• Saturday, July 20, 2024
businessday logo

BusinessDay

Why I dislike many older Nigerians and other private thoughts

Why I dislike many older Nigerians and other private thoughts

In the 18th Century West African port city of Ouidah, a man decided that his fortune lay elsewhere. According to the oral history, this fellow, who held a title in the sacred cult of the local deity, Tolegba, having completed six childhood years of training in the ways of the sacred order, wanted to seek his fortune in the world.

The name of the said title by the way, was ‘Hundeyin’ or ‘Houndegni,’ depending on which side of the modern-day Nigerian-Beninoise border you spell it from.

So, our hero journeyed eastward with his family and belongings and eventually settled in an area that came to be known variously as Gbagle, Abadagrimeh and eventually Badagry.

Naturally, his erstwhile title became the name of the new family that would someday become the biggest landholding entity in the new town, and somewhere along the line a few hundred years later is where the person writing this joined the story.

Sometimes, I sit for hours and stare at the memories of the greatest crime ever committed against humanity, contemplating the human condition and wondering how on earth we will ever fix the fallout of something that clearly still messes with us, even if we’re not quite sure how

Older Nigerians of antiquity

Now, it just so happened that my ancestor’s settling in Badagry and its mutation from a sleepy seaside spit of land into probably the world’s largest slave dealing operation for more than 100 years, coincided very closely.

Did the family ever partake in what was Badagry’s biggest industry at one point? “Absolutely not,” I’m told. Did they own slaves? “Well that was a different time…who didn’t?” So yes, awkward…

A-ny-way, one of the legacies of the O.G. Hundeyin is that when I’m in town, I get to freely traipse around the Badagry Marina’s tourist attractions which include slave relics museums, a barracoon, the former slave port itself and that gin bottle sculpture that never fails to give me the heebie-jeebies.

Sometimes, I sit for hours and stare at the memories of the greatest crime ever committed against humanity, contemplating the human condition and wondering how on earth we will ever fix the fallout of something that clearly still messes with us, even if we’re not quite sure how.

I often wonder, what was it about the cloth and umbrellas and cannons and corrugated roofing sheets that was so important that people turned cruelty of the most unthinkable sort into a ubiquitous commodity feeding a roaring human export industry?

Why did they have to have those things at any and every cost, including in at least one case immortalised by that gin bottle sculpture, giving away their own family members?

Was it a lack of imagination to see themselves potentially as an industrial society that could make those things? Was it pathological, unbridled greed that resulted in temporary madness? Or was it that African life was simply that cheap and valueless to the older people who controlled that society?

Did my ancestors simply not rate themselves? Is that why the history of Badagry, then Lagos, then Nigeria turned into a century of colonial humiliation and a subsequent 60 years of post-colonial chaos? What was that impelling force making them act out such extreme self-destructive behaviour?

Older Nigerians of today

In April 2003 as a spotty 1-year-old, I realised that my parents were capable of being foolish. I don’t mean “foolish” as in “I trusted the wrong domestic help who ended up stealing my jewellery” foolish, or “I made a poor investment and lost a small fortune” foolish.

I’m talking about “The fact that I get out of bed every morning and navigate through the world without tripping over air molecules, suffering compound fractures and dying of septic shock is a minor miracle” foolish. That type of foolish.

It wasn’t so much a singular incident that created this impression in my head, as a sequence of events and decisions dating back to my first memories, and eventually culminating in that Thursday afternoon I have written about in this column before, when I had my big epiphany at Kotoka International Airport, Accra.

It was at that point that I realised that the fact of being older and more financially capable did not, in fact, mean that people knew anything they were talking about or had good intentions for those around them.

Read also: Is Nigeria’s poverty artificial or natural?

From that day, I started actively taking note of the myriad ways and manners in which the older people around me either did not improve my life or actually made it worse.

I realised that the people who wholeheartedly curated the active crime scene that was Nigeria were not “irresponsible” young people or aliens from outer space, but the very same post-50 demographic who always had the absolute most to say about everything and everyone else.

The bank directors who gave themselves billions of naira worth of non-performing loans; the civil servants who ate their way through Nigeria’s civic architecture like termites; the entrepreneurs who cut corners and took advantage of staff; the politicians who awarded themselves the world’s largest political salary packages – what age demographic were they?

To date, this opinion of mine has not shifted. On an individual level, I find it difficult to relate with most Nigerians above the age of 45 on anything but a civil and polite level.

I genuinely do not believe that this demographic has earned the right to expect anything more than basic politeness and civility – the country around all of us is proof of this assertion. It is often said that societies do not experience true greatness until men begin to plant seeds of trees whose shade they will never live to enjoy.

In Nigeria, however, those men eat the seeds.