Over the past week, as I mulled over what to write about in today’s column, I was taken back to my just concluded trip to Paris, where I delivered a lecture on leadership at the University of Schiller, as part of the graduation ceremony of the university. The lecture was succeeded by numerous questions and comments but the underlying theme of the many queries was the issue of youthful patriotism and how different the concept is now compared to the era of Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela and many great leaders who started their fight for a better society in their youth. There was such great hope for many then that tomorrow’s leaders would do better since “the youth of today are the leaders of tomorrow.”
Many decades later, we are still quoting that famous mantra to ignite hope for a better future in us. The popular quote is one that I have heard often in different settings to either motivate young people into being more responsible for their future or to admonish the older generation for not being inclusive and leaving enough good examples for the youth to emulate. Regardless of why it is being used, if the youth of today are indeed the leaders of tomorrow, can we then rest easy that the future is in safe hands? As I concluded my lecture on leadership to the auditorium filled with soon-to-be-graduates, undergraduates, and the university’s faculty, I enjoined every youth present to ask themselves this question: How prepared are we to lead?
You see, there is hardly any human being alive that does not desire to be remembered positively as one who made an impact. In other words, there is hardly anybody on earth who does not desire to leave a legacy, preferably a positive one – except you are Hitler. However, not many are prepared to pay the price that such a feat demands. We forget that legacies, although retrospective, must be built in the present moment with every choice we make, every decision we take and every action we carry out.
For many currently in positions of leadership, they seem to have forgotten that legacies are not about building monuments to be remembered by but by the impressions we leave in the minds of those we led on the basis of our achievements, not promises. People remember ‘what’ but they also remember ‘who.’ We remember that infrastructures were built across the North from the revenues reaped from the groundnut pyramids. We remember how revenues from cocoa were used to facilitate free, quality education in the West. We also recall that the proceeds from palm oil and coal were used to build landmark infrastructures in the East. We remember ‘what’ but we also remember the men who built them. All over the world, young people are at the centre of societal interactions, especially in this age of globalisation and modern technology, where people are connecting worldwide as never before.
At this stage, allow me again to invoke another popular saying, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” Did we learn nothing from the generation that explored outer space, the moon and set us on a course to conquer Mars? Have we forgotten so quickly the lessons passed on from the generation that triggered the women liberation and civil rights movement? That was the generation willing to risk all for a nation they believed could be.
Do we still have leaders who can inspire change and cause a revolution? Sadly, I don’t see any standing among my mates even though they seem unable to relinquish power at the 11th hour. Yet I wonder if those they will be relinquishing power to also have what it takes to lead right.
My queries take nothing away from the amazing feats that young people have accomplished all over the world, particularly in my beloved country, Nigeria. Despite careless comments by he-who-shall-not-be-named about Nigerian youths being uneducated, unwilling to work and dependent on revenue from oil to survive, we keep seeing how many young people continually counter such claims with their innovations and hard work.
However, leadership demands that, in all our innovations and hard work, we work towards something that will do more than line our pockets but will benefit many. Nigerian youths from time immemorial have been contributing their quota towards national development. The likes of Sir Tafawa Balewa, Sir Ahmadu Bello, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe and Herbert Macaulay fought tooth and nail in their youthful days to deliver the political independence we all enjoy today as a nation. And so, borrowing from the words of a man I admire, my fellow Nigerian youth: ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”
Being patriotic towards the nation is everyone’s responsibility, for without us there is no nation and without a nation, we will be lost, strangers in another man’s land. Youth forms a major part of the nation and being patriotic towards it should be one of their major responsibilities. Today, we enjoy freedom in heritage, this freedom came as a result of the sacrifices by freedom fighters who were ready to die without any second thought, the activities that happened during the struggle for freedom and the amount of bloodshed that took place, so that we, as a country, can enjoy relative peace. Instead of bemoaning the failures of past generations, I think it is time we accept the fact that we need to shoulder the responsibility of becoming the redeeming generation for many reasons. One of such reasons is that the youth of today will inherit the nation tomorrow, if the youth do not become involved in making our nation better they may not receive a nation worth inheriting. Another reason is, the nation built by today’s youth will be the nation they will pass along to their own children, and if today’s youth wish their children to have a better Nigeria, the youth of today must protect and defend the nation by supporting our country’s greatness and working to make it even better.
A journey of a thousand miles, they say, begins with a first step; so, as leaders of tomorrow, how prepared are you to break barriers and enter new frontiers? Preparation will be a first step in the long journey that is leadership.