(From the blog: ‘My Nigerian Dream’)
Ayobami Akinyode OLUNLOYO
I often say (to myself) that the best songs in the world have already been sung. This is my own personal way of appreciating truly iconic and classic songs and elevating them to a status of “untouchable” when compared with more recent songs. I do however acknowledge that this is a matter of preference and taste, and that great music will always evolve greatly. You might wonder about the relevance of these opening statements to a blog entitled ‘My Nigerian Dream’. It’s simple, just like one of my recent blog pieces, this one has also been inspired by a song. In this case, it is a song by an artiste who left us a rather clear message; one that is deeply relevant to societal events in Nigeria today.
Whitney Elizabeth Houston (1963 – 2012) certainly came, saw and left, but not before she conquered the R&B, pop, soul, gospel and dance music scenes. One of her most iconic songs is “Greatest Love of All”, the lyrics of which I saw in a totally new light on a fateful October evening. As I drove back home late at night with my wife after an all-day outing, the song came on and for some reason, this time, unlike the usual subtle blend of musical instruments and voice, the lyrics seemed to jump out at me more than the melody. It wasn’t the usual characteristic sound one would associate with an A-rated artiste like Whitney; except it actually was, and it was my ears that were just playing tricks on me, or better put, they were decoding a hidden message that was there all along. I can only suppose that this was one of those moments when one’s mind was acutely focused on one’s most recent thoughts…and indeed that day, up to that very moment, Nigeria had been heavy on my mind.
And so, my analysis of the lyrics and subsequent drawing of parallels with Nigeria’s situation began. Permit me to modify the lyrics ever so slightly to make my point. Original lyrics have been kept in and struck through while additions are underlined in bold CAPS. Other emboldened text are sections I would like to emphasise. I shall focus on three key stanzas of the song, and leave you to enjoy the rest of it via the music video. Here we go…
I believe the [children] YOUTH are our future
Teach them well and let them lead the way
Show them all the beauty they possess inside
Give them a sense of pride to make it easier
Let [the children’s] THEIR laughter remind us how we used to be
First of all, you’ll notice that I replaced the word ‘children’ with ‘youth’. Clearly, I’m steering clear of a social media onslaught. Having swiftly jumped over that messy puddle, let turn our attention fully to the above stanza. It is a clear validation of the desires of Nigeria’s youth population today. They are indeed the future, and we all as a nation must not only believe it, we must accept it. More precisely, the government must accept it. It is a responsibility for seasoned leaders, NOT to try to maintain ‘power-for-life’, but rather to develop following generations at the appropriate time. To do otherwise is not only irresponsible, it is also a dangerous dereliction of duty that upsets a delicate balance and creates a needless gap. Today’s youth ought to be encouraged, galvanised, empowered, and ultimately unleashed. They are not lazy, should not be looked down upon as having nothing to contribute, and they certainly ought not to be underestimated. Despite the absence of a common enabling environment, they have shown, repeatedly, that they have all it takes to flourish in the most trying of circumstances. This is as true for the young vocational worker learning a trade as it is for the entrepreneurial founders of Paystack. It is true for the young commodities hawker as it is for the passionate, intelligent and well-intentioned organisers of the recent #EndSARS protests…the ‘official’ protests, not the mayhem and chaos that followed. Rather than our leaders to show the youth ‘the beauty they possess inside’, Whitney’s words have been overturned to the extent that it is the youth who have so far had to scream to get themselves even noticed. That shouldn’t be; their journey should be made easier by all of society singing in unison about the greatness of our youth, willing them on, and thereby instilling a sense of self-belief and patriotism in them. Then when our youth have come into full bloom, the ‘elders’ can sit back, enjoy the view, and watch the nation progress into its next era and an assured future in trained, tested and trusted hands. This is how it should be.
