By Ken Uguke
Change, as the saying goes, is the only constant. In eighteen (18) months, I will reach the age which goes with the popular saying that a fool at 40 is a fool for life. As a teen, I thought 40 was a million miles away, but here’s the reality: my circle of influence and acquaintances are all between the ages of 35 and 42.
The bottom line is that I have lived in this country, my father’s land, my entire life and have not witnessed the recent political dynamics. I will never forget that as a social science and art student in high school, I took government and history as subjects in my senior secondary. Half of the names mentioned and those I read in my books have been prominent figures in Nigerian politics for a while. Fast forward to my graduating from the university, serving in the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), and entering the corporate world to establish a career; those names continue to drive national affairs. It then gives me worries about the popular theory that ‘Tomorrow’s leaders are the youth.’ Which tomorrow? One is forced to ask.
While my generation grew older with each passing year, Nigeria’s political fathers appeared to grow stronger and claimed to be ageless. When Nigeria reverted to democracy in 1999, I recall vividly overhearing someone being hailed with the phrase “youth leader” while walking with my father. I turned to see the person known as the youth leader, who was older than my father, who was in his late forties at the time. This man was appointed as the youth leader of our political ward by the ruling political party at the time. I made a joke about it with my father, and it became a daily ritual when we cracked jokes in our house.
This has been the order of affairs as far as politics is concerned in Nigeria. The elders have not thought or felt there is a need to groom or mentor the growing generations behind them. Neither have they thought that they should recede and watch them drive the politics while they give useful guidance and counsel.
In all these acts of suppression, as they can be perceived, it is important to know that when the time of birth comes for an ideology or movement, nothing stops it, no matter the forces. It may only take a while, just like the smoke from a fire that cannot be tamed for too long.
2020 was the year that all the fuming anger in the lives of the youth (my generation) reached its brim and busted like an ocean that overflowed its banks. This ranged from the disappointment expressed during the COVID-19 lockdown when palliatives donated as goodwill to ameliorate the sufferings of Nigerians were piled in unknown warehouses across the country and manned by government agencies, institutions, or political office holders. To date, I have not run into anyone or know a family member that got those palliatives.
A little after that era, when stability was being restored as people moved on with the partial lifting of the lockdown, the mother of all protests, tagged #EndSARS in modern-day Nigeria, erupted. It was fuelled by incessant and increased police brutality against young Nigerians. It was a positive cause to restore the faith and hope of the average Nigerian. While the protest persisted without giving up, the government authorities kept mute and provided no response to the yearnings of those they took an oath to govern. Soon, things snowballed and the protest was hijacked by a sect that thought only of what they get today, thereby undermining the long future ahead of them.
The hijack resulted in a lotof casualties, including the loss of youth (human) lives and the destruction of state-owned and private facilities. This story and its aftermath are common knowledge. It took time for the youths to recover from their ordeal, but the fallen soldiers were undoubtedly the price paid to champion a single course of restoring my generation’s hope.
As the clock ticked daily, the concerned Nigerians (youths) painstakingly longed in their hearts for a messiah who is not necessarily a saint but who understands and feels their pain and agony as an ordinary man in the trenches.
While that journey to a new Nigeria started, all eyes looked into the near future to usher in the election year 2023. Ahead of the election year, candidates lined up for the primary elections of their parties to clinch the ticket to the apex seat of the president of Nigeria. Painfully, the ’gods’ or ‘living ancestors’ still did not give a chance for the younger (mid-old) politicians to pick up the party tickets especially from the two leading political parties. This act infuriated my generation, and in boldness, a tweet was addressed to the ‘hope’ of the youths after he lost the ticket of the major opposition party.
Days after the primaries, the proposed hope of the youth resigned from his political party, and in another week or so, he declared to run for president under a minority political party. This was where the dynamics changed. This birthed the people’s army, the army of hope for the nation.
Pre-election in Nigeria is associated with politicians pretending to be people-oriented by jumping on acts of going to the trenches to eat and dine with poor people. They do this shamelessly, even parting with mint (new naira notes), taking advantage of the people’s lack to entice them with their immediate needs. Soon, the people accept these items not because they satisfy their needs or meet their expectations, but because they want to live for the moment, bearing in mind that tomorrow will sort itself out.
When the people’s choice surfaced and began to speak up at public forums, dripping statistics and speaking on the way up to restoring a lost country, conventional politics made fun of the people and their choice. They laughed like the biblical account of Sambalat and Tobiah, who laughed at Nehemiah when he was rebuilding the walls of the temple that lay in ruins in Jerusalem (Nehemiah 4:1–23). They referred to my entire generation as ‘four people tweeting from a room.’ Oh, what an effrontery.
Daily, the tempo increased, people screamed aloud, and jumped on the most used hashtag in the history of modern Nigeria. This became a song on the lips of both old and young; rich and poor; at home and abroad. The movement was not ethnocentric, nor was it religious-centric. It was a call for the actual change from the abnormal that has become the normal. It was the power of the people to truly take their destiny into their hands.
This movement coursed through the nooks and crannies of the country and across territorial boundaries like a tsunami that even transformed into a wildfire. As the elections came, against their disbelief and overconfidence, we turned out in large numbers. For the first time in my 39 years, I walked three (3) kilometres, amounting to 4,224 steps, to my Poling Unit (PU). I felt the joy of going to make my vote count for my choice because I had longed to see the old generation take the back seat while we steer the ship and make our mistakes. Under the sun and in the rain, at different PUs across the country, we stood and voted. This is what we did because of the assurance of the Bimodal Voters Accreditation System (BVAS) commissioned to drive the voting process and instant upload of results. This was a game changer, we thought, and we went all out to make it happen.
Just like it happened during the #EndSARS protest of October 2020, when the good cause was hijacked, our passion and sacrifice were hijacked even at the most technical and highest-level right before our eyes. For days, my heart and that of many Nigerians fainted as we wrestled in our thoughts how our effort was washed into the drains. The outcome of the February elections, we consider as the first leg of a champion’s league knock-out stage game. Of course, the second leg will come, and we would be more resilient because it is no longer a one man’s show. It is now about Nigerians and not a “sect”.
This is not going to be the end of us. A tsunami does not wane in the blink of an eye. It roars, and its effects are felt even in the innermost layers of the earth crust. This is the courage that we have. We are not giving up the hope of a better Nigeria that we will bequeath to our growing and unborn children. It is not the time to quit because we are getting close to the end of the tunnel. This is the time to be further resilient and demonstrate love for the fatherland; it is a time to stand strong in the spirit of one nation so that we all can indeed enjoy the hay days our fathers enjoyed in the 1960s and 1970s.
– ‘Ken Uguke is a public affairs analyst in Benin City.