Soyinka’s ‘wasted generation’ – The Nation

Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, re-affirmed, at the BBC’s “Hard Talk” a concept he first affirmed in 1984: that his generation in Nigeria is a wasted one. He added: “I compare today with dreams and aspirations we had when we all rushed home after studies abroad. We considered ourselves the renaissance people that were going to lift the continent to world standards, competitors anywhere. It hasn’t happened.”

The first time the professor introduced the concept of wasted generation, he provided graphic illustrations of wastage of talents by an insensitive state: “After a quarter of a century of witnessing and occasionally participating in varied aspects of social struggle in all their shifting tempi, dimensions, pragmatic and sometimes even ideologically oriented goals, I feel at this moment that I can only describe my generation as the wasted generation, frustrated by forces which are readily recognisable, which can be understood and analysed but which nevertheless have succeeded in defying whatever weapons such ‘understanding’ has been able to muster towards their defeats.”

In both 1984 and 2019, Soyinka in his characteristic candour reminded the nation of the negative impact of wasting of the country’s intellectual capital at the hands or under the watch of governments that have failed to aspire to global standards. While the notion of wasted generation graphically expresses frustration about what seems to have become a perennial ‘Nigerian situation,’ it is at no time meant to be an accurate diagnosis of Nigeria’s problem. Correspondingly, the optimism about the youth stepping up to the plate to rescue the country will require a measure of re-socialisation for them to be ready to function as renaissance men and women for Nigeria.

Undoubtedly, the country’s problem at most times since 1966 has been, as Soyinka aptly observed, the failure of its ruling group. But it has not been just a failure of character and value; it has also been an abiding lack of will to find the right formula for forming a modern multi-ethnic democratic nation. For example, the failure of the ruling elite in the early post-independence years to recognise the right formula for developing the country seems to have survived till now, despite evidence that political power had been under the grips of members of different generations. There has been no noticeable difference between rulers from Soyinka’s generation and those of the ‘New Breed’ brought into prominence by the Babangida regime in the 1990s. Further, apart from Obasanjo and Buhari since the exit of military dictatorship, most of the people in power in the country between 1999 and 2019 are from much younger generations than Soyinka’s.

While we acknowledge that Soyinka’s repetition in 2019 of the image of wasted generation should stimulate patriots to think anew about the way forward for the country, it is significant that proper focus is directed at the roots of the Nigerian situation and a source of frustration for many of the country’s renaissance people.

Furthermore, the optimism about capacity of the youth to replace their elders in the game of power and redeem the country’s destiny deserves re-assessment in relation to Real Nigeria. We may unintentionally overestimate the capacity of Nigeria’s youth if we fail to recognise that apples do not fall far from the trees that produce them. The youths in the country today are more underprepared for leadership than any other generation in the country’s history. Their education is starkly inferior to what it was in the generation of the Soyinkas and two generations after that. Decline in character and values in the present society affects both the old as well as the new generations, due to the influence of socialisation.

Regardless, Soyinka’s call for change in the substance and style of political leadership is a clarion call. Undoubtedly, men and women of poor character, low values, and tunnel visions have found their way to power and act as if they have sworn to hand over the country to their clones, a practice that has contributed to poor governance, which has made nonsense of the country’s intellectual capital, especially those that have been ever ready to make a difference. Certainly, members of new generations with proper preparation in learning and in character are needed as candidates to be attracted to governance.

It is, however, necessary to find ways of ending the desire of any of the country’s constituencies in power to dominate others or act in ways that suggest preference for one group over the others. Such preference is capable of under-utilising available intellectual and innovative ideas needed for good governance and transformation of the country. Equally important is the will of political leaders to search diligently and sincerely for a political template that can help to transform Nigeria into a thriving modern multi-ethnic nation for all its citizens.

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