By Toyin Falola
The power of youth is the common wealth for the entire world. The faces of young people are the faces of our past, our present and our future. No segment in the society can match with the power, idealism, enthusiasm and courage of the young people.– Kailash Satyarthi
At the Lagos State University on Wednesday, August 10, 2022, as the visiting lecturer to speak on “History and the Nation,” my mind was tasked with understanding the contextualization of the statement “God When!?” The students at the event had screamed in amazement, “God When!?” when my citation was read to them, and this caught my attention. I pondered this for a while, trying to get the message in the two-word question. I mean, is there a moment in Nigeria and amongst the youth when one would not get to send the mind on an errand or assimilate new ideas?
There is often a retorted but sarcastic “God When!?” among the youth when someone makes an achievement, gets a partner, builds a house, buys a car, or receives some awards. It comes out sarcastic, not as a sign of jealousy, but as an exhibition of the youth’s hope, aspirations, and wishes to do better for themselves and achieve their dreams. The expression is not only directed to fellow youths but also to people outside the age bracket who have done one or two things for themselves. This explains why I was a subject of the expression and why it got my mind engaged. The two words unleashed a thinking process.
Needless to say, youths are known for aspirations, hopes and wishes, and just as Kailash Satyarthi said in the quotation above, they are full of enthusiasm and idiosyncrasies capable of changing the face of things and turning society around. When this retort is said about the state of Nigeria, they are not just “catching cruise;” they are waiting for the time things will get better without the need to seek greener pasture overseas. “God When!?” fits into a proper expression to ponder when the social issues and vices that face the country will end and when the people’s standard of living will not keep sinking into bottomless pits. These expectations and prayers are not just youth-based questions; the whole nation is still expecting a better Nigeria.
Are we waiting for Godot? The wait seems to be endless: the youth do not know when and neither do the rest of us, as there are no pointers to when this great change would occur, so waiting for a deux ex machina from the endless wonders of the Almighty looks like a hopeless journey through the abyss. Talking about Nigerian deplorable situations appears to be a difficult discussion that is easy to express. It has become too easy to discuss the state of Nigeria because new facts and occurrences erupt every hour to confirm how badly the nation has degenerated. God When!?
A recent survey by Aljazeera on the costs of things compared to 2016 has shown a regrettable increase in prices in the country. Prices of basic commodities like rice, beef, and other essential goods have increased by more than 100%, and petroleum products have become luxuries. For an average African nation, agriculture and its products should not be on the list of expensive commodities, and as a nation blessed with crude oil, about a 250% increase in the price of petrol should not be the case. So, if the country’s solution is supposed to largely be in its resources, yet the nation is where it is today, the hope is rather considered dashed; thus, waiting for God to intervene might not be totally out of the question. We do not say this because we are religious, but because things seem not to be working, and a miracle is obviously needed. But should we continue to wait for Godot? God When!?
Clearly, something must be done about the issues affecting the nation; otherwise, there will be so little to salvage. Unfortunately, with a failed government and corruption-stricken systems and institutions, it is nearly impossible to talk of a change any time soon. Therefore, if there will be a solution to the problems affecting the country, the solution must come from us. If the “when” we ask God must materialize, we would be the messengers of that reformation. It must be believed that the solutions to society’s problems are in the people’s hands.
Can a country be better than its people? Every society, including Nigeria, is what the citizens make of it. Even if the country has all the needed resources to develop it overnight, without the will and readiness of the people to change, there will be no development. The French Revolution of 1789 and every other revolution would not have occurred with the resources scattered around the society; the people made that happen. They decided to take charge of the situation, and as they took action then, we must now. While we all are responsible for effecting societal change, the onus is more on the youth to strive for a better Nigeria.
Aristotle’s wisdom has taught us that the “fate of empires depends on the education of the youth,” sine qua non, the society will be reeling in ignorance and wretchedness. Nigeria has fulfilled this prophecy and has continued to do so. If the youth are the major solution to Nigeria’s problems, yet the nation does not see the need to invest in their education and endeavour, the country is driving brakeless on the express of doom. If the youth of yesterday were educated, the elders of today would be well informed, and if the youths of today are educated, one can sleep with two eyes closed; however, Nigeria has wasted the opportunities to educate yesterday, and it is currently throwing away those of today. The link between illiteracy and insecurity has a lot to explain for the predominance of terrorism and insecurity, especially in the north. This was confirmed by the former governor of Zamfara State, Ahmad Sani Yerima, in February 2021.
