It’s the night before the lunch with Mr President and I have arrived from Abuja to escape the morning rush hour traffic that is ubiquitous with Lagos. As the cab meanders through the tight corners and streets of Obalende on our way to Victoria Island I am astounded and shocked at the motorcycles huddled together in their hundreds; atop the motorcycles young men who have made their beds on the Okadas, curved in foetal positions, rest from the toils of the day. In an unsure voice I ask the cab driver if these people actually sleep here on the motorcycles. “‘Na dia dem dey sleep”, he said. This re-ignited my anxiety to see what the lunch with President Goodluck Jonathan will throw up for the vulnerable groups of youths and women.
Fast forward to the next day, I arrived at the venue of the lunch and was greeted by the usual chaos of organisation informed by our penchant to be impatient. The same logistical ineptitude that has become an albatross to our national development; a crowd of young people shouting themselves hoarse each with a solution how best it to collect the lunch name tags from the organisers. By a chance of providence I am sure, I heard my name after several other names and I pushed through the sea of young men and women to make my way and collect the tag.
The Master of Ceremony made a good case for the youths by stating the historic involvement of young people saddled with the burden of leadership from the likes of Gen. Gowon and Gen. Yaradua to Diete Spiff. This set the stage for a direct engagement with the President when other young people were called to speak. Audu Maikori spoke on employment and power supply and the need to ensure that those sectors become functional, Rita Dominic made a passionate appeal to the President on accessing the funds set up to assist Nollywood, stating that the collateral demanded was way beyond their reach.
Reacting to the comments on constitutional amendment the President tried to explain the Herculean task of changing even a sentence in the constitution and promised that issues that affect true federalism will have to be brought to a round table. To balance female representation on the panel, a female speaker was called to speak; she made a passionate appeal for the 35 percent affirmative action. The President of the National Youth Council asked for a ‘real’ young minister for the Youth Constituency and young people in decision making processes that affects their wellbeing. Chude Jideonwo made a passionate appeal for the re-ordering of affairs at NYSC and also a more a passionate appeal for the President to deliver the promises he made to the electorate.
Odia Ofeimun’s seminal work ‘Taking Nigeria Seriously’ was in the souvenir pack Mr President gave those who attended the lunch. The second book in the pack was Martin Luther King Jr’s autobiography edited by Clayborne Carson. But, indeed it is only right for critics to jettison this aforementioned part of the lunch and hyper highlight the fact that a 150, 000 Naira honorarium was given to ‘induce’ the youths who came in from Abuja and 50, 000 given to those who attended from Lagos. I shall not argue for or against the impropriety or immorality of collecting what has been termed as ‘Transport fare’ as several young people have already formed their opinions about it. Some postulations have termed it as a free collection of one’s morsel of the national cake or the fish bone that will hook one’s throat and muffle the voice of dissent; no phrase best defends my thought on this than the cliché ‘time will tell’.
As the critics of the event have rightly pointed out perhaps invitations could have been handled better, perhaps there should have been a bit more publicity to the event and perhaps agriculture should have been giving priority amongst the several issues discussed but attacking the integrity of the organisers or questioning their passion and patriotism is taking the matter a bit too far.
I did not vote for Goodluck Jonathan. Neither am I card carrying member of any political party. My friends and I modestly contributed our proverbial quota by getting young Nigerians involved in the process; this is the next natural step –engaging elected officials to deliver on their mandate. Today by the will of God and the Nigerian people, the process has made Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, the President of Nigeria. I and other Nigerian youths have no any other alternative means of making our demands known rather than engaging the President on various platforms whether lunch, personal interaction with his aides or via social media. Failed government promises since the return of democracy and especially the shenanigans in the power sector, have moulded me into the archetypal cynic as regards government policies. One is only emboldened by the sheer perseverance of Nigerians excelling in their individual spheres and also the flash of altruism from institutions like CBN, occasionally the EFCC and lately INEC. I have my doubts and I am not totally cured of my cynicism.
Like I told the president’s men earlier in the year, Nigerians can only be assuaged and cured of their despondency when the government delivers; especially on the demands made by the young speakers and what they have asked of the President. We will certainly be watching (via Chude Jideonwo) but more importantly, we will demand good governance.