First things firstly first; anything wrong with having lunch with the duly elected President and Commander-in-chief of the world’s biggest black nation? Absolutely not. At least on the part of the president (given that young Nigerians have been ready to engage since forever) was this a step in the right direction? Absolutely. In the land where politicians tend to forget those who elected them as soon as the returning officer has announced the results, it is indeed welcome that Mr Jonathan would seek to parley with young people, an important albeit fragmented voting bloc in Nigeria.
Furthermore, did our young people who were privileged to attend this event seize the opportunity to tell Mr Jonathan the unvarnished truth? This speech here by one Mr Chude Jideonwo, suggests that the President was indeed put on the spot no matter how briefly. Anecdotal evidence from those who attended the event, described it as a speech delivered not without passion.
So what was the problem? Just this once, I crave your indulgence to allow me reference myself. Last year as Nigeria was about to turn 50, I wrote this note saying the young people of Nigeria would be called up next to have a go at changing Nigeria, for the better it has to be added, in whatever way they could. If you don’t have the time to read the whole article, take this quote away from it
And what a tragedy it would be if you took the wheels and drove the car exactly the same way the former guys drove it
There’s no need to castigate Mr Jonathan or his people for their conduct before and after the event. They did nothing that was not to be expected. The Nigerian presidency has become some kind of mobile Father Christmas where the privilege of physically being in the same room with the president must be subsequently rubber stamped by the sharing of money or as it has now come to be called by those who did not bother to consult the dictionary or their conscience before collecting the money; per diem. The only slightly hilarious part of the whole thing is those who have called it ‘sad’ and ‘unfortunate’ that money was shared at the end of the event. What were they expecting? Now if a collective stand had been taken to refuse the money, that would have been truly novel. But there really isn’t any need to act at all surprised.
Much has been said about how the Nigerian ‘system’ works and therefore to get things done you have to play the system somewhat or perhaps how the time for posturing and carping from the side-lines is now over and we must now seek to engage the system. All well and dandy, but pray tell, who needs reminding of what the Nigerian system is like? Which young Nigerian, after 12 years of democracy, does not now know that engagement is a must if only to be heard? Nigeria’s democracy, flawed and wobbly as it is, provides us plenty of avenues to register our displeasure at bad leadership, not least the recently concluded elections which, regardless of what some people might think, to a very large extent reflected the will of the people. It is impossible to say that all the noise generated on the blogosphere does not register somewhere important in the Nigerian government. So how then does a lunch date suddenly become the mother of all avenues to let the President know how we feel?
And this is where I found the behaviour of some of those who participated in the event rather very silly, said silliness further compounded by the damage control attempts otherwise known as slamming the stable doors shut after the horse has long bolted.
The truth is that our so called ‘youth leaders’ have behaved exactly as those before us, who we rightly castigate and seek an opportunity to do differently from, would have done. I find it unconscionable that people who do not spare us even the smallest details of their lives on twitter and Facebook suddenly became publicity shy over this event. How is it that someone who lets us know that he uses a blackberry torch which has been giving him battery issues or that his new slippers are so comfortable or about his Kenneth Cole watch which, you guessed it, fits ever so nicely suddenly went quiet when it came to the small matter of anchoring an event with the President in attendance? This is not a sub by the way; I am referring to Mr Amara Nwakpa here. I engaged Chude Jideonwo on twitter asking him when exactly he knew he was going to be participating at the event and he said about a week before. So why was there no post on Ynaija? The same website that gives us a ‘twitter personality’ every month? Mr Jideonwo told me that he has a habit of not tweeting when he is at events. Really? Here’s a tweet from Mr Jideonwo on the 20th of May
Swe has got nothing on today’s all-night Obomkpa style groove. #GrannysBurial
In case you were wondering, that’s him tweeting from his dearly departed Grandmother’s burial a few weeks ago.
