The United Nations International Youth Day on August 12, 2017 was commemorated across the world with programmes and activities focusing on this year’s theme, “Youth Peacebuilding”. In Ilorin, a Non-Governmental Organisation called Brainbuilders International, a brainchild of a vibrant youth, Abideen Olasupo, organised a summit at the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) Hall as part of its own efforts at creating awareness on the bone of contention.
As part of my keynote address on the theme of the summit, “Youth for Peace: Leveraging Technology and Innovation for Peacebuilding, Youth Empowerment and Community Development”, I conceptualised youth ("the transition period between the dependence of childhood and the independence of adulthood") and traced the origin of commemorating the Day with effect from the year 2000. More importantly, the perception of the youth from Socrates to Aristotle, Peter the Hermit and other historical figures from our own Obafemi Awolowo to the Ghanaian Kwame Nkrumah was scrutinised.
For instance, both Aristotle and his teacher, Socrates, viewed the young ones or the youth from negative perspectives. According to Aristotle, “They (young people) have exalted notion because they have not been humbled by life or learned its necessary limitations….Their lives are regulated more by moral feeling than by reasoning – all their mistakes are in the direction of doing things excessively and vehemently. They overdo everything – they love too much, hate too much, and the same with everything.”
For Socrates, “The children (i.e.youth) now love luxury; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are tyrants, not servants of households. They no longer rise when their elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs and tyrannise their teachers.” It was an irony of fate that for all his troubles, Socrates was executed in 399 BC for no other offence than for corrupting the youth!
Of special significance to the youth is the need to embrace positive action and eschew negative action. In his book, “Consciencism” (1964), Kwame Nkrumah differentiated between positive action and negative action based on his colonial experience. He defined positive action as “the sum of those forces seeking social justice…” while negative action is “the sum of those forces tending to prolong colonial subjugation and exploitation.” For me, positive action is the totality of efforts leading to or promoting peace, justice, development and security in a society while negative action is the totality of activities leading to or promoting conflict, violence and social strife among us.
As the first thing a doctor does is to identify a condition in order to prescribe an appropriate remedy, it is important to identify the positive and negative actors. Positive actors in Nigeria are those who do their work with diligence and contribute their quota to making the society a better place to live. They are many of such actors in various professions and occupations trying their best to eke out a living and operating on the philosophy of “live and let live” and the principle of “do no harm.” They make no noise and they do what is right. They are not popular as they constitute the silent majority.
However, negative actors are also not in a small supply these days among the youth and the adults. They can be seen in Boko Haram terrorists that kill people mindlessly across the North East. They can be seen in Ozubulu terrorists unleashing death on worshipers. They are there among the Badoo killers and kidnappers in Lagos, the Kaduna-Abuja road and the Niger Delta. They are everywhere armed robbers strike on highways and homes. They are bad role models the youth follow on the screen, doing the obscene and the reprehensible. They are in ruinous adults running their mouths aimlesslesly calling their fellow countrymen animals because they do not share their views.
Negative actors are the politicians that tend to loot Nigeria out of the world map to the extent that salaries not paid and responsible men and women are turned to beggars and scavengers. Negative actors are the political actors who revel in heating the polity and wishing their fellow human beings dead. Negative actors are the cultists unleashing terror on campuses and misguided youth suggesting that war is picnic and the solution to our problems lies in taking arms and turning the country to a vast wasteland like Syria and Somalia.
The International Youth Day and its strident message of youth peacebuilding through positive action may have come and gone. The everlasting message is the need for the youth and the adults alike to appreciate both positive and negative actions for what they are. They should therefore join the train of positive actors in spite of their obscurity and denounce negative actors, despite their pomposity and popularity.