One of the interesting things about a collection of essays that span a few years, is that you are able to see how the author’s position on issues has evolved over time. The first paragraph of Chude Jideonwo’s Are We The Turning Poing Generation? shows one of such evolutions.
My orientation about our government began to change in 2009. Before then, I had always felt – sadly without any historical or evidentiary perspective – that Nigerians can transform Nigeria in spite of our government.
This is just one of a number of shifts in thought throughout the book. In the end, that is what Are We Turning Point Generation? is about: a young person who desires change in his country, but has invested the time to discover how best to do this. This process of discovery changed him, even as he has tried to change Nigeria.
In the title chapter, written in March 2012, gives a clue:
In the past year, as a deliberate student of power and governance, I have been shocked by a lot of things, including the amount of money – cash! – that circulates in the public sector, and its incestuous relationship with the private sector.
The title of the book is a question, and in some ways the entire book is a series of questions. Chude contemplates why people change when they enter office, what kind of change – incremental or radical – Nigeria needs, the necessity or otherwise of a Nigerian Dream, and even the very basis of Nigeria’s unity.
Another important thread that is in evidence throughout the book is hope. Hope for a better country. Even though he laments our current situation, he expresses the hope that a network of (angry) people, whose efforts are amplified by new tools like social media, can make Nigeria a better place. You also see him extend this optimism to Goodluck Jonathan, hoping that his administration succeeds. Whether or not this optimism has been rewarded is something that may remain a matter of some debate.
You see the author wrestle with what kind of change Nigeria needs. In Chapter 24, written in February 2011, he says:
“We have been repeatedly duped with very small changes that make no real difference. No matter how much we intellectualise it, no real change ever happens incrementally.”
Then in Chapter 31, written in March 2013, you see an evolution in his position:
The march towards change is a continuous process – citizens who are used to inaction will not suddenly spring to sustained mass action either on an incremental or revolutionary level. Even the Arab Spring, such as it occurred in Egypt and Tunisia, was not a spontaneous action that came out of nowhere. It resulted from a series of small-scale, start and stop activism drives for better government by students and civil society, as supported by a visionary elite.
This second position is much closer to how real change happens. In the end, it is not a choice between the incremental and the radical. The former gives birth to the latter. The latter is a result of thousands of individual actions that make the difference over time. We already see evidence of it in our nation. The Enough is Enough protests from 2010 led to Occupy Nigeria in 2012, and BringBackOurGirls in 2014. There have also been very impactful campaigns in between, like the ‘Aluu 4’, Child Not Bride, and so on. The calls for better governance are increasing daily, amplified by social media.
Chude simultaneously expresses hope that the generation he belongs can become Nigeria’s ‘Turning Point’ generation, but also wonders if the capacity is there, and if the problems have been properly considered. He devotes some chapters to delivering his perspectives on Nuhu Ribadu, Dora Akunyili, Bola Abdullahi and Oby Ezekwesili, drawing lessons from their time in public service.
It is his belief – and he is correct – that if the question ‘Are We The Turning Point Generation?’ is to be answered in the affirmative, we must look back at the past, identify where things have gone wrong, so that the same mistakes can be avoided.
In Chapter 11, ‘Achebe’s last gift to us’, he writes:
Our problem is not a lack of answers. The problem, as I see it, is that we ask the wrong questions. We are a society in a hurry – in a hurry to move to ‘what should be done’ when we have not spent time finding out ‘what caused it’.
When you think about this in light of recent events, like the banning of Half Of A Yellow Sun, a movie which dwells on the Civil War, and the reduced importance given to the teaching of history in our schools, you wonder the extent to which we can move forward as a nation if the past remains a taboo subject. One of the proverbs in Chinua Achebe’sThings Fall Apart says it all: “Those who do not know where the rain began to beat them cannot say where they dried their bodies”.
There are many other interesting articles throughout the book: A desire to see the Nigerian Pentecostal establishment more vocal in speaking truth to power (I think this is virtually impossible, by the way), an evisceration of the truly evil anti-homosexuality law, the role of social media in improving governance, as well as practical tips on how to effect change in our society.
Are We The Turning Point Generation? is important because it documents one young person’s journey as he grapples with the tragedy and potential of his country, all while being in the thick of the action. It is the kind of book that could gain even more importance in the fullness of time.