Nonso Okpala
10 min readOct 28, 2020

From Protest, Massacre, Riot. . . To Genuine Reforms

(Picture by Olaku A. O. 97/98)

“If you truly want to be great, you have to kill your father first”

I have never been a big fan of our fathers. Our fathers and the generation before them failed us in a spectacular way. The riding quote is mine and though it is not the focus of today’s piece, it provides context for today’s effort. Before you judge me, let me explain. For ease of reference, I will identify three illustrative generations as follows: The Independence Generation (born before 1940), Our Fathers’ Generation (born after 1940 but before 1970), Our Generation (born after 1970 but before 1984), and The Phone Generation (from 1984 to 2002).

The Independence generation violently took over leadership via the series of coups that first occurred in 1966. They had the benefit of the Nigerian Army and its awesome resources and influence. They pushed the Founding Fathers of Nigeria out and seized power by promising to be better than their predecessors. They were high on passion, youth, and courage but low on knowledge, leadership experience, and ideology. It is safe to say that regime after regime, the quality of leadership they offered deteriorated but they effectively held on to power. They started leading very early — General Gowon was Head of State at 32, giving his generation about 40 years to lead if their tenure ended at 70, being the retirement age, but that’s not the case. That generation is still leading the country, well into their 80s.

Our Fathers’ Generation never had a chance to succeed the Independence Generation.

How did they deprive Our Fathers’ generation? It was simple; they applied brute force. In the face of brute force, intelligence, skills, exposure, etc, they stood no chance. In return, the Independence Generation dished out a declining economy, lack of social safety nets, and replaced the rule of law with fear, intimidation, and uncertainty. All these were the strategies they deployed but what effectively helped them hold on to power was the destruction of any form of “social organisation”, which I will circle back to.

In real terms, we can recognise this pattern in the lives of Our Fathers. A lifelong pattern of failure, desperation, and frustration which almost always ended in depression. Yes, most of our fathers suffered depression post midlife but they, over the years, adapted to their situation of limited opportunities and expectations. Worse, they projected this on their children — Our Generation.

Our Generation wore Our Fathers’ insecurities, fears, and limited expectations on our sleeves. We took the safe path wired by our inherited limitations i.e. school, career, limited adventure, little travel, and even more limited exposure. We basically bought into the rat race, destined to never be fulfilled, no different from our parents, Our Fathers — unless for those that killed their Fathers.

Our Generation never stood a chance, we had no organised platforms, little capital, limited leadership experience outside of the Corporate world (for those that were lucky). We absolutely stood no chance.

Over the last 30 years, the pace of change has accelerated at an unprecedented rate on the back of technological advancement. During this period, companies like Google, Twitter, and Facebook went from startups to multiple billion dollars valuations — a momentary trillion-dollar valuation in Apple’s case.

These businesses have global multidimensional effects with local implications — associated local startup businesses. Every significant technological development is associated with these companies and the resultant technology has somewhat evolved around the phone — the mobile phone.

For those born after 1984, technological advancement as symbolised by the mobile phone is the hallmark of their life. It formed the basis of their social life, their economic endeavour, their cultural orientation, and even influenced their social life in profound ways. It was initially personal computers but this was quickly replaced by phones when phones began to host the internet.

The first sign of the Phone Generation was when companies, particularly banks, couldn’t retain people born in that generation. I recall when I first noticed it while working at Heirs Holdings. A staff, who was newly engaged, was required to put in extra hours at the expense of a planned vacation. Her subsequent action stunned us — she dropped her laptop at the security post and resigned via a text message. This pattern became frequent as the years went by. This was the first generation that had options. An alternative to traditional careers and increased prospect of entrepreneurial success. Technology, as well as the instrumentality of the phone, created a whole world of possibilities. It manifested in the form of graphic designers, social media influencers, software engineers with flexible work privileges and little or no geographic restriction. There were also content developers such as musicians, comedians, skit producers, etc. All these possibilities provided them with options and choices.

