I have always advocated for Nigerian youths to not allow anyone make their minds up for them. It is true that old Nigerians have done themselves many injustices over time. But given the relative age of our union, I believe the young people of today should first ask to be given a chance at running the country or to organize themselves to so do, rather than listen to old tales of woe and betrayal from some old people who will not tell the whole truth about the past. I have come to realise that we Nigerians have some basic problems. We get easily carried away especially when things do not go right for us for a while. I look around the big cities of Nigeria, at all the mansions and other possessions of our people and then I wonder why so many people are complaining. People own these assets. People have made money from this country. But how come many – millions – perhaps most people are stuck in bitter complaint mode? Is it that we easily dump the blame for our personal mistakes on the country? Are we attuned to the fact that life is about ups and downs? This is a subject for current as aspiring leaders to ponder, for without understanding the psychology of the people no one can lead successfully. As things stand, almost all leaders get disgraced out of office in Nigeria and their lives often turn to hell on earth. Sometimes I wonder whether it is a worthwhile venture, to try and lead here. Perhaps that is why only charlatans are successful; they know they don’t intend to achieve anything for the people.
The other day I saw a news item about Nigerians whose monies are stuck with MBA Forex, a Port-Harcourt based company that had been at the forefront of forex trade in the country. These smart boys collected hundreds of billions from Nigerians, young and old, under the promise of trading foreign exchange. When we hear that there is free or easy money to be made somewhere, we should be wary. These boys even sold the idea that Nigerian could curb unemployment through forex trading. The kind of asinine ideas one hears in this country is mind-boggling. But Nigerians rushed in en masse and as we read this, the Central Bank of Nigeria is trying to see what it can rescue from the company’s operations in order to compensate the customers who were taken for a ride, with perhaps tiny fractions of their investments. The real news for me was that Nigerians could afford to gamble with N171 Billion in a single company! Many of these ‘investors’ chasing huge interests and returns had families whom they ignored while they stashed monies in get-richer-quick schemes. Some had friends whom they declined to assist. Go to them with a business transaction that could add value and some of them will launch into long tales of woe, cursing the leaders and the country and everything in between. Yet they had staked such amounts which they eventually lost. I concluded that quite a number of us are actually mean. It seems we are more interested in acquiring to pose. Not even the gloom of the covid and the flimsiness of life that we have seen have taught us lessons. Many of these people will even continue to curse Nigeria!
SEEING THE POSITIVE
As a corollary to calming down on all the cursing of the country and permanent complain mode, I also want the youths to give themselves a chance and see if they can still make something good of the diversity of Nigeria. You see, it may not be as enjoyable as we think it will be if we create countries where only our type of people – same language and same religion – exist. The logistics of achieving that is a different ballgame anyway. Whereas it seems that the Yorubas will easily create a mono-cultural society and maybe a nation therefrom (barring protests from outlying ethnicities within Yorubaland who don’t speak Yoruba such as Badagry people), religion is another platform for division. Given how militant many Yorubas are on either side of Christianity and Islam, there is a likelihood of tensions arising in an Oodua Republic based on religious differences. We can see what is happening in Kwara presently. The camaraderie we used to enjoy in the days of innocence has been replaced with suspicion. Many people input all sorts of spiritual meanings to everything these days. If your neighbor gives you meat or food from their religious festival, many Yorubas now believe the food is contaminated with some sort of spiritual poison. Back in the day, we looked forward to such gift.
Nigerian youths must go back and find that mutual trust. And they may find out in the process that they do not need to begin the process of cannibalising the country as proposed.
I recently returned from Kano where I spent a longer period than I ever did there and learnt so much. When I got a Bolt taxi to take me to Igwe’s Palace (a restaurant run by Igbo people obviously), at Sabongari, I ended up with one interesting guy named Salisu. Very articulate and forward-looking, this Salisu, who is also a student at the Bayero University, Kano. He is even a class representative. Do not begin to imagine some smooth ‘aje-butter’ or middle class person, because when he picked me up for the airport as arranged the next day, I found out that Salisu left Kano at 17 after his School Certificate exams, to become a shoemaker in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State. From Yenagoa he went to Port Harcourt, where he lived on Warri Street. He sold off his shoemaking business and began a business selling used cement paper which he said are bought by companies manufacturing mosquito coils up north. I learned from him that the coils are made from paper pulp soaked in some mosquito-repellent chemicals. Now, Salisu in his accent-laden English is extremely intelligent. Someone from this kind of background is using words like ‘getting the dynamics’, and so on in a regular sentence. I’ve seen a lot worse elsewhere where there is claim to literacy.
