Celebrating Nigerian Youths as the Country Marks 50 and beyond

The memory of the fireworks, displays, parades that were part of the celebrations as well as the embarrassing bomb explosions, 50 years after Nigeria ceased to be a British colony on 1st October, 1960, would always linger in the minds of Nigerians.

Nigeria is 50 and many Nigerians felt there was nothing to celebrate. A quite few believe that for the fact that we are alive and our nation is still existent despite the challenges it has undergone; there were reasons to jubilate.

The exploits of Nigerians in various parts of the globe is one of the
things that often brings joy to many Nigerians. For this reason, many
say we could celebrate but most of these high achievers were able to
make their mark on individual platforms. But let us not forget, that
in one way or the other, many of them passed through the Nigerian
system.

A closer look at many of these Nigerians of class shows that they were
young when they reached the heights they attained, of which has
brought great prestige to Nigeria.

Chinua Achebe, who is known as the father of modern African literature
is known world over for his literary prowess. His most popular work
which has been translated to over 40 languages, ‘Things Fall Apart,’
was written when he was just 28!

In recent times, after several years of retrogression in Nigerian
literary circles, there is a sudden bounce back and resurgence of
Nigerian literature in the international scene. The new faces of
Nigerian literature; multiple award wining Helon Habila, Chimamanda
Adiichie, Chika Unigwe, Uwem Akpan, Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani and others
are mostly young people.Adichie’s second novel,’Half of a Yellow Sun’,
named after the flag of the short-lived Biafran nation, is set before
and during the Nigerian Civil War. It was awarded the 2007 Orange
Prize for Fiction. Chimamanda is also a 2008 MacArthur Fellow.

Emmanuel Ifeajuna a young military officer brought great joy to the
nation when he clinched the first gold medal in an international
competition .Before he joined the army, Ifeajuna, then a medical
student at the University College Ibadan, earned for himself the
honour of being the first black African to win a gold medal when he
won the high jump in Canada at the Commonwealth Games in 1954. He also
set a record. Many years after, Chioma Ajunwa, a young police officer
brought the first Olympic Gold medal to Nigeria in the long jump event
at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia, United States of America.
Nojim Maiyegun, a boxer was the first Nigerian to win a medal at the
Olympics. He won the bronze medal in the light middle weight category
in Tokyo’64 Olympics.

Richard Ihetu, popularly known as Dick Tiger a renowned Nigerian boxer
became the first man in the world to win the Middle weight Category on
23rd October, 1962 and the Light Heavy weight category in 1967.

Kanu Nwankwo at 20 captained the Under 23 team, pioneering them to
also pick the gold medal in the Atlanta Olympic Games. The team showed
a lot of promise that it was tagged the Dream Team by the Nigerian
press. Kanu who is the most decorated Nigerian footballer, won the
African Footballer of the Year in 1996 and 1999 becoming the first and
yet the only Nigerian to win it twice.

Before then, the Under 17 team and the Under 16 team had emerged
winners in the then World Youth Soccer Championships staged in Japan
in 1993 and China in 1985 respectively. The 1985 youth team captained
by Nduka Ugbade showcased Nigeria’s soccer prowess to the world. The
golden eaglets, again in 2007 won the Under 17 world cup. The senior
national team won the African Nations Cup in 1980 and 1994. The Super
Eagles were in the world cup for the first time in 1994 where they had
an amazing display but crashed out in the second round.

Samson Siasia, a young Nigerian coach who led the Flying Eagles to the
second place in Holland 2005 Under 20 World Cup as well as the Under
23 team to pick the silver medal in the Beijing 2008 Olympics was
rated the 15th best coach in the world and the 2nd in Africa in 2008
by the Federation of International Football Association (FIFA) and
Confederation of African Football(CAF).

In the Nigerian music industry that had the old and the young,
Innocent Idibia popularly known as Tuface brought a new dimension to
industry when he won the inaugural MTV Europe Awards African Act award
in 2005 at 29. His feat seemed to open doors in the industry as it was
followed by a boom and explosion of talents in the music scene. Today,
Nigerian musicians are known all over Africa and the world at large
churning out technically sound videos. Most of these videos are
produced and directed by very young Nigerians.

Before then, Nigeria’s Agbani Darego became Miss World in 2001. Her
emergence also brought an upsurge in beauty pageants and fashion
shows in the country. The same could be said s regards reality shows
after Bayo Adetomiwa’s involvement in Big Brother Africa 1 in
2003.In 2009 Nigeria’s Kevin Pam Chuwang emerged tops in the 4th
edition of the reality show winning a whopping $200,000.Dare Art Alade
had earlier been part of the first Project Fame academy(before Project
Fame west Africa).

Nollywood, which is Nigeria’s movie, rated the 2nd in the world in
terms of volume of films produced, by the United Nations Educational
Scientific and Cultural Organization(UNESCO) in 2009 is what
it is today because of many talented young Nigerian actors and
actresses. The production of Living In Bondage, the first contemporary
Nigerian home video by young Kenneth Nnebue, an entrepreneur is said
to be what kick-started Nigeria’s multi billion naira movie industry,
Nollywood which is one of the highest employers of Nigerias’ youth.

