“I have issues ma, I have issues. I had a rough and difficult childhood. My parents’ divorce broke me. I lived with my aunt who maltreated me. I suffered child abuse, I was beaten and starved. I’m not good enough. I will never be good enough as a person. I don’t have friends, people don’t like me. Working and living with you in the last two weeks have shown me that I have no good upbringing. I cannot go to Ibadan with you, people will see my faults. I have a lot of faults, I pinch myself until it hurts and bleeds, I pinch and pinch. I know it is a bad habit but I can’t stop. I can no longer work for you. I cannot continue like this. I want to be famous, I want to be known. I have a calling for music, acting and God. I can sing, I want to sing, I want to be a singer, as in a Musician. I want to be on Television. Ma, these are the things you bought for me, but can you let me go with the phone? Please!.”
These words came from KC, my maid for just two weeks. She told me she dropped out of secondary school, she speaks near perfect English. A very polite girl, often pedantic and self-conceited. I offered to get her educated but she no longer sees education as a path to success. She imagines herself a celebrity in the mould of Nollywood A-list actresses or a Grammy award winning singer. She lives in one of the out-of-sight areas on the Lekki peninsula.
KC is the quintessential Nigerian youth. She personifies her generation’s answer to the buffeting winds of detrimental structural forces; like unemployment, inability to go to school due to lack of funds, miseducation, declining standard of living, a general lack of prospect etc. facing the teeming young adults this country is breeding. Nigerian youths are living in an economic and psychological wasteland.
Unfortunately the cost is mounting and the toll is getting higher. Sociologists Richard Sennett and Jonathan Cobb in 1972 called what we are seeing as the “hidden injuries”; the difficult-to-measure social costs borne by working-class youths as they struggle to forge stable and meaningful adult lives. Very soon we will begin to see, in embarrassing detail, the effects of the “hidden injuries” inflicted on Nigerian youths by Nigeria and the results will not be pretty to look at.
No nation can achieve greatness without investing in its youth. Nigeria cannibalizes her young through her policies and through determined deprivation. The youth demographic is usually energetic, vibrant, adventurous, learning and full of life. In Nigeria, the youth are disoriented, weak, miseducated, thoughtlessly shallow, directionless and burdened by an impenetrable armour of meaningless swagger, overrated sense of worth and exaggerated aspiration for material acquisition. Money and fame are the twin factors that frames the minds of young people coming of age in Nigeria today.
Can they be blamed? No. They have seen the dregs of the society come into stupendous wealth by going into politics or advance fee fraud. Singers, actors and footballers are celebrated while no one pays an investor or a world-class scholar any mind. They have learnt from their parents and have become masters at measuring success by the the sport utility vehicles, the fast cars, the houses, sexual exploits, psychoactive drug use and choice wine. They do not measure success by other development indices like entrepreneurship and production. The 18-35 age bracket is about 70million and growing rapidly. Widespread unemployment meant that many of them never had the chance to start careers, thus fueling their collective hopelessness. How many singers, musician, actors and comedians can the country afford? The rent seeking nature of little effort for massive rewards has been ingrained in our youth and who will save them? Who will purge their minds?
Their demographic has interesting psychographics. A trip to the shanty towns of Alpha beach, Ilaje, Kuramo will reveal a nation whose youth are lying waste. Children as young as 12 are using dangerous alkaloids in their most unrefined state to escape their parlous existence. Teenagers and young adults are using hallucinogens of varying potency extracted in alcohol called “shepe”, “paraga”. Sometimes they simply smoke them in ground form. Boys and girls in these shanty towns are actively engaged in prostitution with almost equal gusto. Sexual experimentation is in, aided by drugs and mixes of deliriants, psychedelics and entheogens. Addiction to drugs is robbing them of whatever is left of their young minds.
The Nigerian youth has no credible role model. All they see around them are a band of grifters who reinforces their belief that education is a waste of time and resources. In my interactions, I found that they are very distrustful of people and whatever help they are offered. I have heard them tell me they feel betrayed by their parents, by the schools, by the hospitals, the police, the government; any major institutions in their lives. They grew up to a nation that has never worked, they were raised on the notion of quick fixes and short cuts. They are fixated on glitz, glamour, make belief and elaborate stunts.
The “subliminal persuasion” of shows like Big Brother, Guilder Ultimate Search and MTN Project Fame has widened their perception of celebrity. They covet fame, instant celebrity and riches. The tell themselves to go for it by all means necessary, “no dulling”. Most of the shows beloved by this segment flashes images of sex, drugs, alcohol and lay emphasis on looking the part before our eyes. They serve a poisonous diet of perverse images and concepts, which no mind, regardless of age, should ever absorb. The youth being easily influenced are wasting their time getting fed on empty subject matter, causing their youthful imaginations to degenerate. No where is the money see, monkey do theory at play more than Nigeria. We import and naturalize all the evils of other cultures wholesale while we depreciate our superior values. Are we breeding our own “lost generation”? I think so.
I am worried and exasperated. It would not be imprudent to expect that a broken Nigeria with ever fewer traditional mores, misplaced social values, defective moral compass with increasing divorce rate, fewer fathers, absent mothers, and a revoltingly desensitized culture that has lost all social restraints; will produce in droves more young men and women who will continue to fall through the cracks. Indeed millions are falling through the cracks everyday and no one cares. May God help Nigeria.
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