I belong to a generation of Nigerians I would like to refer to as ‘transitional’. We were birthed at the threshold of a country’s descent from the sturdy, high grounds of magnificence as it began another into the peaty waters of obscurity. Our predecessors were spoilt and overwhelmed by the rents of an oil-rich nation to the extent a government arrowhead had to declare they had no idea of what to do with the wealth in the nation’s coffers! The forerunners imperilled the emergence of an African power, by engaging in an unprecedented squandering of public till, civil wars, coups, counter-coups, ethnic, political and religious vices.
Terms a la austerity and ‘structural adjustment’ that were hitherto alien to a top-notch nation eroded the middle class stratum and commenced the eventual journey into socio-political and economic anarchy. I can remember clearly, economic situation was so bad in the early 80’s that families had to queue up to receive rationed essentials like groceries, toiletries and basic food items. In fact, many families had to lock these items up in bedrooms in order to ensure shrewd consumption.
I was born, schooled and lived a better part of my growing up years in the city of Ibadan – a city that premiered the first TV station in Africa, the first tallest building in Nigeria, the first university, and many infrastructures, investments and industries of great impact. It was home to several conglomerates, famous book publishers in the league of Evans, Longman, Heinemann, and Spectrum and research institutes like CRIN and FRIN with the sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo dictating the velocity of development for the western region, using Ibadan as the launching pad. Tunji Oyelana, Wole Soyinka, Mike Adenuga, Akinwumi Ishola, Mike Nwangwu, Reuben Abati, Bayo Faleti and many other prominent personalities had their roots in this city of copious hills and valleys. At the moment, Ibadan is a shallow apparition of its once brilliant self. The same could be said of not a few cities in Nigeria.
Growing up, our aspirations were anchored on values that have no semblance with what obtain in present times. During pre-high and high schooling, what we prided ourselves on was the type of books read (academic, fiction and non-fiction) and the number of times they were re-read. Amongst favourite authors, series and titles were Mabel Segun, Sidney Sheldon, Charles Dickens, Nick Carter, D.O. Fagunwa, Stephen King, Akinwumi Ishola, Enid Blyton, Kola Onadipe, Danielle Steel, Adebayo Faleti, Eddie Iroh, Enid Blyton, Mills and Boon, Béllò àti Bíntù, Archie, The Hardy Boys, Táíwò àti Kéhíndé, Bumble Bee and African Writer series, Ògbójú Ode Nínú Igbó Irúnmalè (A Forest of a Thousand Demons) My Father’s Daughter, Eze/Akin/Sani Goes to School, Silas Manner, etc.
Electricity supply was almost constant. Our sanity was in one piece as we were saved from the noise and pollution from generating monsters. Generators (often referred to as ‘plants’) were used only by the society’s high and mighty. Television was not sophisticated but was fun, learning and entertaining with super-engaging (local and foreign) soaps, comedies and cartoons like Matlock, Wonder Years, Famous Five, Terrahawks, Basi and Company, Checkmate, The New Masquerade, Bàbá Geébú, Flaxton Boys, Fraggle Rock, Ifá Olókun, Some Mothers Do Have Them, Jolly Train, Fawlty Towers, Friday night Indian movies, The Village Headmaster, Òyìnbó Ajélè, Super Ted, Mirror in the Sun, Ilé Ìwòsàn, Schools Debate, Voltron, Rent-A-Ghost, We Can Tell You A Story, Kóòtù Asípa, Atom Ant, Do Your Thing and of course the ever-scintillating, Sesame Street.
Other indoor activities meant making our toys from paper, cardboards, newspapers, crayons (I remember the big, fat wax ones) and other materials. I had an indoor, self-built aquarium which was seeded with fishes I caught myself. Headrest and TV covers were knitted during our pastimes. House chores were apportioned and done without delay.
Outdoor activities were fun, likewise. We got our hands dirty on a farm, reared pets and livestock within premises that were not completely paved and heavily spotted with both crop and ornamental vegetation. Parents had interests in what we did and happened to us – school assignments were done with prompt supervision. We were not left alone to our own devices – when parents had to be absent, an older relative was always around to take care of us. Holidays were spent in rotation from one cousin’s to the other. Birthday parties were fun with jollof rice, moinmoin in abundance and Green Sands Shandy drink to go with. Souvenirs were toffee candy, whistle-shaped sweets, cabin biscuits, plastic miniature animals like gorillas, elephants, etc.
Both public and missionary schools served as the melting point where the wards and children of the society’s lofty and lowly shared common experience. Teachers were revered either out of respect, fear or both.
Manners were explicitly imbibed with ‘Thank You’, ‘Please’ and ‘Excuse me’ being regulars during conversations. We were taught to leave our seat for standing elderly either in a bus or a public waiting area. You dared not eat without a glass of water in close proximity. And of course, talking with one’s mouth full is often accompanied with appropriate punishment. If we had to eat in between meals, parents or guardians must be in the know. Being hard working, truthful and trustworthy were not negotiable. In fact, they were values to be proud of.
I am not attempting to sound like a grumpy, old fellow that had seen it all, but alas it is painful to witness how this endowed nation plunged into the abyss of subversion having savoured remnants of the “good, ol’ days”. Ours is a generation that was handed a country that was set on a journey with no clear destination or road map. At the moment, we are caught in a web of psychological confusion, mental frustration and economic agitation as we live in a contradiction of what we grew up learning and the present complexities of an incredibly materialistic, self-centred, insensate and hollow society.