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Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Ignorance Is Not An Option

After graduating from the Corona School in Nigeria in 2009, the next chapter of my life story would begin at the De Aston School in England. I was excited at the thought of living in what my Igbo brethren would call the ‘obodo oyibo’.  Upon resuming my A Levels, I chose to study subjects in the social sciences/humanities area to suit my aspiration to become a Lawyer. History, English Literature, Sociology and Psychology were my choices. With these subjects, particularly History and Sociology, come a strong emphasis on social consciousness. Holding a key interest in Politics and general knowledge, it was only natural I saw these subjects as areas of strength.  From my first Sociology class, I could tell that my Teacher was relishing the opportunity to spend time examining the Nigerian culture and psyche. He was particularly interested in gaining a better understanding of the Nigerian political system. With this, you can imagine the excitement he felt when after asking the class the occupations of our parents in a bid to highlight the relationship between class and education; he discovered that parents of the two other Nigerian students were politicians. You should have seen his face light up. The conversation with one of them would then go something like this:

Teacher: Your Mum’s a politician! Really? What does she do?
Student: I don’t know.
Teacher (surprised): How’s that possible? Is she equivalent to an MP? Is she a Minister? What exactly is she?
Student: I really don’t know. I just know she has meetings.

His jaw dropped.  He would later ask me “How’s that possible? I love teaching International students because they have the world view that British kids don’t. I would think, from leaving their countries to gain an education here, they would have strong opinions on the cultural and political differences but I guess I got it wrong”.  I agreed with him seeing it was a way in which we could relate.
About a year ago, the Nigerian Presidential Elections were the talk of the town. The incumbent, Goodluck Jonathan avoided a debate with his rivals, preferring to hold an interview with pop star and self-appointed representative of the youths, D’ Banj. President Jonathan’s campaign would go on to receive an endorsement and campaign jingle from D’Banj. One thing that stood out particularly in the election run up was the growth in celebrity activism. It has always been a key factor in Celebrity culture for respected acts to channel their influence and star power for the politicians they admire. In 2008, when Barack Obama ran for the US Presidency he was able to gain endorsements from celebrities like George Clooney, Jay Z and Oprah Winfrey with Ms. Winfrey making stops on the campaign trail. President Jonathan was able to call on Nollywood stalwarts like Olu Jacobs, Genevieve Nnaji , Desmond Elliot and Ini Edo to support his cause. Each man to his own, they’re free to support whichever candidate rocks their boat.

Over the past week, D’banj has been in the news for a number of reasons. In an interview with the radical blog, Sahara Reporters, in the buildup to his concert at New York’s Irving Plaza on 19th February, ‘the Kokomaster’ committed faux pas after faux pas. For those who are unaware, Sahara Reporters is a New York based Nigerian Internet news medium with a strong anti-establishment and citizen journalism based stance. Philip Shenon, writing in the Daily Beast, describes Sahara Reporters as the ‘African Wikileaks’.   During the Interview, D’banj was questioned on his decision to interview and support President Jonathan about a year ago, to which he defended  himself saying “I’m not a politician. I do not do politics. I am the face of a lot of people. I have lots of fans all over the world…..  If I get a request that goes “Yo! I want you to support me”. And I say “You want me to support you? Sir, No problem. Before I support you, I would like to ask you one question. “What are your plans for the Youths?”” He was then questioned on the fuel subsidy removal to which he requested a moment of silence and went on to assert that he would not discuss the issue as he had not been in the country citing his music commitments. He is signed to Kanye West’s G.O.O.D Music label that is working on a collaborative album in London. The interviewer rebuffed this saying that whilst she had not been in the country herself she had a solid understanding of the events that had taken place. She also suggested that there were protests in London and New York organized by Nigerians in the diaspora where he could have made an appearance to which he suggested that his disdain for the cold weather made impossible. He forgets that the Kanye West whom he spoke so much about coming across as a hero worshipper to an extent made a brief albeit controversial appearance at the Occupy Wall Street Protests last year.

A comment on Bella Naija stated “It all comes down to this – you cannot claim to REPRESENT Nigeria and then feign ignorance when being asked about important issues that affect the country that you are supposedly a face of”. As I read that, all I could say was “Exactly”. How can you claim to be the face and voice of the youths and then pull a disappearing act when they want to hear from you? In what world is it right that someone who parades himself as a UN Youth Ambassador openly declares ignorance on an issue that threatened to cause chaos in his country of origin? It would surely have been a wiser move to toe the “No comment” line than display such crass ignorance of the issues that plague his motherland. The saying that says it is better to say nothing than open one’s mouth and confirm foolishness comes to mind.

When did we become so ignorant? The tiniest of details are lost on a good number of us. How is it possible that one can spend 17 years in a country but is unable to state the capital city? Where do these problems come from I ask myself. As a child, I thought knowing nations and their capitals was a fundamental to succeed at Social Studies. Now I wonder, is it that the educational systems failed us or is it a case where our parents failed in instilling in us a certain degree of social consciousness?
I ask myself how is it possible that our generation can fulfill the potential we hold when a good number of us don’t even understand the most minimal of details with regard to the systems back home? How does one seek a proactive society when there’s minimal understanding of that society in the first place? Is it possible to hold constructive arguments on ways to improve when we hold limited knowledge in the first place? We think watching the news and reading newspapers are boring, yet complain that there’s a detachment with older generations.

The next generation of Africans must realize that Ignorance is not an option. There should be a thirst and hunger for more knowledge on our part. There should be stronger element of desire from us towards staking a claim towards ensuring we are not disenfranchised.  After all, Elbert Hubbard said “ The recipe for  perpetual ignorance: Be satisfied with your opinions and content with your knowledge”. My fellow Africans, it’s only right that we seek to eschew all elements of ignorance.

Originally published by the Afrian Youth Journals.

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