A MAJOR paradox of human life is that we are constantly looking for the easy way out, even when we know that nothing good comes easy. We are constantly drawn to the glamorous path even when we recognise that not all that glitters is gold. We are continually looking for more and more comfort; for more and more pleasure, for more and more wealth, and of course, for more and more power, prestige and popularity, even when we know that they don’t necessarily bring contentment and fulfilment.
We put all our attention and all our energy into pursuing wealth, pleasure and power, seeking to find happiness thereby. Yet, we know that these things do not in themselves bring ultimate happiness. This is precisely what St. Augustine meant when he noted that men and women pursue happiness even when they live in such a way as to make happiness impossible.
With all the distractions of our age, many people find it very difficult to reflect on the fundamental question of life’s ultimate purpose. We prefer to just live through each day, struggling for space, competing for power, and grabbing as many toys as we could lay our hands on along the way, rather than engage in the more philosophical question of the essence and the purpose of our existence.
We often get so engrossed in the rat race to succeed in business, to get to the top in politics, and to become social celebrities, that we miss out on what truly matters in life and what really gives meaning to life.
Indeed, today, we are all under such intense pressure to live on the fast lane, to be like the Joneses, to consume more and more goods, to indulge in more and more pleasures, and to acquire more and more personal freedom, that we have little time left to ask ourselves what meaning there is in all our earthly preoccupations. The Greek Philosopher Socrates observes that a life that is not reflected upon is hardly worth living.
As human beings, we are created for a purpose. Our ultimate fulfilment and happiness lie in the realisation of that purpose. We are designed in such a way that we can neither find happiness nor attain fulfilment within ourselves – no matter how much we try. We are wired in such a way that ultimate happiness and fulfilment for each one of us lie beyond us.
No degree of academic or professional success, no amount of material wealth or pleasure, no aggregate of political power and security, and no level of popularity or celebrity status, can provide for us the joy, the peace, or the authentic happiness which is only available in God our Creator.
Indeed, the human heart hungers and thirsts after something beyond all that is available to acquire in the material world. The author of Ecclesiastes came to this realisation when he wrote that classic poem titled, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 1:1-15).
Yet, we are witnessing today what appears to be an epidemic of widespread thoughtlessness, as a result of which many people are leading very destructive, meaningless, empty and futile lives. We are witnessing a major crisis in marriage and family life, and an attendant crisis in the parenting enterprise, on account of which the lives of many of our young people are devoid of any strong moral foundation.
We are witnessing in the generation of youths to which our graduating class belongs, what some of us perceive as heightened individualism, gross indiscipline, and crass materialism. We are witnessing today the spread of a culture of instant gratification, the widespread glamorisation of pleasure and the senseless idolisation of the champions of the modern entertainment industry, including sports, music, movie and comedy celebrities.
Yes, we are witnessing in our day what has been described as Acute Celebrity Syndrome, by which popular TV and Social Media personalities, movie, music, and comedy celebrities, as well as beauty pageant competitors, are not only treated like objects of worship while they are performing on stage, but they have become the most powerful influencers of our young people’s behaviour.
Yes, celebrities of the entertainment industry and social media influencers are adored, glamorised, and deified by our young people, even when many of them are chronic alcoholics and pitiable drug addicts, terrible sexual deviants, and confused perverts, and such cognitively disoriented and socially dysfunctional persons that they should normally be kept away in an asylum. But they have largely become the “moral influencers” of a good number of our often vulnerable and gullible young people, who have often not had the benefit of good parenting, and perhaps also have not had the good fortune of coming by powerful godly mentors among their teachers, in the course of their sojourn through school.
These so-called social celebrities – who are largely champions of the 21st Century global hedonistic culture or agents of the rotten part of a dying Euro-American civilisation – are now dictating much of the conduct of our young people.
Yet, some of the most popular global and national celebrities are now and again reported to be suffering from chronic depression, to be going in and out of drug rehabilitation centres, to die of drug overdose, or to commit suicide – from Whitney Houston to Bobby Brown her daughter, and from Michael Jackson to Cheslie Kryst (the 2019 Miss USA who jumped to her death from the window of a 23-storey New York building early this year)! Yes, the year 2022 alone has recorded a shockingly high number of celebrities who have taken their own lives, perhaps because in spite of their rich and comfortable lives of glamour; in spite of their celebrity status that makes them objects of envy; in spite of their being adored and deified by millions of fans across the world; perhaps in spite of their apparent success, they themselves have often found their lives to be empty, futile and meaningless.
Thus, as our young people glamorise and idolise the Naira Marleys, the Portables, the Bobriskys, as well as such Nollywood, Big Brother Naija and Instagram celebrities, who are sick enough to promote the smoking of marijuana on stage, to strip themselves naked in public, to record themselves in sex-videos and shamelessly post such disgusting videos on the internet for the whole world to watch, I am left with many questions: What has happened to the disciplined political legacies of Mrs. Funmilayo Ransome Kuti, Chief Michael Opara, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Chief Anthony Enahoro, Alhaji Lateef Jakande, Alhaji Aminu Kano and Alhaji Waziri Ibrahim? Have the children of our generation not been told inspiring stories of these moral icons of our nation?
