By Anote Ajeluorou (who was in Port Harcourt)
Governments in Nigeria, as currently constituted, believe that democracy dividend to the people lies only in the building of roads, boreholes, hospitals and provision of other infrastructure. While these may be worthy engagements, which are taken for granted in other climes, a more noble duty for governments has been pointed out to include expanding the frontiers of humanity so youth energy and talent could be better harnessed for national development.
Also, youths have been charged to “slay the Goliath of injustice, corruption… inefficiency, gross mismanagement of resources that have rendered our country what it is today” with their talents and to stop complaining about lack of opportunities. These were the submissions of Bishop of Catholic Diocese of Sokoto, Bishop Matthew Kukah, in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, yesterday, at the opening of the 7th edition of Port Harcourt Book Festival holding at Hotel Presidential. He spoke on the theme ‘Possibilities for Nigeria at 100: Youths as Underdogs and Misfits’.
Kukah explained that the duty of government went beyond mere provision of infrastructure to include an expansion of the space for the engagement of youth energy and talent to flourish. He noted that the many vices like corruption, greed and incompetence in government plaguing the country necessarily constricted the space for the youths to excel, fearing that the youth have also been compromised on several fronts to cripple their capacity to function properly. He cited the instances of Microsoft and Facebook founders, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg respectively, who dropped out of their prestigious universities to found their iconic brands, not because they were dullards but because they found the formal way of learning too cumbersome and constricting to their creative imagination.
The revered Bishop, who listed 10 areas where youth energy could be better directed, argued that there were too many youth bystanders who were contented with merely complaining about their problems rather get their hands dirty and helping to solve them. According to him, “This fractured world is also full of possibilities; there are possibilities that are huge, but you must have an eye for them”.
Although Nigeria may be going through a difficult phase, Kukah said there was a need for a new narrative after 100 years of existence, which he said lay at the doorsteps of youths. He, however, expressed the view that there was a need to balance youth optimism and enthusiasm, as they often got in the way if not properly managed.
The cleric and public intellectual also stated that it was imperative to create a balance between youth and the notion of success, which has been bastardised in the Nigerian context to include dubious and unquestioning means of acquiring wealth. He charged that youths need to be able to learn their history so they have a proper perspective on where they are coming from and how to confidently approach the future. Kukah also situated youth in the contexts of politics, globalization, anger and protest, saying that the youth were yet to appropriately express their anger and protest against the villainy of corruption, greed and incompetence in the public space for genuine change to happen.
While advising government to provide an friendly environment for youths to direct their talents for the development of the country, Kukah also advised youth to, like the biblical David, find “the stones and sling David used that are around to kill the Goliath of corruption, under-development, greed, inefficiency” and other ills plaguing the country.
Earlier Festival Director and a recent national honours recipient, Mrs. Koko Kalango said that in the country’s march forward, “We have an opportunity to reflect on our past and explore the opportunities before us that can enable us build the Nigeria of our dream”, saying the youth were key in the project hence the festival’s focus on them this year.
Also, Rivers State Governor, Rotimi Amaechi, who was represented by a Permanent Secretary in the Deputy Governor, Mr. Tele Ikuru’s office, Evangelist Eddy Oloko said, “We must keep hope alive and believe only for the best as one nation. The festival theme explores the vast potentialities that we have been endowed with as a nation, with its focus on enlightening the youth and motivating them to look inward and help create a brighter future for the next generation”.
The 7th edition of Port Harcourt Book Festival, with its rich weeklong activities around books, ends on Saturday, October 25.