‘My father’s generation failed mine’ (1)

NigeriaTHE reference to my father’s generation, for clarity sake, is a reference to Nigerians that were born in the 1930s, 40s, 50s and 60s. My father’s generation also comprises those Nigerians that were still pretty young or mostly in the universities or just joined the civil service in the 1960s (when most African nations got their independence), and suffered the Nigerian Civil War; the ’70s; the ’80s; and, therefore, definitely inherited a very young Nigeria. I am referring to the generation that started managing the country’s affairs since the late ’70s and has done so for decades. I am referring to the generation that is still currently handling the affairs of the country: the president, ministers, permanent secretaries, governors, senators, commissioners, House of Representatives members; retired and about to retire civil servants, judges, big businessmen, top shots in the army police, navy, custom etc. It is the generation that has started fading away; retiring from the civil service, military, businesses, superior and inferior courts of record and other aspects of our national life.

Conversely, for clarity sake also, my reference to my own generation is a reference to Nigerians that were born in the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s for now. This exposition is necessary primarily because a generation prepares an enabling environment for the generation succeeding it, as obtained in most developed countries. These developed countries epitomize a functional society where there are public goods: functioning hospitals, schools, roads, and metro stations; with 95 per cent of the population having access to food, shelter; with low inequality gap, great standard of living, strong working class etc. Such developed countries are also characterized by a responsive police force, where you call the police and within minutes, the police are knocking on your door. The policemen in these countries know everyone on the street, and can address everyone on this same street by their first names.

Though I see a serious lack of faith in my own generation, and harbour the suspicion that my own generation may be worse in managing the affairs of Nigeria, I think that my father’s generation caused it, which you will have reason to believe too as we further explore this topic. Already, my own generation has started showing traces of pre-failure: A highly money-conscious and materialistic generation; a generation where someone leaves the university today and wants to own cars, houses, and all the modern gadgets within a year; a generation of showing off, and with little or no patience to grow in a responsible career; a generation afflicted by the worst side of corruption; a generation with apathetic attitude to academic excellence, exposed to low quality education characteristic of the Nigerian education sector with graduates that cannot speak good English as its regrettable products; a generation that graduates from the universities by sorting—bribing lecturers; a generation that browses answers with telephones during exams; a generation that depends on question-paper leaks to be able to pass West African Senior School Secondary Certificate Examinations (WASSCE), National Examination Council (NECO), Joint Admission and Matriculation Body (JAMB) exams etc; a generation of examination malpractices across all levels of education; a generation that wants to make quick money through any available means whether such means be by crook or by hook; a generation of a good percentage of school dropouts, all pursuing careers in the music industry, as a gateway to instant financial freedom and yet never sang anything meaningful; a generation of young men wearing dreadlocks, earrings, with funny guitars, sagged trousers and all manner of chains which they call blings hanging around their necks; a generation that is marked by eroded values, lack of integrity, and morals with sex as the order of the day. A generation where the National Association of Nigerian Students’ leaders do not have any cause that they are pursuing, never criticise the government or demonstrate, except to follow politicians up and down for financial gains.

Every father that I have met criticises my generation, affirming that there is no hope in us. But the truth remains that every problem has a root; and this root, unchecked, developed into the socio-cultural malaise pervading the country today. Few of us have bothered to ascertain the origin of this trouble. I have therefore taken it as a burning passion to focus on the cause of the problem while looking at the problem. This is what I called a holistic approach. I am not trying to defend my generation. Hell No! What I have set out to do is to present my case. This is because while it is convenient for my father’s generation to blame my generation, it is also incumbent on my generation, especially those impassioned members of my generation who share the same ideals and values with me, to remind my father’s generation of their legacy of profligacy which has landed Nigeria in the very state they leave us.

My father’s generation suffered a disastrous war, and saw death of loved ones and friends. Wars have deep psychological effects on the people. While most of them participated in the war either as adults or child-soldiers, others were too young, or, even, babies, and bore the brunt of the war as its unfortunate victims. This bloody war affected mostly people of the South Eastern Nigeria. I must respect their courage at that time and how they were able to pick up the pieces after that and, indeed, recover within an impressively short time, especially, after their wealth was decimated and they were handed a paltry 20 pounds by the Government of the Federation no matter the amount standing to the credit of the Igbo holder of the account. The story of a typical South-Easterner is a story of inspiration and courage in the midst of adverse circumstances.

One of my grouses with my father’s generation is that they have failed, either by default or design, to teach my generation about the Nigerian Civil War sufficiently. No effort has been made to incorporate the War in educational curriculums so that my generation can learn what actually happened, its remote and immediate causes, the effects of the war; and how to prevent same from recurring. Instead, the War is covered with a blanket. A recent example of the authoritarian muting of the lessons of the war is the initial refusal of the Nigerian Film and Video Censor Board to approve the viewing of the screen adaptation of Chimamanda Adichie’s novel: Half of a Yellow Sun in Nigeria. In Europe, people still visit major sites of WWI to lay wreaths etc. Remembrance Days are still observed. But, in Nigeria, my father’s generation made no such plans.

They did well, though, in the evolution of meaningful highlife music which is still the best form of music that Nigeria can offer. Their generation saw dedicated and responsible highlife musicians. They had a lot of great souls that the country might never have again who sang about a wide range of issues: Rex Jim Lawson, Adeolu Akinsanya, (alias Baba Eto), Fela Anikulapo Kuti, Sir Victor Uwaifo, Chief Stephen Osita Osadebey, Dr. Victor Olaiya, King Sunny Ade, Sunny Okosun etc.

My father’s generation went to the universities in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s. They got education of a superlative quality. They were educated when Nigeria’s value system and set of morals had not gone to the dogs or thrown out of the window. Those were the days when you dare not bribe a headmaster. Most of them went to the universities with scholarships, with every single thing paid for. My generation is regaled by my father’s generation to the point of ennui of how their daily meals in the hostels were all of eggs and chicken parts and how their laundries were done by members of staff specially appointed for that particular assignment. It is an indictment on my father’s generation’s lack of foresight that the first students’ riot in the history of Nigerian university system was in the 1970s over a matter as mundane as the reduction of chicken ration in their meals. My father’s generation never sorted any lecturer; and they were taught by qualified, sometimes expatriate, other times, foreign-trained Nigerian lecturers who were passionate about lecturing. My father’s peers had options of where to work immediately after their studies. Most of them were besieged by companies on their graduation days, wooing them to come and work for them. Most had up to five choices of where to work.
• To be continued.

• Umezulike is a Nigerian secular humanist, human rights defender, novelist and essayist. Follow on twitter: @ClueXxxRdh

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