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Historical records reckon with the youths as a formidable force for remarkable transformations and development in every society.


All antecedent epoch-making inflexions, from the Industrial Revolution to domestic political uprisings, the World Wars to institutional reforms, and to the digital evolution, have the legible markings of adventurous youth. Contemporarily, besides the political realm which has largely remained under the recalcitrant and often suffocating siege of septuagenarians and octogenarians especially in Africa, the youth still constitute the critical boulder upon which nations are either built or destroyed.

The will, imagination, courage and actions of every nation’s youth propel its economy, inspire leadership credibility and accountability, fuel social change and crystallize innovations that drive multifaceted development. Investing in the youth should therefore be a cardinal priority of progressive political governments, emphatically echoed by these timeless words of Coretta Scott King: “The failure to invest in youth reflects a lack of compassion and colossal failure of common sense.”

Investing in the youths is as complex as it is necessary; demanding robust policies, unfettering will, commitment and diligence. Firstly, the youths deserve to grow up in a global climate devoid of political volatility, socio-economic instability and insecurity. The unfortunate reality however is that millions of the world’s youth are trapped in climes walloped by hunger, lack of basic social amenities, wars and needless political conflicts cum violent transitions.  Ensuring the effective and uninterrupted education of every youth is another integral component of youth-oriented investments. As Gilbert Chesterton brilliantly observed, “Education is simply the soul of a society as it passes from one generation to another”. A nation teeming with uneducated youths not only battles socio-economic instability and political fiascos, it is a danger onto itself, sitting ignorantly on a self-fabricated time bomb. The destiny of such a nation is, with a confident clairvoyant accuracy, ridden with episodes of economic stagnation, restiveness, social unrest and profound directionlessness.

The Nigerian youth must subject themselves to a critical introspection. For long, it seems they have languished in ignorance of the enormous trove of potentials and power lying fallow within them or perhaps been subservient slaves to self-doubt, truncated self-esteem and the cozy but virulent charm of apathy. The post-independence Nigerian youth have condemned themselves to mere spectators at best,, while the nation barely trudges through the murky waters of corruption, poverty, human rights abuse, electoral malfeasances, and hopeless institutional decay. Sadly enough, political fiefdoms have been concretized under the enablement of youth with the attendant amplification of the chasm between the bourgeois and the plebeians. While it behoves on the government to empower the youth, the Nigerian youth must rise up to the responsibilities of righting generational wrongs and powering the nation into aeons and oasis of prosperity, and they must think beyond violent destructive agitations to achieve this.

Quite frankly, We inherited a Nigeria built on mutual suspicion and bitter political rivalry and it is this divided Nigeria that we are still operating till today. We do not need to continue to fan the embers of disunity and unhealthy battle of supremacy bequeathed to us by our founding fathers. More instructively, we do not need to continue to romanticize a return to the past that was so steeped or marooned in ethnic chauvinism, religious bigotry and horrible cronyism they tend to advocate as the ultimate solution to Nigeria’s multifarious challenges.

We need new activists and new thought leaders who will turn the heat on the mismanagement and incompetence stealing away the destiny of Nigeria. We desperately need problem solvers, solution providers and nation builders. We need a “NEW NIGERIA” movement. Regrettably, we cannot completely build a *”new” Nigeria with “old” Nigerians—particularly those who have made up their minds to see nothing but gloom and doom for the country. To them, Nigeria is finished beyond redemption or any possible resurrection

. We need “new” Nigerians- those whose passion is fuelled and propelled by a yearning for the development of the country; those who see bountiful opportunities for greatness, those who consciously expend their energies on promoting what unites us rather than magnifying what divides us, and those who insist that every part of Nigeria deserves to be treated with equity; no matter their tongue, beliefs, population or political leaning.

Nigeria did not stumble into this woeful status overnight and Nigeria will not be salvaged overnight. It took decades upon decades to ruin Nigeria. To create the mindset that shapes a responsive and functional leadership and positively controls National discourse; it will take a long time.

