I welcome you all to the inaugural event of The Conversation Africa (TCA) series. It is fitting that it is holding at The Citadel, home to the consummate nation builders of the Citadel Global Community Church (CGCC), and I commend the Legacy Youth Fellowship, torchbearers of the New Nigeria, for their contributions towards enriching the national discourse in the quest to build a great nation.

I recall that this programme was earlier slated for November 2020, on the heels of the awakening of our nation by an unprecedented rallying of Nigerian youth around the #EndSARS protests, but had to be rescheduled due to emergent circumstances. Let me, therefore, use this opportunity to once again salute young Nigerians, male and female, who took it upon themselves to demand an end to police brutality and to spearhead a rejection of the systems of oppression encapsulated in the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). Again, I commiserate with the families of those Nigerian youth whose patriotism was met with brutality and who lost their lives in that historic demonstration of youth advance. I also empathise with the families of the members of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) and other law enforcement agencies who were killed by the misguided elements that hijacked the #EndSARS protests, thereby precipitating the unfortunate anti-climax of a worthy cause. As patriots, we have a responsibility to ensure that the nation that these Nigerians died for does not go down the drain.

You may recall that, as these events unfolded, we took a stand amidst other voices of reason and changed the SARS narrative from a State-Aided Robbery Squad (SARS) to a Strategic Agenda for a Restructured State (SARS).1 While condemning the descent into violence and the senseless attacks on security outposts by enraged Nigerians, we took the side of the Nigerian people and spoke in defence of the Nigerian youth because the signs were indicative that our nation was on the brink of a state of emergency.

Seven months later, as our nation is confronted with a cocktail of delicate issues that border on the survival and destiny of the Nigerian state, and as divergent opinions saturate the civic space, it has become all the more pertinent to create platforms of reasoning, with a view to distilling ideas and magnifying solutions-based perspectives. This is why I commend the Legacy Youth Fellowship on this occasion of the flag-off of The Conversation Africa series.

There is no gainsaying the fact that the present condition of our nation is a paradox of gargantuan proportions. We have the 8th largest proportion of arable land in the world with about 34 million hectares of land available for agriculture,2 yet we are 98th out of 107 countries on the Global Hunger Index.3 We have the 11th largest proven oil reserves in the world4 and, at a point, Nigeria was the world’s 6th largest oil producer,5 yet we rely on imported refined petroleum products as our domestic refineries continue to attempt to fly with one wing. With a median age of 18,6 our country has one of the most youthful populations in the world and a potentially vibrant productive workforce; yet, we also have one of the highest rates of unemployment in the world at 33%.7 We have “over 34 commercially viable solid minerals deposits”8 with each state of the federation endowed with diverse mineral resources;9 yet, every month, the 36 states of the federation go to Abuja to receive “pocket money,” technically known as allocations from the federation account, without which they cannot survive. We are one of the most religious countries in the world, yet we are among the frontrunners in negative indices, from the Corruption Perceptions Index10 to the Misery Index.11

At Independence, Nigeria was considered Africa’s beacon of hope, a nation that would bring stability and peace to Africa; yet, six decades later, our nation is breakdancing on the tightrope of faulty foundations. The Nigerian landscape is overrun by criminal gangs; we eat news of cold-blooded murder for breakfast, woes of homegrown terrorism for lunch, and tales of moonlight abductions for dinner. Students of secondary and tertiary institutions have become targets in an audacious criminal enterprise even as secessionists launch daring attacks on institutions of state and as swathes of Nigerian territory fall into the hands of terrorists. Yet, in the midst of these gloomy indices, I am reminded of the words of Sir Winston Churchill: “The price of greatness is responsibility.”12 The alarming state of our nation calls for the concerted efforts of patriots, young and old, who must take responsibility for the destiny of Nigeria.

A transgenerational conversation around pathways to national redemption has become all the more necessary because the #EndSARS protests energised the political consciousness of a generation, such that critical questions are now being asked without fear or favour. I am referring to the “Sọ̀ rọ̀ sókè” phenomenon typified by a breed of audacious young Nigerians primed to challenge the status quo.

Young Nigerians are asking why a country so rich wears the inglorious badge of the poverty capital of the world.13 They are asking why a country whose citizens are being appointed to lead at the highest levels in other countries has failed to produce the right kind of leaders for itself. Young Nigerians are asking why they have to be subjected to a system that stifles innovation in the 21st century when the world is fast embracing a digital economy. They are asking why they have to queue for days and weeks at the offices of the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) to obtain their National Identification Number (NIN), and why several aspects of our national life are still stubbornly technology averse when, from the comfort of their homes and internet-enabled devices, they conduct sensitive financial transactions across the globe, initiate the process of raising millions of dollars for their Fintech start-ups, participate in global stock markets, enrol in international programmes, and rally the world around noble causes.

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