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My father’s generation failed my generation – Chambers Umezulike

#Chambers Umezulike

IT TOOK me time to decide finally to write this. Courage was needed to embark on this self-imposed assignment. This is because, while I thought very deeply inside of me that this should be written, I was also considering that I should not make some people feel really bad. But, then, this has to be written. And my 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 business men, top shots in the army police, navy, custom etc. 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% 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 is 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 seriously think that my father’s generation caused it, which you will have cause 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 exam malpractices across all levels of education; a generation that wants to make quick money as soon as possible 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, 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 criticize the government or demonstrate, except to follow politicians up and down for financial gains.

Every father that I have met criticizes 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 into the very state in which 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 after that and, indeed, recover within an impressively short time, especially, after their wealth was decimated and they were handed a paltry twenty pounds by the Government of the Federation of Nigeria 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. Fela Anikulapo Kuti, Sir Victor Uwaifo, Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe, 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.

Most of the universities then were of new facilities; they had good classrooms, hostels; and the graduates faced little or no competitions after the university. Nigerian educational institutions were so strong then, you dare not cheat in exams etc. Today, Nigerian Universities are suffering from a reversal of fortunes. University of Ibadan, for instance, then, was amongst the best ten in Africa. The same university today is the 35th in Africa according to the current Webometrics ranking of African universities. My father’s generation never cared to sustain the quality of education they enjoyed for my generation. Today, they are the big professors of today, vice-chancellors, principals, headmasters etc. They are in charge of all sectors of our national polity. They never thought of maintaining the standard of education in these universities, secondary schools, primary schools, all of them. They never paused to wonder if my generation will enjoy the privilege of being accosted by prospective employers for jobs the same way they all got jobs the next day after graduation. Most of them today are Principals, and have their schools being used as special centres during WASSCE, NECO and JAMB exams. Most of them that work in senior positions at the bodies that administer these exams are the ones that release these question-papers through the backdoor to my own generation for financial gratification. They are the professors and lecturers that my generation sorts today to get better grades. Worst of all, they never thought of population explosion and so have no safety net to cushion its dire consequences.

They saw our value system die. They saw our set of morals die. They saw integrity got deleted from our polity. They saw the facilities they enjoyed in the universities depreciating, never to be sustained. While they went to the universities with scholarships in their days, today, we have nothing like that anymore. They saw everything got worse. They are the ones EFCC chases today. They are the ones that instituted corruption; practically taught us corruption; and saw most of our institutions die. They fuelled the decay of a lot of social services. They saw the military got corrupted. They saw the police got corrupted. They have been managing the affairs of the country for decades now. They rig elections, and ask my generation to help them carry ballot boxes. They are the ones that give my generation moneys that we share to voters at polling booths. They are the governors that do not perform today. They are the ones that now send their children who are part of my generation abroad to enjoy education of global quality, because education institutions here are pretty dead. They are the ones that boast of how many of their children they have sent abroad for quality education. They are the ones that widened the inequality gap in the country to a large degree. They are the ones that have fuelled the establishment of private universities as they watched the public ones die. Today, these public schools are so dead, that they are basically for the poor people, and one cannot rely on the low quality of education that Nigerians get in most of them. Even with the enormous school fees paid in those private schools, the quality of education delivered there cannot be compared to what my father’s generation obtained at the public schools of their days.

In the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s, they were the military dictators that fuelled corruption, nepotism and tribalism. They inherited a young country and never made the best of it. The ones that were not within the circle of the military dictators were watching arms akimbo, while their very mates were messing up the country. They never bothered about National Unity. They fuelled tribalism, and practically made religious schism State’s policy. They championed ethnicity rather than to build a nation, and then taught us to hate each other based on our ethnicity and religion. They are the senators that write recommendation letters for my generation to get jobs in federal government establishments as nothing is by merit any longer – a deplorable development they encouraged. They are the very ones that give us moneys to pay to get jobs in federal government establishments. They are the ones that never really protested for anything in the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s against the military dictators or showed sufficient resistance that would have prevented the military dictators from running the country the way they did. They are still the ones that tell us not to protest against the government.

While I am not trying to defend my generation, I really wish that the root of the systematic damage of the psyche of my generation should be properly examined. Who started voting along ethnic and religious lines? Who is in charge of INEC, Police Force, etc? My father’s generation. In reality, my generation has suffered because of the failure of my father’s generation. Our dreams are dying. We have no hope for the future. We are witnessing a country at the worst of her times. We are being subjected to even things you can call human experimentation just to get jobs. We are the ones that stay for years at home because there are no jobs while they treat us to tales of how the Naira used to have a very high value, how things were so cheap, and how they just started working after the university and started families immediately with adequate finances and basic necessities. Today, the Naira has been so devalued, with high cost of living, to the extent that my generation has seen young Nigerians that worked for years and cannot even start a family, can’t pay a bride price. These young Nigerians can neither pay rents nor afford basic necessities. Further, because of terrible pays, unemployment swells. Perhaps, we may also inquire as to the identity of the generation who devalued the Naira? Who watched things get extremely costly, unlike during their days when things were cheap? We are the ones that write five tests and go for series of interviews to get a 50,000 Naira job because of galloping unemployment, while someone of my father’s generation had already made his list, full of relations and friends’ children, to put in jobs. We are the ones that are facing a highly competitive polity, with a highly hostile environment to start anything. My generation is paying the price of a damaged society, a neglected society, neglected by my father’s generation. We are the ones everyone is asking to embrace entrepreneurship, while they graduated with companies and institutions knocking on their doors for employment. We are the ones that live nine-in-a-room in university hostels while the females among us are subjected to sexual assaults by them to get good grades in the universities. We are the ones that are suffering in a society where you hardly get anything done by merit. During their time, most of them who came from very poor backgrounds only just had to be intelligent and hardworking for things to get better for them. But this is not so anymore in this society that they have left for us. Now, it is all about who you know and corruption. By the way, who even started who-you-know?

My father’s generation was a very selfish one. They failed to lead by example. My generation has only mostly rogues to look up to. They never planned for us. And never mentored anyone positively. And they failed in a lot of respects when compared with their mates in other countries, especially outside Africa. They could not build sufficient infrastructures when there was a boom in oil revenue which are sine qua non for favorable economic environment. Yet, it was during this period that a former head of state, a member of my father’s generation, infamously declared that Nigeria’s problem was not money, but what to do with the money. Today, after he had failed to make the most out of the abundance in his days, he now traverses the length and breadth of the nation praying for divine intervention. Thus, we can say with an assured measure of confidence that my father’s generation also failed socio-economic wise. They saw everything deteriorate, while they inherited everything, brand new, good and fine. They never demanded anything from the government. They never wanted change. They are the ones that tell us how beautiful London is but never worked on any city in Nigeria to be that beautiful. My father’s generation failed in everything, from governance to administration. They never sustained social goods. And while they criticize my generation, they should look at what they are about leaving us with.

Chambers Umezulike,

Nigerian Secular Humanist, Human Rights Defender, Novelist and Essayist

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