…We of the privileged generations need to rise and do whatever it takes to ameliorate the sufferings of younger Nigerians. While we retire in comfort, with our children well-educated inside or outside Nigeria, we must remember we owe Nigeria a debt. Oil wealth is responsible for the good life that came our way. Whether inside or outside government, we must pay this mammoth debt back to those behind us by engaging and mentoring them.
If your teenage years or young adulthood fall within the oil boom era in Nigeria, if you grew up with Festac ’77, and paid 50 kobo for your entire daily meals in your university, if you paid no tuition for all your years at the university – and you were given bursary as stipends to use as you wished, if you were sent abroad by the federal or a state government, or by your university – all expenses paid or partly paid, if you grew up with new imported stereo sets and Harley Davidson motorcycles as a student, if you were a part of the Ali-Must-Go generation, if you grew up with Scholls, going to London in the summer as if it was your backyard (no visas needed), if you were paid your monthly stipend promptly during your National Youth Corp Service, and were made to feel special and worthy as a young educated Nigerian, if you obtained employment within a reasonable time after national service and you had easy access to cheap car loans, and if you were employed all your life and have now retired or are retiring with a comfortable pension (you might even have embarked on another career), you belong to the Oil Boom Generation. We are the full-belly generation on whom the fortunes of crude oil beamed. Some of us have developed a curious amnesia about this huge advantage, and others just engage in deep denial. Studies show the outcomes for siblings differ markedly, depending on whether each child was born when the parents were poor or prosperous. Children born when the parents were poor have a very different experience from later children who grew up when the parents had become more prosperous, even when they all grew up in the same household. Those formative years were critical to development. We were the children who grew up with national prosperity.
We were given tremendous opportunities that our parents could not have imagined during their own youth, and as things have turned out in Nigeria, the younger generations who came after us could only imagine this as a fable. Nigeria sent her children to study all over the world and some of the tales we heard from that enterprise was of envy from some in their host countries. For example, African students studying in China back then suffered hostility and aggression from some Chinese students, presumably because their women liked African students. But a less told tale was that Nigerian students were well off and lived more comfortably than Chinese students, all made possible by Nigeria’s financial largesse. They did not fit into the mould of the poor African students that communist China was trying to help. We heard tales of Nigerian students studying in the West, living large, riding fancy cars and not having to do menial jobs to support themselves because our crude oil money was paying the bills. Back then at Great Ife, our dining hall (cafeteria) food was excellent and cheap. Still, some students preferred to go to the nearby bukateria or Forks and Fingers, as my dear friend and former Comrade reminded me, because they looked down on cafeteria food. Many of us female students cooked in our hostels because we didn’t like cafeteria food but on Sunday afternoons, you would find us lining up for the jollof rice, chicken and ice cream. We even brought our containers to export food.
The University vice-chancellor and other high-ranking university officials convened a meeting with female undergraduates at Oduduwa hall to persuade us not to cook in our hostels because it was a fire hazard. Did we listen? No. In fact, one brave girl stood up and shot back at them that we were supposed to graduate, marry, and be able to cook for our families. Cooking in our hostels was frankly a practice for the real thing, she argued. Our leaders seemed to have agreed with her because they then decided to put a kitchen on every floor, complete with cookers and refrigerators. They did not ask us to kneel in the sun, whip us, or humiliate us as some university students are being treated in contemporary Nigeria. They treated us with dignity and listened to our opinions. Our tiled bathrooms were cleaned daily by cleaners, our hostels comfortable, and we had a good library system. Horticulture in Ife added to the already beautiful landscape of the University campus. Education was made available to all the children of the land, regardless of their socio-economic status. In our dormitories and classes, children of farmers, drivers, petty traders, mixed with the children of professional and rich Nigerians. Many rich Nigerian parents who sent their children abroad for elementary and high school education brought them back home for their tertiary education. Many of these students were on our campus in Ife, which demonstrated the great confidence that rich Nigerians had in higher institutions in the country. The reverse is now happening. Nigerians with means, those who benefitted from crude oil money for their own education, are now fleeing the system, doing all they can to educate their children anywhere but Nigeria.
Upper class Nigerians set up schools for their children, complete with infrastructure that would best any good school in the world. It is debatable though what kind of education those children are getting because I can’t imagine they are being educated for a society that many of their parents are actively trying to destroy.
No doubt, this oil-boom cohort produced excellent and productive professionals who have succeeded phenomenally in their chosen careers at home and abroad. Many of them were brave warriors for the June 12 mandate who incurred personal costs to themselves and their families. With the ascendance of democracy in Nigeria, many in that generation are also steering the ship of state now, with alarming results.
