Friday, 8 August 2014

In Our Minds- A review

IN OUR MINDS- Reflections of the Youth at Nigeria’s Centenary (1914-2014)



The book In our Minds is a beautifully catalogued assemblage of thoughts, opinions, and deeply analyzed ideas by a group of young Nigerians in a run up to the country’s centenary celebrations. The full coloured print is clean, and at a glance the glossy paper attests to the fact that this project is one with a stamp of excellence.
The book begins with a quote from President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan on how the amalgamation created  a unique c and beautiful country, of richly blessed people who have turned out some of the most resourceful  & innovative people in the world…
A flip to the next page brings you face to face with the somewhat more reflective and firm declaration; a quote from past head of state Gen Yakubu Gowon: “These Centenary celebrations should remind us that our darkest hours are behind us and that our best days are still ahead of us. This event is a salient reminder that as an entity, our unity and oneness are non-negotiable.”
Very apt words from the head of state under whose rule, the country nearly split, during a three year civil war at the end of which no victor or vanquished was declared, though the country stood on wobbly feet with several bruised parts.

The Secretary to the federal Government Senator Anyim Pius Anyim in his foreword enthused that a breath of fresh air is about to be introduced into the centenary celebrations with the involvement of youths who not only complain of a stagnant Nigeria, but also proffer solutions to the nation’s challenges.
A deep longing for change is obviously one of the engines that drive many of these young Nigerians. This is evident from the in-depth analyses of the issues tackled in the weekly TGIC competitions organized on the facebook page. Topics ranged from Corruption to Traffic jams, to Mob action, to Nigeria’s image abroad, to caring for the aged, Brain-drain, Violence in the Legislative, Social security and much more.
Interesting to note is the fact that the youths initially viewed the project as suspicious, “… boys are not smiling. Did we ask you to celebrate stupid 100 years? Sure one of you would be robbing us with this crazy stuff”  and “Democracy without development, plans without action, people without government, government without commitment” and other derisive remarks littered the page in the beginning.  These are understandable sentiments in the face of corruption, and the lingering insecurity in the state, with senseless killings of harmless citizens by insurgents in the north.

At the escalation of scathing remarks and accusations, the administrators of the social media team met with the secretary to the government and mapped a way out of the quicksand that the social media page was fast becoming. The Honourable secretary suggested Thank God it’s Centenary- TGIC; a twist of the popular ‘Thank God it’s Friday’. From that point the stage was set to coax, trick or convince the Nigerian youths out of their distrust.
Alternative use was found for the otherwise negative energy bristling on the social media platforms, and the Nigerian Youth; a sucker for competitions and games, was aptly positioned for this. Members of this online community were eventually to be called ‘Centennial Ambassadors’

The youths must be commended for their ingĂ©nue, and the willingness to creatively find solutions to different matters as they arose.  They were given weekly vignettes, asked to imagine they were in positions of power, and solutions were demanded of them. Thrown into the deep end, they thus came up with possible steps to overcome the weekly challenge. Winners were crowned Ambassador for the week, with a letter of commendation from the federal government and a phone, IPad or laptop.
The motivation to respond to the weekly scenarios may have been the mouthwatering prizes, but in the end, true patriotism pushed the would-be leaders to think up inspiring responses with an amazing understanding of the issues at hand.
For the fortunate ones who got shortlisted, they became overnight politicians, lobbying for votes and likes from friends and well-wishers. A thoroughly democratic process that undoubtedly was, yet this reviewer wonders if this process of selecting winners was not more a of a popularity contest than an objective choice of who merited the award.
Some awardees got immediate employment with the office of the Secretary to the Federal Government. Winners came from within Nigeria and the diaspora.

A few contributions stood out though and they attested to the intelligence of the respondents.
Eg: Ope Adediran on Social Welfare for the Unemployed, said ‘…the social welfare benefits are barely enough to afford the basic necessities of life, and are primarily designed to prevent the vulnerable citizens from being destitute. Furthermore a social welfare scheme will enable some thrifty and creative Nigerians to use such payments as stepping stone out of the unemployment to become self –employed and become employers of labour. It is important that social welfare benefits for the unemployed should also cover those unable to work due to disability or old age.’
 Speaking on Influence of Society on Public Office holders, Ekpa Faith, Pauline spoke vehemently in favour of discipline and uprightness. According to her ‘Conflicting interests will definitely come from family & friends, but I’ll surely have it at the back of my mind that if I have to succeed, NO INTEREST (personal or group) should override NATIONAL INTEREST…’

Many more insightful comments abound in this book. The first stage of the project extended for the twenty weeks that the TGIC competition lasted.
The plan is to give back hope to the youth and to ensure that this hope stays. It is obvious that this plan has taken off on the right footing.

Phase two commenced with quizzes which took on a larger dimension than the social media. This became a show across different regions and will culminate in the grand finale where seven regional winners will compete for one million Naira and the honour of being dedicated ‘Nigerian Centenary Genius’ by the Presidency.
This project also highlighted the talents of ten year old artist; Ayomikun Omoyiola, whose painting ‘Peace in the midst of a storm’, done in acrylic paint and gouache on white cardboard, was presented to Hon Anyim, who named her ‘Peace Ambassador’.
She was commissioned to do another painting which she presented to President Jonathan, at the centenary celebrations in February.

It is indeed a breath of fresh air that a youth movement of this magnitude could be built with a followership of millions on social media. Yet for this reviewer, questions arise: will this collectively channeled focus deliver to the youth and Nigeria as a whole, what is due them? Will government take cognizance of and implement the many lofty ideas that these young ones so passionately tendered? Or will the gifts and exposure for the lucky winners suffice to quiet the rage in the polity- for a short while? Will our youths be able to hold on to belief in a motherland where hope itself can be more ephemeral than the winds of a harmattan morning?
Only time will tell.