The Nigerian youth and the reality of cultural stagnation
My recommendation is for us to constantly review cultural practices in all parts of the country or we will stagnate the youth and by implication, the country.
By Prof Paul Iji
Most of this article was completed before Mr Peter Obi announced his running mate in the person of Dr Datti Baba-Ahmed. I did not know him well enough but having listened to him in the past 3 days, I think he is the right fit for the ticket and for the job ahead. His nomination does not change my belief that cultural stagnation is hugely responsible for the problems that we are facing in Nigeria. If you are not able to read to the end, my recommendation is for us to constantly review cultural practices in all parts of the country or we will stagnate the youth and by implication, the country.
It is human nature for every generation to expect the following generation to completely adopt its lifestyle. Our parents wanted us to live like them and we want our children to live exactly like we do. In its basic nature, this is how culture is built but when preceding generations rigidly tries to implement their plans there is bound to be a revolt, sometimes with devastating consequences. Cultures also interact and every generation at any location copies from their peers at other locations. Technology hastens this mix-up.
Growing up in Nigeria in the 1960s and early 1970s, our parents listened to Congo (Soukous) and West African highlife music. Most of that music was on gramophones and later, vinyl plates, which only a few affluent people could acquire. The arrival of cassette tapes made music more affordable but it also meant that American and Caribbean music poured into West Africa and the 1970s generation quickly endorsed and imbibed it. The musicians looked like us; actually, they are our cousins separated by history and the Atlantic Ocean. Reggae and soul music took over the airwaves and pop soon arrived. Afro hair, bogus pants (trousers), short skirts (cross-no-gutter) and high-heeled shoes came with the music. Our parents cried foul. They had never seen such madness in their entire lives.
We felt the same when new music and fashion arrived in the 1990s. Reggae has held some ground but it is crumbling to Afrobeats, except that the Caribbean youth have also altered reggae a bit to Ragga, and the Afrobeat, Ragga and Pop stars now freely collaborate. Our children stopped combing their hair and stopped buying belts. We were used to dreadlocks from the Caribbean but not the hairstyle that is currently in vogue, which looks more like what I saw on the head of Everyday, a very popular madman in Igede in the 1960s. Music also moved quickly from tapes to CDs to USB and then online. Within a space of less than 40 years. It is the fastest change that anyone has seen but a lot more has happened on the economic scene.
While the previous generations were satisfied with dancing the night away and following their parents to the farm, and school work, the present generation chose to develop their talent, taking a cue from America and the Caribbean. They have been hugely successful. Today, Nigerian music and to a smaller extent, music from other African countries dominate the global airwaves. Our boys and girls are selling out the O2 Arena and other global venues. They are rich, many of them with private jets. The musicians are not the only successful ones; the soccer players actually led the way into global stardom. The technical group is silently growing and hitting money. Their fathers and grandfathers marvel and some cannot even understand how the present generation are doing it. It was fashionable to attribute their wealth to fraud but now, most of them are using their smartphones and laptops to create clean wealth while their parents are just happy to send WhatsApp messages and make calls. We thought that this generation would be wasted, just like our parents predicted that we would be of no use.
The world would continue to grow if the preceding generation allows the following generation to live life to its potential. We can guide them when they are openly heading into destruction, like drugs but for career, we may need to be less restrictive. Such restriction, I daresay, is what has created the present social problems. It is not with one ethnic group alone although the impact varies in intensity. I think one can assume that the less modern the prescription for the young, the more difficult it is for them to adopt. A case in point is nomadism. The song we hear is that nomadism is a way of life, a culture. Well, it may be a culture but it is becoming harder to fit with the present day and conditions. Older nomads would relish how they survived the harsh bush, to prove themselves as men and we are aware that their generation did the full Sharo (the engagement ceremony) without visiting the hospital. How many nomads of today would take the full flogging of the Sharo and not spend their honeymoon in the hospital? Do the present generation of nomads want to run around with the cattle from 4 am to 7 pm? As they do so, the cattle are finding less and less to eat, and they cannot maneouvre the animals from one patch of bush to the other because of massive cities, wide highways and crop farms. They may not be walking around with smartphones but they can see their age-mates from other ethnic groups in big cars, and as they penetrate the cities, they can see the houses that other people live in.
There is a modern way of rearing animals, and our nomadic brothers (and sisters) need to be channelled towards that modern way to a normal life. They are frustrated. They can see the money around them, which is no longer in the cow but in technology. Something will click in them. The guns that they have used to protect their cattle from rustlers can fetch money, and the rest is history. They can easily be indoctrinated by extreme religionists, to simply sit, kill and earn money. We need to break these dangerous business models.
It has not been easy for the present generation in other parts of Nigeria who have not found fame from music, sports and technology. In the coastal areas, the older generations expected them to become fishermen. However, the waters became contaminated with petroleum and/or were over-fished by multinational companies using technology that takes tens of tonnes at once. The oceans held less fish and days in small boats yielded nothing. Their anger boiled over and that was where kidnapping (of the oil workers) started. Kidnapping has largely reduced at the coast because the youth there, who usually go to school, got empowered and are now the ones making waves in music, sports and technology.
What about the Middlebelt? That is supposed to be Nigeria’s food belt but can anyone seriously say that the decline in agricultural production in the Middlebelt started with the present insecurity? I do not think so. Almost 20 years ago, I made a comment to my family that the land was regenerating and forests were returning because people were no longer going to the farm. Insecurity only intensified recently, and it has stopped the few farmers who were still going to the farm.
Nigeria has largely not moved from the farming practices of the 1940s, and those practices do not suit the present generation. Precision agriculture and smart farming are the way to go. There is machinery for every activity in agriculture, whether it is crop or animal production. Large areas of land are ploughed in minutes; ridges and heaps are mechanised; seeding is automated, as are weeding, irrigation, fertilizer application and harvesting.
On the animal side, there is now technology to control grazing animals and hold them within a designated area, without fencing. All that one needs to do is to ensure that they have enough feed (grass) and water within the designated area. Large piggeries and poultry houses are monitored by sensors and videos; feeding is automated, as is egg collection, and sensors will notify a farmer through an App even if s/he is thousands of kilometres away if the temperature and water supply are not right. In Nigeria, we want our young people to follow the animals in the bush, and wake up and go to the farm at 5 am with ancient hoes and cutlasses. They have said no, and we have to provide what they want or they will take up arms, as some have begun to do. As someone recently said, globally, the youth are on a march, and no one should stand in their way.
I look at the ongoing political campaigns in Nigeria. I can see dinosaurs, who can hardly stand, recounting their age and experience. In modern times, experience in terms of years counts for nothing. Job applicants are required to show their achievements. Only one candidate is doing that, and his name is Peter Obi. The youth want him to free them from the yoke of the dinosaurs. No one should interfere with the election. If you believe that Peter Obi has no political structure, just let the people vote. The political structure for rigging is a yoke on the country. As the country cries out, Obi-dience is better than sacrifice. Generations have made the sacrifice through adherence to archaic culture, Green Revolution, SAP, NEEDS, and everything that has been thrown at them. The youth and even the old can see someone with modern ideas, and they have chosen to follow him. Join them or get the hell out of the way.
Prof Paul A. Iji is the Dean, College of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Fiji National University; Author of Writing and publishing your research (hard and Kindle editions) and A guide for young Africans growing up overseas. CreateSpace/Amazon. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not reflect the views of his employers. Please feel free to share.