“The young bird does not crow until he hears the old ones do” – African proverb
The arguments around whether Nigeria will submit its over one and a half million young people to sit for the West African Examinations Council Examinations (WASCE) or, in more general terms, the debates on possibilities and timings of re-opening schools must be additional sources of depressing young Nigerians.
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There are hundreds of thousands in federal and some State universities who are being reminded that studies will not resume even when governments give the approval to open schools and tertiary institutions because their teachers will be on strike.
There are millions of school children who are bored and stressing parents at home.
A few receive on-line lessons at home, teaching methods that are still of questionable value, but are important because they allow parents and schools to create a semblance of movement beyond a static, depressing stage.
There is another category of the young Nigerian, the almajiri who was swept away here and there in the initial panic triggered by the pandemic, but is now back, very much in business on the margins of existence.
No one had a say in the arrival of COVID-19, a phenomenon which so rudely interrupted our life as a nation fast depleting its store of faith that there is the possibility of a good future for our young Nigerians.
There were already attempts to patch a few sore points such as the huge numbers of unemployed graduates through blurry programmes like N-Power and even more blurry dole-outs to vulnerable groups.
Now the plan to borrow N56bn and throw it at 774,000 young people to sweep streets and have pocket money for three months after which they resume normal hopeless existence is entangled in quarrels over how much goes to lucky, un-connected young people, and how much goes to others as largess and patronage by politicians.
There will be much bitterness after selections into temporary relief are over, as the majority will be left out because they lacked powerful people who will push them through irrespective of their rights or merit.
The young Nigerian is an expert in the science of getting ahead without rights or merit.
He is well taught by adults who have perverted every standard they set for others.
For every position available in the public service, one hundred graduates will apply.
The one who gets the job would have been decided long before the process even began.
When multitudes began to appear and cause scandalous stampedes, the government found a way to ask for approvals to be exempted from advertising vacancies.
Positions are quietly shared between statutory regulatory agencies, leadership of employing agencies, legislature and other powerful people.
Still, the young Nigerian keeps hoping that one day he will find his own big man, or someone who will teach him how to circumvent tough barriers against the powerless.
The young Nigerian knows all about circumventing barriers.
Very few children go from kindergarten to the end of tertiary education without indulging in a widely known and tolerated practice of bending examination rules.
Parents know this, and in most instances, the level of efficiency involved in the arrangements involving school authorities, parents, teachers, invigilators, children and young people to assist students cheat is breathtaking.
It is no exaggeration to say that if we had collectively deployed our energies and resources that we use to subvert basic education standards towards improving the overall quality of education, Nigeria would be counted among countries with the best education standards. At the end of his education, wherever that point is decided by a system where progress is made by abilities to fund and cheat, the young Nigerian resumes a life of extreme frustration.
Groomed by a broken system to work for a salary, the vast majority of young people finishing schools and tertiary institutions will not know what else to do with all their years in school if their lives depended on it.
There are millions more of our young scraping a living in a highly volatile informal sector of the economy.
Many work hard to make a little here and there, and then hope that the opportunity does not dry up.
There are others who have no education, skills or hope of securing a productive existence.
In terms of numbers, this category is frightening.
This group is open to scrapping an existence through crime.
Drugs cushion marginal and brutal lives.
Organised violence sweeping across the country provides an outlet.
Many young people join, deploying rare brutality at victims and law enforcement agencies and expecting the same in a life that is very likely to be short.
Finally, there is a growing group that services a political process that is fueled by illegal money, perversion of all rules and violence.
This process teaches its young apprentices and foot soldiers one lesson: win at all cost, or lose at great cost.
The young Nigerian will be familiar with the underlying values that surround the Magu saga, the revelations from the Niger Delta Development Commission(NDDC), the controversy over how many slots out of the 774,000 sweeping jobs the legislature will take, the corruptions in the management of COVID-19 all over the country, and just about every facet of public and even private lives.
He has not been groomed to expect honesty, integrity or justice from leaders, or even religious people.
The most important lesson he learnt from home, school, streets and forests is this: survive at all cost, and do not expect any favours.
He lives with multiple standards, which leaves him free to choose his own.
Yet the young Nigerian has to sit and wait while quarrelling and thieving leaders decide whether he goes back to school or not.
If he lives on the margins of a shrinking economy, he has to worry over his fate at the hands of government officials and law-enforcement agencies.
He has no idea when or if he can resume studies at the university, since his teachers and governments are involved in the usual cat-and-mouse that is entirely about more money for them and less for quality education.
He lives with the demands and restrictions of COVID-19, bottling-up huge energies or finding outlets in unusual places, while adults plan and scheme their ways around rules and scandals right under his nose.
The young Nigerian is the biggest casualty of a failed political system.
It feeds him on a solid staple of fiction that there are groups out there that are his enemies, thus diverting attention from massive failures.
He is taught to hate, not leaders who have let him down, but other Nigerians who are held up as reasons behind his desperate or hopeless existence.
He has no faith in his nation; no trust in leaders or authority, and no hope that he can affect a change in his life.
For many, it is easier to fight against his community and his country than to work for it.
Millions have left the country, taking their raw labour or skills to other nations that value them.
Thousands have died trying to get there.
Those working for others feed the narrative of a failed nation that has no right to exist unless they redesign it.
If this nation will survive the next decade as one, it will have to address a number of major issues.
The first is to begin to see and do something about the foundational threat of official, stupendous corruption that is feeding insecurity and creating millions of alienated young people who feel they owe nothing to it.
The second is to fix a broken political and electoral system that breeds bitterness, incompetence and frustration that the nation is stuck, or rapidly regressing.
At the very least, there must be a better quality of leaders who will emerge to provide renewed hope and a vision to rebuild the nation from the bottom up.
Thirdly, it must revisit its priorities.
Its biggest asset is its young.
It is also its biggest threat.
We must commit to providing good education and skills and opening up employment opportunities for children of the poor.
Our young must be better than us.
A final word. I apologise to any young Nigerian who feels this material has been unfair to them.