The title above is a catchy advertising statement that keeps getting my attention in several parts of the city where I live. Each time I see the caption, I ask myself if Nigeria, as it is presently, can actually produce a millionaire at 29 as boldly stated by the advert. As an undergraduate studying Law in a Nigerian university, my dad had a solid piece of advice for me; he would say, 'Suffer for five years and enjoy forever.' He said this to motivate me to work very hard at my studies, get good grades and graduate with a First Class or a Second Class Upper Division.
He reckoned that whatever inconvenience one had to endure during one's sojourn as an undergraduate should be borne gallantly, as such inconvenience would be greatly compensated when one graduates with a First Class or Second Class upper division, and thereafter gets rewarded by being gainfully employed, and ultimately enjoys the good things of life. He was convinced that a good university grade was a 'harbinger' of the good life the gospel of which he preached to me. I believed him because he meant well.
And 'suffer' I did, like most students in Nigerian tertiary institutions, where electricity outage was (is) a norm. I literally burnt candles, attended lectures in overcrowded lecture theatres, copied my notes, did my assignments, bought lecturers' handouts and textbooks at exorbitant prices. In fact, I did everything a good student should do, and what I had to show for it five years after was a very hard-earned second-class upper degree, and a pair of recommended glasses that cannot be done without. My degree certificate, and subsequently my call to Bar certificate, were supposed to be my key to wealth and prosperity, or at the barest minimum, my key to the good life.
Now, five years after graduation and almost four years after being called to the Nigerian Bar, I have yet to 'enjoy' as my dad promised. This is not just my story; it is the story of many Nigerian youths. A lot of them, brilliant, smart, hard working and ambitious, whose only crime was being born in a society governed by extremely corrupt and selfish leaders. Leaders whose selfish and corrupt acts have not only weakened our institutions, but are threatening to destroy whatever good we have left.
Many Nigerian youths at some point, had lofty dreams and aspirations such as conquering the information technology world, or becoming the next Bill Gates, or being 'somebody' or doing 'something' that would affect the world and perhaps put 'them' and their country in the eyes of the world for a positive reason. But, like a friend once wrote on her Facebook page recently, as you grow older, life becomes less about achieving your dreams and more about making your dreams fit into reality because the Nigerian society appears not to be very dream-friendly in terms of helping her youths and the entire citizenry aspire to become the very best they can be.
Speaking of Facebook, which a Nigerian minister (who should have known better, with regard to the nature of his office) graciously thanked our President for bringing to our country. One wonders if this minister ever knew that Mark Zuckerberg, one of the four co-founders of the social network site used by almost every internet savvy and not so savvy person in the world, launched the site as a 20-year-old Harvard undergraduate. Presently, not only is Zuckerberg one of the richest young people in the world, thanks to him, social networking has taken on a whole new meaning and a new place in the state of affairs of today's world.
Today, we wonder what a 20-year-old Nigerian can create. The question we should ask ourselves is, were Zuckerberg a Nigerian, (emphasis on born and bred, not American or British trained) would he have founded Facebook? Does the Nigerian society as it is have the capacity to develop geniuses? From all indications, particularly from our decayed educational system and the structural Nigerian system generally, it appears to me that the Nigerian society 'kills' geniuses rather than creates a viable environment to promote innovation and enterprise.
I attended the last convocation ceremony of the University of Lagos where the overall best graduating student was a mechanical engineering student. Today, I hear he works in a bank in Lagos. If true, how sad! How pathetic! In a sane society, the lad would have been whisked off by the government or some top engineering firm, his intellect would be have been prodded, his mind pushed until the genius in him comes to fore.
The just concluded 2012 London Olympics is a case in point too. The abysmal performance of Nigerian athletes has very little to do with the absence of talent or skill but more to do with institutional deficiencies in sport, training and development in the country.
The sad truth is that Nigerian youths are working very hard but are barely getting by. What makes the situation sadder and more pitiful is the constant and the seemingly endless reports of corrupt leaders, top government officials, supposedly senior citizens, siphoning public funds brazenly and getting away with it while Nigerian youths watch helplessly as their future is taken out of their reach.
In Nigeria, it is commonplace to find many young people between the ages of 25 and 30 years still living with their parents or older relatives, still dependent one way or the other, not by choice but by circumstance. This ought not to be! It is the young that should take care of the old and not vice –versa. It is very frustrating and psychologically debilitating for young people going through this phase.
Ideally, in a society that has done its work and paid its dues in bringing up her youths, a 25-30 year-old man or woman should be completely independent of his or her parents or relatives in every sense and should at that age start giving back to the society. This is, sadly, not so in Nigeria; there is nothing normal about this situation and it should not be accepted! Just as a parent of a five-year-old child who still crawls and fails to walk should be alarmed and worried, our leaders should be worried, if at that age the majority of our youths have not attained full financial responsibility and are still being catered for like teenagers or children. This is really sad and portends great danger for the future of our country.
Beyond the failed political leadership and poor economic situation that have plagued our country and contributed to the pitiful plight of Nigerian youths, it seems that the society is configured to regard young people as incompetent and incapable. A little while ago, a serving youth corps member at the National Assembly in an article in a national newspaper wrote that youth corps members serving in the National Assembly were reduced to mere errand boys to carry out menial assignments like serving tea and kola nuts to the lawmakers. If true, how derogatory and demeaning! What a waste of young active minds and talents! It is time our leaders realised that young people in the right environment, with the right motivation and the right education can effectively hold positions of leadership and execute projects brilliantly. One does not have to be 50 years old before one becomes a CEO; a 28-year-old CEO can do just fine! And a 30-year-old senator can do just fine too, after all, what good have our older politicians and leaders done?
In reality, becoming a millionaire at the age of 24 in Nigeria without making recourse to 'yahoo yahoo' (Nigerian acronym for internet fraud), pilfering funds, or being used as a political thug or winning the grand prize in the Big Brother Africa or any other reality TV shows or becoming a pop star or sportsman, is a near impossibility.
It is possible to become a millionaire at the age of 24 legitimately (as Mark has shown us), in a society that is engineered to encourage and reward hard work. Truthfully, Nigeria is not that society yet and until Nigeria becomes that society, corporate organisations and advertising agencies need to be very mindful of the messages behind their advertisements. It is my humble submission that, to put up an advertisement with an inscription that reads 'a millionaire at 29, that's 5years too late' to promote a product that is largely patronised by young people in Nigeria, is to throw existing realities into the bin in the name of creativity.
Source: Written by Izere Imosemi, a partner in the law firm of Fieldings and Grey Solicitors, Lagos.