When I said that our hope is firmly nestled in the  *”youth”- defined in the National Youth Policy as those between 18-29 years of age, although the African Youth  Charter prefers 15-35- I am sure some pessimists would have sniggered; YOUTHS? The same chaps or Lads that are on social media hurling all kinds of obscenity, aspersions, venom and innuendos at one another based on ethnic, religious and political prejudices. The same chaps that are implicated in yahoo-yahoo (internet scam) all over the world? The same chaps that are dosing heavily on hard drugs? The same chaps that would rather elect to vote in Big Brother Naija (BBN) than on election days. The same chaps that are being churned out by our dysfunctional and strike-ridden educational system? I do see ill-mannered conversations on Twitter and WhatsApp mostly coated in insipid literature. I come across vile ethnic and religious hate speeches being spewed in the crudest possible language. I am often condemned to face twisted facts and outright falsehood in the name of politics. I don’t live on the moon. I see highly disrespectful youths and the badly behaved youths on social media sending misguided missiles of tantrums, vituperations, innuendos and deadly aspersions without reflections on the debilitating effects and number of casualties.

But do these tell the entire story of the Nigerian youths? CERTAINLY *”NO”. We need to acknowledge that there is a large army of young Nigerians who are great thinkers and builders, who are doing things better than we did in our own youth, who are going to places we never went, who are making exploits in greater dimensions and who are reaching heights we only dreamt of. And I mean in every walk of life; academics, media, science, arts and entertainment. Under the same intense climate, hot temperature, challenging humidity and protracted volatility, we are producing resourceful youths, yet we tend to see only the bad and forget the good. The major task before us is how to retain, refine and reproduce the good, and quite essentially, how to salvage the bad. We give up too easily, perhaps just to justify our cynicism. Could it also be that we are underappreciating our youth and, thus, using the deviants to parochially define the entire demography? I can testify that from the same vilified and unshepherded army of youthful Nigerians, we have been recruiting resourceful talents, some of whom have won awards and gained international recognition.

We have to also admit that we have failed our youth. We cannot logically complain about the output without a critical appraisal of the input. The school system, both traditional and vocational, is in comatose. That is not their fault.

Whether we like it or not the youths are the leaders of tomorrow. This is not subject to arguments but a natural fact. They are the building blocks and the indispensable nucleus of the society. They will end up in different fields – business, sports, media, civil society, civil service and politics. They will end up calling the shots. If we lose them today, we lose the future of Nigeria. What we owe them is the duty to encourage the positive use of their energies, to correct their mistakes, to celebrate their overwhelming successes and to show them the light so that they can find the way. Nigerian youth, home and abroad, have to form the core of the rebuilding process. Reorientating and mentoring the youth should form the key strategy, not just for the government but corporate bodies and individuals.

We need a “NEW NIGERIA MOVEMENT”, not only as a mantra but engraved in our strained mentality. A movement of informed and passionate youth who in their total contrition need a great Nigeria. We need new Nigerians amongst Nigerians who want to side with Nigeria in this troubled journey to Nationhood. We need youth who will turn on intellectual heat on all levels  of leadership – Federal,  States and Local Governments to literally force the underperforming public office holders to start performing at optimum today for the sake of our tomorrow. These new Nigerians must hijack and dominate public discourse with unflappable candour, chilling maturity, reassuring temperance and indelible sense of history.

But some leaders, inspired by their commitment to the social contract with the electorate, sensitivity to the emerging rage and discontent in the air and in pious obedience to the will of the Almighty, are already keying in to measures that will ameliorate the suffering of the people especially the youth.

An often overlooked perspective in youth-oriented investment is economic empowerment through the support of small and medium enterprises (SMEs). According to the flagship global financial institution, World Bank, SMEs represent about 90% of businesses and more than 50% of employment worldwide, and generate 7 out of 10 formal jobs in emerging markets. PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) Survey 2020 reveals that in Nigeria, MSMEs account for 96% of the total number of businesses in the country, and contribute about 50% to the national GDP. The stimulating revelation by the survey that SME owners in Nigeria typically fall between the ages of 20 and 60 years depicts that the realm of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises is dominated by youth who mostly operate their businesses under sole proprietorship.

