By Raliat Oluyemisi Sunmonu
They are killing students again. In Kenya. No! It's in Nigeria. Wait! It's in Sierra Leone!
What does it matter where they are being killed?
When I read the news about police / soldiers killing protesting university students, I turn my thoughts, once again, to the stupidity of African governments.
I will not attempt to soften my words nor will I try to doctor my contempt, my cocky spirit and bold-as-brass attitude for more mellow emotions befitting an adult. I am a member of that community that African governments alternately speak of with parental indulgence and barely-concealed fear. I am a "youth."
I am brimming with irrepressible optimism, bubbling with idealistic ideas, bursting with enthusiasm untouched by cynicism. I am in the prime of my life. I am going to be the next Ghandi; I will be Einstein's successor; I will be my country's Nkrumah; the heir apparent to the legacies left behind by the world's greatest men and women. Things will be better in my time because I will make them better. This is the time when no mountain is too high, no distance too far, no river too wide. And why not? I am invincible. I am young.
I can do anything, be anyone. Why weren't things better before now? Because I wasn't there to make them so. No one knows how to do it as well as I do. I have the right formula, the perfect combination, the magic touch. If only they'd just give me a chance to show them what I can do. How grateful they'd be then! Streets would be named after me. Books would be written in my memory, songs composed in my honor and people will wonder how they ever managed without me. Power? Fame? Wealth? Yes, I want them all, and more. But they are not my driving forces. I want to be a hero; my country's savior; it's liberator.
And all this power, all this energy, is at the disposal of my country. How does my government repay me? I am shot at by the very policemen and soldiers who are sworn to protect my country and her citizens. My government spends more money on guarding the president than in funding my schools. My gentle, hopeful voice is not heard because as far as they are concerned, I have no voice. My creative outlets are blocked until I have no recourse but to scream in anger, in frustration.
And still I get no credit. Oh no, my government hastens to point out when my anger gets the better of me and I embark on a destructive rampage; I am being pushed by self-serving politicians. Surely I could never have thought of doing all those things by myself. I have no brains. No identity. No self. At each point, I am frustrated, stymied, stunted. I am the future, my government proclaims with one side of its mouth, while with the other side it gives orders for me to be locked up, shot at, belittled, humiliated, de-humanized.
But I don't understand, I cry. I only want to serve my country. I only want to be recognized. I only want to be me. All I want is to make things better. I want to change the world, leave my mark, boldly imprint my footsteps in the sands of time.
And then one day, suddenly, inexplicably, the enthusiasm is replaced by jadedness, the cockiness by self-centerdness, the arrogance by cynicism. On that day, I grow up.
And still my country turns on its wheels, never knowing what it has lost, never caring.
Life goes on.