Jeffery Ikeaka – Defying the Double Tragedy of the Nigerian Millennial
By Pius Adesanmi
To evoke the Nigerian millennial – those boys and girls 30 years-old and below – is to immediately contemplate two tragedies which fall within the broader, paradigmatic tragedy that is Nigeria.
The first tragedy of the Nigerian millennial is his essential condition as a betrayed citizen. He has been betrayed by at least three generations of his elders – those who have handled the affairs of Nigeria in waves and generations since October 1, 1960.
Elsewhere, I have described millennials as Nigeria’s first orphaned generation. No role models in the public sphere, no quality parenting at home: this is an abandoned generation because Nigeria has failed institutionally and collapsed as a moral proposition.
The second tragedy of the Nigerian millennial is himself. Very often, he is instrumentalized against himself and his own interests by the same people who have raped his present and mortgaged his future.
If he is a graduate, he is at once diseducated and under-educated because he passed through a shambles called tertiary institutions in Nigeria – the money to train and educate him on an equal footing with his millennial peers all over the world having been stolen by Nigeria’s useless and irresponsible politicians. The resultant half-formed or malformed mind is the clay with which the oppressor moulds the massive armies of youth soldiers ready to defend him even unto death.
Buhari is superior to Jonathan. No, Jonathan is superior to Buhari. Fayose and Fani-Kayode are heroes. Whosai! The true heroes are Fashola and Amaechi. Think of the number of hours that such invidious exchanges and unimaginative heehawing eat up daily in the lives of Nigerian millennials as they invade the public sphere, especially social media, daggers drawn, each ranged behind a rapist of his present and seller of his future, and you will apprehend the immensity of the tragedy.
One consequence of this double tragedy of the millennial – the tragedy of being betrayed by his elders and the tragedy of betraying himself – is that, very often, Nigeria becomes an alibi. Nigeria becomes a rationalization, a valid excuse for his failure to look within and explore further possibilities of agency and human realization beyond strictures and limitations imposed on him by his oppressor.
Instead of saying yes to his own chi, he wakes up every day saying yes to the chi of his oppressor and exploiter, his entire purpose reduced to fighting fratricidal, acrimonious, and stultifying wars on behalf of the respective chis of Buhari and Jonathan for instance.
For the millennial abroad, especially those who are here because their middleclass parents have somehow been able to scrape the resources to send them out of the hell of higher education in Nigeria, the double tragedy of the millennial condition often creates an existential impasse. Prof, what do I do? How do I engage Nigeria? What is my stake in Nigeria? Everywhere I go in Canada, the United States, and Europe, I am confronted with these questions by Nigerian millennials. Or they email me.
And I see confusion in their perspectivization of Nigeria.
And I see ambivalence in their perspectivization of Nigeria.
And I see fatalism in their perspectivization of Nigeria.
However, on that rare, exceptional occasion, light walks in. A ray of hope walks in. A Teflon millennial walks in, aware of the tragic condition of his generation in Nigeria but determined not to operate within the limitations imposed on youth agency by the leprous vision of Nigeria’s leadership past and present.
This is the millennial who tells himself that no matter how bad and despondent the situation is, there is always room to lift a finger and change the present in order to guarantee a better future. This is the millennial who understands that the members of his generation who will change Nigeria’s destiny are not the ones heehawing on social media in defense of their favorite corrupt politician.
This millennial is an inspiration to his generation. I have been preaching it to Nigerian millennials: look within your ranks for your own heroes and inspirational figures because your elders are a lost cause. Older generations have given you a scenario in which the President, Senate President, and House Speaker of your country could all be in the same living room at public expense in London, sipping tea, and laughing. Is this where you think your heroes can come from? Look within your ranks.
Look at Jeffery Ikeaka…
Yesterday, I had a busy day in the office. The Ambassador of Ethiopia to Canada and the current President of the African Women’s Diplomatic Forum, is due to pay an official visit to the institute of African Studies today, February 17, 2017.
I was putting finishing touches to preparations to receive our guest when he waltzed into my office majestically like I was renting the office space from his father. That manner of invading and owning my space imperially and uninvited immediately gave away his nationality even before he opened his mouth: Jeffery Ikeaka is a Nigerian, 100% NAFDAC-certified Nigerian.
