• Wednesday, June 19, 2024
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The Nigerian elder and the problem of selfishness


In 2015, I wrote my first long-read feature article for a Nigerian media platform. It was a book review for a biography about one of Nigeria’s most respected and internationally successful pop musicians. This individual is widely credited with being at the vanguard of the phenomenal breakout story of Nigerian music in the early to mid 2000s, so it was a privilege to be chosen to write what would be a make or break review about the anthology-style story of his life. It took me 2 whole days to put that piece together because I wanted it to be perfect – filled with interesting quirks and nifty turns of phrase, but not verbose and lacking in substance.

Though I had been trained as a journalist, I was working as a content creator at a Marketing agency at the time, so I wanted to make sure that it met professional journalism standards. After submitting it, I was informed that a well known and internationally successful Nigerian author was going to review and edit the article, and that made me so excited. Small little me would have my work read and edited by a prize winning author! On the day the story was to be published, which was a Saturday, I raced out of Ogudu GRA looking for a newspaper vendor to grab a copy from and see my name in print on the centrespread.

I found one, bought a copy, and parked nearby, breathlessly thumbing through the pages until I got to the centre. I saw my story and a burst of excitement shot through me – until I looked at the name under the headline. This internationally acclaimed, commercially successful author who was maybe twice my age, apparently liked my article so much that he decided to put his name on it. Not a comma or full stop was changed from what I wrote, but at the stroke of his elderly pen, “David Hundeyin” was erased from that entire piece of work, and replaced with his own name.

The Nigerian Elder: A case study in selfishness

When psychographing the curious entity that is the Nigerian adult aged 45 and up, it is important to understand the context this person grew up in, and why they act the way they do. This group of people was born and raised before and immediately after the independence era. That was a time when life as they knew it, was simpler. Bad things were caused by colonialism. Good things would come from state-funded government action. Most Nigerians statistically, were stuck on the subsistence farm at the time, so for the relatively small urban population there were the good things of life aplenty.

Read Also: Healthcare in the ‘Golden Years’: Who gets the bill?

My dad never got tired of telling me the story of how he got a university degree and changed his life – the Western Region’s free primary and secondary education, a 2-year A-level stint at the Federal School of Science and Technology in Yaba (funded by selling rafia mats), and then a generous American scholarship to the University of Ghana – a scholarship so generous that he had enough left over to send his 2 sisters to nursing school. Needless to say, such pathways no longer exist now as Nigeria’s population has exploded, but the Nigerian Elder is completely unaware.

As far as the Nigerian Elder is concerned, their success in the 1970s and 1980s versus the failure of young Nigerians today is explained by our lack of work ethic and inferior moral fibre. It certainly could never be the case that they were simply lucky to catch the wave of a temporary oil boom, and that Nigeria has simply regressed to the mean ever since – such explanations are bad for the Nigerian Elder’s ego, and NOTHING is as dangerous to a young Nigerian as pricking the Nigerian Elder’s ego. The Nigerian Elder does not concern themselves with thoughts of fairness, equity and paying it forward for a new generation – in fact some argue that the Nigerian Elder does not really believe that they will die one day.

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Think about it – how many times have we heard the story of dead Nigerian men with multiple children from multiple women, who did not make adequate plans for their demise? How many times have we heard the story of Nigerian civil servants reaching the age of retirement only to swear multiple affidavits claiming that they are in fact 10 years younger? How many times have we heard stories of Nigerian lecturers demanding for sexual favours on the pain of not graduating? All these instances in fact, are the same thing – selfishness.

There is a proverb that says that societies become great when men plant seeds that will grow into trees whose shade they will not live to enjoy. Clearly nobody ever mentioned this proverb to the Nigerian Elder because they are more likely to eat the seed – the future be damned! Whereas the Elder is supposed to be a person concerned with their legacy or impact, the Nigerian Elder spends their entire life running a hedonistic and futile race against death. Steal money, step on people, exploit people, destroy lives – whatever it takes to enjoy a few more pointless hours of life’s pleasures at other people’s expense. That is the Nigerian Elder.

Defeating the Nigerian Elder: A game of strategy

A couple of years ago when I wrote a story detailing my exit from a religious cult I was born into, I received a number of messages from young Nigerians in their teens and early 20s currently experiencing what I went through a decade ago. Many of them wanted to know – what should we do? Should we come out to our parents with our dissatisfaction and unease? Should we damn the consequences and follow our hearts? To these questions, my reply was always the same: “Know what is in your interests at all times and act accordingly.”

I did not sugarcoat it to them: “Your parents will have no problem with kicking you out on the street, broke and homeless, just to prove a point to you about who is in control and who should be grateful and subservient. Right now, you need your education and whatever material support you can get, so do what they tell you for now until you have what you need to break out and become independent.” I made it very clear to them that the Nigerian Elder’s ego is an extremely dangerous thing to challenge and this should only be attempted under the right circumstances.

Like in my experience with the award winning author in 2015, the Nigerian Elder does not necessarily need to step on younger Nigerians before doing so – he or she does so simply because they can. It is a game of power, not emotions. They will not stop misbehaving unless they absolutely have to. This was what I figured out when a few years later after building a writing profile of my own, someone with a similar profile again attempted to steal my work and this time, the outcome was very different. While my emotional tantrum in 2015 had no effect because I was nobody and he was somebody, my methodical response in 2019 resulted in a denial, followed by an apology.

At the end of the day, the Nigerian Elder is a problem that time will eventually solve in the way it always does. Our job however, is to ensure that while fighting for our own survival and treading water until the problem goes away, we do not turn into the very thing we are currently plagued with.

Which, if history is any indicator, is always a big ask.