A Path Choked With Weeds

by Osita Okoroafor

‘Education is a better safeguard of liberty than a standing army’
– Edward Everett

It might be that instant wealth blights vision- in my search for active participation in the affairs of my nation I formed a group known as Oil Mineral Producing States Law Scholars League (OMPSEL) in consonance with some other law students then at the Law School. The group was supposed to promote conciliatory stratagems in the spirit of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) amongst the youth of the restive Niger-Delta. After a remarkable string of high profile meetings and parleys (on our part) with some ministers and governors of the affected states, some tokens dropped into our plate and we fell apart bickering over money-related issues; a catalogue of petitions and counter-petitions soon ensued till our noble intentions were shot to hell.

Ditto Youth Democratic Movement (YDM) whose ideologies were eulogized for a while, that is before its leadership unilaterally took a wide detour to the path of brigandage. Owing to a dearth of purposeful government sponsored youth programmes, well meaning Nigerian youths are often lost as to how to apply their fervent patriotism. It was thus heartwarming to see my good friend Victor Elias speak so glowingly on how to alleviate the plight of the youth during the Network News reportage of his group The United Nations of Youth seminar on ‘youth related issues,’ or something like that. But did they have to mar what seemed an otherwise commendable exercise by conferring on Professor Jerry Gana an award for “the best minister of the fourth republic?” whatever that means, I felt an award for the most recycled public official/minister should have been more fitting.

Youth organizations are springing up across the country like mushrooms in a dark forest, but a majority has shown a salacious predilection for ‘lucrative projects’ like campaigning for certain political aspirants and office holders in the mould of the inglorious YEAA of the 2-million-man-march infamy. This is symptomatic of the fact that groups like these operate solely on government funds for the whims of these office holders, which is often rarely laudable. The few groups with noble designs are cash-strapped and cannot propagate their lofty goals. The point being that the youth are looking for directions in a forest path that has been eaten up by weeds. Quo Vadis the Nigerian Youth.

I know of more crooks that are overnight millionaires than of honest millionaires. I hear of more outlandish and shockingly lucrative deals than information from the Federal Ministry of Education on the world’s top graduate schools. I should be mindful of the company I keep or whom I listen to? Perhaps, but the average Nigerian lusts for easy wealth and society no longer questions the source of such wealth, rather flaunting such ill gotten wealth is the eulogized in glossy magazines. Thus an indolent mind may be spurred to query the aim of ‘burning the midnight candle,’ when all one needs do is shine your eye and say open sesame to the treasure trove. This might be faulty reasoning, but does appear logical going by the present state of affairs in the country: if I can make it fast and easy, why toil hard and slow for it.

My younger brother emblazoned the walls of his room with mean looking but trendily appareled rappers, there are no pictures of Martin Luther King or Nelson Mandela anywhere. I know for a fact that he dreams of all the ‘bling bling and so much ice to freeze New York.’ He will not be caught dead with a copy of ‘The Long Walk to Freedom’- that’s for geeks! A passing phase perhaps, but it does encapsulate the spirit and mind of our youth; say welcome to the sparkle and get lost the substance! One factor is largely to blame for this mindset amongst the youth: our system of education is tedious and no more entertaining than mud wrestling. This should not be so; education should be made attractive and hugely rewarding. God knows for all the interest I have seen expressed by the Nigerian youth in IT and computer education, if a quarter of ‘the corporate donations’ witnessed before the last elections was directed into the funding of IT education and provision of computers in rural schools we might have another Emeagwali in 10 years, unfortunately this type of education is largely above the reach of ‘ordinary hands.’

Education must receive government’s immediate attention, it demands it, and besides knowledge empowers- an educated Nigerian nation is a powerful Nigerian nation. It was the inimitable JFK who once said: “Our progress as a nation can be no swifter than our progress in education.”

It is most saddening that Nigerian youths should be spared an otherwise glorious life of educational pursuits and scientific achievements and enamoured instead by the clamour for filthy lucre (not that some do not escape this iron ring of perfidy, those who do so are aided purely by vaunting personal ambition and doggedness to overawe the drudgery of our educational system, unfortunately such spirit is obviously lacking in a majority of Nigerian youths, or has not received due encouragement) but then what do you expect when we look up to our ‘government of elders for elders’ for such encouragement.

Permit me to say that the youth are the most shortchanged group in the Nigerian project (though a strong case can be made for women). I do recall my days as a law student on court attachment; my presiding judge (a most erudite man) who could hardly speak for two minutes without gasping for breath was due to be retired. However, unlike a world not too far away where senior citizens look forward to retirement and dream about boats, angling and fly fishing, my judge was irate. He was piqued by a system that dared retire him (that young old gentleman). He cited a myriad reasons why he was being victimized with due retirement- his tribe, his religion, his forthrightness, all the usual Nigerian reasons and noises. He stopped short of one reason though; the only reason why he was being retired: he has fulfilled his maximum years of service and was past the statutory age for retirement.

In truth, my judge has every reason to feel victimized; many senior citizens escape “unpleasant retirement” by doctoring their birth records. During my stint at court I was inundated with boxes of “age declaration” affidavits sworn to by mainly ‘the very aged’ who have vowed to die on the seats they occupy. The unfortunate consequences of this action is evident in the number of qualified applicants on the streets, while job spaces are occupied by sit-tight geriatrics, whose level of productivity is limited by hours of fervent drooling in fitful sleeping bouts when overwhelmed by the tedium of office work. I wouldn’t blame them though – have you ever seen a queue of pensioners before one of the Federal ministries at Abuja? It is a long queue to hell!

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