Tunde Leye: The Turnkey Generation

Make no mistake, there are always critical points in the history of any nation. It is usually difficult to predict these times before they happen, but after the fact, they become abundantly clear. For example, no one could predict the Arab Spring, but in retrospect, much analysis has been done to show that it was something that was bound to happen.
The earliest Nigerian actor in the independence struggle as far I can remember was Herbert Macaulay, grandson of The Reverend Samuel Ajayi Crowther. However, he died at 82 in 1946, before independence materialized. At his death, the struggle had been taken up by a group of men in their late twenties and thirties. Although Nnamdi Azikiwe was already 42 at this time, he had joined the struggle in his thirties. At the vanguard, along with Zik were Awolowo (37), Akintola (36), Ahmadu Bello (36) Balewa (34) and Okotie-Eboh (27). The vision of each of these men for Nigeria was different, but each courageously pursued that vision and it was with their effort along with other factors within the British Empire that Nigeria’s independence was won.
However, by the time independence was won, these men were aging. By the time of the 1966 coups, they were aged as follows Zik (62), Awolowo (57), Ahmadu Bello (56), Balewa (54), Okotie-Eboh (47), Akintola (56). Around this time, another group of twenty and thirty year olds took bold steps to grab hold of the leadership and chart the course of the nation. Albeit unconstitutionally, but do it, boldly they did. As typified by Kaduna Nzeogwu (29), most of the January 1966 coup plotters were in their late twenties to early thirties. The counter-coup also had officers in this age range, grabbing power from the initial independence fighters who were aging and losing their halos. Involved in that coup at various levels were Murtala Mohammed (28), Theophilus Danjuma (28), Babangida (25), Nanven Garba (23), Sani Abacha (23), Shehu Musa Yaradua (23) and co. The men it brought to power were not much older, in their thirties, such as Gowon (32), Ojukwu (33) and co. Other men who would eventually benefit from subsequent coups were the following ages at the time of this coup Obasanjo (29), Buhari (24), and many others.
According to Max Siollun’s revealing book, these men have essentially been in the driver’s seat of all the subsequent successful coups in Nigeria since then. Even when we transmuted into civilian rule, they have strode the political space, charting the course and direction of the country, either explicitly or behind the scenes.
However, as it happened with the independence struggler generation they forcefully took power from, these men are aging, and with age, they are losing grip and power. It isn’t happening in one fell swoop, but the signs are there. And it is why this is a critical period.
Critical because as these men pass on or become too old to strongly influence the course of this nation, a vacuum is going to emerge. And the current men fronting for these strong men who themselves are in their fifties and sixties will not be around for much longer, and even while they are around will not possess the strength to move this nation.
The people that will eventually take control will have to do what those twenty and thirty something year old military officers did years ago, albeit without using unconstitutional means like they did. We need to boldly step forward and wrest control from those that are fading away, and then move this nation in the direction that we want. And from what I gather, those that want the status quo that is leading our nation to oxbow lakes (to borrow from Obahiagbon) to persist in those age brackets are already organizing and poised to take control. Those of us who desire a change need to get off our computers, stages and conferences, foreign and local. We begin to organize where it really matters – on the streets, here in Nigeria. We need to organize and mobilize and participate in the political process and begin to take control in order to chart the nation on the course we desire it to go. We are a turnkey generation in this nation, and it is those who take control now that will be positioned to chart the course of the country for many years to come.
Tunde Leye @tundeleye is a fiction writer. He believes that the stories written form a priceless resource that is the basis of society, all the other arts (film, music, theatre, visual arts) and hence he is committed to telling stories out of Africa that show it as it was, is, and is going to be.

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