The derisory ontology of the African has not gone unchallenged. At the forefront, intellectuals, civil society leaders, freedom fighters, artists, activists, missionaries and politicians of African descent have chosen innumerable paths and approaches to reverse or negate the derisory ontology of the African to produce a more if not thoroughly positive one. Students, synonymous with youth, appear to be the engaging group of Africans most willing, able, qualified and equipped to challenge the African ontology in the mainstream. How are these young students and scholars faring?
Looking at the African, Afro-Caribbean and African-American experience, the historic protesters against derisory African otology in its political, economic and social forms were mostly under-40s (or peaked before 40). These men and women embraced the dreadful state of the ontology of the African with hope, intelligence, intellectualism, faith, dynamism, courage, martyrdom, idealism and realism. They were all willing to pay the price for challenging White Supremacy, White Colonialism and White exploitation which was often a violent and/or painful death.
Most over-40s tend to be not less energetic, less determined or less dynamic, they simply tended to be more reward-seeking, more security conscious and more pragmatic. It appears as if with increasing age the derisory ontology of the African becomes more acceptable and tolerable to the Black Man especially if he has much to gain from complying with the mainstream. As the Black Man grows older, he becomes more self-seeking and more conservative. Therefore, the challenge by standing against and fighting the derisory ontology of the Black Man by default is (supposedly) a thing best handled by the Black youth. Or can they?
The Nigerian experience of youth activism and intellectual life has not been self-determined or orientated towards the understanding and implications of the consciousness of an African ontology. The Nigerian youth by observation are keen on “consciousness of money, power and pragmatism”. Politically we have seen some expression of a commercialised youth adventurer in search of profit at the expense of youth identity. In the attempt for Nigeria to revert to and sustain democratic politics, we have seen “neo-patrimonial” inspired youth groups take on the role of rent-seekers from political patrons and clients. Variations of the names of patron youth groups such as “Youths for Abacha”, “Youths for Obasanjo”, “Youths for Jonathan”, “Youth for Ibori”, Youths for Tinubu” were youth groups formed to seek rents and relevance from the eponymous patron they supported. There are and were multitudes of these groups contending with competitive ugliness in many a case. Check these political youth groups out on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook. It is as if they are determined to obliterate the existing nanograms of the dignity of African politics and Africans. They attack and insult one another, and opponents untiringly only to look good to their political elders; eye service histrionics. These are coincidentally the best-financed and politically supported groups within and without Nigeria; the ontology of the African has no place in their agendas, whatsoever.
In the politics of resistance, say in the Niger Delta, we saw the consciousness of money rapaciously take over a very genuine and necessary struggle against oil extraction pollution, environmental damage, economic and political neglect, social decay and a silent [benzene] holocaust. These youthful groups started with sincerity to protect the land, livelihoods, well-being of the Niger Delta and its peoples. They also strove to overcome the negligence of the government and oil companies in the region that produces most of Nigeria’s wealth. Nevertheless, the practice of engaging in and seeking extortion, kidnap ransoms, “settlements”, bribes, contracts, impunity for bunkering, and murder became more important than political and intellectual activities. As Ben Amunwa (formerly of Platform London) once said the Niger Delta crisis has produced youthful leaders who are (a) human rights cum anti-pollution activists, (b) oil services contractors, (c) oil bunkering kingpins and (d) youth leaders, all rolled into one individual. From Amunwa’s discourse, one may seriously blame the hyper corrupt political economy of oil in Nigeria for creating such “multiplicitous youthful characters”. Politically active youths at the micro-local level extort fees for private house building and project developments in their areas “of origin”. The groups are constituted of the die-hard unpaid political supporter of patrons who in turn grant them impunity in any criminal or violent activity they undertake. For instance, in Warri, Delta State, there are separate fees extorted by youth groups for various stages of private house building. Separate fees for building house foundations, building perimeter walls, build a house to roofing level, roofing the house, sinking a borehole/well, all are charged with upward sticky inflation. Even when the house is thoroughly completed, fees are further extorted by youth groups for the installation of satellite dishes or private electricity generators.
In the arena of academics, we have indigenous and overseas educated youth. The majority of the Nigerian youth study at tertiary institutions in Nigeria. Others study overseas mainly in the USA and the UK, some attending top universities. One would expect that they would have the capacity and skills to develop a positive ontology of the African. To be disappointed in such education and educated individual is to understate the case. The “consciousness of pragmatism” is where their intellectual energies are narrowly focused. Their personalised pragmatism is far more important to them than the plight of the African except in cases where it is pragmatic to do so. Their pragmatism is based on job security, political and economic opportunism, social and professional recognition. They forget previous Africans had fought very hard for the ontology of the educated and professional African. It is more pragmatic to support free markets than any of its alternatives regardless of the disastrous effects of the African economy. It is more pragmatic to believe that an overly focus on science and technology will solve Africa’s problems not social or political approaches. Social systems come first and technological systems follow according to history. It is more pragmatic to articulate poverty than abundance, why rock the boat? It is more pragmatic to profess peace and unity even though there is no substantive peace or unity in the continental African reality.
