Sunday, November 20, 2005

The lost generation

I woke up this morning and had the familiar sense of lack: missing the UK quality Sunday Papers (I used to read The Independent and The Observer - although the latter has increasingly irritated me, especially on Iraq and Neo Labour). Its not quite the same buying the Sunday This Day or Guardian in Nigeria.

Even if you can cope with the page-by-page spelling mistakes, grammatical errors and disastrous journalism (overlong articles without context or any kind of critical overview, all badly printed), the self-reflexive mentality of the content is depressing.

If we take the world-view of Nigeria as represented by the papers, Nigerians have no conception of the world outside of Nigeria itself, or of its role in the geo-political scheme of things. What we see represented in the papers is the skewed mindset of the elite: the elite at pray, the elite at owambe parties, the elite doing what they do: provide poor leadership and perpetuating class war. As someone said in an earlier comment on this blog, calling them the 'elite' is a misnomer in itself. They are simply a group of people who have access to resources in Nigeria (and abroad) that other Nigerians don't.

This mild depression was compounded when trying to engage with Bibi's younger sisters this morning (both are in their 20's and staying with us at the moment). I find it hard to understand people in their 20's who have less energy than I. I expect 20 somethings to spend Friday night partying, experimenting with drugs, or ideas, or something. Anything! 20-year olds with no curiousity or a desire to challenge the previous generation is a scary prospect for the future.

It is sadly all too common amongst 20 something Nigerian girls to aspire to having four children. As our driver's wife has just had her 5th, and someone in our compound has just had her 4th, I find this attitude completely repulsive and nihilistic. The idea that a woman should define herself by wanting to have a litter of children is some kind of sick misogynistic joke. Apart from being selfish and indulgent (and based on a completely bovine intellectual laziness and an inability to think of one's potential in any other way than biological), it is also a disaster for both Africa and the planet. Let me explain:

We know now that most oil territories are at or approaching peak-oil. We also know that oil was a fantastically cheap source of energy which enabled the population of the planet to multiply in the previous century. It also looks like humans will not find a suitable replacement that will be as cheap for as many. In which case, the mother of all global resource wars will hit the children of 20 somethings today, if it doesnt hit the 20 something generation themselves, unless there are much stronger controls on population increase around the world. In which case, the vapid desire to become a baby-factory is more than just a revellation of the empty, diseducated head of the typical young Nigerian woman: it is also a threat to the future security of Africa and the planet itself.

What we have in most 20 something Nigerian girls (and boys) is a lost generation, succumbing to mythic fantasies, pathetic notions of what it is to be a woman, pseudo religious claptrap and without a direction in life apart from ineluctable mass-procreation. African feminism has a mountain range to climb to challenge this desperate situation!


Kayode Muyibi 4:21 pm  

I do agree with you on the issue of journalism in Nigeria, but I think you do not understand the ordinary African Child. It would be great if you study the African Culture.

I guess its more of a Cultural Shock to you. Please appreciate the fact that the ordinary Nigerian teenager does not experiment drugs nor even club. I think it is more of the Western way so called way of growing up.Its more of a problem that to say its a natural way of embracing growth and a proper thing to be involved in.

Steve Popoola 4:22 pm  

In as much as Jeremey has a point especially with respect to the quality of journalism in Nigeria and the attitude of the so-called elite, I think his frustration pushed him off track. At a point in the write-up he didn't make sense anymore, especially to people of African heritage. Partying and experimentating with drugs has never been an African practice. Africans socialize and love to gather together to share in love and fellowship; night clubbing is a creation of the western world and it has done more harm than good to the African society. This is evident from the the statistics of broken homes and shattered dreams trailing the upsurge in these centres of 'pleasure'. I think what needs to be addressed is that Nigerians should think about the future of this country and begin to work, first as individuals and then as a corporate entity, towards making a positive change.

Anonymous,  4:44 pm  

Well Jeremy,

It's a cultural thing.

Unfortunately African women are brought up to believe that they can only have respect in society if:-

a) They get married
b) Produce tons of children (preferably males)
c) Join a Christian Womens group

which is all terribly limiting. Don't get me wrong, marriage can be lovely (if you marry your soulmate) but there are a lot of unhappy women in marriages that they'd rather not be in but won't divorce because it's anaethama in African society!

