Richard Wright’s novel Native Son, apart from reflecting generally the condition of black Americans in racist America in the post-emancipation era, (19th century) brings to focus a very important issue namely, the travails of young black males in America. This Wright does by foregrounding the character Bigger Thomas and consequently drawing our attention to Bigger’s persistent struggle for survival in a society all out to exterminate the blacks or reduce them to the status of puppets. In such a society which leaves the coloured man or in our case, the youths no other opportunity except that which comes through the exhibition of dogged strength or impotent recluse, the only modes of existence for the youths will be: Violence, or a state of mental paralysis. Bigger Thomas chose the former, which manifests in “criminal” acts culminating in the murder of Mary Dalton thus raising the ire of the political machinery of racist America.
This article is animated by the belief that the position of Bigger Thomas is the position of the Nigerian youths. Like the blacks in racist America, most Nigerian youths face deprivation occasioned by poor economic backgrounds. During their pre- adolescence years, most Nigerian youths harbour lofty dreams of a country that needs them, and excitedly itched to contribute their quota to the development of their beloved country. Youthful years reveal the harsh realities inherent in a country milked dry by a greedy few. Then the Nigerian youth realizes that he or she has only two basic assets – brain and brawn. Still bent on remaining moralistic, and unsoiled in the cesspool of corruption and denial of opportunities, which he/she finds himself/herself, our ethical youth exercises brain and brawn in positive pursuits.
But the problem of our society also goes back to the time (and I have wept continuously for this) when Mammon was enthroned king in our society. This has led to the total neglect of dignity and morals since money has become the only thing that defines a person’s existence in our society. Many of us have mourned the loss of those days when wealth came through the strenght of one’s arms. That time when virtue was lauded. With the change in societal ethos, the Nigerian youth soon realizes that his channelling of his brain and brawn towards the actualization of positive pursuits earns him kobos and people’s contempt and disregard. Construction sites where the youths had gone in quest of honest daily bread transform into hatching grounds for crimes. First class brains, denied of job opportunities with constant demands of “workiing experiences”, transform the brain to 419 activities. Even the strong willed moralistic youth soon realizes that like MAN in Ayi Kwei Amah’s The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born, there is no living in a cesspool of corruption without being at least slightly soiled.
Now, while the Nigerian and indeed African youth is caught in this suffocating web, “philanthropic” politicians have stepped in to help out. Provision of money spinning and crime heightening jobs as assassins and drug traffickers become veritable openings to channel the brain and brawn of the youth to. And like Bigger Thomas, the youths see these as openings through which they may provide a definition of themselves remembering that, here, money defines a man. Yet many may say that impatience is a basic characteristic of Nigerian youths. This of course is true to an extent. But we are not here concerned with “what is”, but essentially with the “why”. Like we pointed out earlier, the definition of self is important to everyman and this definition comes through the acquisition of wealth. With even parental hatred and disregard of children for failing to “make it” in life the disgruntled youth has no option but to strive to make it and here, negative means are enticing means of survival. Little wonder then that our streets are littered with prostitutes, armed robbers, assassins, 419ers, small time criminals etc. Here then is our surmise; that the problem of our youths is the malaise of our society. Only a complete fight against the system will ensure an end to this.
While we wail at youth restiveness and the increasing rate of crime, let us at the same time sit and map out how to cure this disease from the source. The amount of energy and money spent trying to curb youth restiveness will to a large extent help in solving this problem. And with our youths as the future leaders of our great country, the task becomes too urgent. Let us sum up with this poem, which captures the dilemma of the Nigerian youth, in his quest for survival:
Guns bark everywhere
I bend low my eyes focused
Straight on the meal ticket.
No fear, my heart stout
Solid as Olumo rock.
I dive like a fish,
Scuttle, scuttle brothers
And win the struggle.
Cash. Reward for hook and crook moves.
I rest not content,
Guns aimed at my head bark
Spitting fire and brimstone
Vengeance moves by angry brothers
I weep at night
No peace, no rest, tomorrow I may die
Hazards of life crooked.
No questions, no regrets, for living how I live
There is no other alternative.
At night I only shed,