Few years ago, someone told me that Nigerian youths suffer as if they had been cursed! It was not difficult to understand why she had said it at the time; she had millennial children, brilliant young adults who had graduated from the university with no jobs!

In recent times, our young people literally relocated their homes to the streets protesting police brutality and calling for an end to the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (“SARS”). The President eventually announced the disbandment of the Unit, yet our young people remained on the streets, why is this one may ask? The youths do not trust the Government, as several efforts and pronouncements in the past by the Government on this issue did not result in any real change. This time the youths insist that reforms must be reforms and not mere rhetoric!

Sentiments online clearly indicates that young people were not just clamoring for police reforms, but were protesting against a failed system, poor governance and systemic oppression! The reality is that the challenges with the Nigerian Police Force are indicative of a larger problem of corruption and failed leadership in the country!

Ask the average Nigerian youth, learned and unlearned, educated, uneducated, the dream of almost every young Nigerian is to leave the country! Why should leaving our fatherland be the “Nigerian dream”? What state of helplessness would make youths give up so easily on their country, travel through desert, and in some cases literarily sell themselves to slavery?

Before the peaceful protest was hijacked by arsonists, looters, rioters and anarchists that resulted in an unprecedented loss of lives and properties, the un-led protesters demonstrated incredible leadership attributes and impeccable organizational skills.

They insisted that they had neither a leader nor spokesperson yet they raised funds, provided food, healthcare, legal aid, logistics and even, wait for it, therapy! Yes, therapy was provided for people who may have relapsed into a depressed mental state because of the crises! Our youths were un-be-live-able! We should be proud.

I had a sobering conversation with a Generation Z protester few days before the devastating and psychologically debilitating incident that happened at the Lekki-Toll Gate. Generation Z represents the demography that were born between the year 1997 and the year 2012, these young adults and millennials (people born within the year 1981 and 1996), were the major drivers of the protest.

The young gentleman lamented that the country was in the state it was because the older generation had been silent in the face of injustice and corruption. He argued that if they had spoken out, perhaps the country would have been in a better state.

I explained that it was not exactly true! The older generation did not stay silent nor were they indifferent to injustice or oppression, they responded in a manner anyone in a precarious situation would. Fight or flight! There was a lot of fight but a lot more flight.

They fought! The ken saro-wiwa’s and the Ogoni Eight, the Gani Fawehinmi’s, the Dele Giwas, the Alfred Rewanes, the Abiola’s the legendary Fela Anikulapo-kuti and many other writers, journalists and activists too numerous to mention. Sadly, even some of the current crop of politicians and public office holders were part of the movement that fought and pushed for our democracy.

Our imperfect and seemingly fragile democracy was hard fought and hard won, we should never forget that. M.KO ABIOLA and Kudirat

Many of them paid the ultimate price in the most gruesome manner for daring to speak their truth at a time when the very act of speaking up itself was deemed treacherous!

In those days, journalism was activism, and to exist in the media space was patently dangerous! They may not have had the platform, exposure and amplification that social media provides for the youth these days, but they fought!

This imperfect, and seemingly fragile democracy was hard fought and hard won in much more perilous times, in the absence of social media and free speech. We should never forget that!

The brilliant Dele Giwa, founder of Newswatch magazine.

However, a lot of them also left the country, in a quest for a better life for themselves and their families. Majority of those who emigrated were extremely brilliant, highly gifted and some of the best hands in the country, a trend we are currently witnessing amongst our youths today.

So where did the older generation get it wrong? The answer is simple, they failed to actively get involved in politics and governance. The rich, educated and middle class were politically aloof and focused mainly on activities that benefited them and their families. The poor on the other hand were constantly manipulated by the political class during election period with inducements.

Besides civil servants who were technocrats and later appointed to public offices, there was a perception that politics was a “dirty game” for only “certain people”. It was a very wrong and costly mistake.

The result of this political and governance apathy is what we are reaping today in society. People with poor leadership skills and no public interest held leadership position at all levels of government across the nation for years! Admittedly, we have since witnessed a slow but steady shift from this mindset, yet this shift has not been enough to make a positive impact in the society.

The Legendary Fawehinmi

If we are truly serious about reforming Nigeria, then politics and governance must be taken very seriously!

There is very little that can be achieved without the vast resources and powers of the State.

Think about this very carefully, many years ago one of the major banks in the country decided to construct the major road that led to its head office, they did a fantastic job, but how many roads can a bank construct? How many schools can an NGO build? How many hospitals can a religious organization refurbish?

The powers and resources to make changes on a scale that transforms a Nation from a developing country to a developed country rest squarely on the shoulders of good governance enabled by effective systems.

The impact of poor leadership in public service is huge; the impact of successive poor leadership in public service is devastating and generational! Similarly, the impact of good leadership across all levels of government will be transformational.

Nigeria can be great but we must take governance seriously

So what should we do? There is a lot of work to be done, but first, we must metamorphose from a pressure group into a political power house that will have the ability to influence and affect electoral outcome.

Nigerian youths must become the bride that every politician must “court” if they are to win an election in this country!

We must push for electoral reforms, reforms that will make our electoral process one of the the freest and the fairest in the world! Our voices will be loudest when our votes count.

Most importantly, we must not neglect the poor, deprived and underserved amongst us. We must provide them with food, shelter, financial resources and the right information, otherwise they will remain susceptible and vulnerable to the whims of corrupt politicians during the election period. If we neglect these set of people, they will remain our weakest link and Achilles heels as evidenced by the recent crises. They will sell their votes, and they will sell your votes too!

President Obama in a medium article addressing the concerns of Black Lives Matters protesters aptly puts it as follows “….so the bottom line is this: if we want real change, then the choice isn’t between protest and politics. We have to do both. We have to mobilize to raise awareness, and we have to organize and cast our ballots to make sure that we elect candidates who will act on reform”

As we mourn the loss of lives and livelihoods, and pick up the remnant of what is left in our society, if the events of the past few weeks are to count for anything at all, Nigerian youths must take governance, politics and policy very seriously! We must prepare for 2023, and the time to start is NOW!

lawyer, infrequent writer, reluctant social media user...