He breezed in, shook hands vigorously with me, and sat down even as my research Assistant and doctoral student, Tunde Ojo and I, took a measure of him.
Prof! Prof! Good to see you! (Another giveaway of his Nigerianness. He doesn’t know me and has never met me o). Then he introduced himself: Jeffery Ikeaka. He graduated from Carleton University back in 2015. He took a number of courses at the Institute of African Studies although none with me. He now works in Toronto. And because he somehow never managed to come and pay me sadankata (homage) during his undergraduate years at Carleton, he felt duty bound to stop by yesterday because he was in Ottawa.
So far so good. So, young man, what do you do now, I ask him.
Prof I work for Plan International in Toronto (a big international NGO) but I have also been working on a Foundation in Nigeria.
By now, I was ready to dismiss the young man. Hardly a week passes that I don’t encounter Nigerians telling me about a “Foundation” or an “NGO” that they have just started. You give a listening ear only to discover philosophical and intellectual shallowness, greed, and a “jeun-jeun” approach to the whole NGO business. No vision, no altruism, no direction, no spiritually superior sense of being summoned to sacrifice oneself and one’s comfort for the uplift of the less privileged. Just a man-must-whack approach to the whole humanitarian thing. I wasn’t going to listen to another Foundation and NGO talk.
But Jeffery Ikeaka persisted with the story of the first $500 dollars he raised for typhoon victims in the Philippines as an undergraduate a few years ago. In 2013, he partnered with the Red Cross for a campus fund drive for typhoon victims in the Philippines and raised $500. Such was his doggedness that the Canadian Government noticed his efforts and partnered with him. The Canadian Government double-matched the $500 he raised and a humanizing drop was made into the ocean of human need in the Philippines. Because one Nigerian cared…
Now, the young man has my attention. I better not dismiss him hastily. But I was still going to give him some koboko. Why the Philippines when there is so much need in your own country?
I needn’t have worried. Prof, my experience, raising funds for typhoon victims in the Philippines awakened my consciousness about Nigeria and I have been busy ever since. In fact, I only just returned from Nigeria where I spent time extensively organizing youth empowerment activities. We are building a community centre in Dikenafai, a village in Imo state, my home state. We have also been involved in a food and hygiene drive in Boko Haram IDPs in Abuja.
As he spoke, I visited jefferyikeakafoundation.org for an assessment. I also visited his Instagram page. Jeffery Ikeaka has been a very busy young man in Nigeria – with a meticulous way of accounting for his time. I was moved. I was close to tears.
The issue is not what I saw on his website and social media pages. Anybody can mount a website and put up photos. It is his passion and vision, the philosophical and spiritual dimension to his belief in the ultimate capacity of his generation to transform Nigeria through a comprehensive retooling of their sense of personal drive; through a determination to explore the possible beyond strictures and limitations.
Jeffery Ikeaka is a brilliant and powerful speaker. Extremely articulate. Very well read. Infectious passion for Nigeria. The more he spoke about his vision and dreams and passion and work in Nigeria, the more I heard what he has done in Boko Haram IDP camps and his plans for more work on that front, the more I thought about the bitter irony of the Nigerian condition.
An irresponsible member of my generation called Babachir Lawal sees in Boko Haram IDPs an opportunity to make a buck or two out of human misery and tragedy. He corners a contract to clear “invasive plant species” from IDPs.
And here is a 26 year-old Nigerian who sees the same site of human tragedy and has been investing his life, time, resources, and God-given talents to work for and make life better for his less privileged compatriots, victims of Boko Haram and other forms of carnage, in those camps. Do Nigerian millennials need any more proof of my submission that their heroes lie within their own ranks?
By the time Jeffery left my office yesterday, he had become my inspiration. Such is life. He came to visit me because he has heard so much about me and considers me an inspiration.
I bought the face cap of his Foundation to support and identify with his work. The face cap comes in red and black. I chose red.
After he left, I screamed: “Chai, this red face cap looks like the Make America Great Again cap of the Philistine racist down south across the border o.” I must now tell Jeffery to change the colour of that cap. May be blue and black. Anything but red!