ON AGEISM, AND BEING A MILLENNIAL IN CONTEMPORARY NIGERIA.
Last month I was in New York City, where I was selected as a 2017 Global Teen Leader alongside 29 other teens from sixteen countries of the world, by Nile Rogers’s charity; We Are Family Foundation. Throughout the week, we had the opportunity to meet and interact with various inspiring facilitators and guest speakers including the producer of the famous KONY 2012; Jason Russell, Founder of TEDx; Lara Stein; North-Korean immigrant; Yeonmi Park, various CEOs and Executives in the Corporate and non-profit world. More importantly, that week I was better able to redefine what my role as a millennial in the contemporary African society is.
Ageism is a affliction that bedevils the fabric of the African society. In my home country Nigeria, remarks like “you’re too young, get me an older person to talk to” are very common. The horrid reality of ageism literally tells young millennials that if you do not have an older person to protect you, I am willfully going to violate your rights. I am a victim of ageism. Ageism pervades the length and breadth of the Nigerian society, and forms the fundamental core of how young people are treated. Even in schools, students are made to live and learn in the worst conditions and expected to stuporously remain pliant because they are young and it is a moral virtue not to complain and rebel against your elders (even to the point of death). This attitude forms the cognitive perspective of kids from birth and endure through their youths till they grow old, and the cycle of ageism continues ad infinituum. This ensures that many young people do not venture into productive efforts, either out of the fear of getting rejected (which is a legitimate fear in this context) or because they do not just think they are “old enough” to do anything. It is popular this side for you to hear arbitrary comments like “ you are too young to know about X”, “you are too young to understand Y”, “you are not old enough to know Z”. Such invidious rhetoric stifles the inquisitive drive that births solutions to existential problems. Ageism in Nigeria numbs millennials to positive action and tells us that we are too young to aspire to become certain things, and occupy certain public offices in the country. Now, more than ever, there is a growing need for young people to take action and make sense of their lives and that of others in the context of the globalizing world.
It is important that we own and redefine what it means to be a “young person” in Nigeria. It is high time that we weaponize the term “young” to mean opportunity, passion, resilience, strength and unyieldingness as opposed to being a debilitating deficiency.
As an 18 year old, I use my voice, privilege and power to create awareness about social ills. I founded a non-profit that intervenes and creates awareness. about female genital mutilation and gender-based violence with a goal to creating social inclusion and unity, which are the founding blocks for peace. I teach young kids the value of their voice as a reflection of their moral personhood through bequeathing them with skills of public speaking and critical argumentation targeted at problem solving through dialogue as opposed to violence and conflict.
The problem of ageism is global, but to change that stereotype, we all have to be actors in our societies, striving to inspire others to positive action. That way, we will form a broad coalition of millennials changing the notion of what it means to be young.
See you at work!