Nigerian youths, intellectuals and the Nigerian state

It was Franz Fanon who once said and I quote:

“If any philosophy is here being told, it is that man must not only exist but must live well, the measure of any intellectual activity being the welfare of the people”

Fanon also noted again:

“Every generation must out of relative obscurity, seek to discover its mission and fulfil it or betray it”.

Now, to take the first quote, it is quite plainly tragic that after all that has happened in the last two weeks in this country, people who ought to know better are chasing shadows and blaming the victims of injustice rather than the perpetrators. Nigerian children were murdered in cold blood by soldiers trained and paid with money from the brow of their parents and people who ought to be sensible are talking about inanities.

The role of an intellectual is to help shape his society in ways that not only lead to social transformation but also to economic development and progress. A good many Nigerian intellectuals if they can be so called are remiss in this regard. They have evinced tendencies more like those Marx and his cohorts described as the Comprador Bourgeoisie. Rather than seek to improve the welfare of the people, they actively connive with men of power in government and private enterprise, to subvert the will of the people and drive them further into the pit of penury and want.

For decades the unholy romance between the ruling class and intellectuals in Nigeria has engendered pain, sorrow, tears, blood and death. Nigerian youths, the supposed inheritors of tomorrow have borne the brunt of the criminal connivance between the intellectual class and the ruling class. The promised tomorrow has been deferred again and again as the gerontocrats in firm control of the commanding heights of government, inexorably push Nigerian youths to the margins of political participation in the affairs of their country.

Today, the disappointment of the youths at being denied, trampled and denigrated has reached tipping point. The die is cast and anyone who reads the events of the last two weeks as merely a fleeting show of the exuberance of youth is a making a grave mistake.

Sadly for us, this seems to be the pervasive thinking among many intellectuals particular those of the order of Goebbels. Intellectuals beholden not to the Nigerian state and its people but to the men who control the levers of power and work it shamelessly to their advantage. These high priests of AGIP (Any Government in Power) care nothing for decency or principles as they mortgage their conscience and imperil the future of the children and generations to come.

Nigeria is in the throes of change, real and all-embracing change not the type peddled five years ago by current government and their benighted cheerleaders. This is the change that will ultimately overthrow the ancien regime of decadence, lassitude, graft and intolerance, which collectively have denied Nigeria its promise of greatness.

The unarmed and peaceful protesters at Lekki, Lagos before soldiers opened fire on them on Tuesday, October 20

Nigerian youths are tired. They have become weary of a system that promises so much but delivers so little. The march of globalization has ensured that the lies and excuses peddled for generations by successive leaderships of this country past and present and which held our youths down in the morass of backwardness and ignorance are no longer tenable. Thanks to the democratization of information and knowledge engendered by the World Wide Web, the disinformative proclivity of successive underperforming leaderships of the country are now seen for what they truly are-leaking sieves of deceptive offerings intended to deceive and distract.

A new dawn is upon us. Its effects may not be immediately evident but the truth is, Nigerian youths have dared the might of the Nigerian state and though bloodied and bruised, have come away from the engagement clear-eyed and determined to take their destiny into their hands quite mindful of Dag Hammarskjold’s admonition that though they are not permitted to choose the frame of their destinies, what they put into those frames are clearly their decision to take. From this point on they are not going to allow anyone no matter how good his intentions, do it for them. They have discovered their mission, their purpose, and by God, they intend to fulfil it.

The choice before the pilots of the Nigerian state and the intellectuals who justify of its every malfeasance is to recognize that power no longer flows from the barrel of the gun. Whatever advantage the nozzle of the gun confers on the state is temporal because in the end the will of the people will ultimately triumph.

The defiant Chinese youths who in 1989 stared down the military at the Tien An Men Square and offered themselves as sacrifice for the enthronement of fundamental freedoms in their country made that point eloquently as did Tunisians youths who birthed the Arab Springs, a revolutionary wave that swept through Arab countries in After and the Middle East after Mohamed Bouazizi, a fruit seller, immolated himself in January 2011 in protest against police brutality and corruption.

Nigeria is in the harmattan of discontent; its youths are stirring. It is left to its leader to respond in ways that both address their grievances and ensure the survival of the Nigerian state. To do otherwise would be courting disaster.

Many years ago, the erudite late American historian and writer, Barbara Tuchman musing on the challenges of governance in the essay titled, “An inquiry into the persistence of Unwisdom in Government”, observed that:

“A problem that strikes one in the study of history, regardless of period, is why man makes a poorer performance of government than of almost any sphere of human activity. In this sphere, wisdom- meaning judgment acting on experience, and on commonsense, available knowledge and a decent appreciation of probability-is less operative and more frustrated than it should be. Why do men in high office so often act contrary to the way reason points and enlightened self interest suggests? Why does intelligent mental process seem so often paralyzed?”

Indeed, a critical assessment of the Buhari’s administration’s response to the #ENDSARS protest would reveal the absence of critical thinking. Its response has bordered largely on what Tuchman described in that article as woodenheadedness, which she described as “assessing a situation in terms of preconceived notions while ignoring or rejecting any contrary signs.”

She adds that woodenheadedness also entails acting according to wish while not allowing oneself to be deflected by the facts.

President Buhari and his government must think anew. They must think out of the box. The need of the moment for is critical thinking and not a knee-jerk response to a problem with the potential of destroying this country.

As they ponder their next step, the Buhari government must keep in mind the words of the late English writer, Samuel Taylor Coleridge who said:

“If men could learn from history what lessons it might teach us but passion and party blind our eyes and the lessons, which experience teaches is a lantern on the stern, which shines only on the waves behind us”.

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