Give Me Sunlight

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?







13 thoughts on “Give Me Sunlight

  1. Your piece is really an interesting one and you raised valid points. Chude and Amara rose to fame on the back of advocating for youths and other issues, but the question is: were they invited as individuals on as youth reps? I can tell you, the invite was very personal, so the issue of been discreet with the information is quite shaky. Besides, its a breach of Presidential security protocols to divulge a privileged invite, no matter how large the group you represent.

    I attended and I also was unsure who invited me or how I was invited, more so, I didn’t know who else was invited. When I turned up I saw about 400 young people, most of whom I know. I am not particularly a youth advocate, but I was very open about my support for GEJ and was on TV debating and marshalling his policies. So I personally had nothing to hide.

    About the take home pack, it will remain a matter of controversy, If I were the President I actually would be very stingy as there are pertinent issues at hand, but the organisers of the event invited young people from all over the 36 states of the federation, it is only fair that they reciprocate by refunding their transport fare (of course you would have to show receipt of money spent, but nobody did ask) . Those who stayed in Lagos were given the sum, I think 50k, no but agreed that they collected sha. Everyone claimed that they left before the envelops arrived. But 50 as transport within Lagos is also a matter of interest. The truth is, if you reject the money the President will propably never know as the many criminals around would help themselves with it.

    Some argued that it is only cultural to give kola to your guests. This is not a crime, to take and to deny is a crime, I took and I am not denying that I did. I didn’t beg or ask for it, but was a gift and has it compromised me, I don’t think so, has it clouded me, none that I know of. If the govt has been stingy and not give would that be akin to integrity, maybe to the minds of the myopic. Integrity is not determined by what you spend or not spend cash on, but by sincerity and openness. If the youth who attended the lunch had rejected the money would it say they are people of integrity? I doubt, accepting an open gift is not a sign of intergity, what makes it a crime is the source, the motive and the manner., and the denial that you didn’t even when you did.

  2. Well like have always argued the problem we face is basically lack of integrity in Nigeria. We have no reason to complain for the huge sum spent on running the government. 50,000 for attending lunch with the president is outrageous, everyone is entitled to his or opinion.. We still have a long way to go.

  3. Well said, Feyi.

    Our reps (i have no idea when we elected them reps though) have done EXACTLY what they themselves had hitherto OPENLY rebuked…The very same things our country is dying from..

    Sad development. I had a lot of respect for these particular “YOUTHS”.

    We’re watching though…Both the watcher and the watched…

  4. @ladi:”a breach of Presidential security protocols to divulge a privileged invite”.SHUT UP!
    That a citizen is meeting his president in the Presidential villa. Abegiiiiii.
    I do not know what you do, but I bet you will collect money and sing praises if you were invited. As you have rightly said, these were personal invites, but were they for personal issues….say like that GEJ is the big uncle, or something like that? NO. The meeting was for National Issues so do not bring up such annoying views here. Personal invite kooo, personal invite ni.

  5. Very well said and to think that a certain Onyeka Nwelue attacked you in his own piece cos of this makes me feel sad. He said and I quote “Wake up, before it is too late, up your game and become known in the society, so that Oronto Douglas, whom you should be attacking (and not Mr. Chude Jideonwo, biko!) would send you an email to your personal email address and call you up on the phone, because that shows you’ve been able to distinguish yourself among the youths” End of quote.
    So a mail or phone call from Oronto Douglas is now an indication that one is an accomplished youth activist. Interesting.

  6. Well said…..well said..! I went on and on about this same issue with a few of my classmates the other day..! And I asked why they(they being Chude and co) didn’t blog about it..? My Timeline on Twitter too was unusually quiet..I mean no one said a thing..? It was even the next day I found out they shared money..! I mean I can understand lunch and meeting with the president..but the money sharing part got me lost..! And like I always say..we still have a very long way to go in this country of ours..and its definitely not gonna start with this generation…my generation..our generation…! God Bless Nigeria though..!

  7. Great write up, Femi. There’s hardly anything extra to add to this. I just wish Ladi had continued to keep mum about this instead of writing that trash he posted up here.

  8. @Mcneri Spot on!

    Reading Ladi’s comment now (i’d ignored it cos it was too long) and i’m afraid IBB was right about the “youths”.

  9. Things like this are the reason we can not have electricity in Nigeria. A country where Danjuma was given an Oil Block and he openly complained about not knowing how to spend the overflow- Oronto Douglas and people like him are bereft of ideas, thats why they think its okay to continue the “brown envelope” culture and give 150k to people for coming to eat lunch. They bought the crowd and wanted to have people that could be bought there, thats why they shrouded it in secrecy. Its a big shame because it only shows the rot that has enveloped Nigeria. And to Ladi who is writing and differentiating the giver from the taker and those who own up from those who dont, may history have mercy on you and your greedy analysis

  10. 1) Very nice piece. I agree with you that the idea behind the meeting with the youths was laudable and highly welcome. Everyone that was invited had the right to go. It might have been a personal decision or collective depending on if it was a ‘Youth organisation’.
    2) I read Ladi comments about the ‘so called transport money’ and i feel sorry for Nigeria and we youths. When will we learn to do things the right way in Nigeria? We want change but we can’t do simple things right. Let me explain what I mean:1) The event was not hurriedly planned, so proper logistics for the accommodation and transportation could have being sorted out before they came. 2) The event had a guest list complied for it – either individually or group/organisation wise. If we really wanted to do things the right way, why couldn’t this list be used to plan properly. Let’s say Sule from XYZ, youth organisation was invited. A feed back mechanism is put in place to confirm his attendance, location he is based or travelling from. Plans are put in place for him for his travel via plane or road and accommodation at hotel ABC in Lagos. This details are communicated to him via the feed back mechanism. He picks up his travel tickets or money from a contact point in his location and comes to Lagos. He checks in to hotel ABC. On the lunch day, a bus picks him up and other attendees and transports him to the venue. After the meeting, bus takes him back to Hotel ABC. He departs for his location the next day. 3) If all this had been put in place, would there have been any need for “generously defraying the transports costs”? Would the essence of the whole event had better achieved without all the accompanying noise if this had been done? 4) For those staying in Lagos, what was the transport money for? Yes they left their primary business and went for the lunch, if it was for a cause they really believe in, why get paid transport money or “inconvenience” money?

    Change in Nigeria is not a 1 day process but if we the youths can’t effect the change we want in Nigeria to start with our own events/initiatives, then we really have a long way to go.

    I will repeat again that I am not in anyway against the event, just that things could have be done better and saved us all the after-math that has diluted its importance and relevance.

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