The general tradition in those days was such that boys were handled by their fathers in terms of discipline and sense of responsibility while girls were mostly handled by their mothers in terms of matrimonial training and values of societal decency. Thus, in the process of bringing up their children decently, no responsible mother ever dared uttering a word while any child was being subjected to discipline by the father. In a nutshell, the upbringing of a child was the main key to societal serenity as the discipline imbibed by the youths of those days was a foremost heritage from their parents.
Genesis of Change
The current trend of rampant societal indecency and criminal tendencies began in January 1966 when some uncultured youths in Nigerian military uniform who had a blind ambition to become leaders without any training, threw the value of experience to the winds and killed the then leaders of the country in a military coup d’état that was evidently tribal and religious. By that calamitous act, the youths of that time fortuitously plunged Nigeria, their home land, into a precipitate civil war that turned the country’s hope into an unqualifiable despair. It was the aftermath of that precipitate civil war that eroded the highly valued cultural heritage which would have paved the way for Nigeria’s greatness as Africa’s foremost nation.
Dangerous Side Effect
For 13 years after the first coup that enabled the vagabonds in military uniforms to forcefully hijack power from Nigeria’s legitimate rulers, the use of brutal whim, in place of cultural discipline and inheritable experience, became the order of the day. And, when a brief civilian interlude came in 1979 for only four years and three months, those vagabonds perched on the governance of the country once again like hungry vultures feeding on the carcass of democratic corpses to their fill. Through that unbridled usurpation of power, the so-called Nigerian military government only succeeded in weaning themselves from the ladle of integrity as they irredeemably destroyed whatever was to retain their nomenclature as embodiment of discipline in Nigerian history.
Here we are today, looking desperately like starved hawks swinging restlessly in like a pendulum of no certainty. And, while Nigerian youths are blaming the elders for their multifaceted woes, virtually everybody has forgotten the real cause of the perennial calamity. The cry everywhere now is about the effect of that calamity on the nation and not its cause.
Unfortunately, without looking back to reassess the cause, no corrective regime, civilian or military, can easily rise to get a clue to how Nigeria can rise firmly again on her feet. And, connotatively, looking back on this situation means initiating a genuine reorientation for the new generations of Nigeria as a possible means of rediscovering the country’s lost compass.
Banking on a gun based potential ability to govern a nation that requires experience, as the eaglet Nigerian military boys did in 1966, could never have brought any meaningful result. And now, the reality has manifestly confirmed that assertion in a hardly reversible way. In a country like Nigeria that needs all hands to be on deck, both potentiality and experience have roles to play. But neither can take the place of the other.
You, the youths of today, are quite different from those of yesteryears in many ways and the differences are very clear. The youths of the past were very hardworking, highly dedicated, unswervingly patriotic and resolutely forwards looking. They started their training from home by serving their parents diligently and by caring for those parents physically and psychologically in various circumstances of life. They sought their parents’ advice and learned from the latter’s experiences. It was that home training that propelled them to become national or regional leaders in their time as they built their hope on hard work, contentment and destiny.
On the contrary, you, the youths of today, are very lazy, very slothful, incurably time wasting and orientation ally lackadaisical in your attitude to life even as you are served by your parents from infancy almost to old age. Yet you despise those parents and treat them with disdain like nonentities in your erroneous belief that, as new school, that you often call yourselves, you are more exposed and more knowledgeable than them. You believe, thoughtlessly and parochially, that those parents had come into the world to work on your behalves and that you are only in this world to enjoy the fruits of their labour.
The youths of the past were patient, contented and full of respect for the elders. They were humble, obedient, always eager to acquire knowledge and gain experience as they often queued up to learn from the elders. On the other hand, you, the youths of today, are very inpatient, very pompous and very greedily ambitious even as you see yourselves as masters of knowledge when, in actual fact, you are slaves of ignorance. Unlike the youths of the past, you, the youths of today, are mostly empty-headed, implacably arrogant, highly materialistic and hastily avaricious.
You always want to start your lives from the peak of your parents’ achievements without asking about what those parents had gone through before reaching the peak. That is why some of you joined politics and immediately contested for the office of the President in your vision less concept of ‘Not Too Young To Rule’ which some of your fathers who had stolen public funds tried to encourage vaingloriously to pave your ways through the political nightmare that you call a dream.
You, the youths of today, spend money lavishly without working for it and without asking questions about its source. And, when such abominable ‘booty’ comes your way you never think of bearing any responsibility either in your homes or in the society. You are generally characterized by all the conducts that were classified as shame in the past. To you shame has its price and going by your myopic perception, it only takes money to pay that price. That is why you worship money, day in and day out as your ultimate god. And as long as you can pay that price by all means in whatever currency, you are important in your own estimation. Thus, shame, as far as you are concerned, is a vital aspect of culture which has no negative effect on your lifestyle. As a matter of fact you have taken shame for both pride and prestige.
