Don’t get it twisted – anger is good (#NewLeadership Series with Chude Jideonwo)

“A country driven by Children of Anger is far more desirable than one driven by Children of Apathy.”

There is a new movement – that of the anti-activist activist: people who have made it their business to turn against those who have made it their business to criticise government or politicians.

Well, all of them presumably love Nigeria – those who are working, those who criticize those who are working, and those who are watching the watchers. Each has a role of play, and as long as modern societies run most effectively in an atmosphere of checks and balances, then formal and informal structures that cause iron to sharpen iron are necessary.

One of the easiest targets for this new wrath has been the new breed of new-media-powered activists – especially on Twitter, Facebook and blogs. The critics say they are too angry, they are too bitter; their minds are too narrow. They say ‘social media will not change Nigeria’.

Broadly, the critics are right – much of the conversation among young people is neither purposive nor constructive; many of the people leading this anger movement are themselves questionable characters, sometimes in cahoots with the same people they angrily denounce, most times transparently fanning the flames simply for personal aggrandisement.

And true, much of the conversation doesn’t – cannot – lead to any solved problems.

But here is the deal – none of this means that it is ultimately useless.

Anger is, in fact, a good thing. The first ingredient for any successful mass movement whether it leads to a revolution or to peaceful change has always involved a people who are angry enough to demand and receive change.

Constructive anger is of course more desirable, but a country driven by Children of Anger is far more desirable than one driven by Children of Apathy.

It wasn’t always like this, we have to remember. Something has happened with Nigeria’s young over the past half-decade. The lack of interest in governance, and politics, and how we led that became dominant during the rule of Ibrahim Babangida and a way of life by the time Sani Abacha died has given way to something impressive – through a mix of relentless advocacy, the opening up of democratic spaces, and the shock of bad leadership.

No matter how flawed their arguments, no matter if they follow people who can best be described as hypocrites and alarmists, no matter that they don’t follow through their anger online with action offline (and this is not in fact true, much of the online activist from #OccupyNigeria to #ABSURape has seen substantial offline involvement), the fact that young people are actively interested in their country is something we should be proud of.

And even if all they do is get angry on social media or amongst themselves in their classrooms or offices, then what is wrong with that? Let them be angry! It is their country!

If they cannot be angry about its state of affairs, then what can they be angry about? It is the least that citizens can do. Sometimes it is all that they can do.

In fact, why should they not be angry? Is this a country anyone should be proud of? Do we have the kind of leadership across politics and business, nationally and locally, that can inspire confidence? Is our education churning out output that gives any hope in the future? Why should the young people, who will inherit the country with its sorry state of affairs, not be angry with those who have brought it here?

What kind of human beings would they be if they didn’t feel the kind of visceral rage that one hears them express constantly?

The country has earned N48 trillion from oil alone in the past 12 years; out of that amount, at least N7.7 trillion has disappeared through abandoned projects and by some calculations over N10 trillion has been stolen. Poverty in the period has grown by at least 15 per cent. And you say they should keep calm and eat chocolate?

As a young person in a Nigerian university, there is enough to make you angry – from over-populated classrooms to under-qualified lecturers; as a national youth corps member there is enough to make you angry – from the world’s worst toilets in the camps to the rejection letters that many have received; as a young business owner, there is enough to make you angry – including the fact that you are taxed essentially at least six times when you have neither the electricity you need, the financial framework that can support you nor human resources coming out of the conveyor belt that can advance your business.

Because there is plenty to be angry about, we should encourage a citizenry that is active enough to voice its displeasure. And even if it doesn’t lead to the kind of action that can bring about a difference, at least it is a start. In 2003 and 2007, many of them did not even come out to vote. Only three years ago, many of them would not answer when there was a mass action. That has now changed. That is progress.

The march towards change is a continuous process – citizens who are used to inaction will not suddenly spring to sustained mass action either on an incremental or revolutionary level.

Even the Arab Spring such as it occurred in Egypt and Tunisia was not a spontaneous action that came out of nowhere – it resulted from a series of small-scale, start-and-stop activism for better government by students and civil society, as supported by visionary elite.

By the time the 26-year-old Mohammed Bouazizi set himself on fire on the streets of Sidi Bouzid in December of 2010, there was finally enough simmering and organised anger across the country – driven by inflation, corruption and sky-high unemployment – that could finally make the difference.

As our nation seems to have by loose consensus chosen incremental change over a revolution, the ventilation of anger becomes more important. Whilst we perfect our electoral process and deepen the integrity of the ballot box, the anger that is expressed through the media traditional and new will cause important behavior modification both small and large in the interim.

It is expressed public anger that led the House of Representatives to set up an Ad-Hoc Committee on Fuel Subsidy Management, it is anger that led to the delay of tolling on the second phase of the Lekki-Epe Expressway, it is anger that has caused the PDP to lose the governorship in Edo, it is anger that led Mr. President to rescind his decision to rename the University of Lagos.

The problem we have is not citizens who are reacting to bad governance. Our problem is the bad governance that refuses to abate.

The duty of those who are in leadership, especially of young people, is to re-direct that rage and make it constructive as much as we can. Those who are leaders and are genuinely interested in a regenerated country must learn the discipline that is needed to lead with purpose. They must resist the temptation to speak just for the sake of speaking, to be petty, and to play to the gallery.

We must also pick our battles. Folorunsho Alakija being announced one of the world’s wealthiest women is not a cause for battle nor is the fact that Reuben Abati is doing the job he accepted to do. News that the federal government is about to increase the price of PMS again without fixing a system of accountability in the oil sector is a cause for battle, as is news that a governor gave local government officials N1 million each of public funds for “lunch”.

To put it in social media speak, we should resist the easy temptation to reach for Retweets, and Mentions and Followers and begin to build the networks, resources, consensus and coalitions that will actually make a difference.

More importantly, we must make it clear that anger in and of itself is not useful – and when the anger gets out of hand and is misdirected, let us have the courage to stand against our own constituencies and re-direct them with integrity and with the confidence that comes from an eye on the big picture.

But in the meantime – while we build our capacity for sustained, important change – the anger is good.

As long as Nigeria’s state of affairs are far less than ideal and with no clear hope given that they are set to change, we need as many citizens as we can find who are angry and refuse to take it anymore.

At times such as these in fact, anger is a national duty.


Chude Jideonwo is publisher/editor-in-chief of Y!, including Y! Magazine, Y! Books, Y! TV & He is also executive director of The Future Project/The Future Awards. #NewLeadership is a twice-weekly, 12-week project to inspire action from a new generation of leaders – it ends on March 031.

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