In the roll call of authors who have effectively used the novel form to interrogate the systematic abuse of the Nigerian society leading to the many ills her citizens continue to endure today, Chukwuemeka Ike deserves a prolonged applause. In an Obit when he passed at age 88, in 2020, I had noted that “In many ways, his fiction held up a mirror to society, reflecting both the desirable and the worst in us and leaving us with something to really ponder about. He seemed passionate about changing society and used his fiction to consistently remind us of the increasing inadequacies of society which our fleeting sensibilities ignore as we carry on with the daily scramble for material accumulation.” And he had quite a collection of titles that buttressed this including the likes of Toads for Super, The Naked Gods, The Potter’s Wheel, Sunset at Dawn, Expo ’77, The Chicken Chasers, and The Search among others.
There will be time to properly study, contextualise and document how young Nigerians impacted the 2023 general elections. But it is not premature to state that Nigeria is witnessing what can be appropriately described as a youth-led redefinition of her political landscape as seen in the exploits of the Obidient movement in the still ongoing 2023 general elections. One of Ike’s cerebral works Our Children Are Coming (Spectrum Books; 1990) comes to mind at this time. In this novel, Ike writes about a conflict between the youth and the adult society in which young people who have had enough of the corruption, economic waste, nepotism and moral bankruptcy of their parents rise, through a movement, to challenge the status quo and force changes in the country.
A quick summary of the plot will suffice. The government of the day constitutes a commission of enquiry called the Presidential Commission on Juveniles Below Twenty-One, expected to investigate and propose recommendations on how best to solve the problems associated with the youth such as indiscipline, lack of motivation, laziness, sexual, promiscuity and so on. Having been left out without any representation in the commission investigating them, young people in the country led by the National Association of Students (NAS) soon make their displeasure with the commission known. Besides this, NAS insists the commission is made up of people of questionable character who lack the morale capital to deliver on the assignment. They want in – a sit on the commission – a request that the government promptly turns down. NAS takes the federal government to court but does not get justice. Undaunted, they set up a parallel commission called the National Commission on Parents over twenty-one years. Through this commission, the youth proceed to expose the malfeasance of leading members of the older generation with shocking revelations made of the scandalous lifestyle of the adults and how those with the responsibility of running the nation are busy ruining it instead. This includes the very members of the presidential commission. There are arrests and mass protests. The government is ultimately forced to make some changes including the dissolution of both commissions and acceding to the demands of the young people.
Ike’s subject matter in this novel is a familiar one even today. The neglect, marginalisation, deprivation and abuse of the younger generation by the adults has continued. And these adults have also proceeded to superintend the steady decline of the country with all human development indices headed south. Interestingly, the group of people who were in charge of the country at about the time Ike wrote this novel are still in power today. Now octogenarians, they have continued to tighten their grip on power and in the process amplifying those ills against the younger generation which Ike wrote about. This younger generation became cynical with time and with very little faith in the system, most of them responded by fleeing from the country or simply minding their business.
Then comes the Obidient movement, so named after the supporters of Peter Obi, a former governor and presidential candidate of the Labour Party in Nigeria’s 2023 general election. Obi, who is easily the youth’s favourite has managed to galvanise the younger generation to make a statement in this election cycle. He is seen mostly as ‘different’ and though a little over 60, is considered a ‘young’ candidate given the age of his opponents. This youth movement is easily a successor to the #EndSARS protest which swept through the country in the later parts of 2020, first as a denunciation of police brutality and later as a platform for advocating for wider governance reforms. It was the first real potent organisation by young people to make their voice heard in many years. Unfortunately, the State violently repressed this movement. But the power they wielded wasn’t lost on young people after that experience. It is this combination of excitement, anger and resolve coming from the #EndSARS protests that the Obidient movement feeds off and if the results of the Presidential and National Assembly elections are anything to go by, this movement, much like the one by NAS in Ike’s novel has disrupted the status quo.
It must be said that there is no unanimity among all youths of Nigeria in their support for the Obidient movement given its partisan leanings. There are those who support other candidates. This is true to the nature of similar movements all through history. What is not in doubt however is that the majority of the urban, upwardly mobile youths whose voices shape popular opinion for this generation, support the movement. And it is believed that while the movement takes its name from the candidacy of Obi, its agenda is now way beyond the political ambitions of the candidate, and he remains just its face.
The Obidient movement like the Comrade Yekini Falase-led NAS in Ike’s Our Children Are Coming, was first dismissed as noise which would fizzle out soon. But it endured. The young people in both instances demonstrated their resolve and impatience with the system. One recalls NAS members chanting ‘Why are we waiting’ in the tone of Adeste fideles. There has not been scarcity of similar creativity from the Obidient movement. When the NAS turned up the heat on the establishment in Ike’s novel the adult members of society began to dissociate themselves from their own failures and sought ways to show solidarity with the young people so their own dirty linen would not be made public. Classically, we have also seen establishment politicians appropriate the term ‘Obidient’ in their campaign materials ahead of the Governorship and State Assembly elections, in open admission of the power of the movement they earlier dismissed and, in an effort, not to be washed away by its force.
In Our Children Are Coming, Ike sounded a warning to the older generation that the young people are awakening and looking to take back their country from the corrupt establishment that had run it down. That warning comes to life in the Obidient movement who through political participation have made a statement that it would no longer be business as usual in the leadership recruitment process in the country and how her affairs are administered. It is a statement that has seen old time politicians lose their strongholds, which has seen candidates ‘from nowhere’ win sits in parliament, dislodging those who have made it their personal property for so many years, a statement that makes bold to say that the elections were flawed but this time, their mandate will be retrieved. And to buttress the power they believe they hold, they tweet lines like ‘they’ve messed with the wrong generation’ and warn those who benefitted from the movement to get into office to better deliver or they would send them out with as much force as got them in.
One can say, with some measure of certainty therefore, that Ike’s prophecy has come true and that indeed, Our Children who have been a long way coming – disengaged, ignored, left behind and underestimated – are now here. And they seem set to inscribe a new order, in bold fonts.
–Sylva Nze Ifedigbo, creative writer and social commentator is the author of Believers and Hustlers. He is available on social media at @nzesylva.