When in a statement dripping with hate, bile and anger, a coalition of some northern youth organisations gave the ultimatum for the Igbos to leave northern region within three months or risk forfeiture of their property, I said not again in this country.
Many things were on my mind not the least being the frightening prospect of another civil war. The behaviour of the Nigerian youth – unguarded utterances and wild action – could lead to carnage beyond reason and pardon in the country. For all its intensity, it is no more than youthful outburst re-echoing the master voice.
The sad and horrible memory of the civil war of 1967-70, especially how it all started come to mind. While many youths demanded for separation, it was the exodus of the Igbos from various parts of the country, especially the northern region, to the safety of their region of origin as a result of the pogrom – mass killings of southerners particularly the Igbos, that immediately led the country to the civil war.
With the benefit of hindsight, the major actors of the Nigerian civil war which reportedly killed over two million people had since agreed that it was very avoidable. But the youthful exuberance of the men in power after the termination of civil rule by the military-most of them under 35years old and some of them still very dashing bachelor – made the war inevitable. It allowed egotism to take control of reason and led the nation to near self-destruction. No room for pogrom and civil war again, please.
But it was not only in Nigeria that the ill-considered actions of some youth groups had brought about unimaginable misery and regrets. For example, the First World War (1914-18) in which nine million combatants and seven million civilians’ reportedly died was caused by the extreme action of some Serbian youths who assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and heir to the Austro Hungarian throne. Gavrilo Princip – a Slavic nationalist and member of the Black Hand movement – carried out the assassination in Sarajevo in 1914.
As history has shown it was purely a very local event which was however venerated and elevated to global status by European elite for various reasons we do not need to dwell on here. It suffices to note that the war is seen today as ‘one of the deadliest conflicts in history’.
There were other matters arising and lessons to learn from the Kaduna episode including the need for security alert and the wisdom of supervision of the youth activities.
The purpose of this piece is to explore some of the matters arising from the Kaduna declaration and to advise the youth to learn to operate within the permit of the law, be mindful of dubious move by some elite to involve them in some subversive activities and resist all temptations by the elite to engage them in any act that could destabilize the country.
On the whole the youthful ultimatum in Kaduna reflects the body language of the Nigerian elite which has constantly depicted mutual ethnic/regional loathing, distrust and hatred in the country over time. It was an elite’s game with the youth merely serving as pawn on the chessboard. It signifies a failure of leadership over time and a disturbing attempt by some youth to undemocratically assume and exercise power they do not have.
This may not be surprising because generally, the way of the youth is in fact strange. It is characterised by rapid shift of moods from one extreme point to another and an exaggerated opinion of their strength. And given a problem to solve, they would most likely prefer irrational means to rational approach.
Aristotle believes that the youth behave the way they do because unlike the adults with cunning ways for survival because they have not yet been hit by the harsh realities of life.
Driven by idealism, conviction, faith in their raw energy, persuasion and misdirection from unseen hands in most cases, the Nigerian youth work in the strong belief that they could conquer the world by merely willing and wishing it. And they put in their best to wage wars they have really no deep understanding and knowledge of and no real weapons for prosecution and yet hoping to win until perhaps too late .But if only ‘wishes were horses’, the youth would win all battles.
The northern youth and indeed others before and after them went to to town with the belief and conviction that they were on the correct path. Some body or agency ought to be around to educate and show them the correct way to go. This was not there. Only proper empowerment and reorientation of the youth can change them to do good things for the betterment of the country here. And this is a major task of leaders and associated elite.
As I observed in my book -Power of Youth…, the youth have powers which could be used for either good or bad- for positive construction or negative destruction of society.The task of the elite is to ensure their positive development and proper empowerment as a way of channeling their energies in the right direction. Here given recent events in the country the elite can be said to have failed in their responsibility.
There had also been huge policy neglect and leadership failure, elite’s prodding in the negative direction, wrong teaching and bad examples that inform youth actions in Nigeria.
Due to poor direction, orientation and uninspiring leadership by the ruling elite, the Nigerian youth have lacked deep understanding and sound knowledge of the workings of society. The situation is pathetic, disturbing and puzzling . The youths have no army, they command no troops, or have skills or experience in warfare. All they have is raw energy, creative minds and naive idealism. Yet they are easily prone to violence- forgetting that violence often begets violence.
One of the inescapable observation in the Kaduna outburst was the cunning side of the adults in Nigeria. The hidden hand of the Nigerian elite was visible.Youth behaviour such as the hate-filled outburst of some youth in the north, the ‘we are not cowards and thus ready for war’ response from the east by some youths, the ‘give us back our oil wells and autonomy’ demand by the some youths from the South-South, must be understood against the body language of the Nigerian elite that depicts inter ethnic hatred, distrust, preference for disunity/disintegration, irritating demands for actualization of Biafra by some Igbo youths with silent encouragement by some elite. The Kaduna ultimatum is only youthful in appearance.
In reality, especially considering the texture of language, it is the handiwork of some elite but masquerading as a coalition of northern youth. There was nothing new in the youth’s action other than a rehash of adult’s idiosyncrasies or wrong view informed by dishonest use of such concepts as marginalisation as a political weapon of blackmail, and the negative effects of the Richards’ Constitution with its emphasis on regionalism.
In fact what we witnessed in the unguarded statements by the northern youth and response to it by youths from other regions notably from the south-south and eastern region is no more than the continuation of clash of opposing forces of regionalism, set in motion since 1947 when the Richards constitution sowed a poisonous seed of divisiveness in our body politics . It will be recalled that Constitution divided the country into three regions to create a lopsided structure in which one of the regions – the Northern region was bigger than the other two combined .