Mr Jideonwo did not vote for Mr Jonathan so he could not have been invited to speak because he supported the President’s election. So he must have been invited because he is perhaps seen as a voice of at least a section of Nigeria’s young people. This is not an elected position. Whatever popularity Mr Nwakpa and Mr Jideonwo might have is mostly down to them being seen in some way as a rallying point for Nigeria’s unhappy young people.
Now I stress that in drawing the parallel I am about to do, I am in no way comparing these 2 young men to our politicians. At least not yet. But let us take a recent episode in the fast moving action film that is Nigerian politics. Recall how a few days to the Presidential election the leader of the Action Congress of Nigeria, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu was apparently summoned by the President and ferried on a jet plane to Abuja. When Mr Tinubu received the summons, did he announce it to Nigerians or his constituents? No. After the meeting was there a furore with people (till today even) calling Mr Tinubu all kinds of names? You betcha. Do we know if a deal was struck or if money was shared at the meeting? Who cares?
Nigerian politics has always been one of exclusion. Where those in power endlessly conspire to keep out the best people from governance. We are constantly fighting one battle or the other to either prevent our votes from being excluded or agitating just to be heard and contribute our quota to getting our nation back on its feet.
Our young people who were involved in this event have perhaps unwittingly practiced that same politics of exclusion by arrogantly thinking they could go and represent the youth in front of the president and then telling the very same youth later.
Since yesterday, I have read no less than 3 different ‘damage control’ notes or articles about what happened at the event. They miss the point completely, Mr Jideonwo in particular. The simple question none of these people have woefully failed to answer is ‘why didn’t you tell us you were going to meet the President?’. It is no more complex than this at all. Why didn’t you carry along (and I don’t mean physically carry along or invite) the young people you supposedly went there to represent? Would Mr Oronto Douglas or whoever it was who organised the money sharing have been confident enough to do it so openly if there had been a lot of publicity before the event especially in light of the whole debate about reckless government spending? If the young people, all 400 odd of them, who attended the event knew they were going there as privileged representatives of the Nigerian youth, would they have been so brazenly collecting brown envelopes and then justifying with gems such as ‘I attended the event and spent 4 hours in traffic so I collected the money’?
If Mr Tinubu was mercilessly pilloried for having a meeting with the president (granted Mr Tinubu is not exactly the paragon of transparency in such matters) even with no evidence of money changing hands, why does anyone think they won’t get some stick after having a meeting with the president where money was in fact shared?
And here is the lesson for all of us; many of us haven’t achieved anything earth shattering yet. We are young people so we do have time on our side. For anyone of my generation to get an invite to have lunch with the president is a PRIVILEGE and nothing more. It is not something that has been earned. Not by any stretch of the imagination. So people must learn to humbly carry along their peers in such matters. Before you think I am upset at not being invited, I don’t live in Nigeria. But I am a young Nigerian, frustrated at Nigeria just as you are, perfectly able to articulate myself in front of the president or my peers, so if anyone is going to represent me anywhere, they better let me know before they do so. And if you see fit to tell the world what you want to eat the day after tomorrow, then you ought to let us know if you are meeting the president especially if you are going to be the anchor of the event. And no, I don’t want to give you a proposal to pass to Mr President. Just like millions of other Nigerians, I have a job that pays just about enough to get by.
Give me sunlight….because it is the best disinfectant. If you are going to put yourself about as a representative of young people in Nigeria then you better let us know what you are doing. All of this having to explain what went on and a whole day spent debating the mundane issues of the event when we could have spent it cheering Mr Jideonwo’s candour in his speech.
Mr Jideonwo ended his admonition to Mr Jonathan with the words ‘We will be watching sir’. Well let me tell him that we too are now watching the watcher. There is a reason why Nigeria is the way it is today and we all know it. To get results that will give us some level of satisfaction, we must do differently when we get the chance to do so not act like our parents can be expected to act had they been the ones who got the invitation to lunch with the President.
Finally, I am curious, what kind of food was served and did it reflect our federal character?