The theory goes that children who are loved by parents grow up to be loving and generous people, but this is not always the case. There are some people loved and pampered by parents and the adults around them, who grew up to become selfish, greedy, narcissistic and destructive. It seems to be the case with this cohort of Nigerians who enjoyed the wealth and generosity of the Nigerian state, but grew up to pull up the ladder for coming generations, treating them like disposable rubbish. PREMIUM TIMES has been running stories of the vast difference in how the children of upper class Nigerians (many of who grew rich from stealing public funds), and those of the rest of the country are being educated. Upper class Nigerians set up schools for their children, complete with infrastructure that would best any good school in the world. It is debatable though what kind of education those children are getting because I can’t imagine they are being educated for a society that many of their parents are actively trying to destroy. Across the land, other students are sitting on bare floors because schools cannot afford chairs and desks. Little girls and boys, with their sweet and hopeful faces, are introduced into classroom education with hardship and meanness. I grew up in a small town when Nigeria was still earning its revenues through hard work, growing and exporting cash crops. In our village primary school, every child had a desk, designed to accommodate our ink bottles, our slates and our books. Our teachers were paid on time, our classrooms were clean. We had flower gardens around our school, and we had school farms where we planted groundnuts. Harvest day was always a day of anticipation and excitement because we had invested in it. We had worked on the farms during the growing season. Teaching a work ethic was a part of education. The harvest was divided, according to the number of children, by our teachers, with everyone watching. We were all given equal portions which we immediately feasted upon and took home.
Nigerian children are now hungry in school, while the children of the upper class sit under air-conditioners, play piano, and watch CNN, so they can “improve” their English. Years ago, I met some of the products of this kind of education. Back then, some in the upper class sent their children to something called “finishing schools” in places like Switzerland because they thought that was how they could produce well-rounded educated children. Many of these people find their education useless when they came back home because they had not been taught the most important thing – how to think about and transform their own society for the better. They were caricatures of European society. The new upper class, a product of a morally-devastated society, without shame, guilt or fear now boldly shows disdain for the welfare and education of young impoverished Nigerians. While they spoil and coddle their own children, they use the children of others as political thugs, assassins, terrorists, and servants. I watched with sorrow the parade of young men by police in front of the camera telling the tales of their murderous armed robbery in Offa, during which thirty-three people were killed. They claimed that they were doing the bidding of a certain powerful politician, whose own children and family live in stupendous wealth.
We need to help in our own ways and through policies, create social and economic opportunities that support the growth and security of the youth. There is something called Love. Strange as it may sound, we of the oil-boom generation experienced it from the Nigerian state. We were generously given all the tools we needed to succeed. Pay it forward, please.
A few years ago, a politician emerged from prison after finishing his jail term for looting public funds. His family, friends, and others gathered together, made aso-ebi, hired praise-singers and drummers, and met him in front of the prison with dances and fanfare. It was the death knell of a society falling into moral abyss. Where did it all go wrong? How could the people who benefited so much from society, including those in the military who were trained free, and had access to huge resources, continue to inflict pain, suffering and death on coming generations? How could people who were given so much in their youth be so mean to younger generations?
Wole Soyinka once called his generation a wasted one, but it also produced people like Achebe and other fine writers interrogating their society and its moral nature. Our pampered generation is not only wasted, but putrid and cruel. We have failed to produce great writers, philosophers and artists to shine a light into the recesses of our conscience because our bellies were too full to think critically and act with compassion. Like some children of the wealthy, we grew up narcissistic, greedy, selfish and destructive. We desperately need moral leaders across ethnicities, religions, and political persuasions in Nigeria, the kind of leaders to initiate public discourse on the values needed to guide personal and political life, the kind to remind us constantly what we owe younger generations. There is a huge inter-generational inequity in Nigeria and we could all see the cost. Religious leaders are not doing this right now. Many of them are only glad to receive stolen money as donations from corrupt and evil political leaders, to enrich their already overflowing coffers.
As the adage goes, to whom much is given, much is expected. We of the privileged generations need to rise and do whatever it takes to ameliorate the sufferings of younger Nigerians. While we retire in comfort, with our children well-educated inside or outside Nigeria, we must remember we owe Nigeria a debt. Oil wealth is responsible for the good life that came our way. Whether inside or outside government, we must pay this mammoth debt back to those behind us by engaging and mentoring them. Using them as drivers and errand boys is not exactly paying back. We need to help in our own ways and through policies, create social and economic opportunities that support the growth and security of the youth. There is something called Love. Strange as it may sound, we of the oil-boom generation experienced it from the Nigerian state. We were generously given all the tools we needed to succeed. Pay it forward, please.
Bunmi Fatoye-Matory was educated at the Universities of Ife and Ibadan, and Harvard University. She lives with her family in Durham, North Carolina. She is a Writer and Culture Advocate. Email: email@example.com