As we witness our young behaving like orphans abandoned to the streets, and are following the madmen and women who are dancing naked in the marketplace, I ask: What has happened to the pioneering academic legacies of Prof. Ishaya Audu, Prof. Ango Abdullahi, and Dr.Bala Usman of the Ahmadu Bello University?
What have we done with the outstanding legacies of Prof. Ayodele Awojobi, Prof. Chike Obi and Prof. Eni Njoku of the University of Lagos? What have we done with the remarkable records in academics and leadership we have seen in such personalities as Prof. Solomon Wangboje, Prof. Grace Alele Williams, and Prof. Lillian Salami at the University of Benin? And what have we made of the giant strides in the Health Sciences made by Prof. Adeoye Lambo, Prof. Olikoye Ransome Kuti, and Prof. Umaru Shehu (of the University of Ibadan, University of Lagos, and University of Nigeria, respectively)?
What have we made of the truly exceptional records in the literary arts set by Prof. Wole Soyinka, Prof. Chinua Achebe, and Prof. John Pepper Clark – exceptional records, which are still being celebrated in institutions of higher learning across the world, with Soyinka receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature, and Achebe’s Things Fall Apart being translated into over forty international languages? What have we done with the brilliant legacies of such towering Nigerian women academics as Prof. Jadesola Akande of the University of Lagos, Prof. Bolanle Awe of the University of Ibadan, and Prof. Joy Ogwu of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs? Didn’t we tell the inspiring stories of their phenomenal achievements to our children?
As our vulnerable and gullible youths applaud, lionise, and seek to imitate a gang of socially dysfunctional and ill-mannered personalities in our day, I ask the men and women of my generation, including parents and schoolteachers, as well as pastors and preachers: What has happened to the stunning records of lifelong service for the common good bequeathed by Michael Imoudu, Margaret Ekpo, as well as Tai Solarin (of the Mayflower College fame)? What have we done with the spectacular record of integrity in private and public life of the likes of Chief Akintola Williams, Chief Philip Asiodu and Dr. Christopher Kolade? What has happened to the extraordinary records in the legal profession of Chief F. R. A. Williams, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, Prof. Ben Nwabueze, and Justice Chukwudifu Oputa?
If our young people are enchanted by exploits in the broadcast and entertainment industries, then I would ask: What has happened to the decent legacies of such pioneer Nigerian actors and broadcasters as Joke Silva, Justus Esiri, Anike Williams, Tom Adaba, Siene Allwell Brown, Frank Olize, Eugenia Abu, and Cyril Stober? Did we not tell them about the meaningful lyrics and the sweet melodies of Oliver De Coque, Onyeka Onwenu, Christy Essien Igbokwe, Dan Maraya Jos, as well as Victor Uwaifo and Prince Nico Mbarga (of the Joromi and Sweet Mother fame, respectively)?
How come today’s generation of parents and teachers failed to inspire their children with the dazzling lives of the above trailblazers in the educational enterprise, in the legal profession and in civil service, as well as in broadcasting and the entertainment industry? How did today’s generation of leaders end up creating such a regrettable gap in national memory that our children are now left to grope in the dark, and, confusing notoriety for popularity, they are now adopting as their models and exemplars, a bunch of brazen but vile entertainers, many of who are often struggling with depression, drug addiction, sexual perversion and suicide ideation?
To what extent have the men and women of my generation, who are now raising young adults, seen some of the above listed elders as exemplars, mentors and inspirers in integrity and purposeful existence? And what efforts have we made to introduce these trailblazing Nigerians in various fields of human endeavour to our children for their emulation? Are the pictures of some of these icons of our nation prominently displayed in our homes, our schools, and our offices, so the young people can get to know who they were, what they achieved and what principles they lived by? Shouldn’t we hold today’s parents and teachers responsible for the failure to project and signpost for their children and wards the brightest stars and the finest flowers that are truly worthy of emulation, whom the good Lord has blessed this land with?
Now tell me: How can we dissuade our young people from following and emulating those who have only recently catapulted their way to instant fame and rapid wealth, by their sheer audacity in the brazen and uncensored display of nudity and vulgarity, and the callous exploitation of the undomesticated sensualism of a good number of our youth population? How do we convince our young people not to take as mentors and models, the devious politician, the rogue public servant, the counterfeit pastor, the internet fraudster, and the drug dealer who on account of their ill-gotten wealth, are celebrated as successful men and women in the rotten environment of contemporary Nigeria?
How do we rescue the multitude of our young people that are today racing towards the angel of death, because no one has pointed their attention to the many beacons of light that this country has all the while been blessed with?
Who will take on the challenge of re-instituting in our school system at all levels, a creatively new, dynamic, and functional study of history and civic education, such as will convince our children and young adults (many of whom have become so enamoured by the lives of the rich and famous with no antecedents or pedigree), that the Nigerian public square has not been bereft of iconic, honourable and adorable elders and trailblazers? Yes, who will help convince our young people that all appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, post-independence Nigerian history is full of exemplary politicians, academics, professionals, entertainers and sundry achievers, who have left us with a legacy of decency, excellence, integrity, self-sacrifice and purposeful existence?