African culture is still quite conservative ( as can be seen from comments on your Liberian president post) and if you are seen as too "Western" (read independent), and not homely (read submissive),then it will affect your marital chances.

I remember this comment in Ibo made by a woman at a wedding..

"Husbands are scarce"
to which I responded "Bollocks!"

Attitudes will change gradually but don't expect seismic shifts any time soon!

Anonymous,  4:47 pm  

Hi, my name is Tunji and I'm a Yoruba guy. Lived in Lagos my whole life. I don't like commenting on blogs, but I think I should raise my voice here.

I think Jeremy is spot-on in his analysis. So why do my country-people have such a reflexive defensiveness to any criticism? What we desperately need at the moment is a home-grown tradition of honest crique.

The point of Jeremy's essay wasn't about the drugs or clubbing, it was about fostering a society where it is ok for people to try these things, a society where people question the status quo. I don't smoke weed myself, but I'd rather live in a country where it was socially accepted than in one with some obtuse notion of morality that offers individuals no outlet.

But, again, to focus on the drugs would be to miss the point. The real issue is about social critique. Why don't Nigerians engage in spirited critique of their country? And by "critique", I mean something different from the sighs and moans that the chattering classes engage in. I mean people should look hard at the way things are in our country- pandemic corruption, mindless religion, and sheer hostility to one another- and offer some description of these things. Not even "solutions", but simply "descriptions." And to tie these descriptions to a sense of history, to a sense of economics, or to philosophy. With a minimum of atrocious spelling and grammar. Now, eyin eniyan mi, is that too much to ask?

There's a scary listlessness about even educated Nigerians. Hunger is not an excuse (though it's the one Nigerians love to invoke most), because there are many many people in Nigeria who are NOT hungry, and who nevertheless refuse any engagement with the life of the mind.

But, typically, we adopt a "shoot the messenger" attitude. Let's leave the moralizing at the door, folks, and look at Jeremy's points frankly for their truth value. He obviously loves Nigeria enough to balance his enthusiasm for the place with some blunt observations. Would that there were more like him!

(p.s. I notice that only one of the commenters to this essay has dealt with one of the central points, which is about the life and role of women in our society. Come on people, this is 2005! Women are people too!)


Anonymous,  5:07 pm  


The question is how do we get people fired up enough to get interested in the future of Nigeria?

The US government have predicted that Nigeria will be a failed state in 20 years. With the sort of apathy and listlessness shown by Nigerians in their future, how won't that come true?

I think even though I do love Jeremy's blog (just discovered it..keep up the good work!) it's a bit sad that it takes a non-Nigerian to have to highlight these issues within the society. It's fantastic that he cares enough to do it and I hope we see many more like him.

Comeon guys, call to arms here! Get posting, commenting, blogging, whatever ..Hopefully we can spread this passion around and get people to think and demand more from their leaders.

We owe it to ourselves...

David Ajao 5:08 pm  

The business of 'rearing' so many children is a cultural thing indeed. I thought fellow compatriots would have learnt from the fact that there is so much economic hardship in Africa today. Rather than cut down on the number of children, they 'rear' 4 or 5. Some would tell you their parents had between 7 and 12 (goodness!)

Jeremy 5:21 pm  

I'm glad Tunji's comment rescued me - I don't want to overstate the 'taking drugs' issue for 20somethings.

However, it is false to assume that the use of drugs is not part of African tradition. Many (if not most) traditional societies around the world use drugs (hallucinogenic or otherwise) as part of the rituals - look at Carlos Castaneda's books on Peyote use within Mexican culture. I'm sure a bit of research would dig out a plethora of drugs different ethnicities in Nigeria have used traditionally within their rituals and cultural practices..

Anonymous,  5:42 pm  

We often evoke African culture as though it is timeless, unchanging and will conform to our own 21st apathy and nilihism. Somebody said Africans don't do divorce, but i had hate to disappoint you, we actually do. This is especially the case amongst Yorubas and Hausas. "Traditionally", it was perfectly common for a Yoruba woman to have gone through at least 2 to 3 husbands before finally settling down with a life partner. Check the biography of the orishas: Oya married ogun and then found love with sango. many more stories abound like this. It is the christianisation of Africa that has made divorce a taboo and 'till death do us part'becomes normative.