It laid the basis of forming tribal/ regional political parties, of promoting regional consciousness and unhealthy competition among the three big tribes for political dominance of the country. By encouraging tribal politics through the formation of regional political parties such as Action Group (AG) and Northern People’s Congress (NPC) as opposed to the National Council of Nigeria and Cameroon (NCNC) which was national in scope and outlook, the constitution and others built on it before 1960 killed the spirit of love, trust, patriotism, and nationalism that was so strong amongst the nationalists fighting for freedom at the time before its introduction. This is the path being trodden today by the youths .
The whole episode shows how very primordial and parochial we still are in our vision and orientation. It also betrays appalling level of ignorance pervading the youth scene. It is sad that at a time when some Nigerians were reportedly winning election to the British Parliament as MPs without barriers of race, religion, etc some Nigerians still saw it fit to be issuing a quit order to fellow citizens treating the drums of war high as though it was a tea party.
The Nigerian youth need to be educated to know that they do not have the powers they are appropriating to themselves. The country needs peace, justice, equality and fairness for all citizens irrespective of region, tribe and religion. Thus what we saw in Kaduna was the effect of the dereliction of responsibility on the part of the adult over time and the consequent growing terrible role reversal between adults and youths in the country.
Before 1947 Nigerians were united by spirit of nationalism and they pursued national goal especially of freedom with single mindedness Today there is poverty of historical knowledge of the country and the youth appear to be a victims and out of control of their parents and elders.
Just imagine: while reasonable and experienced people have condemned the northern youth’s hostile and unpatriotic call, and asked the Igbos to remain where ever they are or like to be the same youth have continued to push ahead with their view to ‘let Igbo go’. In response some youth in the east are asking the Igbos in the north to return home even when their leaders had decided otherwise and announced their feelings to the world. Are we having two captains in a ship?
Someone ought to be in control and on top of the game. There appears to be a leadership gap and a struggle between the youths and adults to to fill it. But the idea or impression that the youth can no longer be controlled by their parents or respect the elders and rule of law must be seen as a disturbing development. As they say, ‘a stitch in time saves nine’. The elite need to live up to the expectations of their supervision and mentoring. Close supervision and mentoring of the youth are of essence today. It will save the country a lot of trouble and embarrassment because the youth creating problems today are actually in the minority.
Basically, youthful period is a training session for young people to learn the ropes of life including morals, laws, rules and order of society. This is one of the joint responsibility of parents, social institutions such as schools and adults.
An important observation in the Kaduna youth’s declaration was the unsatisfactory role of security agencies. The youths have a right to meeting and expression of opinion and the security agencies have the duty to ensure that subversive activities are nipped in time. The youth reportedly met at the Arewa House in Kaduna, held and discussed sensitive issues and reached the conclusion to carry out illegal or unconstitutional act of serving notice of quit to some citizens to relocate forcibly from northern region- a legitimate part of the country.
I think at the stage of drawing up the communique someone – a mentor, or a security agent should have intervened to carefully tell them that they were over-stepping their bounds and to explain to them the negative security implications of some of their decisions. The youths could have decided to set the city on fire and got away with it due to security lapse.
Unfortunately the Kaduna youth are not alone. Kanu and his IPOB need the services of mentors and security experts to moderate their extreme irritation and hate preaching associated with their cause -unnecessary bid for the actualization of Biafra and to educate them on the proper way forward under the rule of law.
Generally, the youth do not act in vacuum or on their own. They project the shared values of adult society. They learn both the good and the bad of adult life. Through their body language, the Nigerian elite have taught the youth more bad things than good including ethnic and religious antagonism, disunity of the country, agitation for separate living, divisions, hate preaching. They have failed to preach love, justice, fair play, national unity, citizenship, respect for rule of law and order, good governance, dignity of the man /individual. The actions of the coalition of some northern youth organizations and other separatist groups such as IPOB are the effect of the negative body of the Nigerian elite over time in the country.
In other words, the elite are not doing what they are supposed to do for the youth. Instead of patriotism, brotherly love for our neighbours as ourselves, Justice and fair-play for all, they have been preaching hatred, regionalism, division and promoting corruption , injustice inequality and unfair play.
Society is an open university and the youths are fast learners of good and evil things. Unfortunately the leaders have taught more of profanity than sanity – more of disunity than unity, more hatred than love of thy neighbour and country. And the youths had been good students here.Thus many of them have been purveyors of violence and crimes such as kidnapping, armed robbery, terrorism, prostitution.
It was therefore a fitting reaction that no sooner than the ill-advised order was made public, there was condemnation of it from all corners.it was vehemently condemned by well meaning Nigerians including northerners.
For instance the Governor of Kaduna ordered arrest, other northern governors and leaders of thought such as Paul Onongo, Deputy Chairman of Northern Elders Forum, denounced and condemned the quit order as an ill-conceived and divisive move.
Perhaps even more relevant was the rebuttal of the youth of the middle belt part of the northern region thereby showing disunity even within the ranks of norther youth .They simply made it known that they were not party to the quit notice statement and that the Igbos were ever welcome in their territory which they said it has pleased God to give them. Other citizens spoke similarly for national unity.
For the first time in many years, Nigerians in the face of threat to national unity showed love, solidarity, appreciation and a preference for one Nigeria in spite of many short comings.
However, the elite must change their negative attitude to nation building which influences riotous actions of young people in our society.
Dr. John Abhuere, FNIM, is the Director Centre for Child and Youth Development, Abuja