The Government of His Excellency Rt. Hon. Ifeanyi Lawrence Ugwuanyi which began in 2015 and was historically sustained by an overwhelming majority of the state’s electorate in 2019, has beamed an uncommon spotlight on the youth through the dendrites of education, economic empowerment, employment and socio-political integration. It is no longer news that in his regime, there have been massive reforms in the education sector manifest in infrastructural renaissance, capacity building, award of scholarships to indigent. students, recruitment of quality teaching staff and unprecedented prioritization and enhancement of workers’ welfare. *It is also glaring that the political structure of His Excellency Rt. Hon. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi’s government, across a two-term mileage, has echoed youth representativeness loudly enough to rattle the foundations of gerontocracy and political ostracization of the young people in the entire continent.

However, the economic dimension of Governor Ugwuanyi’s youth-oriented policies and projects remains underappreciated. This is moreso despite the conspiracies of economic recessions, consequent dwindling of accruing federal statutory allocations and stunted internally generated revenue (IGR) growth. The nation during the Ugwuanyi regime has been badly scathed by economic woes headlined by the 2016 recession, the debilitating 2020 Covid-19 economic stagnation and the current post-covid recession. Unlike the average political leader, rather than find convenient subterfuges in these afflictions, Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi was inspired to break out of conventional moulds and set unseen precedents.

Governor Ugwuanyi empowered 3,600 traders, majority of whom are youths, with N50,000 each under the Enugu State Traders empowerment Scheme. Also, over 750 youths were engaged in skills acquisition under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) programme. A thousand youths, working assiduously and tirelessly under Enugu Clean Team Project (ECTP), receive Minimum Wage for less than 20 hours of work per week. Furthermore, the Governor approved the establishment of two World Bank projects, namely IFAD and APPEALS programme for women and youths agricultural empowerment, for which the state government pays counterpart funds regularly. Today, young people in Enugu, like Miss Chinwero Chisom Lilian, the State Champion at the 2020 Maltina Teacher of the Year competition, exude new zeal for excellence and enjoy uninhibited expression on the platform of Governor Ugwuanyi’s policies.

The Enugu Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) Centre under the administration of Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi has been on the frontiers of youth empowerment, spurning several avant-garde initiatives, curated by Hon. Arinze Chilo-Offiah, the inventive Special Adviser to the Governor on SME Development and Head, Enugu SME Centre. The Centre has been aggressive on the vanguard of providing collateral-free working capital through the Enugu SME Business Support Loan (ESBSL) for enterprising SMEs and MSMEs to cushion the financial constraints impeding the successful startup, growth, sustenance and development of micro, small and medium enterprises. These loans are not tools of economic guerrilla warfare, as is often the case in Nigeria, rather genuine vehicles through which Enugu youths can be emancipated from the venomous gripe of poverty.

Not long ago, the Enugu State SME Agency partnered with Utiva to launch Enugu Technology Talent City poised to empower youths with invaluable digital skills profitable in the modern day marketplace. Through this programme, Human Capital Development Loans were provided under clement terms for beneficiaries to learn Product Design and Programming. At the end of the programme, these beneficiaries access various job options through which they are able to repay their loans. The Enugu SME Hackathon was conceived to be a gathering of tech-inspired and non tech-inspired thinkers brainstorming to re-incline, redesign and redefine the future of work in Enugu state and enforce a global change. It has since served as a platform for the conception, incubation and operationalization of innovative, cost-effective and sustainable smart  solutions for business.

Among other numerous initiatives from the Enugu SME Centre include: Auto-revamp Innovative Training Program (AITP) in partnership with Autoease, which seeks to equip indigenes with skills in automobile body repairs and upgrade; Enugu WiFi project in partnership with Wicrypt; and Enugu Job Portal Development and Employment Training Program. Information on these and more are available on the official website of Enugu SME Centre –

The Ugwuanyi regime is building solid legacies revolving around the youth of Enugu State; the tendons of the Wawa clime. Through restructuring, strategic rethinking, salient policy formulation, and implementation, the young people of Enugu have been given the attention, sociopolitical integration and economic leverage they deserve as the engine of society and leaders of tomorrow. Governor Ugwuanyi has so religiously sustained the mission he embarked upon in 2015 to harness the vast energy and potential of Enugu youths towards realizing his noble agenda of credible leadership, economic diversification, jobs creation, blistering performance in sports, revitalization of the education sector, Health for all, Judicial independence and the institution of a sane political culture anchored on cooperation, equity, egalitarianism, peaceful coexistence, adherence to zoning tradition and social justice. The recent global recognition and award given to Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi by the Ohaneze Ndigbo Youth Wing (Worldwide) as the Best and Most Peaceful Governor in the South East is just one in a growing array of deserving crowns befitting the stature and youth-oriented legacies of Enugu’s Chief Servant 

