It was over three decades ago that Nigeria’s Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, passed a damning verdict on his generation. Soyinka, one of the most renowned personalities of post-independence Nigerian elite, had written off his generation as “wasted”. In calling out his generation, Soyinka had been frustrated that the leadership that had emerged in post-independence Nigeria could not actualise the dream and vision of a country that held so much promise when the British left.
A disappointed Soyinka had observed that, “after a quarter of a century of witnessing and occasionally participating in varied aspects of social struggle in all their shifting tempi, dimensions, pragmatic and sometimes even ideologically oriented goals, I feel at this moment that I can only describe my generation as the wasted generation, frustrated by forces which are readily recognisable, which can be understood and analysed but which nevertheless have succeeded in defying whatever weapons such ‘understanding’ has been able to muster towards their defeat.”
Soyinka is right. Nigeria is a country that has never risen beyond its potential. We have always been a country of great potential. But our leaders have never harnessed those potential for greatness. Nigeria’s post- independence leaders, the generation which Soyinka referred to as “wasted” failed the nation miserably. More than half a century after independence, our country is still grappling with basic infrastructure.
It is also instructive to know that the first generation of political and military leaders of post-independence Nigeria presided over the affairs of the country in their youthful years. But things began to fall apart as they were soon consumed by ethnic politics. Regrettably, the farce of a one united Nigeria which formed the basis for independence struggle unravelled at independence.
This failure of leadership and the power play among the first generation political elite had culminated in a series of bloody events which led to the Civil War. The post-civil war years also heralded a period of oil boom which was largely wasted. If there was any hope that the first generation leaders would build a prosperous nation, the hopes were dashed in the Second Republic.
The oil wealth of the oil boom years was frittered away by politicians who behaved like drunken sailors. Under the President Shehu Shagari government, corruption and impunity were the order of the day. The economy hit a new nadir as the naira which used to be at par with the dollar took a plunge. It was in the midst of the chaos that the military struck in December 1983.
Frustrated by the impunity that had characterised the Shagari era, Soyinka made his now famous remark. But little did the literary icon know that successive military leaders who seized power from the politicians would make the situation worse. Under dictatorial military regimes, Nigeria became a pariah nation until the turn of the millennium when the country returned to democracy. But rather than for the millennium to usher in a new generation of leaders, the old order re-grouped. It is an irony that despite the cry for power shift to the younger generation, the country has always looked back to the older generation for leadership. The last attempt at generational shift ended up in disaster. So, where is the future?
My verdict on this generation cannot be far from the frustration expressed by Prof Soyinka. In my opinion, this generation seems more “wasted” considering they cannot rise above divisive politics of the “wasted” generation to give hope that Nigeria’s future belongs to its youths. It is sad that this generation seems to have imbibed from the older generation all the traits that have held our country down.
Painfully, I do not see a future for the country even if power is handed over to this generation. Indeed, the cry for a power shift to the new generation is misplaced in my own view. Today’s youths seem contented to queue behind old generation politicians as cheerleaders. Rather than mobilise to form a movement, Nigerian youths are being used as enforcers of the old order.
On social media, the educated ones have become internet trolls recruited to spread hate. During the last elections, our youths played a huge role in the toxic manner the campaigns played out. This generation is also not immune to the corrupt tendencies of the older generation. Rather than raise a voice against corruption and impunity, they are contented to feed off the crumbs from the same politicians who have been plundering the country since independence.
One feels saddened that this generation of Nigerians cannot rise above the fault lines that have divided the country. Nigeria is a country divided along so many fault lines. Over the years, these fault lines have been the source of ethnic and religious crises. Unfortunately, as seen recently, both in the 2015 elections and other political crises, this generation has become part of a vicious cycle of violence brought about by the fault lines. Today, our youths are used to cause death and destruction as ethnic warriors and hate peddlers.
Some years ago, despotic former military ruler, Ibrahim Babangida, was criticised for saying this generation was not ready for leadership. Looking back now, one can say Babangida was on point. There are many factors stacked against this generation. First is the loss of moral values and failure to imbibe the virtues of hard work, respect and responsibility. Nigeria is a country of quick fixes and the youth are a sad reflection of this malaise.
The few who believe in hard work do not get their due in an environment dominated by charlatans. With the loss of values that was once sacred and guided interaction among the people, the country has become an enclave of anything goes. No wonder the youths have no role models and nothing to hope for. Really, where are the role models? Who do the youths of today look up to? When a country is bereft of leaders and mentors, what future does that country have? Individualism has come to define this generation and that is why the older generation has found it easy to divide them at crucial moments in history. It is easy for politicians to play the ethnic and religious cards than to appeal to our sense of patriotism. Unfortunately, our youths often fall to their gimmicks. Our educational system has also contributed to the failure to raise patriotic future leaders. Since the 1980s, public education has suffered a gradual but steady decline. At this period, the country witnessed a massive brain drain that led to the depletion of human resources at the nation’s tertiary institutions.
At the primary and secondary school levels, teachers were owed backlogs of salaries and the school system collapsed due to neglect. Expectedly, the products from the schools were half-baked. How then do we expect a new generation of leaders to emerge from a broken public school system? Now the situation has become worse. Indeed, our country is in dire straits and we can only hope that our youths will learn from the failures of the older generation and get their acts together. The future is now.