It is more pragmatic to blame African leaders and their policies for Africa’s endless debacles while Africa’s economic and social policies have always been decided and enforced by the West. The educated African youth are not blind or stupid, they are simply too pragmatic to waste their time on the ontology of the African. They have houses to buy, cars to mend, a job to bag, children to educate and that is what is important. The educated African youth is oblivious to the virtues of the Socratic aphorism “Know Thyself”.
There are the campus grown university fraternities (UCGFs) in Nigeria that all originated as “elite groups” to contend with the establishment and fostering of a positive ontology of the African. As expected from young men in the process of acquiring a university education pro-Africanism, pro-Independence (African), pro-Black Power (American), pro-youth, pro-intellectualism, anti-colonialism, anti-convention, anti-injustice, anti-classism, anti-elitism (other than their own) were the raison d’etre for the founding of these groups. Fraternity members saw themselves as champions for freedom and justice and fighters against the ills of society and oppression. They were good physical fighters too.
The “consciousness of power” emerged and intoxicated the youthful fraternities endlessly. Within, the leaders inflicted heinous brutality and exacted acts irrefutably worthy of conviction in human rights courts on their “brothers” in the name of discipline. Without, it was not long before these fraternities, every single one of them, willfully if not gleefully abused the “power” of their fear-inspiring mystique and took to inflicting violence and intimidation on often defenceless students and even staff. The rivalries and clashes between university fraternities have claimed thousands of lives and maimed thousands more over the years. Unsurprisingly, the fraternities today heavily are involved in financial extortion schemes, mail fraud, charity-projects-for-self-enrichment, immigration fraud, recruitment profiteering, money laundering and several other untoward activities. The university sororities that came into existence went through the same processes as the fraternities and are today well-known to be engaged in black-mail, prostitution rings, human trafficking and other forms of nefariousness. Behind the thin, self-righteous and hypocritical veil of fraternities being “fighters-of-all-things-bad” lie multitudes of perpetual and amoral transgressions. The ontology of the African did not survive as a concern, serious or trivial, for the fraternities and sororities for more than a few years post foundation.
There is also the “entrepreneurial youth” full of bright ideas for short cuts to making a vast fortune increasingly using the rhetoric of job creation, empowerment, growth but only after they have made their billions. These entrepreneurial youth crave excessively for Nigeria to create an economy based on a “post-industrial” approaches, bypassing industrialisation. It is easy to see arbitrage is their main focus, they are not interested in building or making things necessary to be competitive in the free market they so desire. Then there are the religious youths that are hooked on “material spiritualism” i.e. Christ or Mohammed came to make them rich, successful, prosperous, healthy, happy, productive and so on. Righteousness does not count because man cannot attain it anyway. The ontologies of the market, Christianity, Islam are not African ontologies; there is no cause for alarm or surprise in that.
All in all, there are some members of the Nigeria youth that are sincere in their quest for establishing a positive ontology of the African without the hunger for power cum greed or a personalised pragmatism vehemently registered in their eyes and hearts. However, their position is fraught with insuperable difficulties. By instinct and from and experience, they are aware they will never obtain any significant (lasting) support from other youths who are sold on the consciousness of self-benefit and never self-sacrifice. The Prisoner’s Dilemma is evident in every square inch the African youth occupies. The establishment has no incentives to support them either. So, they are usually fighting for the positive ontology of their people on solitary terms. For the long haul, only a few are left standing to fight the cause. Hunger, poverty, arrests, unemployment and isolation either break them or “wise” them up. Many are forced into diaspora with painful regrets and bottomless bitterness. Suicides and early deaths also occur. It would appear the establishment of a positive ontology of the African is very costly indeed and for a Continent that would not even appreciate it.
Alas, amongst those who stand and fight are traitors. A reading of Julien Benda’s Treason of the Intellectuals informs us that intellectuals have a choice between embracing privilege and power on the one hand and truth and justice on the other; the traitors choose the former. How many times have we seen some of the best youthful minds in Nigeria fight for truth and justice against the government, political parties, aristocrats, oligarchs and corporations but only to attain privilege and power someday? Crapious treachery and perhaps divide and rule tactics on the part of the establishment. The result is that even fewer are left standing.
Are the youth of today (in Nigeria and elsewhere) any good at providing a positive ontology of the African? Who is to blame? What can inspire African youth? Those who say only God knows should be whipped hard.