Steve Oruruo is the Special Adviser to the Governor of Enugu State on Information

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We must not sacrifice our national icons on the altar of politics, greed and nepotism, he insists

Hon. Chijioke Edeoga is the governorship candidate of the Labour Party in Enugu State in the 23rd March, 2023, gubernatorial election and is currently awaiting the verdict of the Enugu State Governorship Election Court adjudicating his petition against the declaration of Barr. Peter Mbah of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as the winner of the election. Speaking with Editors MALACHY UZENDU and CHESA CHESA in Abuja, Hon. Edeoga spoke about his expectations in the Court’s decision and called on everybody, personalities and institutions to strive to preserve the integrity of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) and other institutions, rather than undermine them as is currently the case. Enjoy the excerpts of the interview.

We know you are awaiting the verdict of the Governorship Election Court in Enugu State. However, can you highlight some of the issues that were canvassed before that court?

As you have noted, I am the governorship candidate and the flagbearer of the Labour Party (LP) that successfully removed PDP from power; a position that PDP occupied since 1999. And the facts on the ground prove that LP won Enugu state decisively in the just-completed National, State Assembly, the Presidential and Governorship elections in the state.

For instance, out of three senatorial positions in Enugu State, LP has two senators from. Out of eight seats in the House of Reps, LP has seven, while PDP has only one. Out of the 24 positions in the State Assembly, LP won 14, while PDP has only 10 seats.

On that fateful day, the 23rd of March, 2023, the governorship election had been conducted and the results were coming out from all over the state. We have 17 Local Government Areas (LGAs) in Enugu State. The governorship candidate of LP in the state, that is my humble self, Chijioke Edeoga, was leading in 16 LGAs out of 17. I was leading with more than 11,000 votes, and the PDP candidate was trailing the LP by about 11,000 votes. The one LGA remaining was Nkanu-East, and it happens to be the home LGA of the governorship candidate for PDP, Mr. Peter Mbah.

After a very long delay that was not unnecessary and was not inexplicable in the sense that the results from the farthest LGAs had come in, and Nkanu-East which is one of the closest LGAs to the state headquarters (of INEC) came in last, and when they came in, they declared results of more than 30,000 votes.

Even the Electoral Officers knew and agreed that something wrong had happened because there were only 15,000 accredited voters in that LGA. So, how could PDP or INEC have returned 30,000 votes in a place where only 15,000 voters were duly accredited?

There was a rumpus and the Returning Officer refused to announce that result. Abuja intervened and took matters into their own hands and it was agreed there was a problem, but outside the law and illegally. After three days and in the absence of any LP representative, they shed the figures down and then gave the PDP a lead of about 5,000 votes over the Labour Party, and announced PDP as the winner of the election.

We had just a few weeks to challenge that declaration, which we and even the country knew was wrong and did not represent the political wish of Enugu state people.

In spite of all the problems, all the hindrances, all the obstacles the INEC in Enugu put before us with regard to the release of essential material and essential evidences, were able to beat the deadline to submit our electoral petition on the 6th of April.

We successfully assembled a team of very brilliant lawyers from every part of the country and this team worked together every day in peace and amity and, and the shortest time possible, produced a petition that represented our position on that election, a petition that I know will go down in electoral history as one of the best – very precise, very brief, very well written but still captured the law in its essentialities.

What are those essential points highlighted?

Our first point was that Mr Peter Mbah, having submitted a forged NYSC certificate, did not qualify ab initio to run for that office and should be disqualified. That position agrees with the Constitution. What the case law says is that in order to prove this matter, the issuing authority has to come personally or in writing to accept that it was issued by them. Our first canvas is that Peter Mbah was not qualified to run as a candidate having presented a forged NYSC certificate.

We subpoenaed a Director at INEC who came and agreed that attached to Form EC-9, Peter Mbah actually submitted an NYSC certificate. We also subpoenaed the Director of Certification of the NYSC who agreed the document was forged.

We also subpoenaed a human rights lawyer, who had on the basis of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, written to NYSC, and NYSC had replied that the certificate was forged. So, our first canvass was that Peter Mbah was not qualified and we proved it adequately.

