By Ayodele Eagles Ibiyemi
Credit must be given to leading literary critic, Biodun Jeyifo for the sense which the words fortunate and unfortunate are used in this essay. In a keynote address at the ’20 years after the Nobel Prize Conference in 2006, he spoke about the ‘Unfortunate Children of Fortunate Parents’. For the sake of those who might be confused, I will define the terms. The Microsoft Encarta Dictionary defines fortunate simply as ‘enjoying good luck’. It is only normal that the negating prefix makes unfortunate the opposite of fortunate but the dictionary explains it further as ‘poor person: somebody who has bad luck or inadequate resources.’
This explanation summarizes the situation of the current Nigerian Youth, the millennial. Unfortunately (again), I cannot include the little millennium babies in the unfortunate gap because their situation is still undefinable. Modernity has an inordinate penchant for taxonomy and I have always found it sometimes unnecessary. The blurring of these ages and the many facets of human lives makes it almost impossible to really define generations in any strict term.
Moreover, many of these terms thrown around are simply not applicable to the African situation. Did Nigerians make more babies after the World War? You cannot equate the experiences of people under the shackles of colonialism with that of their oppressors. In Nigeria, there is really no single generational taxonomy and there are too many subcultures to grapple with. The pre-colonial generations are ignored of course and the colonial subjects are often revered as the model; the good men who gave us independence. The early post-colonial generation are the lucky ones, they were literally raised on hope.
Despite the fact that Nigeria started crashing from the first decade of existence, the people still believed in a better tomorrow. Water was running, electricity was not that bad, students got scholarships, graduates had automatic employment and then the huge oil boom. Compared to today, that is utopia. I am an avid reader of life writing; memoirs, auto/biographies, letters and historical proceedings. I observed that the young Nigerians who were educated between the 60s and early 80s had access to scholarships. These were Nigerians who did not need to apply for Visa before going to the United Kingdom. The new elite who were weaned on hope and the optimism of a new nation.
Many of these Nigerians, after their studies abroad came back to contribute their quota to the new nation. It is rather ironic that these same set of people who lived in countries with strong institutions came back to Nigeria to begin the process of wreaking havoc on our own institutions. They who saw things work outside ensured that things do not work here. Little by little, one by one, everything of value gave way and by the early 1980s, Nigeria was pronounced a failed state. The narrative everywhere was that Nigeria had to kill corruption to survive. The Buhari-Idiagbon administration came and declared a war against corruption and indiscipline, even the literary texts produced in this period reflected this grim reality. The Babangida administration, after seizing power from Buhari became even worse than the civilian administration of Shagari. The controversial Structural Adjustment Policy introduced hardship into Nigeria, Abacha only had to consolidate the suffering.
By the time my mother became pregnant with me in the early 1990s, she loved me too much to birth me in the hands of the government doctors who were always on strike. Corruption took a new dimension and human rights abuses followed under the soldiers. In the course of my undergraduate career in one of the best schools in Nigeria, I had to join my colleagues to protest what we judged as an undue increment in fees twice. The soldiers had gone but they did not take the culture of protest with them. The Lecturers’ Union went on strike twice before I graduated, one lasted for six months. During one of the fee hike protests, the Vice Chancellor told us he had been in the system since 1974 and I was dumbfounded. Dumbfounded because he was one of the students who had access to good food in the hostel cafeterias, one of the fortunate ones who had their bedspreads washed so they could give their all to books. The fortunate ones who protested when the size of the chicken served by the school was reduced, the fortunate ones who had automatic jobs after school. The same fortunate ones who made the coming generations unfortunate.
When adults blame millennials and talk about how we are a generation of sleazy young people who have ruined Nigeria, we should be quick to remind them that they raised us. They were raised on hope but we were raised on hopelessness. They are the ones who only had to explain to their white colleagues that Africa is not a country while we have to do more explanation about our trips at the sight of our green passports. We really did not know any other way but the corrupt way. The very few ones among us who stand with the truth are outliers. It is easy for adults to stand on a well-polished dais of corruption and talk about how corrupt the children are. The same set of teenagers who made teen pregnancy look normal King Sunny Ade and Onyeka Onwenu had to sing about it now criticize our generation for dating online. Perhaps they are simply jealous they had no social media to for their sordid encounters. When they also criticize our generation for being too dogmatic about religion and the proliferation of religious cults, they should know that we really have no other choice. An average Nigerian youth, without the proper connections has no hope for a better future. Nigeria cannot be believed in so young people have to believe in something, for sanity.
The only government I know is a government of corruption, the only economic style I know is the rent seeking type. In fact, my generation has the longest republic in history. I only know NITEL and Niogeria Airways as institutions that used to exist. We are a generation of Nigerians who make lemonade out of lemon. We are a generation with too much competition, we are a generation of Nigerians who generate their own electricity, source their own water and build their own drainages. We are a generation that inherited national debts. I am really not sad that Nigeria is this way, I only discourage apathy. As bad as our country is, they still have chosen not to hand the reins to us. Young Nigerians have to join political parties and participate actively in governance. We were raised on corruption, we are only struggling not to make our own children unfortunate.