Saturday, November 10, 2012
It is 'round midnight in Yola, Nigeria, and the stars are shining very brightly on this beautiful African nation. Had a full day with the students at the American University in Nigeria. Did a speech on leadership, then a lengthy dialogue with students on the state of Nigeria, of our world, and it continued with a long informal conversation that went to another level. Nigeria has Africa's largest population, in fact, the biggest Black community on the planet, so there is vast potential here. These young people want answers, are anti-B.S. and corruption, and we talked much about a new Nigeria where there would be no corruption, no Nigerian-on-Nigerian violence, and so much more. All of this made me think a great deal about America, my America, and the work I am cramming to do in the coming months with our new organization. People can say whatever they want about Nigeria, but no denying that is has birthed some of the smartest people and most passionate human beings on the planet. I am particularly impressed with a 20-year-old woman named Faridah Ibrahim, who is the student government president here at the American University in Nigeria. I first encountered her Thursday evening at a small private gathering with a few students leaders. At first Faridah was very quiet and I just assumed she did not talk much. She was eyeing me curiously, checking me out to see what I was really about, perhaps, and then she spoke: her Nigerian tongue is the royalty of an entire people, pregnant with purpose, genius, sharp political analysis, and, yes, a deep hurt and frustration with the state of her country.
One day I feel Faridah will be president of Nigeria. That is how powerful she is.
When she speaks, as she did again at my lecture, everyone gets quiet and listens intently, even if they do not agree, even if there is discomfort. Her particular gripe is the level of student apathy, the lack of participation. I tried explaining to her multiple times that this is no different in America, even when I was a college student at Rutgers University, back in the 1980s. That it is always just a dedicated few who do the work to make change happen in our world. That we as leaders have to meet people where they are, not the other way around. That we can gripe but for so long, that we have to begin to move conversations toward Nigeria.
Then one student, another young Muslim woman whose name I did not catch, stood up, and proclaimed, clearly, her vision for Nigeria: "Nigeria is one people." Nigeria, as some of you may know, has over 300 different languages, many different groups and states (with the three largest being the Yoruba, the Ibo, and the Hausa people). Thanks to the carving and butchering up of Africa by European colonizers centuries ago, many, many African nations still suffer through artificial boundaries made of groups forced to co-exist. Once "independence" came to the nations in the latter part of the 20th century, there hve been several internal wars and even acts of mass genocide, as in Rwanda. It is not enough to say Africans are simply corrupt and killing each other senselessly. This is rooted in the history of the exploitation of this great continent, which continues to this day, albeit in different forms. Why? Because nations like Nigeria (oil is big business here) are materially-rich, and offer much resources to the world.
The Nigerians students I lectured are keenly aware of all of this. Again, they used the word "corruption" several times, spoke forcefully about morally bankrupt Nigerian politicians and preachers (just as many of us say this in Black America), and how so many of these leaders are complicit with multinational corporations that exploit and undermine Nigeria. I have been lecturing at colleges and universities in America for about 20 years, but rarely have I encountered a group of students so very able to name elected leaders, their political positions, their spiritual and moral failings to those they serve. I was doubly impressed by the conversations sparked by the female students here at AUN. Gender equality is a hot topic, and the women, be they Muslim or Christian or none of the above, readily expressed their disdain for the old ways of viewing women and girls. One young lady boldly stated, "We are not pieces of furniture nor are we baby-making machines."
In a nation where polygamy is normal and quite a few men have up to four wives, that is a very profound statement of resistance and rebellion. So if there is to be a new Nigeria, led by folks like these young students one day, it will be co-led, unquestionably, by women. And given Nigeria's vast potential, how Nigeria goes could shape the future direction of the entire continent of Africa.
Kevin Powell is an award-winning writer, public speaker, and political activist. Through the years Kevin has written for Ebony, Esquire, The Washington Post, Newsweek, Essence, Rolling Stone, The Huffington Post, and Vibe, where he served as a senior writer. He is also the author of 11 books, including his latest, “Barack Obama, Ronald Reagan, and the Ghost of Dr. King: Blogs and Essays.” Follow him on Twitter @kevin_powell, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org