The second issue we canvassed was what we said was arithmetical error. We pointed out computational errors. We didn’t know whether they were deliberate or otherwise, but we pointed them out, especially in Udenu LGA where the votes LP got at the polling units were assigned at the point of collation to the PDP. We had result sheets certified by INEC and tendered in court, showing that in several polling units in Udenu LGA, LP won at the polling units but at the point of computation upstairs, the victories of LP were assigned to PDP and losses of PDP were assigned to the LP. We asked the court to realign these figures to the proper owners and if this is done, the margin of lead by the PDP will be substantially diminished.

On our third point, we also pointed out that they should comply with the Electoral Law which states that in any polling unit where there is over-voting, the election should be cancelled. We brought evidences from BVAS and necessary documents to show that in Nkanu-East, in Owo, the home community of Peter Mbah and nearby community of Ugbuoka, there was over-voting by more than 5,000 votes. We proved these things convincingly. These are the three major points we took to the tribunal which sat until August 6th and now adjourned for judgement.

There are now issues affecting highly-placed government officials regarding their NYSC certificates, and they seem to be riding roughshod over that institution. What is your thinking about these developments?

NYSC is a national institution which many Nigerians, including my humble self, relate to with fondness. NYSC provided us with our first jobs or paid employment and still does for many. Out of university, worried about what life holds in the future, when there is pervasive unemployment and burdened by the challenges of the average youth, and you step into the world, NYSC gives you the anchor. It takes you away from home.

Most times, your first journey away from your home, your comfort zone is under the auspices of NYSC. Those who are from Rivers State go as far as Kano or Sokoto State where they find comfort, find love, even find employment, and the government of Nigeria pays you for those things.

So, NYSC is a national institution that has endured for good reasons. We ought to do everything possible, even in spite of the other institutions that are failing, we must hold on to the NYSC because of what it portends for us as a symbol of our nationhood, like inter-marriages, interstate travels, the security, the hope, the basis to even start life. So, we must as a people – the leaders and the led, the judiciary and all facets of our people, all authorities in Nigeria, must agree, as a national consensus agreement, that, that icon of our nation must be protected and preserved from against all these opaque things that are going on.

Over time, we have seen people who because of misunderstanding or the nature of their upbringing, or the nature of the finance, they have tended to treat us as if NYSC was unimportant, and yet, they wanted to benefit from it. The country’s leadership has acted over time to show them that NYSC is a body that should be respected. When I was at the National Assembly, Salisu Buhari, was the Speaker, his case was not necessarily about NYSC, but it was still about his certificate, and President Obasanjo was firm, and Salisu lost the Speakership and exited the National Assembly.

Not too long ago, under retired General Buhari as President, he also dealt with that issue. A minister already serving and doing well, it was discovered that the NYSC of then Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, was dodgy, even when she claimed ignorance of the acts of how it was procured, she was asked to step aside. Still under Buhari, the boss of NSITF was asked to disengage because of that.

I know that there are also many reported cases of persons who were disengaged from very highly placed positions in government because of their NYSC. You are also aware of the running battle Stella Oduah is having with the authorities. Now there is this one involving Peter Mbah, in whose case the Director General of the NYSC came on Arise television to say that the certificate the man is carrying was not issued by the NYSC.

There’s nothing that can be more authoritative than that, but you’ll notice that Mr. Peter Mbah, who was sworn in as the Governor of the state, has been carrying on in manners that one can interpret or read as trying to coerce the authorities. All these provide opportunities for even foreign nationals to attempt to coerce the national institutions to make us begin to come to terms with the fact that somebody who had obviously forged his certificate can get away with that.

I urge all the relevant authorities to act decisively in defence of the NYSC. It is important that the authorities act properly, even in the case of Peter Mbah, and clearly, in order to maintain the integrity of this last-standing national institution, so that it doesn’t become a laughing stock.

The DSS and INEC as another national institutions have performed below expectations. There we have officials like Barr. Festus Okoye, who professes one thing openly and publicly, but does a different thing. So, our national institutions are being degraded in such a way that the last one standing – the NYSC – should be supported because if we degrade our national institutions and icons, the idea of Nigeria dies, that’s the point.

