We have seen a host changes over this past years, some good and some bad. I have been encouraged by how adverse events have brought people together to fight injustice and legitimized criminality in some cases.
My home and what it has meant to me
I was born in Hackney, East London to Nigerian parents, although my dad was born in the UK. I had the chance to live in Nigeria for two years between the ages of six and eight years old. I remember everything I saw and experienced whilst being there.
I was upset that my mum left me there, but I slowly got into the swing of my new reality. Day to day life in Nigeria is what I would define as organized chaos. I was perplexed by hearing people speak Yoruba as at the time I thought they were speaking gibberish. I used to mimic speaking the language to my brother as a joke, but with time I grew to speak my mother tongue fluently by the age of eight. From treacherous roads, open gutters, bustling markets, the loud singing from the nearby church to the call from prayers from the Muslims, it worked. From an outsider looking in, you observe chaos, but for those of us who lived or currently live there, the system works. Does it work?
Creating a level playing field.
Education was essential to everyone in that country, and smartest in the class was generally the most respected; I was an average student.
The use of house helps was prevalent in those times, which I would consider an early flag of the issues experienced by the youth. I saw house helps my age ( 6-10 years old) and whilst I was going to school they were working. Looking backwards, I find this stark contrast between me and the countless house helps of a similarly young age, possibly having similar aspirations being worlds apart merely because of what part of society they were born. Indeed, there should be one Nigeria where everyone has the opportunity to learn irrespective of their background or family fortunes.
The population of Nigeria are people of big aspirations and ambition. Nigerians are devout in their beliefs, love their culture and have a desire to be prosperous. I have found through my observations that there are not many avenues for the majority of people to become what they want. My views on this are evident by the migration of many young Nigerians, willing to make a near-deadly odyssey across deserts, warzones and modern-day slavery in northern Africa in search of a better life in Europe and beyond. The young in Nigeria did not have a voice until they took a stand firstly on police brutality and then on the broader social-economic mismanagement that impacts their future.
Not considering the youth is like not considering that you need lungs to breath
Not considering the youth is like not considering that you need lungs to breathe. A sure way to get the same results is to keep doing the same things time and time again. Maybe that's why we haven't seen much significant change in Nigeria so far. Perhaps its time to try something different.
In the UK, everyone's child gets the opportunity to learn, and this right is enforced by the law as found in Elementary Education (School Attendance) Act 1893. This law requires pupils to attend school up until they finish their GCSE's. I wonder what positive impact a similar law would have if the Nigerian Government adopt a similar stance, therefore abolishing the use of young house helps and improving numeracy/literacy across the board. A significant investment would need to be made by the Government of Nigeria into teaching professionals, but that is a whole other topic to explore.
The power brokers, current and future politicians in Nigeria should consider studying the Veil
of Ignorance theory, sometimes referred to as the fairness principle. The theory contends that not knowing one's ultimate position in society would lead to the creation of a just system. Hypothetically speaking, I was given the ability to govern/ create a country, and I had the power to create the laws, policies, food allocation, monopolies and made myself those around me perpetually rich. The twist is that the only power that I do not have is to determine whether I would be amongst the rich or disadvantaged in the created country. The question is, would I still create a country that benefits a few or not the majority? This is a question that everyone should consider in particular politicians and business owners. Policies and laws which are favorable to the majority create a fair system which allows all inhabitants to benefit.
My Travel back as a young man
In 2010, I had the opportunity to revisit Nigeria, and it was an emotional journey. I experienced extreme luxury and saw extreme poverty all at the same time. Nigeria is a country that you do not know whether to laugh or cry about it, but I guess that sums up the resilience of the typical Nigerian.
On this visit, I got to meet and speak to so many young people, and their stories were heartbreaking and inspiring at the same time. I spoke to a person who graduated 6-7 years beforehand but wasn't able to find a job. This kind of problem is widespread amongst the young in Nigeria, and I sometimes thought who was to blame. I didn't know whether to empty my pockets or hug them. Indeed the enormous revenues from oil should have benefited the overall population and not just a minority. I am sometimes perplexed by how Nigeria was considered the African Country with the largest economy, yet various rungs are missing from the ladder to get young people climbing up.