Beyond the options, another pattern emerged: economic enhancement. Relatively fast-paced economic enhancement occurred to their advantage. Recently, companies such as Jobberman, Flutterwave, Paystack, PiggyVest started coming up. They became role models and motivated more folks to do the same. I will summarise some general features of the Phone Generation as follows:

  1. They have the option of traditional careers and entrepreneurship but they mostly aspire to be entrepreneurs;
  2. They have multiple sources of income as a result of the multiple opportunities that exist;
  3. They have created industries to support their ambitions by themselves e.g. music, Fintech, etc;
  4. They build communities based on their social and business interactions, enabled by social media;
  5. They are expressive and are extremely savvy when it comes to projecting their views and voices, most times at the expense of listening;
  6. They are impatient and want immediate gratification;
  7. They prioritise a work-life balance at the expense of monetary gains and career advancement;
  8. They are more financially successful and independent, in comparison with Our Generation;
  9. They are mostly artsy and express this via their physical appearance e.g. dreadlocks and natural hair;
  10. They are proud, fulfilled, and owe little to any of the generations ahead of them, or the country.

The combination of all these, in addition to their vast population, was certain to create a generational conflict. It was only a matter of time before the #EndSARS movement happened. The Phone Generation is not drawn to the police force, they somewhat despise them. On the contrary, Our Generation and that of our parents’ sought solace in that line of occupation. In view of the above, policing was destined to be the turf of the generational conflict. The rest is currently history and the Lekki Massacre is now a symbol of the conflict.

Sadly, this won’t be the last of these generational conflicts. It is a conflict I’d love the Phone Generation to win because they stand a better chance at leading the country right, better than any other generation. I will therefore share my thoughts on how the Phone Generation can win this tussle for the leadership of Nigeria.

I saw an interview granted by Atedo Peterside and he posited that the focus of the youths, the Phone Generation, should be 2023. I think that is absolutely the path to failure. It is probably the most misleading suggestion. There is nothing as divisive as partisan politics and such focus will create the basis for the destruction of the youth coalition that has currently emerged. On the contrary, the following are recommendations I consider crucial.

1. Civil organisation is the first and most crucial step to be taken. Youths should effectively organise themselves into groups with causes that align with their passion, interest, and skillsets. For instance, I understand that there was a great deal of involvement of the Feminist Coalition in the #EndSARS movement. There should be efforts on multiple fronts to achieve effective social organisation on interests like patriotism, national unity, animal rights, female and child protection, cultural orientation, whatever interests that allow people to come together and effectively socially organise, not a political or partisan organisation. I have always advised that social organisation be prioritised ahead of political organisation because once a social tune is set by the effective coalition of civil organisation, politics will naturally align if elections are not rigged. Look at the Jewish social organisation and how they have influenced politics in the US with successive US presidential aspirants pledging allegiance to the Jewish Unions. If the youths effectively organise, it won’t matter who is President, politics will align with the dictates of effective social organisation.

2. Democracy is based on elections but if elections are rigged, the social organisation or any other effort will be futile. There are two basic ways elections are rigged: by ballot box snatching and falsification, and by money politics. The social organisation mentioned above should focus on addressing this task. Some element of technology is required. For illustration purposes, I’ll give an example of how the first form of rigging can be averted. Can we introduce a form of independent exit poll tracking after each individual casts their vote during an election? The exit poll can be used to track the actual voting pattern to checkmate rigging. This might not be the most effective strategy but I am sure it effectively highlights the idea.

With respect to rigging via money influence and/or the lack of it, a similar idea for illustration is the Obama Coalition that was responsible for retail mobilisation of funds for Obama’s election. How can we neutralise the effect of money politics and godfathers? The surface of this strategy was scratched when the #EndSARS movement raised over ₦75m during the period of the protest.