For those who are literate or skilful, poverty and other factors lay ambush for them, draining their blood and tormenting their souls. Much should not be expected of immediate transformation for a country that ranks 26th among the poorest countries in the world. The frustration and hindrance caused by these torments have shown that there is little difference between a poor man and an ignoramus: both are hopeless and challenged. Unfortunately, many citizens are getting classified as either one or both. Currently, the World Bank states that about 40% of the Nigerian population is poor, and as of September 2021, there are at least 78 million Nigerians considered illiterates. As sad as it is to reiterate the obvious, Nigeria is on the path of perdition if nothing is done urgently. God When!?
No one should tell us that we can no longer wait for Godot or sleep; instead of waiting for the “when” to arrive, we must act now and act fast. I have not lost faith in Nigeria because I believe in the assertions made by Kailash Satyarthi and Aristotle, and I also believe that both the youth and the old can impact the needed reformation, but it must follow a process. Nigerians, particularly the youth, must progress from the point of “s’oro s’oke” to taking specific actions.
Nigeria has a governmental and institutional problems. It is either the government officials do not understand how best to govern the country, or the entire institutions in the country frustrate their efforts. According to a ranking system where nations with similar rankings are regarded as one, Nigeria, Lebanon, and the Central African Republic ranked as the 154th least corrupt countries in the world, making them the 11th most corrupt countries in the world. Coupled with other problems, Nigeria throws punches at its citizens from all angles. A majority of the citizens have lost hope in the country and government. An example of this built momentum was the 2020 #EndSARS protest that showed the citizens’ anger and frustration, not only about police brutality but also about the failure of the entire system.
If we want to control our “God When!?” or at least be certain about how soon the time will be, Nigerians must not stop criticizing the government and its policies but must increase their level of political participation. Out of a population of more than 200 million citizens, only 28,614,190 people voted in the 2019 general election. If the citizens want political control of the nation, the 2023 election must not be a repeat of what has been happening in time past. Citizens, especially the youth, must troop out in their numbers to cast their votes.
Aside from the low turnout of voters during general elections in Nigeria, the jamboree of Garri and selling their future for N5000 must be stopped. It is not the number of people who vote during an election that matters, but the percentage of people who vote for a particular person determines the winning vote. This factor is affected by recurring challenges of vote buying and snatching ballot boxes at polling units. If the citizens can voluntarily sell their votes for what-nots, we have shaken hands with poverty, corruption, bad governance, and all society’s fathomable and unfathomable problems from the start. We have said to ourselves that the suffering continues.
For development to occur in any nation, the citizens must act independently of the government. Considering the government’s antecedent in responding to the country’s challenges, expecting them to do anything will be counterproductive. Nigerians have proven to be brilliant in all they do. In April 2022, Yusuf Shamsudeen, a 30-year-old Kano State University of Science and Technology graduate, invented a water-powered stove. Recently, Hadi Usman, a 67-year-old man, repeated this technique. Nigerians worldwide have made many other discoveries, innovations, and ideas, which indicates that the country is not deprived of people with ideas and brilliant minds who can set the pace in technology, finance, and other sectors of society. Given the ineffectiveness of the Nigerian system, realizing their dreams and fulfilling their potential may be tough; however, the people, especially the youth, must keep developing and assisting themselves through NGOs and other sources that can finance their ideas.
Importantly, Nigerians cannot find a government-independent solution until they have accepted the ideas behind good citizenship. To face the common enemies of the country, every Nigerian must drop the cloaks of ethnicity, discrimination, and subscription to social vices. This will create an encouraging atmosphere for ideas, business, and developmental activities to thrive, and from there, we can look the government in the face for accountability and control.
As we ask “God When!?” we must also understand that God has answered us and has provided us with all the resources we need to be great as individuals and collectively as a nation. The “when” is now and with us, but if we do not act fast and do what is right, then “when” is the new Godot.