The debate regarding whether Nigeria’s younger generation can effectively shape the future of the country does not follow a single pattern or outline. Many schools of thought have refused to acknowledge that there can be anything positive from a generation shaped by the internet and which exhibits a high rate of mobility.
Will the known religious, ethnic and institutional variables have a direct effect on younger Nigerians, or will it be the other way around to achieve the much desired phenomenon called revolution? Several questionable causes have been proffered in a bid to explain why this younger generation may yet fail or be even worse than their fathers.
Solidarity and active citizenship have always been a part of the Nigerian society long before the introduction of mobile phones, the internet and now, social media. This was a period when having a NITEL landline at home was a sign of prestige and class, when individuals had wooden boxes with padlocks to house their telephones, and when I had to sit by the phone in my neighbour’s flat waiting for a call from abroad.
Anyone familiar with the history of Nigeria must have heard of the famous “Ali Must Go” protests of 1978 and the subsequent Student Union protests up till the June 12 era. One significant aspect of these periods was the aligned social solidarity amongst the students and youths in mobilising for a cause they believed in.
My foray into Student Union activism was at a time when we relied on individual communication within the society to get messages across; the bearer of these messages had to be physically transported. Meetings between ranks were held with high intensity and there was the need to have everyone physically present before decisions could be made. If a union official was away on official duty, we had to wait as long as it took for him to return before we could get a feedback.
There was limited social contact between individuals beyond their immediate circles; and everyone in that circle was associated via strong ties. The desire to bond with the immediate members of our circles was a natural relationship and hence the solidarity ties were more intense. There was a common understanding of mutual interests and demands which was aided largely by the frequent face to face contacts with many events and activities localized.
With the advent of the internet and social media came a mobile society where younger Nigerians have increased and easy access to each other and the rest of the world. In 12 years, Nigeria has leaped from an immobile society to a mobile one (in terms of communication) especially within its young population. With communication now made easier, it is expected that a more mobile society will be easier to mobilize.
However the case is the opposite. In a mobile society, the diffusion of individuals across several circles makes it difficult to build solidarity. Contact and engagement occurs across several circles with decreased concentration and intensity. The resulting effect is an individualized person with no definite circle of loyalty.
The whole idea of solidarity and antagonism has lost its intensity due to multiple and diffused engagements. A young person in a mobile society is not the same as the one described earlier- with several factors to cope with as a result of the exposure to multiple circles, he becomes inherently cold and moderate in a bid to be appealing to those in the several circles he comes in contact with.
Interactions within circles are shorter; face to face contact is substituted with e-contacts and the polygamist spectra of interaction without obligation sets in. No longer are interests defined and concentrated, rather they go through a passive stage.
Perhaps this is why it is more difficult to build the much desired youth movement needed for a change. As mobility deepens, the circle lines become more blurred; integration and interactions gradually take away what is termed complete like-mindedness. In a traditional immobile society where social struggles have always existed, circles consisting of the same class of people work in solidarity to fight a common cause e.g. slave masters, serfs against lords etc. but this process becomes rather difficult in the present mobile society.
The circles in the society no longer enjoy a clear cut-off from each other. Thanks to the internet and social media, the circles overlap, making solidarity unpredictable and assuming several characters.
This complex interaction provides the cover for some young people to play both sides of the divide, taking advantage of a mobile platform that cannot be monitored effectively. This does not exempt variables like religion, ethnicity, economic status, political aspirations and occupations from pushing individuals in opposite factions. But nowadays it is so much easier to play between different factions without a defined interest because of the individualistic nature of a mobile society.
An individual who is very critical of the PDP on Monday can become a partisan by Friday because his social position has changed. The shift in social position is largely connected to a shift in interests, solidarity and alliance with his immediate circles. Yesterday’s foes become today’s friends comes – a general phenomenon across contemporary mobile societies.
The sociological perspective postulates that mobility facilitates an increase of individualism as it breaks down the attachment of an individual to one circle. When an individual passes from one circle to the other over a period of time with overlapping interests, his characteristics is hard to define. This is no excuse however for the inconsistent ideology of all players and stakeholders, collaboration should override competition.
This piece was first published in The Scoop