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Nigerians Must Wake Up in 2023

As 2022 made its way into history last weekend, like all the years before it, I was overwhelmed with gratitude to the Almighty for his goodness towards me. That was at a personal, private level. But something else bothered me: the drift of the country and what could well be its irreversible destination. And as if setting agenda for 2023, two foremost Nigerian elders stepped into the arena with their bombshells.

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo, famous for his letter writing, penned yet another one titled, “My Appeal to All Nigerians, Particularly Young Nigerians.” It was mainly to blame the current national travails squarely on the government of President Muhammadu Buhari, hand the country’s redemptive chance to youths as a crucial challenge to their own era, and endorse Mr Peter Obi, presidential standard bearer of the Labour Party (LP) in next month’s general elections.

In about 24 hours, Chief Edwin Clark, Leader of Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), also announced his backing for Obi. Since then, Obasanjo’s intervention (some would prefer interference), in particular, has elicited strong criticisms. My take is that the propriety of his choice and fidelity of his views – both within his rights – will be tested in due course, making the vicious castigation of the retired general for his positions most unnecessary.

No matter the opposition to Obasanjo’s submissions or the assessment of his person, I have been ruminating on a part of that appeal since. Hear him: “If we fall prey again, we will have ourselves to blame and no one can say how many more knocks Nigeria can take before it tips over. To be forewarned is to be forearmed. Future is not emotion. I challenge the youth to arise. Let nobody pull wool over your eyes to divide you and/or segregate you to make you underlings. Nigerian youth, wherever they come from North or South, East or West need education which is now denied to over 20 million children; Nigerian youth also need skills, empowerment, employment, reasonably good living conditions, welfare and well-being.

“My dear young men and women, you must come together and bring about a truly meaningful change in your lives. If you fail, you have no one else to blame. Your present and future are in your hands to make or to mar. The future of Nigeria is in the same manner in your hands and literally so. If for any reason you fail to redeem yourself and your country, you will have lost the opportunity for good and you will have no one to blame but yourselves and posterity will not forgive you. Get up, get together, get going and get us to where we should be. And you, the youth, it is your time and your turn. ‘Eyin Lokan’ (your turn).

“The power to change is in your hands. Your future, my future, the future of grandchildren and great grandchildren is in your hands. Politics and elections are numbers game. You have the numbers, get up, stand up and make your numbers count,” put pungently, characteristically. One of the reasons enemies of the former head of state attack him for voicing out what many watchers of the nation have been saying at various fora is that, having presided over Nigeria for 11 years on military and democratic platforms and left the stage with baggage of his own, he lacks the moral authority to play the role of opinion leader in this regard.

Some of those who detest his tactics and what they call his grandstanding even argue that he ought to hide his head in ignominy, if for nothing else, for having a visible hand in the emergence of all his successors in office since 2007, including Buhari.

The objections notwithstanding, it is apparent that all is not well with Nigeria at the moment. I will keep arguing that if indeed this government hasn’t met the expectations of majority of the people and the standard of living here is in a free-fall, the foundations for the collapse were laid way back and conveniently, shamelessly and routinely explained away by successive administrations. Blaming previous governments has been elevated to an art, to the pain and disadvantage of the populace. All that must stop if we’re to assume our rightful slot in the comity of truly civilised and progressive countries.

Sadly, it’s not hard to discern that many Nigerians have since resigned to fate. The lukewarm posture of the people can be attributed to restraining factors, many of which have latched unto them for long. They have watched helplessly the hopes that came with the return of democracy in 1999 drain away as set after set of politicians and political office holders do little to sustain their faith in the system. This otherwise ideal form of government is perceived, as practiced in Nigeria and other unfortunate realms, as an enterprise in which unscrupulous business men and women invest and exploit to the detriment and shock of the generality of citizens.

Apathy in the electoral processes speaks volume. The notion that votes have hardly ever counted may not vanish overnight. Assurances by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) about the credibility of the forthcoming polls may also not have registered in most minds. The February and March elections present opportunities to carry out a primary civic responsibility, gladly. We must be self-motivated even if the nudge doesn’t come from expected quarters.

Nigeria is in dire need of quality leadership at every level of government. Wishes, aspirations and protests alone won’t get this onerous job done. Only decisive steps like going to the polling venues on the designated dates and actually casting votes for one’s preferred candidates could fill the void that ought to be in the psyche of every voter.

If the current state of affairs in our land does not offer enough motivation for deliberate and active action next month, what else will? I doubt if there is any Nigerian who is not affected directly or remotely by the crippling forces of hyper-inflation, mass underemployment and unemployment, traumatised critical sectors, hydra-headed insecurity and dwindling standards of living. Thinking of getting used to them is tantamount to attempting to live with a nagging headache. It just can’t work. The rational thing to do is to search for remedies, enduring ones, that is.

Calls on young Nigerians to own the fight to re-engineer the country is hinged on the fact that apart from possessing the requisite vigour, the future also clearly belongs to them more. As things stand, the four frontrunners for president, namely Obi, Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso of the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP), Wazirin Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress (APC), are all above 60 years old, technically excluding them from the youth bracket. Unless the very unexpected happens, one of them will enter Aso Villa in May. Nothing to worry about, really. Experience has shown that age is never a singular determinant of leadership qualities like strength, vision, competence, integrity, insight and wisdom.

What is required at this point is to get rid of divisive tendencies and the religious and ethnic fault-lines that undermine our ability to take hard decisions to save our beloved nation from tumbling down the cliff. The change triggers we need are already with us in abundance, thankfully, in the form of the teeming younger generation. A lot can be achieved in electing capable leaders and charting a totally new path for us if they, together with the rest compatriots, cross the barriers that have hindered the country’s growth for too long.

Dr Ekpe is a member of THISDAY Editorial Board

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