Now to jeremy's reference to baby machine. I also find it disturbing that most young Nigerian women unthinkingly accept that they want and will have children. They do not question what that mean for their own sense of identity and self-worth. I am a woman, a Nigeria woman who loves children and thinks that they are the future. But they can only be the future if they are raised to be questioning, passionate, contrary, expriemental and willing to go outside the normative prescription of their society. I only want children if i can influence and use them as a vehicle to change the configuration. If not then I don't want them. Besides, my life is so rich and full of meaning that i don't feel the need to have it disrupted by some little urchins. This doesn't mean that i don't think people shouldn't have children, but we must, especially women think about why we feel the need to be a baby machine. When we'll move beyond this blind adherance to culture. Culture is not the way we think it is. Culture, is dynamic, it is a template for doing things differently in the present, not some blind abeyance to the past.

Jeremy keep waxing your lyrcis.

Anonymous,  5:50 pm  

Well within the Ibo society, it's a shameful thing to divorce and many women would rather suffer in silence than be ostracised.

I agree blind adherence to tradition has its downsides however it's refreshing to see that attitudes are changing.

sokari 5:57 pm  

Jeremy made the mistake of mentioning drugs and partying which some comments suggest are "western" ideas of teenage fun. Well I don’t know what world you guys live in but according to my nieces (mid 20s) who are in Nigeria they are always attending parties! However I think the point Jeremy was trying to make is that young Nigerians are not politicised and lack any interest in anything other than to be married and have children which is very sad.

AS Tunji says Africa is a very conservative place where many young people are governed by religious dogma and tradition neither of which encourage young people to create their own identities. Its all very well to talk about tradition but not when it is holding people/countries back from developing and moving positively into the 21stc.

I find it very disturbing to watch young people spending their free time reading the bible and talking about religion and generally acting like a bunch of religious robots. It wouldnt be so bad if you could engage them in a discussion on religion instead of simply quoting rote bible verses.
Religion together with tradition are largely responsible for maintaining patriarchal structures in Nigerian society as both emphasise the role of women in terms of motherhood and servitude to ones father or husband. I have found that women who move out of this mould are those whose Fathers, encourage them to do so and remove the pressure of getting married and having children from their daughters. Unfortunately these types of fathers are few and far between. However even in these instances it is still only possible when “permission” is given by a father.

I would also like to add that I do not accept the notion that “broken homes” are necessarily destructive. On the contrary one of the problems is that people are forced to remain in violent and unhappy relationships to the detriment of the mother and the children, all for the sake of “saving face. Nigerians need to stop “faking” it and “pretending” that all is well when it is not. Nevertheless there are many Nigerian girls and women who have broken free and continue to break free of these social mores to make their own independent career and life choices.

Katharine 10:25 pm  

Maybe I've misread today's blog but I do not think iy is wrong, abnormal, demeaning or intelligence sucking for women to have children. I know very few of my female friends here in England in their 20's who do not want to have multiple children. I personally think its a very important part of my future to raise children but as for that being all I do in the future I hope not.

My mother has been a shining example in my life. Yes she had two children and took over 12 years off work to look after us but during that time her brain did not vegetate, in fact I believe in many respects she learnt more than my father in that period. She tood alongside us during our studies and learnt as we learnt, she did evening classes, project managed building our house and ran local holiday clubs for 100+ children. She has now returned to work and holds a reserach post at a University. Its not easy and she often gets frustrated with the fact she maybe could be higher up if she'd not had a career break but thats hindsight.

As a 20 something woman, one day hoping to settle down I'm trying to decide whether I'd take the decision she did and if so where that may lead.... I am personally finding this a very difficult thing to contemplate and do at times wish I did not have the choice as its hard to manage. How would I manage working and having children? I'd like both but I'd like to prioritise my children. I started thinking about it early and decided finance over engineering as I thought it was a career in which a career break could be managed more easily and a skill which I could work from home. Whether that is right time will tell.

I do not think any of us should judge girls who decide that family is for them!

Kemi,  12:05 am  


At no point did Jeremy say there was anything wrong with having children. He was talking about defining yourself by the number of children you have.

Nigeria has 130 million people. That's twice as many people as there are in the UK. 70% of whom are earning less than 50p a day.

There IS something wrong with defining yourself just on your ability to reproduce.