Interestingly, Chineze Anyaene, the producer of Ije the journey- a
nollywood and hollywood movie collaboration which is currently making
waves in Nigerian cinemas is just 26.Another Nollywood sensation The
Figurine, a movie that clinched most of the awards at the 2010 African
Movie Academy Awards was directed by another young Nigerian, Kunle
Afolayan.

Notable young actors and actresses in the Nigerian film industry such
as Genevieve Nnaji, Omotola Jalade Ekeinde, Ramsey Nouah, Desmond
Eliot, Stephnie Okereke, Ini Edo have become house hold names in
Africa, the Caribbean and among Nigerians in diaspora. Only recently
Oprah Winfrey described Genevieve Nnaji as the Julia Roberts of
Africa.

Phillip Emeagwali, the ineternet wizard won the 1989 Gordon Bell Prize
at 35 for his use of a Connection Machine super computer to help
analyze petroleum fields. Jelani Aliyu of General Motors(GM) in the
United States of America, one of the worlds top ten car designers lead
the Team that designed Chevrolet Volt, a car that is seen as the
future of GM. Fiften year old Kimberly Anyadike became the youngest
African American female to fly coast to coast in a private airline. She
made history piloting a single-engine red-tail four-seater Cessna 172
airplane from Compton, California to Newport in 2009. Today, in
Nigeria and in the Diaspora there are many young Nigerians who have
perfected in the art of website designing and hosting.

Many young people have also risen to become an inspiration to their
generation through advocacy, motivational messages and laudable
projects aimed at making life better for their peers. Worthy of note is
Fela Durotoye, a youth sensation who is immensely popular among young
Nigerians. In his ‘Mushin Make Over’ project, held in December, 2009,
he was able to galvanise 800 professional painters and about 5000
volunteers who painted buildings, and cleaned drainages, painted
culverts and roundabouts in the sl

um.

Nigerian youths have also been victims of manipulation by the elites
and political class. The field work during the rigging of elections
and thuggery are perpetuated mainly by young people. The arson,
maiming and looting that are mostly involved during ethnic and
religious clashes are often carried out by youths. One would also not
deny the menace of various campus cult groups over the years.

However, Nigerian youths have had causes to get involved in mass
protests which turned violent in some instances as a result of clashes
with security operatives during the military junta. The Ali Must Go
riots in 1977 when University undergraduates protested the hike in
their school fees led to the closure of Universities for months. Some
students lost their lives in the process. The SAP (Structural
Adjustment Programme) riots of 1990 and the June 12 riots of 1993
which came after the annulment of the freest and fairest election in
the history of Nigeria; are also instances where Nigerian youths stood
up against oppressive policies and decisions. It came with a price-the
loss of many innocent lives from the gunshots of ruthless military
men.

Nigeria’s darkest time in its history is the civil war which lasted
from 1967 to 1970. The prominent elements in the war, the Nigerian
head of state, General Yakubu Gowon and the Military Governor of
Eastern Nigeria, General Odumegwu Ojukwu were 33 and 34 years
respectively when the war broke out. Maybe the war could have been
averted if these leaders were older and more experienced. But it was
obvious that at their age, both leaders were men of purpose who were
leading very vibrant people who looked up to them and believed in them.

While Nigeria and its youths are celebrated and their misadventures
are pointed out, a lot of empathy needs to be shown to the legion of
unemployed Nigerian youths especially the graduates, roaming the
streets and stuck in cyber cafes applying for advertised jobs that
have already been taken. The presence of only few job openings has made
the Nigerian labour market over saturated, yet several thousand youths
will still graduate yearly to join the market.

At, 50, Nigeria can boast of many internet savvy young Nigerians while
at the same time there are still many ignorant without formal
education or not privilleged enough to be in tune with the modern
times. As Nigeria steps into the begining of the march to another
golden jubilee or rather, a march to centenary of its existence, would
the future be better for Nigerian youths? Or would they continue to
suffer from the abuse meted out by a failed older generation?

Many foreigners with close ties to Nigeria often wonder how Nigerians
manage to take life easy even in a myriad of poor infrastructure and
bad leadership. A walk along the parks and streets would testify this.
You would see a bus conductor calling out the names of the rickety
bus’s destinations in a very melodious manner. The truck pusher
working under the hot sun would still give you a smile even though he
has not had a meal. School children trekking long distances to and fro
school would still not fail to greet their elders who walk past them.
For these reasons, Nigerians were once rated the happiest people in
the world. Perharps, it is because of the kind of resilience that
Nigerians, especially the young ones have shown in their quest to make
it in life against all odds. Nigerian youths are capable of doing big
things and tackling big challenges.

As 2011 election approaches, it is interesting to know that a coalition
of various Nigerian groups pioneered by youths have decided to rise up
and educate their peers on the need to vote and vote wisely. They
maintain that if the young people do not stand up now to make a
statement then the polity would be so depleted by the time the
leadership of the country would come into their hands. It is such that
their being conversant with the internet vis-à-vis the various social
networking sites would be an asset to bring this to pass. It would be
exciting to see video clips of attempts to rig elections and some of
the misdemeanours of the law enforcement agencies on CNN I-report,
facebook and twitter!

With such awareness, Nigeria’s young people would not only secure a
better leadership for themselves in future but would also make many
individual breakthroughs in various spheres of life.

Written by
Okey Egboluche
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