Did Wole Soyinka Blame the Nigerian Youth?
Recently, Wole Soyinka, wrote a speech or article titled “Where Did We Go Wrong?” It mentions a list of the very youthful ages of the Nigerian leaders and pioneers in the immediate post-colonial era. The wordings then adores the colonial youth of as men of vision and ability. I strongly doubt that Wole Soyinka either said such a thing in public or wrote it. If he did, he must have gravely overlooked the realities and context that produced the very youthful leaders and pioneers of Nigeria’s past, which he is one. Nigeria’s youthful leaders, hailed, have left the country an insuperable legacy of misgovernance, corruption, polarisation, and disaster. What is the fuss about Nigeria’s bungling first leaders? Nigeria produced youthful leaders in Nigeria for regrettable reasons, with truly pitiable consequences.
The first was an overwhelming illiteracy in the land. Nigeria still has 65 million illiterates. At Independence, Nigeria’s population was just over 40 million but had less than two thousand university and polytechnic graduates. Secondary school and Grade II certificate holders were in the several thousand. A new nation, just before Independence and after, needed skilled indigenous staff to run the country. Moreover, the shortages were very incapacitating. If one even had Standard 6, a primary school-leaving certificate, he could easily find a job as a clerk with the government. Or at a multinational company, a big thing back then.
Hence, It is where the visible craze for certification developed in Nigeria. Once you got a certificate, you could get a good job. This was breeding for an explosive desire for upward social mobility via education. Everyone wanted a certificate because it was a guaranteed entitlement to wealth. Knowledge and skill acquisition were very secondary. Nevertheless, the competence of the indigenous job holders, including managerial and leadership positions, was never necessary; the colonialists wanted it that way. That legacy of incompetence persists unobstructed today. There were no involuntarily unemployed primary, secondary or higher education school-leavers in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. There were not enough “certificated people” to fill the jobs. It was the Golden Age of the Nigerian youth, and they took maximum advantage of it without thought of investing in the future necessity.
How does a country with an indefatigable craze for education have so many illiterates today? The youthful leaders of the past kicked the ladder made for them by the colonialists away.
The second reason is, at Independence, graduates over 30 (officially with emphasis) were uncommon. Most graduates, military officers, police superintendents, teachers, political candidates, and intellectuals were under 30 (officially). They were like explorers finding new unclaimed lands; they had an abundance of easy opportunities to pick. Now the existing fruit is very high up and the Nigerian youth of today. Unfortunately, they have an incredibly harder time picking them without many facilities and too many barriers.
In 2018’s Nigeria, try becoming a professor, colonel, a multinational CEO, a school principal, a senator, a high court judge. Or an ambassador or a permanent secretary at age 25 or even 30 today. It was not uncommon in the past. The days when bachelor’s degree holders or those who have written enduring works can become professors are long gone. So are the days when a Grade II Teacher on his salary can win state or federal legislative elections. Try to imagine a 26-year-old high court judge today.
The third reason is that the new educated indigenous people, especially the elite occupied influential jobs in which they were the first indigenous generation. All their predecessors were white with colonial and neocolonial interests dictated at Westminster. These new leaders were inexperienced at jobs requiring high public responsibility and reliable bureaucratic morality. Their white predecessors did not mentor them at all. Great Britain forgot how to build an excellent civil service after Independence agitation and deliberately maintained left local institutions weak to make sure their position as a stationary bandit. It needed little experience, careful mentoring, or considerable skill for the new leaders. And enabled managers of Nigeria at every level of governance to steal small then proceeding at an expanding rate. Governance of the stomach took precedence over the management of the state and the commons.
Colonial and neocolonial interests direct and dictate everything Nigeria’s youthful and geriatric leaders achieve today. Accordingly, they do so through foreign economists, foreign governance experts/representatives, multi- and bilateral- agency professionals. The indigenous legacy of Nigeria’s leaders remains derisory if not retrograde. It is the reality the Nigerian youth live with today. What do they have to aspire to outside the pathways and structures of opportunity previous [youthful] Nigerian leaders have entrenched deep?
Notwithstanding, Nigeria’s leaders should bless Nigeria, not God. God has already given Nigeria all it needs to become a significant flourishing nation. It is up to the leaders to sort. It is too irresponsible to blame the present youth for Nigeria. I forgot who said they were “lazy.”