My mother also works in a university. She is a professor and has been there for over 30 years. She has 3 kids and never had to take a career break because my father took an active part in child-rearing. I am thankful that as her daughter I don't have any guilt trips about my mother's life not being any better or richer just because she had me. Men need to take more responsibility with their children. It's not just about providing money.

Don't compare your situation in the UK with those of Nigerian women.
Majority of Nigerian women do not have the luxury of staying home to take care of the kids. They have to work anyway 'cos 50p a day won't feed a family of 3, 4 or 5.

The lady who cleaned our house in Nigeria used to bring her kids with her because there was no one to take care of them. Her husband had abandoned her with 5 children, I'm sure she'd have liked a career break if possible.
There is no child benefit or welfare state there to pick up the pieces when things fall apart.

Chxta 7:58 am  

I find in disturbing when I see 20 somethings with less energy than I have...

That for me was the key point in that entire post because it reflects what I once complained about to a friend...

Nigerian youths on the average are happy to just go to Mr. Biggs and that is the end of it. I once went with some friends to Gurara Falls, and was shocked to find that the only picnicers there were white! We are just content to live within the confines of what we know. Jeremy is right. The truth is this, and pardon the language, we are f*cked!

And to those who think it is our culture, is Mr. Biggs our culture?

IMO we are where we are because our fathers sat on their arses without questioning the status quo. Try and imagine were Isaac Newton an African, he'd have eaten that apple instead of asking why it fell downwards, and the whole of classical physics as we know it wouldn't have existed. Asking questions doesn't mean that you are bad, it means that you are smart.

Had Mary Slessor never arrived, we'd still be killing twins ja? In which case I'd be dead you know...

Anonymous,  8:28 am  

Continuing the thread of motherhood, I think it is important to make a distinction (like the American feminist Adrienne Rich did)between motherhood as a potentiality opened to all women and motherhood as an institution under patriarchy which consistently violate that potentiality. The point is not about whether women should or should not have children, rather, it is under what conditions do we have children. Like one of the commentators said, do we have children because we want to mentor the next generation, or because we want to 'own' them and accessorise them? Nigeria has a population of 130m and it will continue to grow if young woman continue to breed like rabbits, yet, Nigeria is unable to meet the needs of her people, let alone the unborn hungry mouths. Women should stop thinking that having children is their own personal choice. for most it is not. They are just following what is expected of them.

Regarding the laziness of the Nigerian youth I am constantly surprised and angered. They don't seem to have a sense of adventure or exploration, they are quite happy chomping away at mr biggs etc.

Jeremy keep writing and all those committed to transformation of our society, keep writing and keep passion and a healthy dose of anger alive.

Harmmattan Ray

Kayode Muyibi 8:56 am  

When we say its culture, it does not neccesarily mean we support it or we are commending the practice brought up by it. But one thing we must note is that people in general in any habitat tend to look back and copy from what they meet, and blend with things going on arround them and thats what exactly I was trying to say.

Now the issue here is this. Nigerians in Nigeria, especially the youth in general are leaving in a struggling world, they are too focussed on the struggle for survival besides satisfying their dreams, in anyway possible, and hardly have time to look into appreciating the nature, that is the going on vacation at natural parks or even going into the extras of having the so called "extra luxuries". This does not come into place at all.

Eating at Mr Biggs for example, is just one of those little flavours that spice thier struggle. From their heart, its not that they do really want to have that particular meal from that particular place, but the Nigerian community has created an environment whereby such things are known as luxury, and thus, they are embraced and done in a way to relieve themselves as part of pleasure.

When we try to say something in particular, especially describe a particular people, we should try to look at the surrounding factors of living besides the mentality and then try to reason on why it does happen. Not reach a quick conclusion that it is really their fault. Why is it that when they go overseas, The exposure of real reality, changes them instantly?

Now on the issue of women bearing extra children, when they can hardly take care of themselves is really another thing that we do have to tackle objectively. Some Nigerians for one, do not believe in Family planning due to Religious issues, saying things like its God that gives Children.
Others just have it because their husbands want it. They have no say against it, or the mother in law especially from the Husbands side would raise alarm that the wife is barren. In other cases their are issues of the husband trying by all means to get a particular gender due to pressures he gets from friends.

