Mine is a generation defined by cowardice. Once upon a time in this country, we had the like of Gani Fawehinmi, Beko Ransome-Kuti, Tai Solarin and a plethora of others with social consciences. These men and women spoke for those without voices; they did not do so for personal gains; some did it at the cost of personal liberty and lost economic benefits because of their commitment to the betterment of the society. Many were jailed, assaulted several times, physically and emotionally, and their means of livelihood were destroyed. They spoke truth to power in the ages of the ‘unknown’ soldiers, and were physically brutalized with impunity.
Of the tribe of these men and women of conscience, only very few remain, and to witness what age has done to the like of Wole Soyinka; to be confronted with the guilt I feel at my anger over his inability to continue to speak for my cowardly generation, left me no choice but to free myself of the burden of silence, enforced by the cowardly need to blend into the scenery.
I have watched as Professor Soyinka rightly man the barricades, my entire lifetime. I have observed the many sacrifices and prices he has paid for daring to speak truth to power. He has been imprisoned for being true to his conscience. He has suffered exile and forced separations from his loved ones and several other deprivations that only he can talk about. He has paid a very high price for the ideals he has lived for. He has not taken the easy roads.
But in recent years, I have found myself becoming increasingly alarmed at the convenient and Wengerian (Arsene) dimensions of his selective criticisms of our political elite. I have applauded as Soyinka took on Goodluck Ebele Jonathan and his co-travellers, Obasanjo and of course, Babangida, and I have waited in vain to hear him say something about the serial malfeasance of the thieves closer to home. I have waited in vain.
For a reason, I was angry with the hero of my youth, but I have since come to the point of realization. Professor is now an old man, he has fought for over 60 years. He is entitled to live out his dotage on his own terms, and it is up to us to embrace our own truths, and speak up as he has eloquently spoken up for our entire lifetimes.
Is it accidental that nobody in my generation has acquired the capacity to speak as the men in my hero’s generation? I think not. I believe that we are all products of the environment that nurtures us, and Professor’s generation was imbued with a sense of purpose that seems completely obliterated in my own generation. Professor’s generation had a surplus of men with the capacity to dream, idealists who had big dreams for the Nigeria State.
The first coupists, Kaduna Nzeogwu et al., Fela Anikulapo, Gani Fawehinmi — that generation had several dreamers and original thinkers. My own generation on the other hand, is replete with survivalists; peopled with men and women who have become experts in existential living; the art of compromises, even with their own consciences, and the pursuit of personal wealth at the expense of corporate poverty.
My generation has no vision of the Nigerian State; we grew up during and after the Civil War. We were either Hausa, Yoruba, Igbo, Edo and so on; we were anything but Nigerians, and not believing in the Nigeria State, we pursued individual and personal aggrandizements. There were periodic and episodic identifications with the Nigeria State, but being unfortunate to have lived as young adults under the several kleptocratic regimes headed by the military, we had no high ideals to live up to, no windmills to charge, and idealistic dreams died quickly in the economic maelstrom that witnessed our youthful years. We are the worst that the Nigeria State has thrown up, existential in outlook, bankrupt in morals.
We are raising children who cannot survive in the country that we will bequeath to them, if things are not quickly reversed. It is this harsh reality that has now loosened my tongue and woken me from inertia. My purpose is to sound the alarm in the hope that we have not travelled too far down this road towards national destruction and we can do a course correction before it is too late.
Silence is no longer an option.
Excerpted from the book – Do Not Die In Their War (Published May, 2019)