Everybody’s searching for a hero
People need someone to look up to
I never found anyone who fulfil my needs
A lonely place to be
And so I learned to depend on me
This next stanza could easily be a letter from today’s 207 million Nigerians directly to every level of our government. This is not a youth-only message; if you think about it, it’s “our” story. We’re searching for th/at(ose) heroic leader(s) for whom ‘we the people’ will be the priority. Leaders of integrity, who are great role models, who exhibit deep empathy and who stand up and relish the opportunity to serve, not to be served. Instead, Nigerians have been subjected to a cycle of disappointment as we continue in search of the elusive front runners who we desire to follow. What a lonely place for such a huge population to be; and while the coming of Nigeria’s ‘messiahs’ remains delayed, Nigerians are simply left to do what we do best – to survive – against incredible odds. As a people, Nigerians have an exceptionally resilient spirit, which I believe to be both a strength and a weakness; the former because it’ll get us out of any jam, the latter because it causes us to accept what I call ‘injustice by bad governance’, rather than confront it. We excuse it, we adapt, we settle, we compromise, but we also neither fix the problem nor start the process. However, the tide is shifting, and it isn’t so much a ‘generation’ as what I would rather call a ‘wave’ of Nigerians of all ages, faiths, genders and ethnicities, that are coming full steam ahead, no longer willing to sit by and accept the status quo.
I decided long ago
Never to walk in anyone’s shadows
If I fail, if I succeed
At least I’ll live as I believe
No matter what they take from me
They can’t take away my dignity
Rather than depend on themselves for provisions and services that ought to be provided by the state, they will build structures, design systems, and define processes that will help shape an innovative #newNIGERIA. These Nigerians will not walk in the shadow of (many of) our leaders past, but they will acknowledge and appreciate the labour of our true heroes past and present. They are willing to try, even if those that ought to guide them neglect to do so. At least they would be held in honour for lending their hands to the plough when their nation really needed them. They are the sort who would tell anyone who expects that they can be intimidated, harassed or bought out of their convictions, to perish the thought, for this is a ‘wave’ of Nigerians who will not sacrifice their dignity, integrity or vision.
So, what do we take away from all this? First of all, that Whitney Houston sang a phenomenal song – make sure you catch it (again). More relevant though, is that it is time for youth all over Nigeria to take responsibility for the change that we want to see as a nation. I believe that elections are really contested and won on porches and at front doors. The hard work of pulling off a great win is performed door to door, hut to hut, and shack to shack. If we are to change Nigeria, the vehicle of choice is and must be our politics and particularly at the grass roots. Moreover, there are many ‘movements’, whose combined efforts will be key to getting there. These include non-partisan civil society organisations such as “Enough is Enough” and the “#FixPolitics” initiative, which was publicly launched earlier today. Why support such? Because when we amalgamate the impact of all those ‘movements’, the result will be that ‘wave’ that will defy precedent.
A constitutional amendment has lowered the age of candidacy, meaning that individuals as young as 25 years old can run for office. Please read Nigeria’s 1999 amended constitution to find out more. In Nigeria’s public sector, official retirement is at age 60 or after 35 years of service. It has been 37 years since the termination of the 2nd Republic; by that logic, for example, anyone who has been involved in our politics since then, perhaps ought to have ‘retired’ from active service by now. Maybe this could be a practical guide for how we decide on candidates and for whom we choose to vote.
So, to conclude, and repeating the title of this piece, ‘for the love of country…’, to all leaders of yesterday, please heed these words and allow the natural circle of life to propagate itself, so Nigeria can benefit from fresh minds, opinions and perspectives. There comes a time when all “good” things must end, and it is ideal that power is relinquished and passed on to the next generation. There are those who would say that my appeal is pointless and perhaps even naive because it will fall on deaf ears; perhaps so. However, on the odd chance that someone is actually listening, and also especially because as Whitney sang, “the greatest love of all is easy to achieve”, is it not worth trying? For the love of country…because right about now, we all as a nation, could do with the greatest love of all happening inside of us!
~ Ayobami Akinyode OLUNLOYO is a passionate Nigerian, political enthusiast, and an accomplished and performance-driven professional with 15+ years’ experience in business operations planning and management.
Twitter: @ayobamiolunloyo Instagram: @ayobami.olunloyo