Cover Story

The Youth Yearn

There are letters in the alphabet that interest me, such as M, N, A, H, I, but none as much as the letter, Y. It has two arms reaching out to the sky, both borne on a stem rooted to the ground. The letter Y stands for all that humans desire; to grow roots, branches, and reach for great heights. If you desire humility then look to the letter Y: from low beginnings, it grows tall; from its lowliness it rises from the ashes. It stays down holding up the edifice of human success, splendour, and satisfaction. It makes it clear that, to move upwards, you should be firmly grounded. And it constantly reminds you that, when you are at the top you must remember the roots and the stem that carry you and sustain you. This is not all. Y teaches you that it is the first letter in the word ‘you’, perhaps, the most important word in the vocabulary of society and socialisation. Leadership is enshrined in working for others, putting others first; it is never about self. It is about you.

In its issue of September 1, Aleteia, a daily journal with edifying stories, spoke of a Nigerian boy whose video while dancing in the rain went viral. ‘Whenever he is dancing, I feel happy, I have joy watching him dancing’, says the mother of Anthony Mmmesoma Madu in an interview with the BBC. Anthony is an 11-year-old boy from Lagos, performing ballet in the rain – in uneven surroundings with trash and crates of empty bottles piled against an unpainted wall. The background has the features of what looks like a woman washing clothes in a bucket in the background. Yet Anthony seems to be in a different world as he gracefully pirouettes, leaps and poses elegantly.

The video caught the attention of celebrities such as actress Viola Davi, who won an Oscar for her role in the 2016 film Fences. She retweeted the video and commented, ‘Reminds me of the beauty of my people, we create, soar, can imagine, have unleashed passions and love… despite the brutal obstacles that have been put in front of us. Our people can fly.’

The American Ballet Theatre has given him a scholarship to train virtually this summer, using internet access they have arranged for him. The video has inspired many people to make donations to the Leap of Dance Academy in Lagos where Anthony has been studying till now. ‘My advice to parents is, when they discover any talent in their children, they should follow it up and give their full support so that the child will go far with the talent’, his mother told the BBC.

They are not all like Anthony but many have such blazing talent. Our youth pine before us and we watch them spend their life in wild, fruitless pursuits. The numbers are there and it appears we do not care. Does the President of Nigeria sleep well? How can he sleep well when, from the latest data we have, 40.8% of our youth aged 15-24 are unemployed?

You could well say that most of these young boys and girls, men and women, should be in school. Immediately you raise the question for the president, why are they not in school? What about the governors in the states where these youth live? do they sleep well when they bear the cross of responsibility for the state, especially for the young? How can they when 30.7% of our youth aged 25-34 years are unemployed? Do our legislators sleep well at night, even after we wish them a good night’s rest? How can they sit there and pay themselves whatever they wish as salaries and allowances in multiple millions of naira, and receive COVID-19 hazard allowances when our youth walk around distressed? The case grows worse.

Does anyone in the NDDC sleep well at night, especially the Chairman, when billions of naira meant to provide work and alleviate the suffering of the people from the Niger Delta have found their way into insidious pockets of the self-same legislators? The numbers are mind boggling: 23.3% of our doctorates are unemployed! We should be ashamed of the dismal state of our lives when some of the best we have cannot fulfil their dreams.

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It was not always like this. By our culture, children take care of their parents in their old age. Parents would suffer punishing penury and hardship for the education of their children in the hope that they would be successful in life. They were confident that when their children completed schooling, they would help to recover whatever was spent in their training, especially if some family property had been offered as collateral for a loan. My own father, in 1955-56, had to offer his lands as lien for funds to pay my fees, when I was studying for the Higher School Certificate. When I graduated in 1961, and had my marriage before me in 1962, I had no money anywhere to pay my brothers’ fees. I went to Fr. Walsh, Principal of their schools and pleaded with him that I had no money for their fees and would pay later. Fr. Walsh told me magisterially: ‘There are those things that cannot wait. Go and get married then come back and pay the fees.’ I shall never forget his immortal words that saved me from failing my father. Yes, our parents sent us to school in the hope that we would help out if they were in difficulty. Many families till today have such stories to tell. But that is because their children got jobs and could restore the good name and image of the family by paying off any debts.

Things are not quite the same now. We have ‘yahoo boys’ who raid our bank accounts by their malfeasance, otherwise presented as ‘genius’. We have 419-ers who fraudulently obtain funds often from foreign accounts. Then there are the drug pedlars and carriers who jet from one airport to another laden with their wares. They all return home to Nigeria to us; poor suffering and feeble zombies lacking courage, to flaunt their ill-gotten wealth. We do not care how they got the money. We join them to enjoy whatever goodies it provides. Who cares? Just roll out the money and the music is on! What about ‘Area Boys’ in Lagos? They invidiously molest and maliciously extort whatever they can from innocent motorists who have worked hard for a pittance, scurrying to get safely home to their loved ones. I had read with copious trepidation an article by my good friend, Prof. Bode Lucas, Trapped in the Web of Area Boys in The Comet of July 7, 2006. I had to return to his story and I am still filled with fear praying that he, or anyone else, does not suffer such agony ever again. To the greater glory of God he escaped with his life after giving up all he had on him. How can the Governor of Lagos State sleep well with Area Boys breathing down our necks?

It gets more grotesque. Kidnappers can appear from nowhere and seize us and take us where they please, and demand that whatever money they please be paid as ransom before we are released. Sometimes, one is killed even after the ransom has been paid. Please where is our president? Does he sleep well at night? Even if he sleeps during the day, does he sleep well? Let us be good and say, perhaps, he does not sleep at all! These deadly events have come into our lives because our youth are unemployed. They cannot find jobs and when they start enterprises and step out to make a difference for the Nigerian society, they often fail because they do not receive adequate financial support from the institutions established for this purpose.

Where do we go from here? I have a friend who wants his bride-to-be to pay the ‘groom price’ because he does not have the wherewithal to pay the bride price. That would be turning the letter Y upside down. That is where we are. We have turned our youth upside down and they walk on their hands with massive pain in their necks and in their heads. The stem that preserved the letter Y, the Youth, has wilted with corroding corruption, and the roots with the stem are fiercely destroyed.

All is not lost, though. As they walk on their hands, they are learning a new sport. They are learning to somersault, return, and regain their erstwhile formidable stance of vigour, vitality and victory. They are transformed and now victory, V, the strong powerful arms of work and industry stands on the strong stem — the reinforced roots of our veritable sacrifice for the young. We have our letter Y restored in its pristine elegance and beauty. Anthony will dance his ballets in classical style, his arms victoriously caressing the air which bears the stem and his legs as they sweep through the horizon.

Prof. Mark Nwagwu

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