It happens and honestly all this is due to the culture and environmental influence. And this is the particular thing that is at blame, the people embrace what they live with. And thats the way I see it.

Chxta 12:20 pm  

Sorry Kayode I don't think you have a valid point there.

The crux of the matter here (if you read between the lines) is that we don't ever ask the necessary questions to improve our lives. Let me throw a challenge to you: try going to a little village called Ughoton in Edo State (that's not where I come from by the way), people there are still living the same way their fore fathers were 100 years ago without any thought of trying to improve their conditions.

That is what the post is all about. That if we aren't careful, we might have to wait for another generation to rise up and take our place before we have another shot at change...

You know how long it takes a generation to rise up? 30 years...

Funke,  4:44 pm  

Wow Jeremy, you have caused quite a storm! Some very valid points there, but considering the theory about women defining themselves by their fertility and ability to breed, you must remember that for the average Nigerian woman, who has no opportunity to further education (lack of money, strikes etc) and no way to explore the world and broaden horizons, they naturally want to catch a man in their most fertile years, before it is too late and no man wants them, or they are too old to bear children. As primitive and depressing as that sounds, it is a sad fact throughout Africa. Other options to consider: people have children to provide for them in old age, especially in a non-welfare society, most women are maternal, it is still considered a disgrace to not be able to bear children.

Anonymous,  9:12 pm  

Emm... I guess you won't be telling the kids to 'stay off drugs' eh, Jeremy?

I think that in our society with it's tentacles all over the world as obtains in these times, there are those who attempt to live out the realm of 'the known', who do not care so much for the well-trodden path. But Jeremy, look how they suffer. Even the backwardness displayed by our so-called intellectual classes, is mind-boggling.

I got into a public spat with some so-called intellectuals recently, including a self-avowed 'feminist'. I ended up being abused, as a divorced, lonely woman who will never be lucky with men. Can you imagine? And our feminist was happy to see me demeaned by a man in this way, because she was on the opposing side of the argument with me.

Isn't that sad? All my soldiering on valiantly in ways untold, this is the sum of my existence: a lonely, divorced woman who will never be lucky. Much as I rejected those labels, people keep trying to tar me with this brush.

I relate all the above, to show that it aint easy as an African (woman especially) to defy the set structures.

Still, I'm a better human being than those who called me these names. And I won't because of these and other indignities, hop and marry the next idiot that comes along. But you already knew that.

U know me, we exchanged a mumber of emails earlier on today.

Anonymous,  8:07 am  

To the above poster, I'm sorry to hear that you got abused by stupid ignorant people just because you have a point of view and chose to defend it. At least you have a brain.

I don't know how we are expected to see progress in this country if holding an intelligent opinion becomes a threat!

I'm glad that Jeremy's post has provoked this level of comment. This shows me that at least there are some thinkers left and that they haven't been subsumed by the fast money, fast food culture that unfortunately exists in this country.

I believe there is hope for us yet...

isioma,  1:07 pm  

you are so right. as a nigerian woman in her 20s i struggle constantly with my family and my friend's definition on what i should do with my life. no- having a family and having 4 children is not what i want to do and it's not what would make me happy. but none of them understand.
i scaled one of the world's highest vulcanoes this week. i was terrified but i did it. i whine all the way up and tripped three times on the way down. 4000 feet in the air, sulfur and stone.

i told my dad all about this.

all he wants to know is when i'm going to get married.

it's ridiculous. nothing i achieve matters to them.

nkechi,  1:34 pm  

it's bollocks that th enigerian woamn in nigeria has no opportunity to break out of her confines.

the truth is nigerian women are reared from the beginning to define themselves by the kitche, the bedroom and the pram.

any young girl who starts to talk about doing this and being that, is patted on the head and told, 'that's very nice. but don't forget you HAVE TO BE A MRS.'

the whole culture is geared to keeping young women in their place.

those who work are often demeaned by their male colleauges sexism. your boss thinks he is allowed to put his hand on your thigh. your colleague thinks he is allowed to call you honey and sweety whenever you debate with him amd argue with him. sexual harrasment is your lot with noone to report to cause all the high administrative positions are held by men! men who see 20sths as mistresses and girlfriends and only respect the madames aka as the fat cows who keep the situation the way it is so they can wear their gold and expensive perfume.

the whole situation is sickening.

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