I am a 38 year old Nigerian living in the UK and bringing up two sons (aged 10 and 7). My sons were both born in the UK and one of the issues that I am having to deal with is whether my kids will grow up being able to identify with Nigeria and its culture. In other words, will they see themselves as Nigerian first and British second? Will they appreciate Nigerian/African values? Or will they, sadly, become culturally and morally ‘lost’ to Nigeria.
I am sure that this is a concern that many Nigerians in the Diaspora are trying to deal with. In this article, I would like to make a few suggestions on how parents in a similar position as mine can deal with this issue by sharing the various ways that I have tried to address the problem in my own family:
1. The yearly pilgrimage to Nigeria – well maybe not yearly but as often as your finances can allow. This is a good opportunity for the kids to meet other members of your nuclear and extended family. It is very important for kids to know who their family are. The best time is Christmas. Christmas is the time when most relatives are back home from wherever they are in the world. I am proud to be able to say that my kids have never missed a Christmas in Nigeria.
2. Make them read books by Nigerian/African writers and books about Nigeria/Africa – My older son has read Chinua Achebe’s ‘Chike and the River’. (Is that book still in print? – I can hear some of you saying). Well perhaps it is no longer in print but I was able to get an old copy tucked away in the corner of one of the bookshelves in the home that I grew up in. Anyway, there are so many other books that are in print. If you live in London, visit the Africa Book Centre in Covent Garden. If you live outside outside London or outside the UK you may order from them on-line by visiting their on-line store on www.africabookcentre.com. Or you may visit www.amazon.com to order books by Nigerian writers. Reading books about Nigeria (fiction and non-fiction) will help children become familiar with Nigerian culture.
3. Insist that they practice common Nigerian courtesies – such as kneeling down or doing a full (or half) prostrate when greeting their elders. A handshake should never be enough when your children are greeting your friends who are fellow Nigerians. Also, important is that they address older people as ‘aunty’, ‘uncle’, ‘mummy’ or ‘daddy’. A practice which seems to be dying out amongst modern Nigerian families is that of addressing older siblings as ‘brother’ or ‘sister’. Please, please, please let us uphold such practices and continue to stress their importance to our children.
4. Ensure that they have a few (or many) native outfits – Have you ever walked down a street in Europe or America wearing a beautiful native gown which attracts other passers-by to approach you and ask where the gown is from and then you proudly tell them that it is Nigerian. This is the kind of attention that you want your children to attract. It is an opportunity for them to feel proud of their roots. This boosts their self-esteem and confidence.
5. Your sound system at home should be booming with juju, fuji, afro-beat, high-life Nigerian hip-hop etc – let the music sink in through their ears and skin into the depths of their souls. Music has the power to captivate and inspire the minds of those who listen to it especially children. Let your children grow up appreciating such music and sooner or later they will become emotionally attached to the source of the music which is our dear motherland. Every major city in Europe and America should have various music shops that stock afican music. Otherwise visit www.amazon.co.uk or http://www.amazon.com/ to order cds by Nigerian and African musicians.
6. What do your children eat? – What would you say is a typical meal in your home? Is it mashed potato with sausages and baked beans? Or fish and chips? If your children hardly ever eat eba or pounded yam or egusi then shame on you as a parent! Food produced in Africa is healthy, organic, free from additives or chemical fertilisers. So many children living in the western world are becoming obese because European diet consists of too much chemically processed food. Do you remember when you were growing up in Nigeria? How many children did you see around you who were obese? Children whose diets consist mainly of African food cannot become obese.
7. Send your children back to Nigerian for a few years of secondary schooling – My older son will be attending a boarding school in Nigeria next September after he turns 11 years old. Why? Because I am appalled at falling academic and moral standards prevalent in British state schools. I believe that such is the case in American state schools. I could have chosen to send him to a private school here in Britain. However, I discovered that Nigeria abounds with so many excellent private schools that offer the same standard of academic and boarding facilities as many of the best private schools in Britain. And private education in Nigeria is, on average, less costly than private education in Britain (even after you take into consideration the cost of travelling to and from Nigeria). Moreover, my son would have the opportunity to be exposed to the Nigerian culture and an environment where teachers enjoy absolute respect and authority, an environment in which children are not allowed to talk back to teachers, and an environment where children are expected to be high-achievers. If you decide that your children may benefit from education in Nigeria I recommend a visit to the website www.nigerianschoolsonline.org. This website provides links and contact details to many of the best private schools in Nigeria.
I hope that readers have enjoyed reading about my thoughts and experiences. I would like to hear from readers who want to share their own opinions and experiences about the issues I have raised in this article. Please email me: firstname.lastname@example.org.