The task at hand is a very serious and urgent one, because we are about to lose millions of our young people whose teeth are on edge today because their fathers and uncles have eaten sour grapes. We are about to lose millions of our young people who are suffering constipation today because their mothers and aunties have eaten the forbidden fruit. True, many of our children have not been adequately parented, nor have they been sufficiently taught and mentored in the art of purposeful existence. They have often not been shown practical examples of truth and integrity, discipline and diligence, service and sacrifice, passion for justice and patriotism, such as were manifested in the lives of the above highlighted patriarchs and matriarchs – enough to motivate them.
We of the older generation must own up before our young people that we have betrayed our fatherland and failed to lay the necessary foundation for a wholesome future for our children. We must own up to the fact that we have often stolen food off the hands of our own children. Each one of us is guilty to the extent that we have contributed in some way to the mess of the moment. As parents and teachers, and as preachers and pastors, we have often failed to inspire our young people to see integrity, discipline, and sacrifice for the common good, as the pathways to wholesome existence and lasting happiness and fulfilment.
As leaders and elders, we have often failed to serve as a beacon of light to the coming generation. Instead, many of us have been a source of scandal for our own children and the children of our country. Have we not seen in this country many so-called leaders and elders that are habitual violators of truth and honesty? Have we not seen how many persons who occupy high public office, constantly sacrifice the elementary principles of integrity on the altar of greed and the lust for power?
There is serious work to be done by all of us who belong to the adult society in Nigeria, if we are not to kill tomorrow before today’s sun sets. Those who seek to bestow hope on the coming generation must recommit themselves to such values that make for nation building as truth and honesty, and justice and equity. The time has come for repentance. For us who are believers in God, the situation may be bad enough but not hopeless. We should believe that redemption is possible for our land by the power of God who creates and recreates. We can experience rejuvenation, if today we begin to retrace our steps, and get back to the basics.
We should believe that from the rubble of our shattered motherland, a rich, powerful, peaceful, and united country can emerge, by the power of God who puts back flesh on dry bones. Those who seek to bestow hope on the coming generation must recommit themselves to the life of truth, justice, and righteousness. Parents must be ready to make sacrifices for the sake of their children, including the sacrifice of quality time with them, and not to think that they would succeed in raising good children if they can only afford to send them to expensive boarding secondary schools in Nigeria, or some ivy league colleges abroad. Teachers on their part must recognize that they teach more by their lives than by the content of their classroom lessons.
I now turn to you, my dear young people: It is true that we your parents and teachers, as well as your political and religious leaders, have often not shown you good enough examples of truth and integrity, service and sacrifice, fidelity and chastity. Yet if you want a better society for yourself, and for your children and children’s children, you must reject the foolish pattern of life which has led our nation to the mess of the moment. I urge you instead to seek after the higher values that will foster in each one of you, meaningful existence, as well as lasting happiness and fulfilment. If today you and your peers cultivate these virtues, then you would have laid the foundation for a more wholesome future for your country and for the world.
I believe that a better Nigeria and a better world is possible, but you must begin to work towards it right now. You must shun crass materialism, senseless consumerism, and blind pleasure, which have become the dominant passion of your generation. You will never realise your purpose in life if you allow the inordinate passions of the flesh to overwhelm and enslave you. Instead of seeking escape in the plastic wings of sensual pleasure and the vanity and vainglory daily offered by modern-day celebrities on social media, you must seek the fear of God, which Proverbs 1:7 says is the beginning wisdom.
If those of you who are here today, who happen to be among the most privileged of Nigerian youths; if you allow your lives to be shaped along the path of deferred gratification instead of the instant gratification that is now the order of the day, then the future may still be salvaged, and tomorrow may not be lost.
If today you choose the culture of life in place of the prevailing culture of violence and crime; if you choose the culture of discipline, service and sacrifice in place of the destructive culture of reckless and unmitigated pleasure that is advertised and promoted everywhere today, then you are sure to have a brighter future ahead of you.
Finally, I will address those of you who are graduating today: In the course of the last six years, the administrators and teachers of this school would have done their best to inculcate in you some of the best humanistic and Christian values for your wholesome existence and for the transformation of our dysfunctional society, according to the well-celebrated educational record of the Jesuits worldwide.
As you leave today, the challenge is for you to let the seed sown in you these past six years grow to maturity and to bear fruits for yourselves, for your families, for your country, for humanity and to the glory of God. With the quality of education that you have received here, a number of you will surely get into positions of power and influence in the increasingly inter-connected global society.
Wherever you find yourself in the short term and in the longer term, you must champion the cause of promoting integrity, disciplined, as well as responsible and purposeful existence, in accordance with the spirit of St. Ignatius of Loyola. I challenge you all to begin today to reflect upon and discuss seriously, creatively new intervention strategies towards changing the face of our society and the face of our world to the glory of God, for as Psalm 29:18 says, “where there is no vision, the people do perish!”
Rev. Fr. George Ehusani is a Roman Catholic priest and Executive Director, Lux Terra Leadership Foundation