By Godwin Onyeacholem
On August 8, 2012, the second International Youth Day (IYD) lecture, an annual event organised by the African Centre for Media and Information Literacy, AFRICMIL, held in Abuja, amid a telling spectacle of displeasure from a generation of young minds who see their lives being shamelessly turned upside down by an enduring chain of Nigeria's reprobate leadership.
AFRICMIL, a youth-focused, irrepressible civil society organisation imbued with a strong sense of duty and sufficiently bothered by the noxious social order created by the country's malevolent yet impenitent (mis)rulers, appropriately stoked the fire by going for one of the many themes suited to these times: Nigerian youth and the challenges of Nation-Building. Of course since virtually every action of government in decades has exposed a fundamental confusion and tragic lack of ideas in terms of how to turn a secular, multi-ethnic nation with so much promise into an enviable democratic polity, it is only reasonable to expect that such a wretched country, foisted with perverse minders inaccurately described as leaders, would need immediate help.
And one of the ways to go, as AFRICMIL seems to have thoughtfully considered, is the urgent task of re-building. And where else to begin, if not from seeking the perspectives of constituents of a faction of the populace disingenuously labelled "leaders of tomorrow?" As expected, a thrilling array of creatively persuasive speakers, including Dr. Sam Amadi, executive chairman of Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC); Ifueko Omoigui-Okauru, ex-chair of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), now obviously making good in the private sector given her catching belief in the turn-around of an economy hobbled by lack of productivity, and Jonas Agwu, image-maker of the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC), were on hand to spread the gospel of hope to a youth utterly deflated, dispirited, disillusioned and disappointed by a successive gang of lootocrats who have had nothing to show other than unparalleled banditry.
The Ministry of Youth Development which ought to have registered a strong presence as the Minister himself, Inuwa Abdul-Kadir, was billed as special guest at that event was, not surprisingly, very conspicuous by its obvious absence. Not surprising, because no idea, regardless of its benefits to the country, merits the attention of any government agency if it's not the originator. Typical of their insufferable behaviour, not even a representative from that government office, the ultimate policy organ and real custodian of youth affairs in the country came anywhere near the venue.
Never mind that the day before, officials of AFRICMIL had sat down in the office of one of the henchmen in that Ministry, a Director for that matter, who praised the initiative to high heavens and promised that his office would take active part in the lecture. Unknown to the organisation, his host was selling a dummy. And as this piece was being processed, no reason for failing to honour the promise and no apology whatsoever had been received from that office. What a way to promote the interest of the youth!
The attitude of government officials in Nigeria is well-known to those who have been unlucky enough to cross their paths. There are scant positive stories about them in terms of service delivery. During the inglorious civilian administration of Olusegun Obasanjo, an office temptingly tagged SERVICOM, a sort of warehouse with a mandate to address public complaints of poor services by government offices, was created. As of today every agency of government still runs the office, but there has been no noticeable improvement in the way the Ministries and parastatals do their work. There are complaints aplenty of horrendous service, if any is rendered at all, in the civil service. Part of it was what AFRICMIL experienced in the build-up to the youth day lecture.
Indeed, despite the prevailing mantra of transformation, all Nigerians could see is inertia. No clear-cut movement towards change. To this end, there can be no question, therefore, that the overstuffed and antiquated civil service feeds the crisis of under-development in Nigeria. And to be fair, to an overly battered youth, there is no use wasting resources in sustaining a Ministry of Youth Development that is virtually asleep all-year round and would not even be roused by the extraordinary work of an organisation whose effort was largely complementary and flattering rather than critical. Since its relevance is inevitably insupportable, it is hereby recommended that the Ministry should be scrapped without any further delay.
To begin to recount the legendary levity with which officials of state, be it career personnel, elected or appointed official, treat issues they ought to take very seriously would be sheer waste of time. If the Minister of Youth Development neither showed up nor sent a representative, the Director-General of National Orientation Agency (NOA), Mike Omeri, proved a shade better. At least, he sent a representative who, as they are wont to do, prefaced his boss' remark with a tenuous apologia delivered in the usual tortured cliché that is very common among government officials who appear at occasions as representatives of their bosses. The big man or madam who is the real invitee is forever "unavoidably absent."
But the presence of the NOA boss himself would have made a world of difference given that the event was about the youth, which are the pivot for any successful value re-orientation in the crusade for a better Nigeria. As he is not in the league of officials with whom President Goodluck Jonathan meets every Wednesday morning, it would be interesting to hear from Mr. Mike Omeri that more compelling engagement that prevented him from attending that event at which he would have told the youth the kind of re-orientation they should be expecting, that new process of moral re-adjustment he hopes to impose which would ultimately reverse the pernicious system midwifed by his irredeemable benefactors. The youth are not likely to forgive him for the missed opportunity.
As for Jude Imagwe, Special Adviser to the President on Youth Affairs, the event meant little considering the way he carried himself with a swagger, the Awo-like cap sitting jauntily on his head as he thrust shoulders forward with every step. Coming in many hours late, a retinue of hangers-on filing behind him, Mr. Imagwe advertised no sense of purpose other than the virulent condescension that is common among young men and women who find themselves in government in any capacity. He barely was seated for ten minutes before insisting he must speak as another engagement was waiting. He promptly seized the microphone, courteous enough to apologize for his lateness, then offered nothing new other than the usual platitude. In another five minutes he was done. And like Van McCoy, he stepped off the podium and disappeared through the door, his groupies rushing to catch up with him.
All of this, the youth in the hall which included members of the National Youth Service Corps, civil society, and faith-based organisations witnessed and never seem impressed. By the time they began to speak, the anger came in torrents. The fury was unequivocal. They directed their barbs at the so-called leaders, hitting very hard at a systemic lapse in governance that has bred injustice, corruption, impunity, insecurity and socio-pathological crimes nibbling furiously at the soul of the nation. One NASFAT youth was to suggest to his peers that the best way to go is for the Nigerian youth to take their destiny in their own hands and forget about pinning hopes on a class of selfish leaders who show no serious sign of salvaging the nation. For now, the exhortation seems to be not to explore the Tunisian or Egyptian example but "but to see what we can do for ourselves." It will be interesting to see how that can be achieved in a forbidding environment like Nigeria.
Yet there is reason to keep hoping for an improvement, if for nothing but for the immense vibrancy of the youth. The scholarly intercession of Dr. Amadi highlighted this feature; Ifueko's moderated, distinctive anecdotes accentuated the promise, while Jonas Agwu's fetching interpolation, executed with stylish aplomb, summarises a great future nurtured in optimism. Thank you, AFRICMIL, as we await IYD in 2013.
Godwin Onyeacholem is a journalist based in Abuja.