Modern living is in constant co-habitation with danger. Often we are confronted with the limitation of human knowledge and our capacity to achieve perfection. Such occasional failure at the pinnacle of science occurred on Sunday March 10 when Ethiopian Airline, one of our continent’s best, suffered a devastating blow. One of the most modern aircrafts in its fleet crash shortly after take-off at the Addis Ababa Airport, Ethiopia. The plane was headed for Kenya. On board were 157 passengers and crew. All of them have now become united by fate as they perished in that last voyage of their lives. Among the victims were three illustrious Nigerians, Professor Pius Adesanmi, Ambassador Abiodun Bashua and Karim Safi, said to be one of the founders of African Diaspora Youth in Europe.
Adesanmi was a world famous public intellectual who had migrated to Canada and rose to become a professor at the Carleton University, Canada. I can’t remember now whether I ever met him, but knew him by reputation. He was a writer of profound merit and his impact, still growing by the time of his sudden death, was almost catholic. He rose like a star from Isanlu, a rural community in Kogi State, and perished like a spectacular meteor. Though he had become a Canadian citizen, he was still in love with Nigeria, the land of his birth and he engage in robust intellectual debates on the Nigerian condition in the recent past. He was one of 18 Canadians who died in that ill-fated flight.
“The Carleton community is shocked!” lamented Benoit-Antoine Bacon, the President and Vice-Chancellor of the Carleton University, Canada where Adeyemi was a highly valued professor. “Pius was a towering figure in African and post-colonial scholarship and his sudden loss is a tragedy.”
Bashua, like Adesanmi, was a man of universal significance. He was one of the 19 staff of the United Nations who were heading for Nairobi for an international conference who perished in the crash. I knew Bashua. Few years ago, I had enquired about him at the Ministry of External Affairs in Abuja and was told he had joined the United Nations. Now his story has ended.
I first met Bashua in Abidjan in 1985 when he was a senior diplomat with the Nigerian embassy in Cote d’Ivoire. I had gone to Abidjan on the invitation of then President Felix Houphouet-Boigny and his ruling Party Democratic de Cote d’Ivoire, PDCI, which wanted the presence of the Nigerian press at its historic congress to deliberate on a likely successor to the long-reigning President who had been in power since 1960. I was then a reporter for Newswatch and the only other reporter invited for that event was Onome Osifo-Whiskey, who was then the chairman of the Editorial Board of the old Daily Times. After that assignment, Osifo-Whiskey joined Newswatch on the invitation of Dele Giwa, our then Editor-in-Chief.
Bashua embraced us like his long lost brothers. He was not just a diplomat, he was a wonderful person, warm, loving, caring and ready to serve. He took us to so many interesting places in the city in his small Japanese car (can’t remember the brand now). He was the one who took us to the Koko Pot, the high-class restaurant run by the daughter of Slyanius Olympio, the first President of Togo who was assassinated in the coup of 1960. Cote d’Ivorie then had a substantial Nigerian community and about 500,000 of them were living in Abidjan alone. They never tried to interfere in the Ivoirian politics. Now Bashua is gone. He was an excellent man.
The impact of modern communication has robbed us of the solemnity of death and its impact on the immediate family members. Like most people, the wives and children of Bashua and Adesanmi may have heard the devastating news on the social media first before even the UN had the chance to contact the family. Suddenly without our consents, we have all become actors in the public space, thanks to the internet. Yet it was only 30 years ago that the World Wide Web started and today, it is the most significant invention of the post-modern age.
It is necessary for us to ponder on the position of Africans in this post-modern age. Sixty years ago, when Chief Obafemi Awolowo, then the Premier of the Western Region, commissioned the first television station in Africa, the Western Nigeria Television Service, WNTV, there were very few television stations in Europe and Asia. At that time, most Chinese have never seen a television set. Today, the television station that Awolowo built remain virtually in the same state that he left it. Today, most of the television set used in Nigeria are made in China. We love television, but we don’t know how to make it. We love to ride cars, use telephone (some young people sleep with it because they are deeply in love with that object), drink champagne and even our Boko Haram terrorist fight with European weapons. Africans are in the modern world only that they are not part of it.
Less than 24 hours before Adesanmi and Bashua met their fiery ends, I was in Okemesi, Ekiti State to cast my vote during the State Assembly election. Most of the people with me were youths, the future of our country. Many of them have no serious employments. Their discussions were energetic and animated and they know a lot about the politics of their great country. Most pathetic were the girls, barely pepping out of teenage-hood. Some of them were evidently pregnant.
With few jobs available, many of the young ones have been keeping themselves busy in other ways and the evidence is the abundance of teenage pregnancies in Okemesi and other rural communities of Ekiti State. With early pregnancies, the girls, and even the teenage fathers, may not have a bright future as their education may be stalled if not entirely disrupted. The future of Africa is literarily imprisoned in the pregnancies of its teenage mothers who are not ready to be mothers and are not prepared for the challenges of the future. A top medical personnel in the state said the prevalence of HIV and other diseases may be as high as 20 percent.
The political elites, especially those who are heirs to the legacies of Obafemi Awolowo, need to re-examine the template for development. At the core of the problem is the issue of unemployment. There are many of our young graduates who are now 35 or even 40 who have never held any stable of steady employment. Some of them drift into politics, believing that they may stumble on a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. They salivate over the Instagram Page of Dino Melaye and other lucky dudes and they are ready to kill their mothers to get a slice of the pie.
Nigeria is big and its market is extensive. This is the weapon we have to tackle the issue of youth unemployment. This can only be done from the rural areas. We have to help our youths to acquire marketable skills that would help us produce products and services that would make our citizens rich. It is simply not acceptable that almost all the things we use for building our houses, except cement from Dangote and other manufactures, are imported. The entire raw materials for producing this newspapers are imported from abroad. Almost all the youths who went out to vote for governors and state assembly members wore dresses made from foreign land; most the dresses bought from bend-down boutiques. Our own textile factories are silent and our tailors are seeking miracles from spiritual merchants that abound in our land.
Yet the land that produced Bashua and Adesanmi is a land of universal possibilities. Adesanmi had his roots in Isanlu, one of the Yoruba towns in Kogi State and it was from that rural setting that his stars shined out to the world. Let us remember that we have a duty to ensure that this land should give opportunity for the young to grow productively. We should not allow the future of our youths to be trapped in perennial unemployment and teenage pregnancies. Children having children is not the best way for Africans to become part of the modern world.
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