Making Constructive Trouble: The Role of the Nigerian Youth in Ensuring Their Self-Development By Olu Onemola
(Address for International Youth Day (Wednesday, August 12, 2015) delivered by Olu Onemola at the National Youth Summit, organized by the National Youth Assembly of Nigeria (NYAN), Jabi, Abuja).
Before I begin, I would like to recognize the organizers of this event, the National Youth Assembly of Nigeria (NYAN) for bringing us all together, on a day like this.
Youth Leadership Summits like this one have become necessary, as we navigate our role in this new political dispensation.
Alvin Toffler, one of the foremost futuristic thinkers of our time, once said that the secret message that is being communicated to most young people today by the society around them is that they are not needed. And that the society will run itself quite nicely until they – at some distant point in the future – will take over the reigns of authority.
Yet the fact remains, Toffler says, that our society is not running itself nicely. It is for this reason, ladie and gentlemen, that today, more than ever, every society – Nigeria included –needs all the energy, brains, imagination and talent that young people can bring to bear down on many our difficulties.
You see, for the Nigerian society to think it can solve its desperate problems without the full participation of its young people is imbecile. This is because time and again, Nigerian youth have proven to have this uncommon imagination, and creative energy to bring about change.
However, what we have experienced in Nigeria, is a situation where the older generation of Nigerians have sat back and watched the issue of youth unemployment skyrocket to astronomical figures. This is unacceptable.
For a country as blessed as ours –with 170 million people – to have raised a generation where 51.1% of our population – or 90million people – as at last year, cannot read or write, is beyond my simple comprehension.
Now, contrary to what many of you might believe; today, being International Youth Day – a day set aside to push for the engagement and the participation of youth; I am not here to lay the blame of the Nigerian societies’ lack of involvement in the development of its young people at the feet of the Nigerian society.
On the contrary, today, I am here to lay out a challenge, to every youth and young person seated in this hall. This challenge is also to every young man and woman who has ever felt that their current predicament is not their final position, and to all of you, who are here today, who came to this National Youth Summit wondering: “What does this new political dispensation have in store for me, as a young person?”
This challenge is simple, and it is based on three simple truths:
One: If you do not ask, you will not receive;
Two: If you do not take part, you cannot take charge, and;
Three: nobody – nobody at all – myself included, will ever give you anything that you did not deserve.
One: “Ask and You Shall Receive.”
This is one of the most famous lines from the Christian Bible. Matthew 7:7 teaches us that when we ask, we shall receive; when we seek, we shall find, and; when we knock, the doors shall be opened.
What does this mean to us as young people? This means that yes, based on the theme of today’s event: “The President’s Development Agenda, and the Nigerian Youth: The Way Forward” that we have come here to find answers on how to move the young people of this nation forward, collectively.
However, based on my challenge of a few minutes ago, we should not expect this or any administration to completely solve all our problems for us. We need to begin to look beyond those in positions of authority telling us what they can do for us.
By our votes, we put our leaders in in power; hence, we need to start collectively telling them what we demand of them. This, ladies and gentlemen, is “The What.”
Two: “If you do not take part, you cannot take charge.”
One of my friends, the ever-eloquent Barrister Ismaeel Ahmed of the APC, coined this phrase: “Take part, to take charge.” This simple provocation sums up how today, if you look closely, at the various state-wide administrations that are being formed, and in the Federal Government, young Nigerians like you and I, are being chosen and considered for defining roles.
For example, if you take a close look at the media team recently appointed by the President; the young team that surrounds the Vice-President, and; the online engagement team of the Senate President, we will notice that these offices are comprised of a majority of people our age.
What this implies is that the older generation is starting to realize that you cannot cage the vibrancy of youth.
What is also means is that now that the older guys have woken up – and realized what we as young people are capable of, it is our turn to look inwards, and force ourselves to realize that together, we can change anything. However we cannot do this if we do not get up off our backsides and living room couches, and take the crucial first step of walking through the door…
My Father, one of my mentors, always tells me: “Olu, it is one thing to be on the dining table when the food has been served; however, it is another thing entirely to be in the kitchen, when the food is being prepared.”
We, the young people of Nigeria, must now insist on being in the kitchen when the food is being prepared. We can no longer demand to only seat at the table.
We must be a part of the process, in order to take charge of the system.
We must first learn the ropes, before we can attempt to change the rules.
We have to be first seen, if we want to be later recognized. As it has been said that 80 percent of success is showing up, if we work to make sure that we are present in the rooms and corridors of power where the decisions made – we will never be forgotten. This, ladies and gentlemen, is “The How.”
Three: We get what we deserve, and nothing more.
The late-great civil rights activist, Malcolm X, might have been a little extreme in his methods, however, he had the absolute right of it when he said: “Nobody, can give you freedom. Nobody, can give you equality, or Justice, or anything. If you’re a man, you take it.” You get what you deserve. Survival of the fittest.
You see, while we are busy and out there following step one and two: “Asking to Receive,” and “Taking Part to Take Charge,” we need to be careful not to deceive ourselves into believing that a simple question posed to the right person in power will solve our problems.
We need to not delude ourselves into thinking that taking part to take charge, or being present physically, will be enough to cut a lasting dent in the issues that affect us all.
We get what we deserve, hence, if we are docile, we can expect to always be forgotten.
If we are always in the simpleminded habit of receiving the scraps thrown down by those in authority – thinking that those scraps mean that we have been handed: “the ‘Change’ we need,” we can expect to always receive scraps for our efforts.
Today, as all around the world, youth like you and I, push for our collective inclusion and space in the political, economic, and social spheres of engagement, we must remember this one simple lesson:
While we are asking to receive; while we are seeking better opportunities and hoping to find them; while we are knocking on doors, and knocking DOWN doors, and throwing them open, so that we can take part, to ultimately take charge: we must always remember to make some constructive trouble.
Because the only way that we can truly re-negotiate the terms of Nigeria’s engagement with its young people, is by making those in power realize:
That the youth of Nigeria are not tools.
The youth of Nigeria are not tickets.
The youth of Nigeria are not a means to an end.
The youth of Nigeria are not simple potential voters when election time comes around.
Starting today, let us (again, I emphasize on this word) ‘collectively’ send out a new message.
Let us make our leaders realize that the youth of Nigeria are organized.
That the youth of Nigeria will no longer wait to be: “Leaders of tomorrow” – let us show them that we too are authorities of today.
Additionally, between ourselves, let us stop with the bickering, the partisanship, the ethnic rivalries, the violence, and all the other needless stupidity that is often used to separate us.
Let us forge ahead as one – with today as a crucial marking point, knowing that we hold our development in our own hands, and we have our own answers at our own finger-tips.
If we simply work together constructively, in a manner that is beneficial to the least of us, the society at large will begin to take us seriously.
The ball is in our court. How will we respond?
-Olu Onemola is the Public Relations Officer of the All Progressives Congress Youth Forum (APYF). The views represented here are his own. He tweets @Olu1ne.-