Who says there is nothing to celebrate? #irepresentnaija

11:18 AM Edit This 4 Comments »
Every once in a while, some people step up to us – we call them professional cynics – and say: how can The Future Awards be celebrating Nigeria? What is there to celebrate? We should be protesting, we should be mourning; there’s nothing to be happy about! And we tell them: you obviously haven’t been paying attention.
How can you say there is nothing to celebrate when you look around Nigeria?
True, many times, our nation can confound us. Our politics is essentially warped, which is putting it mildly, and our economy is, to put it simply, a disgrace. We do not have a coherent sense of identity, and outside the country, we are not invited to meetings where nations that matter sit. If the point wasn’t clear enough, not only did President Obama ignore the country months ago, his secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, came over here and drove the point home.
Talking about young people, as we speak, schools across Lagos are on strike. Lagos state primary and secondary school teachers have accused the government of insensitivity. In Edo State, the governor, a former labour leader himself ,is yet to resolve a strike with lecturers, and across the nation university students have been at home for more than 13 weeks.

And, for heaven’s sake, why do we still have no light?
So, yes, things have fallen apart. Yes, there is plenty to mourn.
But listen, out of all this rot, last year we found young people like Mosunmola Umoru, a young farmer who, when we checked her books, has gone through some frustrating challenges, enough to make anybody give up, but has continued to build a viable agricultural business that made her a Goldman Sachs scholar – she won for Business Owner of the Year. We found an Emmanuel Etim, who, from a small office in Surulere sponsoring the education of one or two young people, has now begun to consult for the United Nations and the Africa Union – he won for Best Use of Advocacy. And then, from a small shop on the Lagos Island, Uche Nnaji is opening up two new fashion OUCHlets – he won for Style Entrepreneur of the Year. These are only a few examples. All of these done without stealing a kobo, without government contracts, without a family fortune to dip into. And you say we should not celebrate them?

We cannot be fixated on government. Many societies have been regenerated outside of government, and in spite of destructive politics. Nigerians have to focus on the pockets of change going on everywhere else; to acknowledge them, to sustain them and to form a network of positive, change-oriented activity.

Because the more you acknowledge and celebrate those small, steady steps, the more you are able to sustain them. And the more you sustain them, the more you are able to build an army of young Nigerians who create enough value to have the confidence to do what is right. A confidence that can only come from socio-economic security.
But you see, instead of understanding and keying into this positive, unstoppable movement – many choose to belittle it, even to attack it.
The young Nigeria is unfairly, and sometimes deliberately, misunderstood. When he says he is Naija for instance, some people say it is frivolous. They would rather call the generation unserious – even mis-directed. Even though, like musician Banky W eloquently said early in the year, we are a generation that had to learn even when there was no one to teach us. Like roses among thorns, we grew even when there was no one to support us.
When Banky W sings about the indomitable spirit of the Nigerian, they say he is only screaming ‘Ebute Metta’. When the Rooftop MCs sing of achievement and humility, they only hear ‘e la gi mo’ (break his head). When DJ Zeez says 4kasibe, they don’t see that, like TV presenter Funmi Iyanda says, the young man is asking that you apply your energy into a pursuit until you break through, and when 9ice begins to ‘spit’ – they don’t understand the swagger and the confidence he speaks of; The sefl-affirmation that tells the young Nigerians that he (or she) can do just about anything he sets his heart on.
It is the same way they see Wande Coal and only hear his song ‘Lepa too bad’. But Wande also spoke about the Nigeria of his dreams.
In the very second track on his first album, he spoke of a time when you were proud to be Nigerian. Of a time when there was education, when there was employment, when there was healthcare. But now, ‘everything don dabaru’.
How can we get back to that time? A time when there was hope, when there was faith, when we had confidence in our nation? When you could go outside the country and not be gripped with trepidation whenever you get to immigration even though you did nothing wrong? When we didn’t have to queue at the embassies until we are about to faint. How can we proud of Nigeria once again?
Well, we are here to tell you that that time is almost here.
Every other week, the likes of D’banj and Psquare and Basketmouth are creating jobs for Nigerians across the world, performing at sold out concerts and generating income that comes back home. Across the continent, actresses like Omotola and Rita Dominic and others are being celebrated as African heroes. The likes of Temidayo Israel and Emmanuel Etim are criss-crossing the world, engaging institutions and world leaders. Our last Model of the Year, Olubunmi Ademokoya, just got signed in New York, and our models are the in thing in Jo’burg. Asa performs from Japan to Cambodia, Qudus Onikeku dances from Paris to Ethiopia. They can see world leaders and stand up to them – because there is no shallowness and corruption to make them ashamed. They enter embassies and speak with the confidence that Nigerians once used to have. These young people are conquering the world and re-branding the country.
Ladies and gentlemen, THEY are presenting a new face of Nigeria.
They are presenting that newness, that freshness, that brightness that we young people now call Naija. And we represent that Naija.
So if you say there is nothing to celebrate, we say to you that you don’t know what’s up. And that is what The Future Awards has set out to do – to show you what’s up.
You either go with the flow, or we will leave you behind. Nobody can stop my generation. Ladies and gentlemen, dem no reach!

Thank you. And God bless Naija.

*This speech was given by Chude Jideonwo at the launch of The Future Awards Season 5 on the eve of Nigeria’s 49th Independent Anniversary, in Lagos. www.thefuturenigeria.com

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