The youths anywhere in the world, particularly in the African continent have been major victims of all political disasters and miscalculations from time immemorial, starting from the days of the obnoxious slave trade up to this moment of contemporary slavery brought about by capitalism and its operators: the bourgeoisie.
In the era of slavery, the lives of many young men and women were ostensibly wasted when the blacks were ferried as slaves to the Whiteman’s sugar-cane plantations in the European farms. In every dispensation of political turbulence, economic upheavals, social catastrophe, and religious imbroglio, the youths are often the most hit. They have been denied their rights to live fulfilled lives at different times and in several fronts in history.
During the Nigerian civil war of 1967-1970, several millions of people died but the greater population that was worse hit with the astringent pains and direct devastation of war were obviously and undeniably the youths. They constituted the army of warriors that fought on both sides of the feuding parties: the federal troops and the Biafrans, therefore being the segment that suffered the direct carnage the most.
They have also suffered and sometimes met untimely deaths in periods of protests in the exercise of their constitutional rights, and those of other passive population. The youths of developing countries have certainly and surely become an endangered species, only allowed to exist and embrace whatever is thrown at them by the government and the society in general. The youthful virility in them has been emasculated.
Their potency has been castrated; the fire extinguished by the policies and programs of governments of corruption and maladministration which have characterized the Nigeria’s political ambience since the country’s hard-earned independence from the British slavemasters. They are left to wander in the society with whatever chaff life has left of them. Based on the aforementioned and peculiar challenges of the youths in a clime like Nigeria, the rate of actual suicide and suicidal attempts is also very prevalent among this decapitated class of the society.
The youths have suffered gruesomely in the hands of Nigerian leaders since the country got its independence from the British overlords due to poorly-managed economy, political brouhaha and religious acrimonies. From the time of independence, their versatility and virility have been punctured with the sword of corruption of the leaders.
They have been deliberately sidelined and reduced to live as second fiddle in the socio-political and economic space of Nigeria to the extent that a slogan has been sarcastically carved out for them that “the youths are the future of the country”. This is just to excuse the conscience of the oppressors.
With the current docility of the youths in the society and the deliberate structure of the country, there is no future for the youths. The elites circulate themselves in power and in governance and bestride the society like a colossus in every dispensation. As this is so, the question remains: “where is the hope of the Nigerian youths?” The lives of the youths have been programmed to be wasted, stacked in irredeemable penury and servitude, regardless of the level of education they struggle to attain. The oppression and depression of the youths is an automated programme orchestrated by the bourgeoisie in the society.
It is only the youths that are close to these bourgeoisies that may breathe reprieve from the clutches of strangulations and share from the national cake. The survival of today’s youths is squarely rooted at the benevolence or the malevolence of the bourgeoisie, it depends on the side of the divide that fate may throw them to.
I wish to make mention of one of the youths that could serve as an inspiration to the youths of today. I don’t intend to go into a detailed discussion about him but just to glean some lessons that may be relevant to our discussion. He is late Isaac Adaka Jasper Boro. He was from the now known South-South (Niger-Delta) region of Nigeria. He was one of the vibrant youths in the genuine struggle for the redemption of his people, from the colossal damage wreaked on them by the powers of the federal government in his time. He fought against the marginalization and oppression of his people, the people of the Niger-delta. Boro was educated.
He embraced the teachings and philosophy of Karl Marx, the progenitor of the Marxist and socialist ideologies. Due to his philosophical leaning, he hated the capitalist ideology that represented oppression. He actually saw his people marginalized and oppressed in the spirit of capitalism he loathed so much. He resolved to stand for the defence of his people, and protesting against their ill-treatment by the federal government. He anchored his dissatisfaction on intellectualism and engaged the federal government on that front.
Not satisfied with the position of the government on his agitations, he consequently declared the Republic of the Niger Delta, a secessionist move from the Nigerian State on the 23rd February, 1966. The republic only lasted for just twelve days before it succumbed to the crushing might of the federal government. My emphasis here is not that of his armed struggle against the Nigerian State, but his agility, fearlessness, intellectual capacity, his versatility to engage the federal government for expression of his pains and frustration. He did not remain docile. He set his intellectual and philosophical convictions as his basis for his agitation and action. He was not mute, not strangulated by the mighty chains of oppression of the capitalist assailants at that time.
Though he was not allowed to accomplish his mission of creating a Niger-Delta Republic from the Nigerian State, yet his name cannot be wished away in the history of Nigeria. The youths must emulate him by also deploying intellectual engagement in order to put the government under pressure to do the needful and fulfill its constitutional obligations to its people. I do not support or suggest an armed struggle against the government but the youths must engage the government intellectually, following the adage that “The Pen is mightier than the Sword.
”In the past, Student Unions of Nigerian tertiary institutions were a fearless and feared breed. They engaged the government boldly and constructively on national issues. They articulated their grievances and channeled them fearlessly to the appropriate quarters.
The intellectual platform was deployed extensively and effectively by the students on all issues concerning them. Ironically, these happened in the ‘ageless past’ when students were students indeed. At that time, the government dared not ignore the students in its policy formulation and implementation because it knew that it would meet stiff resistance and protests if the policy was anti-people.
The students engaged the government in robust debates and high-profile intellectual discourse on issues, proposing solutions to some knotty national challenges. They were stakeholders in the governance of the country. The government respected and also feared the University students for this.
Student Leaders were elected based on their versatility, intellectual wealth, fearlessness and outspokenness.At the period under discussion, the students were very vocal on even issues that bother on real or perceived corruption and maladministration by the government. For instance, the popular ‘Ali Must Go’ protests staged in 1978 was on based on the allegation of that the then military government of General Olusegun Obasanjo through the then Federal Commissioner of Education, Col. Ahmadu Ali (Rtd) to increase the cost of daily meals of students from N1. 50. The Commissioner increased the daily meal ticket of students with 50 kobo.
The students reacted violently to the extent that the country was held in the jugular for a period of time. It was a massive protest to register a ‘vote of no confidence’ on the Commissioner for, at least, failing to represent their welfare. The decision of the government, on the other hand, was also viewed by the students as oppressive.
The protest was led by the fearless Comrade Kolade Shegun Okeowo of blessed memory. But today, even while the Nigerian House of Representatives is proposing a ridiculous and an evil bill to give amnesty to looters of public funds, the Students Unions in Nigerian tertiary institutions under the umbrella of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), have remained complacent, mute, incapacitated and decapitated, thereby allowing the destiny of the country to be toiled with in the hands of these selfish politicians who brand themselves as the peoples’ representatives.
The vibrant spirits of the students have been chained to the ground.In 1989, there was the anti-SAP students protest when General Ibrahim Babangida’s government introduced the unpopular economic policy called Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP). The programme which was intended to make the proletariats tighten their belts while the bourgeoisies adjust theirs, for their fattened waistlines was vehemently opposed and resisted by University students at that time.
The protests which started from the University of Benin spread across other campuses in Nigeria like the harmattan fire. But the opposite has become the case in the contemporary times of Student Unionism in Nigeria.
Where is the potency of the once versatile students’ unionism which had served as vanguard to the other youths in the society? Have they gone into extinction? Is this generation of the youths reeling into precipice? Where is the input of the students in is today’s governance where there is massive loot of the national treasury, incomprehensible rising rate of unemployment, kidnappings (even of students) and other legion of crimes freely perpetrated in the society?