If a few youths of the past were ever described as a bunch of societal problems, due to their misdemeanor, majority of you, the youths of today, are the real cogs in the national wheel of progress in today’s Nigeria. To you, life has no meaning except it is heavily coded in money. From all indications, there is no better definition for shame than your conduct.
Your slogan that “long life is irrelevant in the absence of money” is a testimony to the above assertion. That life span in Nigeria today has dropped so drastically is due to your disappointing lifestyle which often creates hypertension for your parents and leads to their early deaths. Few parents talk of heirs nowadays because those of you who are supposed to be their heirs have long thrown away the toga of worthy heirs. In the past, mothers were not known for staying with their daughters in the latter’s matrimonial homes while leaving their husbands behind without care. This strange but new trend that has almost become a part of Nigerian cultural norm arose because the incompetence of today’s urban women, even after many years of training, is questionable. Thus, despite the ubiquity of young men and women, there is scarcity of husbands and wives just as there is a dearth of fathers and mothers.
Virtually everything that matters to you, today’s youths, is devoid of our known core values. By your measure, the value of life can be found only in the volume of naira accessible to you.
Causes of Generational Change
Whenever there is cause to review the generational trend with the intention of righting the wrong, you, the youths of today are often quick in pointing accusing fingers mischievously at the generations before yours by saying they caused the prevailing debacle. But while pinching the back of the elders you often forget that sooner or later you too may become elders whose back will be pinched by the youths who will succeed your own generation. You have forgotten that most of the scientific discoveries and technological advancement of your age which lured you into roguery were not available for the past youths. There were no such things as hard drugs, cyber crimes, armed robbery, kidnapping, sophisticated pen fraud through manipulation of figures and forgery of signatures. There were no cases of rape, child trafficking, audacious prostitution and day light murder with impunity as are rampant among you today.
To you, the youths of today, all the above mentioned crimes are either professions or callings in which you actively engage with strong desire for perfection. Thus, you do not believe in the existence of any demarcation between decency and indecency, an indication that ‘family name’ which was highly valued in the past has no meaning to you today. Unlike most youths of the past, you were sent to school but your goal was mere certificate that would legitimize your anticipated fraudulent meal ticket rather than useful education and beneficial knowledge. And, now, what you acquire in the schools that you are attending, which you call certificate, in the name of education is hardly worth the paper on which those certificates are printed. For most of the years you now spend in higher institutions, your preoccupation is either cultism or other frivolous activities that have no bearing with education. That is why most of you turn out to be unemployable University or Polytechnic graduates after leaving those institutions.
A few of you who might have secured public employments by whatever means, have been discovered to be sheer misfits on those jobs as your competence remains questionable.
The implications of all these are many. While most of you are not quite useful to the present time you are also not hopeful about the future.
There is hardly any major crime in Nigeria today that is not principally committed by you, the youths of today, all in the quest for money. It seems that the only language you understand either orally or in writing is money and only those who can speak or write the language of money can command your respect.
Many centuries before our time, an Arab poet intuitively came up with a sonnet which fits perfectly into today’s Nigerian situation. He said: “Here is the era against which we had been warned through the admonitions of Ubayy Bn Ka‘ab and that of Abdullah Bn Mas‘ud; an era in which truth would be totally rejected while falsehood and transgression would be kept aloft; Should this era further linger without any change, there will neither be any sorrowful mood at a funeral nor any joyful feeling on the birth of a new baby”.
Now, which of the situations narrated in the above quoted poem is not applicable to Nigeria’s youths today? What impact does religion have on the society again?
We used to know of motor spare parts. Today, spare parts are no more those of motor but of human beings. And the most active merchants of this queer business are you the youths of today (male and female, clerics and laity). When we talk of illegal oil bunkering, it is the business of the youths. When we talk of kidnapping, it is the business of today’s youths. When we talk of suicide bombing and terrorism, it is the business of today’s youths.
And, all these are for money and nothing else. Where is Nigeria going from here?
The aim of this expository article is not to malign or denigrate the youths of today. All the children of this columnist are today’s youths who do not constitute a separate island. But preaching is like a mud pond surrounded by men and women in immaculate regalia. No one of them will be spared if the mud is splashed. As a onetime youth and now a father qualified to be called an elder, it is not expected of my type to start throwing stones while residing in a glass house. But truth, like rain, knows no boundary and recognizes no personality. It cruises on like a surging train without minding whose ox is gored. To rekindle Nigeria’s old hope or create a new one for the future, the youths of today must return to the established values of yesterday. It was through those values that the tranquility of the world was solidly upheld. On the other hand, it was through a deviation from it that the world became as restive as it is today. If tranquility must return as wished by many, you the youths of today, must change your loins. And that is the only atonement that the world requires to return to global equanimity.
GOD BLESS NIGERIA!