3. As highlighted in the previous point, wealth, funding and associated matters are extremely important to shape the social and political consciousness of a society. The Phone Generation is willing to spend a vast amount of their resources, like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, but when your available funds are minimal, it means even 100% is minimal.

Three things, however, work in favour of this generation. They have technology/related skills at their disposal. They have a huge population relative to any other generation before them and this has a direct impact on their market size, effective demand, and sanction implications. The last factor is their age and the stage in their life cycle which is the most productive and definitive stage for any generation. If you cast this against the age of the ruling generation and the associated weakness of that age bracket, one thing is clear, the former is destined to win.

The question is, how can they apply all these considerations to their advantage? Let me try and simplify it. Leverage technology and your population to build fintech and other type businesses and create billions, but most importantly increase the middle-class count of your generation. Venture and PE investing is key to this process. Apply sanctions.

The last leg of this is to massively fund social causes with your increased wealth and funding.

4. Symbolism is a powerful tool and the Phone Generation, unlike any other generation, understands the strategic importance of it. Occupy Nigeria, EndSARS, and now Lekki Massacre — are all terms with great symbolism that carry great potential to significantly rally the troops. The last two should be used to project and sustain the current movement. It should also be used to draw attention to the plight of those that lost their lives and show the movement’s commitment to remembering and honouring their sacrifice.

This could be by way of anniversary activities, movies, documentaries, articles, plays, and associated drama — anything that keeps this movement alive in ways that can’t be cut down by bullets. The flip side of this strategy is the naming and shaming of the antagonists of this struggle — the actual soldiers who killed protesters at the Lekki Toll Gate, those who gave the orders, the folks that supported those actions, and actors of the palliative looting scandals that followed the disruption of the protests.

5. One of the most effective strategies of the #EndSARS movement was the “no leader” strategy. Historically, the government approached conversations with leaders of groups and similar movements via a carrot and stick approach. They basically made them offers they couldn’t refuse, and when, which rarely happened, they resisted the temptation, they were easily picked up for the “stick” treatment.

I will strongly recommend, in line with all stated above, for the perfection of the “no leader” strategy and if possible, enhancing it to an “ all leaders, all followers” strategy. Once the doctrine is clearly understood, and the plans are well communicated through the multitudes of platforms and organisations, everyone effectively leads and effectively follows — the invincible resistance.

6. Youths should apply sanctions — economic and political sanctions. In the next four to 10 years, millions of youths will come of voting age and enhanced economic standing. This enhanced status should be applied in a resounding and compelling way — sanctions and the threat of it. They can set age limits for political aspirants and force political parties to field candidates accordingly, else they will be sanctioned. This can also be applied to businesses in two ways. First by encouraging youth-owned businesses in line with point #3 above but also pushing businesses to be socially conscious and supportive. Politics and economics are the greatest components of power and once the youth control both, then the baton is passed.

7. The last aspect of this instruction is, don’t be distracted by political positions. This was the flaw of Our Fathers’ Generation. They were predictable, they wanted political positions and thus they were easily manipulated. To date, they are still in that trap as is evident in Bola Tinubu’s 2023 presidential ambition. Focus more on social reorganisation, electoral reforms, constitutional reviews, and ensuring that there is a code of governance rigidly applied and anyone, regardless of who goes contrary, can’t survive such defiance. In summary, focus on social, political, and economic control and reforms, and political positions will fall under your control.

The general assumption is that younger leaders will do better than the older generation but that assumption is plain wrong. There are clear indications that the youths can produce worse leaders than the current breed of leaders we have if we maintain the current system and framework that allows for the proliferation of bad leaders and the absence of accountability.

The difference between what is currently proposed and what should be championed by the youths is the enthronement of a social, political, and economic construct where we enthrone good governance of international standards. An old saying posits that a “society gets the leaders it deserves”. What I propose is to be more deserving of the leaders we desire.

Go ye Youths and make your dreams come true.

Nonso Okpala

A visionary and serial investor. Managing Director/CEO of VFD Group Ltd and Father-In-Chief.