18 years old Salisu later graduated to selling palm oil. He upped one day and shipped himself to Aba, where he lived at 150 Clifford Street. From there on to Warri, and shuttling between there and Benin, he supplied palm oil up north. He would leave Warri and head to Accra and Kumasi from where he still does the same business till today. He said the product is cheaper in Ghana, but now that Buhari has closed land borders, he reverted to buying from the south to sell in the north (these bans and forex restrictions do have some good sides). Salisu bought an old Honda Accord with which he runs the ‘uber’ business and sponsors himself in university. He is very serious about getting 5-star rating (which I gave him). He is about 35 years old today. The Kano indigene believes people should work and school at the same time. He calls it ‘struggle’. “Struggle must be combined with schooling. This is the mistake I think we made in Nigeria”, he asserts. I assured him that was how it is done in Europe and other developed places.
I asked him what he thinks about Almajirais. He was pained. He said Jonathan tried to do a lot for those boys but his efforts were rebuffed by the elites. He complained about the ‘born born culture that we have’ culture whereby people don’t plan for their children and soon release the boys to go and beg under the guise of Islamic education. He said he had two children who are both in school, just as he had attended public schools all his life. Salisu is a very knowledgeable and helpful chap. A hustler who can blend in anywhere. He has bought into the idea of standing on one’s own and never depending on government. Once during our first journey one of those traffic controllers in yellow uniform was hailing and greeting him with a view to getting a tip, Salisu was aghast. “Oga see me see trouble o. These guys are paid by the state. They even have pensions. Me that I am hustling I don’t even know if I will get or not. How can I give him money?”, he asked me, mouth agape. When I asked him what he thought about Kano streets being quite dirty, he informed me that the Governor has pocketed the local government chairmen to whom he only allocates N20 million monthly; an amount that is not enough to do any work. On national politics, he said he believes someone from the south should become the next president but northern elites are working on continuing with one of their own. When asked if he could vote for an Igbo person, he sharply replied that he voted for Jonathan in 2011 and 2015, so he will if he sees a good candidate. Salisu showed me his crypto wallet and regaled me with the cheap cryptos he trades on the side. Remember this was a roadside shoemaker.
Speaking with this guy, I realized that Nigerian youths are not building some important bridges. He didn’t have to be a southerner to think in some certain manner or to try and be just and fair. He has hustled in life more than most southern Nigeria youths will ever dare. He has suffered in life, sleeping in the open and around mosques as he journeyed from Kano to Yenagoa to Aba to Port Harcourt, Warri, Benin, Accra and Kumasi. What does anybody want him to do to prove his bona fides again? I know some who are permanently cynical will say it’s all fake, that he can turn anytime. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. What I saw in Kano in the extended period I was there is a city of young Nigerians from everywhere trying to make their ways through life. Kano is Nigeria. Kano is a place of opportunities. I even reconnected with my friend, protege and ANRP enthusiast Ibrahim Husseini, doing so well in the Cashew and Hibiscus business up there. The guy is an encyclopedia of the markets. I don’t see why anyone will talk down on any of these guys. The elite are however a different kettle of fish as they are hanging on to a long-expired class structure, hence the filth on the streets and the roaming children. The state of the north today does not represent the wishes of the young folk there at all.
Fun fact about Kano: There are a lot of mosquitoes. But they are easy to kill. They seem not to have the reflexes of those ones in Lagos, which are even smarter than the ones in Abuja or indeed anywhere else in the world. I started wondering if anyone has done research into how the reflexes, attitudes and capabilities of people can affect predator insects around them, like mosquitoes. This must have something to do with evolution. Who knows?