Nigeria’s lazy conversation

In 2014, Richard Dunne made a dubious history by becoming the highest own goal scorer in Premier League history. He scored ten of such backward goals – six at Manchester City, three at Aston Villa and the tenth at QPR. President Muhammadu Buhari is in the same class. He loves exhibiting a raw talent for slamming the ball into his own net. He scored a loud one at the Commonwealth last week. Our president mortally hurt his army of youthful worshippers. Buhari announced to the whole world that a lot of Nigerian youths under his care “do nothing,” “have not been to school” and yet want everything, including education and health, free of charge.

That London gaffe was a blow that has left his fans of “illiterate” youths dazed. But the one who burnt down the village barn would have at least one ardent lover. And you know, when in love, the other person comes first in care and happiness. Wounded and alarmed, lovers of Buhari quickly recovered and reached for clean water to bathe their idol, hence the sly attempt to drag Chief Obafemi Awolowo into the Buhari ‘lazy’ talk. They claim that what Buhari said in 2018, Awo had also said 44 years ago. They claim that Chief Awolowo in 1974 said the trouble with Nigerian youths was that they slept too much. And they quoted him copiously.

It was easy for Buharists and Buharideens to cut and paste Awo’s sentence. They won’t cut and paste the context of the statement. Chief Awolowo spoke in the context of having access to free education as an inalienable right of every citizen. Where that access was provided and some persons still preferred sleep over learning was what he condemned. General Buhari is the opposite of Awo. He did not speak as a philosopher on the same wave length with Awo. Unlike Chief Awolowo, President Buhari made “doing something” a condition for accessing free education and free health. That is Buharism, not Awoism – and it is quite revealing. If you don’t like my drift, go and read our president again.

The president for the first time spoke about free education. And what did he say?  His verdict is that the Nigerian youth must work before qualifying for free education. That is the opposite of what Awo stood for.  If Awo’s welfarist position was the thesis, Buhari’s blot was the very antithesis. And this too: I thought a man cannot lose an in-law unless he has a wife; but with General Buhari, a bachelor can validly claim that his in-law is dead. Is it logical for someone who does not want to be educated to be demanding free education? Our president did not ask himself that question before he spoke in London on Wednesday. He claimed that “a lot of” the youths of his country “do not do anything”  and “have not been to school”…yet they want  “…education free of charge.”  I do not understand our president. Can someone who has never gone to school and who does not want to be educated be, at the same time, said to be demanding free education? My English teacher taught me something about coherence and cohesion. I cannot see either in that presidential statement.

But why have we all stopped working since last week because President Buhari suggested that “a lot of the youths” of Nigeria are lazy bones? Everyone has not stopped whining since. Why are we angry? Is it not the truth that anyone who keeps his chains is a lazy fool?  So, you do not know that a soul in fetters is an idle doll? If the youth is not lazy, he would do something and break the shackles.

“I was born a slave, but nature gave me the soul of a free man.” That was Toussaint Louverture’s engagement of his life of slavery. Louverture was the leader of the slaves who brought down France’s Saint-Dominique and created Haiti – their own country. Today, the Haitian revolution is proudly listed as “one of the most successful slave revolutions in world history.” The revolution did not just bring an end to slavery like other slave revolts, it moved a huge step forward by creating the world’s first country of ex-slaves. When is the Nigerian youth stepping out to create his own country of freedom?

To the rich and powerful, there is only one explanation for being poor, and that is indolence. The weak poor is powerless and poor because he is lazy. The slaves of Saint-Dominique revolted when they thought they had had enough of the oppression of their overlords. The cup of Nigeria too should be full one day. Until it is full, the kids of the poor will remain lazy and illiterate. My greatest fear is that when the bubble bursts in here, the ‘lazy’ will go for the wrong victims. The slaves will go for their defenceless defenders. There is the Irore bird in Yorubaland. Weak and threatened, it builds its nest close to bees and wasps. When it does that, it escapes the killing fingers of wanton boys. The slave owners of Nigeria are weak but they have moats around them. They are big men with incredible foresight. They do not live near their victims. They live in fortresses built of distance and weapons. They are wisely ensconced in cocoons of pleasure and calm and peace. They are far from the inanities of the madding crowd. They are safe and can proudly pronounce the youths of their country idle and uneducated.

