Just last week, I was locked in a serious argument with a military major. How I met this man and how we got into that debate is a story for another day. Summarily, he was saying that the Nigerian youths of today are just a little less than useless, he said and I quote, “completely brainwashed by vanity and pop culture, you all want to become musicians and footballers, you are all sheep with no direction and trend is your shepherd”. He claimed that he’s was a generation that fought for independence, a generation with purpose empowered only by the sheer power of values and morals. He said we are shortsighted, selfish and with our eyes veiled by screens, we have become fully entrenched in the practice of sodomy.
All along, watching the passion with which this soldier spoke, I was scared of countering his accusations. I personally, see no problem with vanity, as long as it is contained and what is wrong with wanting to be a footballer, I asked myself. I also wanted to let him know that the screens he so readily condemned has turned the world into a global village. I wanted to let him know that his generation planted and propagated the seeds of corruption in Nigeria. I wanted to tell him all this, but maybe because he is a soldier and we were in the barracks, or maybe it was the fact that I knew deep down that some of his points had merit, I decided to latch onto the most controversial of all the things he said.
I found my usually bold and very opinionated self, humbly raising up my hands and waiting to be given the permission to speak. When allowed, I quickly asked of what his thoughts were on racism, he condemned it to it’s core. I then asked of why a person’s sexual preference should have anything to do with his ability to be effective in nation building, I asked if he didn’t think that it might be with the same passion that he spoke against sodomy that the slave masters of yesterday spoke against black slaves. I said just as one has no power to decide the color of his skin, homosexuals claim to be born with their sexual preferences, what right do we have to judge? Inquiring heatedly, I finished by adding the fact that it might be the same way that we charge our fathers of yesterday for being racists and backward, that the generation unborn would charge us for being homophobic and backward.
Having said this and seeing how quiet the major had become, I sat back down and gave myself a mental pat on the back. It seemed I celebrated too early, as he started by quoting a surah in the Qur’an, sprouting verse after verse of some chapters in the bible, backing all these up by some traditional sayings. At this point, the extent of he’s knowledge shocked me, he was obviously a learned man and I began to cower. What really got to me, was when he looked straight at me and asked if my moral compass was broken. He said if today I accepted homosexuals because they claim to be born that way, tomorrow I would accept rapists and pedophiles when they claim the same. He said that the world our generation is building is one without order, morals or limits. After hearing this, though I was ashamed, I raised my head high because I figured rape and homosexuality are on two opposite spectrum. I let him drone on about all the things wrong with the Nigerian youth.
Until yesterday I didn’t really think much about my debate with the major. My sister is part of the organizers on an NGO project called Django Girls; what they do basically is go around the country teaching interested young ladies, programming. So between Friday and Saturday last week, they were in Lokoja, my home town, the Kogi state capital. Having no interest whatsoever in programming, I dissed my sister when she asked me to attend the two day workshop so she signed my cousin up instead. After they were through, my sister came home saying they were going to have a get together; the organizers and tutors. I really couldn’t care less about their get together, but immediately she mentioned the existence of an “item 7” I decided to tag along.
Entering their hotel room, I was surprised by how many of them were present. I sincerely did not expect that that much people would accept to do something like this, as there was no pay, neither for the organizers nor tutors. I sat down patiently waiting for what I came for, when they began to speak. The first man I met speaking was talking about how ‘coding’ could be used to change the future of Nigeria. Seeing as I didn’t know what coding was, I would have put on my ear buds and continued to wait, but the fervor with which the young man spoke stopped me. He went on about how someone used coding to hack into a highly secured and passworded Apple system in just twenty minutes. They threw terms like artificial intelligence, HTML, pedreos and others I could not get a hang on, like one was automatically supposed to know the meaning.
Whilst I was trying to remind myself of the topic in the data processing I did in secondary school, under which I heard html, someone threw python at me, and then I began to think of a way I could ask if they were talking about the animal python without looking like a fool. Needless to say, I began to feel like Alice in wonderland, trying to make sense of my surrounding but not really succeeding. Now and then, they decide to speak in English, and the attention I paid at such times shocked me. I was so absorbed when one of them began to talk about the program he worked on for the NIGERIAN AIRFORCE, and that the program was supposed to help a drone-missile hit its target not only faster but also however far. They talked about dreams of building machines that satellites won’t be able to detect. They condemned the urging of the Nigerian society today, asking them to take up skills like tailoring and shoe making. They laughed at professional careers like law, saying it puts them in a box. To cut the long story short, they spoke in a language I have never before heard even though my sister was one of them. They made me look down on Chloe O’Brian.
It was then I realized exactly how wrong Major Ahmad was, exactly how wrong I was. Sodomy wasn’t the issue. I let my generation be called vain, brainwashed, sheepish, purposeless and an assortment of other names because that is what I believed we are. I didn’t want to argue it, because I wasn’t sure I could defend it, I latched on a controversial topic in order to take light from the matter on ground, which was the ‘uselessness’ of my generation. I behaved every bit as shortsighted and purposeless as the Major accused my generation of being.
These young men and women showed me how hungry, how starved my generation is, and not for money or vanity as the Major seemed to think; they are starved of support, hungry to prove themselves. They are world standard and could prove it too. They have dreams, big dreams and also showed raw kindness and dedication. A kin desire for nation building. I began to wish I could see the Major and start that debate all over again. So I could tell him all I have learnt and let him know that within that in the midst of that large mesh of brainwashed and vain wannabe musicians and footballers, are real talents just waiting for the right time to shine. That amongst all the ‘sheep’ following trends, are my Nigerian brothers and sisters, setting trends. And with our eyes glued to screens we make, we dictate, we tailor a world so different from what they’d known, a world that fits us. I sincerely believe that if given a place to stand, there are Nigerian youths who could lift the world and these are my generation.