The last few years have seen a rise in young people from a generation that has been described as a tech-savvy, socialist and passionate generation that will change the world. Most times these are western reports of westerners, people who grew up in saner climes, where their opinions actually mattered to their leaders. It is definitely not the case in places like Nigeria.
The first set of Gen Z Nigerians were born during the last years of military rule, the next at the start of a democracy that has lasted longer than expected, and the last of Gen Z were born just at the start of the insurgency in North-Eastern Nigeria. We were born into a country that was just reeling from the aftermaths of a long period of military rule, one whose democracy is merely an illusion of our minds, and a country were words like empathy remains a foreign concept in the minds of many.
For many like me, our first impressions of the world were hearing that a neighbour had been killed in a cult clash that was possibly sponsored by the state leaders and that somewhere far away from your own world, a terrorist group had attacked and your parents sent you out of the living room when they showed the footage of the people that had died from the 2011 attack.
We spent our preteen and teenage, watching as we gradually became the world poverty headquarters, and how for many of us it wasn’t just a statistic, but our daily lives. We watched as our parents who had grown up in a different time, where any anti-government rhetoric could get you killed, they murmured but refused to upset the status quo because god forbid the sham of a democracy they enjoyed was taken away from them.
So for many of us, while we got social media and a more digitalized world, we also inherited fear, pains and cultural norms that do not let you spread your wings, from a generation that had given up and just hoped for the best that we would be different, and so while we simultaneously want change, most of us are yet to break free of our fears and those cultures.
These culture and fears, that have eaten deep into a generation that is seemingly bolder than older generations, are taught to us from the day we are born. From the usual “do not talk back at your elders” even though you are sure said elder is wrong, to watching the adults in our lives turn into puppets, when face to face with people in positions of power over them.
We were born and brought up in a country where upsetting the status quo is frowned upon at all units in the society, where political leaders in a supposed democracy, use institutions of the state to silence us at the slightest provocation. We were born into a culture of fear.
So while we may make hashtags with justice for another person that has been killed by our system trend once in a while, and make memes of our elected leaders turned tyrants, we try not to say too much so we do not upset someone at the top. We have seen how the people that do this suddenly disappear from the earth, and the ones who remain with us become fugitives on their own soil.
Undoubtedly we are only held back by the fear of what may happen, and while a handful of us are forging on regardless, and creating new narratives, a larger number of us are still stuck in that place of simultaneously wanting change and being cautious with what we say.
This is a culture that continuously protects the political elites in the country, we have watched it in our parents’ generation, we are watching it in the millennial and we are seeing as it does its harm in our own generation.
A culture of fear that if not destroyed, will trickle into the younger generation and this vicious cycle that we live in will continue.