By Femi Abbas
“We cannot always build the future for our youths but we can build our youths for the future”. Franklin D. Roosevelt
The writing of this letter to Nigerian youths of today is warranted by the seeming thorny path to the future which is lying ahead of them and threatening their passage. This letter is in response to a Yoruba axiomatic adage that charges the elderly to prevent the fall of the young ones from falling without hope of rising on his way to the future. The youths are the heirs to the elderly who must be prepared for worthy heritage. Here is the letter:
Dear Nigerian youths,
This letter being addressed to you through this medium (The Message) is not by accident but by design. Nigerians of my own age and beyond (about 70) never had an opportunity to be so addressed.
Let it be known to you that besides life and sound health, no Allah’s bounties to man is as treasure-able as youthfulness. The definition of youth varies from place to place and from culture to culture. But generally, youthfulness spans from the age of puberty (at about 16 years) to the age of reasoning (at 40).
That is the second stage of human life after that of adolescence. It can be said therefore that the juiciest part of human life is what people call youth. And whoever is blessed with it is blessed with all hopes of life.
Spur of Ambition
Youthfulness is the spur of ambition and propeller of risk taking. It is the period of determination and resolution. It encourages attraction between genders and engenders association across boundaries. All efforts in human life that yield results in old age are made at youthful age. To an average youth anywhere in the world, the sky is never the limit. There are still many other 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. That is why the youths of any nation are seen as the bone marrow of such a nation and the beacons of the future. And fortunately, youths invariably constitute majority of the existing people 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 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 many children as the males among them partnered their fathers in tilling the farmland and in harvesting the crops while the females among them joined their mothers in making the families comfortable for the society to thrive gloriously. In short, the youths of those days unconsciously formed the live wire of their families and by extension, that of the nation.
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) he had, who constituted the needed workforce and economic security for his family. Ironically, father’s pride, then, was not just the number of children he had but the volume and quality of contribution made by those children to his wealth. Thus, children were considered to be nonesuch wealth for their parents.
In those days, youths 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. Yet, they had the highest esteem for those parents in their utterances and conduct. The tradition in those days was such that boys were handled by their fathers in terms of discipline and responsibility while girls were mostly handled by their mothers in terms of marital training and societal decency. And, in the process of bringing up their children, no mother ever dared to utter 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.
Change of trend
Today, Nigeria is a different story all together. The youths of yesteryears have become the elders of today. They have left the chord of discipline that escorted them into the world of decency and joined the new train of indecency. And that chord is no longer seen as suitable for either today or tomorrow as the trend has changed dramatically. The current trend began in January 1966 when some uncultured youths in military uniform, spurred by blind ambition, threw the value of age and experience to the winds and killed the then leaders of the nation in what was called a military coup d’état that was evidently tribal and religious. By that unfortunate act they plunged Nigeria into a precipitate civil war that turned the youth wild and eroded the value of youthfulness.
For 13 years thereafter, the military vagabonds remained in power using whim in place of discipline and experience. And when a brief civilian interlude came on board in 1979 for only four years and three months, those vagabonds perched on the governance again like hungry vultures fed on the carcass of democracy to their fill. Through that unbridled usurpation of power, the so-called Nigerian military weaned themselves from the ladle of integrity and destroyed whatever was left of their nomenclature.
Here we are today, looking desperately like starved hawks hanging restlessly in the balance like gagged hyenas. Virtually every Nigerian has forgotten the real cause of our calamity. The cry everywhere is now about the effect of that calamity on the nation. No one endeavours to look back and see where the downfall started from.
And without looking back, there can never be any correction as to how to rise again. A Yoruba adage states axiomatically that when a toddler falls down he looks forward (to see if there is any adult around to lift him up). But when an adult falls he looks backwards (to see the cause of his fall). That is the difference between experience and potential.
Banking on potential to govern a nation that requires experience as did the eaglet Nigerian military can never bring any meaningful result. Both potential and experience have their role and chance in any society. But neither can take the place of the other.
You the youths of today are different from those of yesteryears in many ways and the differences are clear. The youths of the past were very hardworking, dedicated, patriotic and forward-looking. They served their parents diligently and stood by them in all circumstances. They sought their parents’ advice and learned from the latter’s experiences. Unlike you, they built their hope on hard work, contentment and destiny.
On the contrary, you the youths of today are very lazy, slothful, time wasting and 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. You believe that those parents had worked on your behalves and that you are only in the world to enjoy the fruits of their labour.
The youths of the past were patient, contended and full of respect for the elders. They were humble, obedient, always eager to acquire knowledge and gain experience as they queued up to learn from the elders. You the youths of today are very inpatient, pompous, greedily ambitious and 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, very 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 by contesting for the Presidency in the stupid idea of ‘Nut Too Young To Rule’ which some of your fathers who had stolen public funds tried to see through legislative acts in favour of their own children who they expect to inherit them in politics.
You, the youths of today, spend money lavishly without working for it and you never think of bearing any responsibility either in the 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 for their society, due to their misdemeanor, majority of you, the youths of today, are the real cogs in the societal wheel of progress in today’s Nigeria. To you, life has no meaning except it is heavily coded in money.
Your slogan that “long life is irrelevant in the absence of money” is a testimony to the above assertion. That life span in Nigeria has dropped so drastically is due to your disappointing lifestyle which often creates hypertension for your parents and leads to their early death. 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 culture 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 dirge of fathers and mothers.
Virtually everything that matters to you, today’s youths, is devoid of our known core value. 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 you 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, cybercrimes, armed robbery, 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 will legitimize your anticipated fraudulent meal ticket rather than useful education and beneficial knowledge. And, now, what you acquire in the schools you attend, 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, 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 insurgence would be kept aloft; Should this era linger on 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 poem is not applicable to Nigeria 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 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 knows no boundary. 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 the past. It was through those values that the tranquility of the world was solidly upheld. And it was through 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 tranquility.
GOD BLESS NIGERIA!