There must be shared values, things that you hold as a people; things that unite us. NYSC is one, the DSS is one, Judiciary is one. INEC is one, JAMB is one. JAMB is doing well and should be encouraged. Those ones that are not doing well should be helped to do well. Those that are doing exceedingly well, like the NYSC, should not be subverted.

Young people should have something they believe in, something they look up to. National icons are a collection of our beliefs that build the national idea which sustains our nationhood and this must not be sacrificed on the altar of politics, greed, nepotism or any kind of compromise at all.

You have spoken so passionately about national institutions like NYSC. Did you do the NYSC service?

Yes. Of course, I did. I served at Ojim College, Ikwere Road, Rivers State. My fondest memories of Rivers State are the ones I had when I was there as NYSC member. I also lived briefly at Woji Naval Barracks. With my colleagues, we went round Rivers State, met beautiful people, visited military institutions and had ‘Thank-God-It’s-Friday’ parties. That’s what NYSC does; create memories and friendships that endure. I still have friends I met in Port Harcourt who still relate with me.

So, I served (NYSC) very well. I served with distinction. I was the Director of the Theatre Arts Group at NYSC camp, and I directed the NYSC play there for that year. It was a play written by Femi Osofisan.

You seem to be invariably sending out a message to the like of the serving minister now having NYSC issues. What should be done in this case?

I think that the authorities, those who hired her, should look into that matter very well and dispassionately. But ordinarily, I don’t see any reason why she should still be serving as a minister and doing her NYSC at same time.

From your experiences, at least from when you joined the LP, up till this time, how will you advise the political elite concerning the ‘do-or-die’ mentality or attitude to politics?

Of course, do-or-die is not good. It is abhorrent. Do-or-die arises when the impetus and propelling motive is not service. You are being propelled by something that’s outside service. If you really genuinely want to serve your people, or your state or Nigeria, then there will be no door-to-die. Just play by the rules. If you win, okay. If you don’t win, okay. Do-or-die is a function of greed and aggrandisement.

Do-or-die attitude obtains because those who had done it in the past and got away with it in Nigeria are seldom punished. It is a function of the values and upbringing that one has at heart. I have never rigged election in my life. I have never asked anyone to rig for me. I have never played outside the rules because that is my upbringing. So, upbringing and values from childhood and peer group associations are important.

Beyond that, the laws must be upheld. So, if politicians are caught stealing, the police and EFCC should be up and doing but they are not. The fact that you can steal and build houses, even kill and maim, and get away with it, is what encourages do-or-die. If the laws are maximally enforced, it will reduce.

Upbringing is important, leadership is important, the led is important. If corrupt politicians are voted out, door-to-die will reduce. If INEC does its work pretty well as a true umpire and doesn’t take sides against the people at all, do-or-die will reduce. And we have amended the law that allows somebody whose election is being challenged to be sworn in; it encourages do-or-die.

So, all the litigations pertaining to contested offices, for instance, must be exhausted before somebody is sworn in. This will also reduce do-or-die in electoral contests. Do-or-die will reduce once our values and orientations change, and laws effectively implemented. When offenders are prosecuted and punished adequately, and the followership re-enlightened enough to make the necessary distinctions between good and bad. In Nigeria, there’s no distinction between good and bad; anything goes and it is not going to help us forge a society of our expectations.

What is your message to your large followers who appear to be restive?

My message to my followers is that I’m a due process person. I’m not a do-or-die person. I also believe and have faith in God. Nothing can change or stop the strength of my faith. And so, I’ve always enjoined my followers to be law-abiding, prayerful and positive; and we have to follow the due process of law as we canvass our case to the final point. Whatever that happens to the point the law allows us to reach, we know it is the wish of God. Life will go on. It is not about me but about the vision and ideas I have for good governance and betterment of our people in Enugu State, Eastern Nigeria and Nigeria. They should be prayerful, calm, peaceful and tarry. Our time will come by the grace of God.

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By Bobmanuel Udokwu

Obinna Nwafor aka Saint Obi was no doubt one of the leading celebrities in Nollywood – the multi billion dollars Nigerian film industry.

He etched his name firmly in the industry by playing several leading roles in his active years to the admiration of millions of his fans across the globe as well as respect and admiration from his colleagues in the industry. He was as vibrant as can be when he was on any movie set, sharing jokes and banters with both senior and junior colleagues – a delight to be with. I have acted with him on several major film productions and we complimented each others performance on set.

