By Subomi Plumptre
My generation is becoming very political (or maybe the privileged young elite finally realised there is something deeply troubling about Nigeria.) To be fair, we’ve always participated in student unions. We’ve played our ignominious part as political thugs during elections. We’ve actively commented on political affairs in beer parlours and on social media. Some of us have even voted once or twice. But sometime between the protest against the continuing absence of a Nigerian President in 2010, and the protest against the increase in petrol price in 2012, we got REALLY active. Social media helped us along the way. Political news began to break first online – unfiltered, immediate and gritty – and then in the papers and on electronic media. Numerous political scandals added fuel to the activism fodder. Our political engagement eventually led to the loss of a sitting president and the return of a one-time military dictator. Interesting developments indeed.
Political action groups were formed during the game-changing elections of 2015. Pundits and online commentators sprung up overnight. Committees and initiatives were convened, international grants secured and youth workshops organised. Young people joined political parties and crafted youth agenda but none of them became a youth party leader. A new “job” description even emerged – Twitter Activist. Yet in spite of all these, our generation has barely caused a ripple on the political scene. We are yet to attain the generational achievements of our forebears in Nigerian political history – the men and women who led Nigeria in their 20s and 30s. We do not yet possess the political influence needed to determine our own destiny. To achieve that, we must first address two things: pride and territorialism.
Gather young people together in a room and they’ll argue about everything but the issue at hand. They’ll argue about who should lead and how things ought to be done, instead of actually getting them done. Such gatherings can be likened to a congregation of massive egos, accompanied by proclamations that this generation knows better than the older ones. There’s an unwillingness to be accountable to anyone or to acknowledge those that have gone before us. There’s a lack of respect for empirical data and a focus on puerile and unintellectual discourses. We are blinded by the assumption that he who shouts the loudest or contributes the most money should be listened to. There’s also a feeling of entitlement and expectation of financial reward.
I find all of this extremely tiring, after all, this is the generation that embraced social networking. We willingly meet and share information with new people every day. We run complex projects by email and digital dashboards. We sustain hour-long dialogues via chat. We crowdsource contributions for the less fortunate. Why is it so difficult to then translate the same principles of collaboration and openness to politics? Why is it so hard to build bridges and form alliances? Maybe because in politics, there is real money and real power at stake – the kind we’ve never seen before. The political transformation of Nigeria by my generation, will only progress and be sustained by collaboration. Without that, we will maintain the current political status quo. We must get our act together, fast.
We cannot all be political candidates. We can’t all serve at the grassroots. Some will be strategists. Others will be financiers, policy makers, technologists and so on. We all have a part to play, but until we consciously and deliberately build alliances, we won’t get very far. In any political equation, there is the King and then, there are the King’s Men. Any would-be leader needs trusted lieutenants to execute his or her vision. Even an appointed technocrat, though gifted, will require a political platform from which to operate. He or she will need political allies who negotiate necessary compromises, so that visions can become reality. A true technocrat understands that very rarely do people do things for the good of the nation. Many times, they do so because of a confluence of interests. My generation needs to combine resources, each person doing what they excel at, so the nation can thrive. Isolated bursts of activity will lead to splintered efforts and minimal results, even though as individuals we may personally profit. We must also be willing to work very hard. A hallmark of youth is energy (and passion). We need to embrace the virtue called sacrifice – a willingness to give up something for the greater good, even if it doesn’t lead to personal gratification. Showing up for or convening events is not enough. We must put our money, brain and time where our mouths are, even if we are not the centre of attention. We must join political parties, fund projects in those parties and support and endorse the right candidates. We must take up appointments when offered and do the work we all know should be done. And we must move and speak as one.
As a generation, we should scrutinise the character traits of those who put themselves forward for leadership. While we celebrate the willing, we must also insist on the qualified and competent. If individuals cannot run their businesses and homes excellently, should they be entrusted with a nation? Leadership must not be handed over to inexperienced men and women with no credibility or track record. It’s not enough to run an NGO. Have you led real men and women in huge numbers before?
Our quest for leadership should be strategic and scalable. We can use small spheres of influence as pilots, to showcase our ideas and resolve. For example, in the private sector, Andela has designed a model that can easily scale up to tackle the unemployment crisis in Nigeria. BudgIT has fine-tuned a platform for breaking down and communicating complex government data to citizens. These are models that can be deployed at national levels. The job of transforming our nation is vast in scope and the Federal Government remains the chief determinant of change. The decisions at the centre impact upon a state’s ability to attract (foreign) investment. Our states do not control critical infrastructure like ports or key resources like oil wealth and solid minerals. In addition, our constitution scarcely promotes true federalism. Notwithstanding our constitutional or structural challenges, progress is still possible.
I believe that our generation stands at the cusp of a turning point. Demographics are on our side. About 70 percent of our population is under 35 years old. We MUST become masters of our own fate. In response to our falling standards of education, we must become self-taught in governance and turn to alternative sources of information. We must not become accidental leaders devoid of mastery and knowledge. If the opportunity for leadership arises, we must have a pool of qualified men and women ready to do our generation proud. If we succeed in transforming our nation, our own dreams will also come true. We would have produced an environment that nurtures enterprise and aspiration. However, if we do nothing, no matter the heights we individually attain, we will still be looked on as, “Those good-for-nothing corrupt Nigerians”. The choice is ours.
Subomi Plumptre, a Strategy Consultant writes from Lagos.