Our president is bold, blunt and consistent. What he says in “the other room,” unreported, he goes to London to magnify. And you are in Nigeria, whining, stomping your feet on the canvas of power. What can the angry goat do to its confident owner? The mind of power is a marvel:  If you are not lazy, you would be working in the Central Bank like their children. You would be in the Federal Inland Revenue Service and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation like their in-laws.

I can imagine what remains in that mind that belched last week’s London declaration. And he didn’t see the horror on the white faces that heard him. That country he chose for that ‘lazy’ talk takes care of all its youths. It cares for young people in work; for young people looking for work; for young people in school; for young people out of school and for those looking for education. Our own leaders here look at the youth and his sweat and wonder what the problem is with him. They say even when the youth is allowed some privileges to have good jobs, he still insists on going to scavenge abroad. Because he is lazy, all he thinks about is traveling out to create problems for the white man in his own country. The president said so the last time he was out of Nigeria. The children of the lazy are the poor causing logjams hawking on the streets and at foreign embassies. No matter how much help you give them, they insist they must go to the dunghill to scavenge. A lion’s cub will never be seen walking the dense forest without the royal swag. Carrion is meat for vultures; leopards don’t eat rotten flesh.

Nigeria is hostile to the young. It is true. But the solution is not in short-cuts. President Buhari’s lovers would insist he was right. Maybe it is true that the Nigerian youth is laid back and lacks a vision of himself in freedom. They want gold without digging for it. Our president spoke what the white man said 300 years ago. A 1798 entry of the Encyclopedia Britannica accused the black man of: idleness, treachery, revenge, cruelty, impudence, stealing, lying, profanity, debauchery, nastiness and intemperance.”

Very extremely unfair, racist assessment! But whose fault? You won’t find that characterization in any encyclopedia today, but it does not mean that much has changed. What changed is the level of diplomacy of the white man. Today, some persons here, even if it would cost them election or reelection, won’t mind using these very words for their countrymen. The specimens used for that 18th century assessment were slaves sold abroad by their kith and kin. Today’s victims are those being forced by the system to sell themselves to slavery. But can you have your country by running away from it? “A friend just left a N1million-per-month job to relocate to Canada. That is like the 4th person around me relocating in the last six months. What is happening in Canada? It is getting scary.” That is from a very brilliant young man lamenting on Facebook two weekends ago. One of his friends reacted adding his own worries: “Many of my friends are relocating en masse. I mean, well established guys with well-paying jobs in Nigeria. It is really disturbing.” Running away from Nigeria won’t make life better for anyone; definitely not for the refugee.

Toussaint Louverture “was born a slave”  but he was clear that nature gave him “the soul of a free man.” He did not sit down lamenting his life in slavery. He did not run away either. He stayed, fought and broke down the walls of servitude and a free Haiti was born. Buhari won’t change his “lazy” opinion because we are abusing him. Nothing and no one will make him recant. What will convince the resolute is the resolve of the “lazy” to do something positive about his station in life.  In 1798, the black man was lazy. One hundred and thirteen years later in 1911, the world saw no reason to modify its opinion of the black man. It was even worse. The Eleventh Edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (1911) notes that black children who were “sharp, intelligent and full of vivacity” in childhood soon got degraded on approaching adulthood. “The intellect,” it says “seemed to become clouded, animation giving place to a sort of lethargy, briskness yielding to indolence…”

That was it. Indolence again! The authors felt the black man had remained where he had always been- a burden unto the world; an enemy of no one else but of himself. Were they wrong? Even today, 2018, what is our own opinion of ourselves? Our president spoke in London and the world heard him clearly

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