“Are we ready to build our capacity to do better when we eventually take over the reins of leadership, politically and in government?”
Ahead of his book launch on May 25 in Lagos, Chude Jideonwo, writer and entrepreneur, tells PREMIUM TIMES the inspiration behind the book ‘Are We The Turning Point Generation’ and his expectations from his audience.
PT: What inspired this book ‘Are We The Turning Point Generation?
Chude: In 2010, after the rally that we did, I thought it was going to be a one-off rally and go back to business and my job (I was still at NEXT). But after the rally, we discovered that people are engaged, we can’t just close shop, let’s just form an organization, Cheta (Nwanze), Gbenga Sesan, and others. So EnoughIsEnough morphed into an organization and we began immediately without even strategizing.
Things were just happening, election was next month and we said let’s mobilize as many people as we can to register and select and vote and protect their votes. We did all of that. That was in 2011. In 2012, there was the occupy Nigeria protest. After occupy Nigeria, I stepped back a bit, and then I read There Was A Country, Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom, and I just felt this chill for the first time. All these things we are doing, most of the things we are doing have been done before at some other point in history. We might have different tools but the same trajectory. And so I just became overwhelmed. How are we going to be different? From the June 12 generation, the Operation Wetie generation, and all those other ones during the Western region crisis and other people that have agitated for a better Nigeria. But what will make us different as a generation? I started reading Achebe’s book. A lot of people read Achebe’s book and began to write reviews, I praise them. For me I couldn’t even move for months, because Achebe was not just writing about Biafra. There was a sense of loss and hopelessness. Like you know this thing can’t work. And so I was so discouraged. In responding to that I began to first write and try and struggle with those issues and try and answer some of those questions as it affects my generation. Because I was worried that we might just end up like those before us.
PT: Are these essays a compilation of your previous opinions and essays?
Chude: No. It wasn’t meant to be a book. In December 2012, I began to write something called the New Leadership Series. It was published on PREMIUM TIMES, BellaNaija, Ynaija, Omojuwa, and so on. It was supposed to be a series of essays on my thoughts. It was supposed to run from January to April. I wrote the first set of essays in December, so those ones were published in January/February. Only for me to start writing the next stage it was very stressful and I couldn’t handle it and I couldn’t find the time. And I thought ‘Who send me this message? It’s not me that’s going to change Nigeria alone. Let me leave this matter’ But at that time people were reading the articles, from Adaobi Nwaubani, Gbenga (Sesan)… People were sending me messages saying this was an important story. Gbenga particularly said that somebody needs to profile how our generation…. That became an inspiration for me to finish the series. And when I finished the series, I took all the essays and mailed them to the publisher and said ‘Look at the stories I have done. People say it might be a good idea for it to be a book? What do you think?’ It contained about 16 essays and so they asked if I had other essays or pieces that fit into the same theme. So I went and got articles that I had written over the past seven years. And so those now rounded up the core New Leadership Series.
PT: With this book, what kind of response are you expecting from your audience, basically, the youth?
Chude: I’m expecting reflection. The last time we had a meet with people who work online, I deliberately read an article called the Courage to be Reasonable. A New Media spokesperson for the APC, Gbenga Olurunpomi, said you know I think that article was directed at me. That’s some of the reactions I want to get because many of the people in that room, to a lesser or higher extent, are guilty of the industry of anger. Now in saying some of those things, I’m hoping to stimulate that kind of reflection. I’m not passing a judgment on the altruism of people. I’m questioning the depth of our engagement. These things we are doing, have we thought about it a bit more deeply? Are we doing it so that we can actually achieve the outcome or are we doing it so that people will say I abuse government? So if people can just reflect. Achebe said something about how we Nigerians are always in a hurry to find the way forward. How do we find the way forward? How do you find an answer when you have not asked the proper question? For me I’m hoping that this will reflect on the foundation of our engagement, our advocacy, our citizenship; so that we can act with more purpose and with more strategy.
PT: You have held a series of book readings ahead of your book’s official launch, including one in South Africa. What kind of feedback have you been getting?
Chude: I was very inspired with the meeting in Johannesburg; these are young people across Africa. I deliberately used Nigerian examples, being my immediate environment. I spoke to them about a chapter in this book; there was excitement in the room. It was almost like a young person is saying these things in a way that makes sense to them, in a way that connects with them. I read a chapter ‘We must kill God,’ you know Nigeria is the biggest exporter of Pentecostalism so I wasn’t sure people in the room would connect with it but they did. People were saying they had given up hope. I told them look, the people who are ruining our continent and our country they are not giving up hope, they are passing it to their children and their children’s children. They are building an ecosystem of filth and corruption. If we that we claim that we are trying to do good give up, then we are lazy and unserious because who told you that the job was going to be easy in the first place? Who told you that once you just have good intentions then the country will just open up? Do you think you are better than those who were trying to change the country 5 years, 10 years, 20 years ago? I also remember talking to someone who said she was waiting for their generation to die out; I said that’s a fallacy. Because their generation is going to hand over another people, they are not going to hand over to you. They are going to hand over to their children and their protégés and their co-workers and their colleagues who also believe in the same principles they believe because those people grew up in that environment. So if you wait for somebody to die simply in the hope that because somebody was born in 1985, the person will be different from his father, that’s an error.
PT: In your experience as a youth advocate, do you think that this generation is the turning point generation?
Chude: I hope we are the turning point generation. I think we can be. I think we should be. For a few reasons. One, because we have been pushed to the wall. If Achebe thought that Nigeria was bad in 1993, well welcome to 2014. Now our country is being spoken about on CNN in the same breath with Thailand, Pakistan, Afghanistan, there is Al-Qaeda being mentioned, children being kidnapped from their schools, terrorists are bombing. It has never ever been this bad in the history of this country. So we are a generation that has been pushed to the wall.
Ours is also a generation that is lucky in terms of… I mean, new tools don’t change a society. It’s new behaviour that changes a society. However, we are lucky that our work is made easier by the new tools. We are able to mobilize easier; we are able to spread information easier. We are not beholden to the same media interest that would have limited the power of our voices. We are able to communicate to a large number of people by ourselves without needing a third party. So we have a lot of tools that can enable us create a movement within the country. Whether we will end up doing it is not something that Chude can predict. If I want to become like Nigerian leaders who say silly things like ‘one Nigeria,’ ‘We are together,’ I will say yes. But like Achebe said, those woolly clichés are part of what ruins the country. People will not engage Nigeria’s problem with clarity of thought. They engage Nigeria’s problem with a series of clichés and ‘Let us live together.’ If I want to say that I will say yes we are the turning point generation, yes we are hopeful. But, in fact, all there is is potential. It is those same leaders in government, those of us in civil society, those of us in the media, are we committed to working strategically to combining energies, to sustaining momentum to change the country? Are we ready to build our capacity to do better when we eventually take over the reins of leadership, politically and in government? Are we going to be able to do that? Are we going to form an ecosystem of integrity and impact? Are we going to be able to mobilize millions of people, which is the ultimate thing, because it is one thing to be right, it’s another thing to have people who believe that you are right. Are we able to mobilize millions of people to match the old system politicians, number for number, person for person, vision for vision. If we were able to do that, yes we’ll be the turning point generation.