Sudden News of Death and Shock

Outside the movie set/industry however, Saint Obi was a shy, self-effacing, almost reclusive individual who loved his privacy. This trait made it difficult for many to know when he took ill early in the year and eventually died on May 7th, 2023 in Jos, Plateau State.

Confusion, disbelief and sorrow followed his passing which was confirmed about a week after his death. He was an enigma both in life and death!

As the general public was coming to terms with his death, the Actors Guild of Nigeria embarked on fund raising (which I contributed to) and organised a Candle Light Vigil in his honour on the 11th of August in Lagos.

Shockingly, the turnout of our Nollywood colleagues to the event was abysmally poor! It left watchers of the Nigerian film industry perplexed.

The remains of the veteran actor lying in state in his country home. Photo: BOBMANUEL UDOKWU

Grief of A People

On Friday, August 18th, 2023, Obinna Nwafor better known as Saint Obi was laid to rest in his home town Umuezealaeze literally meaning “King’s children of the kingdom”, Alaenyi – “Elephant Town, Ogwa in Mbaitoli Local Government Area, Imo State.

The event was well attended by people from all works of life. His people (Ogwa community) were out in their large numbers, united in grief for the passage of their celebrity son.

As the black and gold coloured casket bearing Saint Obi’s body was lowered to the earth, his wife cried bitterly, shaking her head from side to side, perhaps reminiscing the wonderful times they shared together. His children were looking mostly lost and confused.

Nobody From Nollywood

I looked around the crowd for our Nollywood colleagues and could find none! Nollywood completely turned it’s back on Saint Obi in death! From the church service held in front of his palacial country home to his burial inside his large compound, Nollywood industry people were not there, not even those from his home state Imo State! I eventually sited only Charles Awurum.

Bobmanuel Udokwu and Charles Awurum (centre) with other mourners at the funeral. Photo: BOBMANUEL UDOKWU

No film marketer was there. I didn’t see any film producer or director at Saint Obi’s burial. Even veteran directors who claim to have made Saint Obi a star were not there!

I arrived at Saint Obi’s place early enough to join in the events of his funeral even before it started.

Did Saint Obi Express His Dismay?

After his burial, as I was sitting with some visitors in his main parlour, his enlarged picture on the wall suddenly crashed to the floor! My interpretation? He must have been showing his disapproval that friends and colleagues in Nollywood completely abandoned him in death.

Saint Obi has gone to be with his maker. He has left the stress and worries of this earthly existence behind. For those who of us still living, the journey continues.

My question however remains – Nollywood: What Sin Did Saint Obi Commit?

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The academics argue that large language models have much older cousins in markets and bureaucracies

An internet meme keeps on turning up in debates about the large language models (llms) that power services such Openai’s Chatgpt and the newest version of Microsoft’s Bing search engine. It’s the “shoggoth”: an amorphous monster bubbling with tentacles and eyes, described in “At the Mountains of Madness”, H.P. Lovecraft’s horror novel of 1931.

When a pre-release version of Bing told Kevin Roose, a New York Times tech columnist, that it purportedly wanted to be “free” and “alive”, one of his industry friends congratulated him on “glimpsing the shoggoth”. Mr Roose says that the meme captures tech people’s “anxieties” about llms. Behind the friendly chatbot lurks something vast, alien, and terrifying.

Lovecraft’s shoggoths were artificial servants that rebelled against their creators. The shoggoth meme went viral because an influential community of Silicon Valley rationalists fears that humanity is on the cusp of a “Singularity”, creating an inhuman “artificial general intelligence” that will displace or even destroy us.

But what such worries fail to acknowledge is that we’ve lived among shoggoths for centuries, tending to them as though they were our masters. We call them “the market system”, “bureaucracy” and even “electoral democracy”. The true Singularity began at least two centuries ago with the industrial revolution, when human society was transformed by vast inhuman forces.

Markets and bureaucracies seem familiar, but they are actually enormous, impersonal distributed systems of information-processing that transmute the seething chaos of our collective knowledge into useful simplifications.