As I drove off, I looked back and saw him still looking at the money—a humbling experience.
I needed to get a photo taken for my passport, and there was a chap around my age who was keen to take them. The photographer told me a price that was clearly higher than usual as I am sure he knew I was from abroad, so I said go ahead. He took the photos and then I gave him less money. I jokingly said to him that he couldn't out hustle a boy from London. The guy was bubbly/' positive, so I emptied my wallet to him as I loved his energy and work ethic. He looked at all the notes that I gave him and he couldn't believe it. I guess that was my way of appreciating him for his entrepreneurship in creating his venture. As I drove off, I looked back and saw him still looking at the money—a humbling experience.
Injustice, police brutality and abuse of power
The news post of the police brutality in Nigeria is not a new phenomenon as this form of abuse has been prevalent for years. I always read Nigerian news with police extortion be a key topic of discussion. Whilst visiting Nigeria, I observed the casual nature in how police extortion is standardized in the Nigeria of today. A person would be driving on the road the police would flag you down to stop, their presence strokes fear as they may not be pointing their gun at you, but you are aware of the presence of their assault riffles around their shoulder. But then they say boss man, what do you have for me, the only answer is to give them money or else —a familiar tale for many Nigerians. The #ENDSARS stories have exposed what is already a severe problem in Africa as a whole. I sometimes think of how the American highlights of police brutality and the protesting that ensued stroked a global outcry which compelled global residents to look at their local problems introspectively. The reverberation of George Floyd's death may have had a direct relationship with the youthful protest currently being staged in Nigeria.
Police and law enforcement has a job to do which no one disputes; the issue comes when there is a clear abuse in those powers which should be used to protect and serve the communities.
In my opinion, power unchecked creates a vacuum where abuse and corruption can exist feely, which is the case in Nigeria and many parts of the world today.
A cry from all
The whole of Nigeria is crying for change, and in some cases, people are dying for this change. The socio-economic mismanagement has created trickle-down anarchy which directly touches all parts of Nigeran life. The rich, the poor and the inbetweeners (middle class) all share in this burden.
Police extortion may have a direct link to police staff not being sufficiently remunerated for their work. A suggestion could be that the Government consider paying all teachers, police and military a fair wage and have a mechanism for these salaries to improve over time.
I hope that all Nigerians, especially those in power, see how a renewed Nigeria is beneficial for all inhabitants.
The recent torchlight on Nigeria problems is a clear cry from all parts of society, but it is the youth that bravely protested doing what our parents were not willing to do.
This post was tough to write when considering the various complex layers that inhibit the growth of such a country. I do not have the answers but would love to shares ideas with others who have a vested interest in a better Nigeria. Firstly, it would go a long way for the Government to consider how they can make Nigeria a country not just for a small/ prosperous minority but for all inhabitants. It is one thing for a person not to want to work to get ahead, but it is another for a person who wants to work, but there is no meaningful use of her or his skills in their country.
I ask that the decision-makers in Nigeria to consider creating an equal system for the young and the old. For them to make education mandatory for all children, abolish the use of young house helps in the whole of Nigeria and have the resources in the way of building new schools and paying teaching staff a fair wage to support this aim. I ask our fellow Nigerians see the current issues as a problem for all as the police and citizens are merely reacting to what I would term as a significant lack in investment in the overall population of Nigeria for an extended period. The more we understand each other, the better we can work together to come up with solutions. I also ask that decision-makers strongly consider how to mobilise the younger generation as they will be the ones that build Nigeria to become a competitive “Global” country.
Believe it or not, our current and past leaders have a significant part to play in the fortunes of the countries they lead. They have the power to put things in place for the benefit of all inhabitants, and even if they do not know the answers, they have resources at their disposal to find the right answers and to set the foundation for regeneration and growth. The Nigerian government should be seeking to make educating the young, improving the standards of public office and encouraging business as the keys to the success of this nation. Perhaps, if these areas are structurally sound, so much more can improve, but I conscious of how complex the problems are which will take a while to resolve.
Earlier, I asked the question whether the country works, my response is that it works well for the minority but not so well for the majority.