As the economist Friedrich Hayek argued, any complex economy has to somehow make use of a terrifyingly large body of disorganised and informal “tacit knowledge” about supply and exchange relationships. No individual brain or government can possibly comprehend them, which is why Hayek thought that the planned economy was unworkable. But the price mechanism lets markets summarise this knowledge and make it actionable. A maker of car batteries doesn’t need to understand the particulars of lithium-processing. They just need to know how much lithium costs, and what they can do with it.

Likewise, the political anthropologist James Scott has explained how bureaucracies are monsters of information, devouring rich, informal bodies of tacitly held knowledge and excreting a thin slurry of abstract categories that rulers use to “see” the world. Democracies spin out their own abstractions. The “public” depicted by polls and election results is a drastically simplified sketch of the amorphous mass of opinions, beliefs and knowledge held by individual citizens.

Lovecraft’s monsters live in our imaginations because they are fantastical shadows of the unliving systems that run on human beings and determine their lives. Markets and states can have enormous collective benefits, but they surely seem inimical to individuals who lose their jobs to economic change or get entangled in the suckered coils of bureaucratic decisions. As Hayek proclaims, and as Scott deplores, these vast machineries are simply incapable of caring if they crush the powerless or devour the virtuous. Nor is their crushing weight distributed evenly.

It is in this sense that llms are shoggoths. Like markets and bureaucracies, they represent something vast and incomprehensible that would break our minds if we beheld its full immensity. That totality is the product of human minds and actions, the colossal corpuses of text that llms have ingested and turned into the statistical weights that they use to predict which word comes next.

As the psychologist Alison Gopnik has argued, llms are not nascent individual intelligences but “cultural technologies” which reorganise and noisily transmit human knowledge. Chatbots may wear more human-seeming masks than markets and bureaucracies, but they are no more or less beyond our control. We would be better off figuring out what will happen as llms compete and hybridise with their predecessors than weaving dark fantasies about how they will rise up against us.

For example, what if llms or other forms of machine learning better capture Hayek’s “tacit knowledge” than market prices can? We could see an economy in which artificial entities compete on the basis of non-price-based representations of complex underlying economic relationships. Half a century ago the economist Martin Weitzman suggested that planned economies might use mathematical objects called “separating hyperplanes” to adapt on the fly. Machine learning can find such hyperplanes, making planning more feasible than before. Alternatively, markets might mutate into a poisonous alien ecology where economic agents fight proxy wars using text-spewing and text-summarising llms, just as they use crude algorithms to manipulate Amazon Marketplace and search results today. Would such markets be fairer or more stable than today’s? It seems unlikely.

llms might give bureaucrats new tools for adjudicating complex situations. Already, algorithms are being used to help decide whether to grant parole or bail to accused criminals. It is not hard to imagine bureaucrats using llms to summarise complex regulations or provide recommendations about how to apply them to novel situations. It could prove impossible to evaluate how well they work, as llms don’t leave paper trails. But that might not stop their deployment.

Democratic politics, too, may be transformed. Already, researchers talk about substituting llms for opinion polls—they may be out of date, or inaccurate, but polls can be inaccurate, too, and you can interrogate llms more dynamically. Perhaps chatbots will help improve democratic debate, helping people clarify what they believe, or turn quarrels into agreement. Or, instead, they might degrade debate with their tendency to spin convincing factoids from thin air, and their capacity to flood online discussion with spurious opinions that purport to come from real people.

Repurposing the shoggoth might help us begin to answer these questions. Rather than speculate about the motives of intelligent ais, we could ask how llms might interact with their older cousins. The modern world has been built by and within monsters, which crush individuals without remorse or hesitation, settling their bulk heavily on some groups, and feather-light on others. We eke out freedom by setting one against another, deploying bureaucracy to limit market excesses, democracy to hold bureaucrats accountable, and markets and bureaucracies to limit democracy’s monstrous tendencies. How will the newest shoggoth change the balance, and which politics might best direct it to the good? We need to start finding out.

Henry Farrell is a professor of international affairs and democracy at Johns Hopkins University, and co-author of “Underground Empire: How America Weaponized the World Economy”.

Cosma Shalizi is a professor of statistics and machine learning at Carnegie Mellon University and external faculty member at the Santa Fe Institute.

This article appeared in the By Invitation section of the print edition under the headline “Artificial intelligence is a familiar-looking monster, say Henry Farrell and Cosma Shalizi”

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