The family is the basic unit of every society. Each society is made up of many families. Therefore, the welfare or survival of the nations rests on that of the individual families.
As a unit, the family carries out some specific functions for the survival of the society. Within and outside the family, individual family members also carry out specific functions. As a result of these roles played by the individual family, any change, be it positive or negative that affects the society as a whole will definitely affect the families in general. Nigeria, as a developing country, in the years past and presently has experienced some significant changes in her search for survival. To enumerate these significant changes in the status of families in the Nigerian society, I will first of all explain the concepts: Family and Status.
Imperatively, right from the beginning of creation, God knew that man He intends creating will not live in a vacuum. As a result of this, He first of all made heaven and earth. In addition, God created other things like the moon, stars, sun, plants and animals, land, sea, vegetation, etc. For the fact that God did not want the earth He created to remain empty, He made a beautiful garden known as ‘The Garden of Eden.’ Furthermore, He created man named (Adam) and later gave him a wife named (Eve) to inhabit this beautiful garden. The Garden of Eden, in this context, became man’s first environment. Man’s relationship with his immediate environment started even before the biblical garden of Eden, it goes into the heart of Africa’s original discourse, those intentional shrouded from modern history. As a result of this search for survival, Eve ate the forbidden fruit and subsequently gave some to her husband. From that day till today, man has continued to interact with his environment in search of how to satisfy his unlimited wants, needs and desires.
DEFINITIONS OF FAMILY
The concept family has been given different definitions. Some of these definitions are as follows: Family is a group of two or more persons related by birth, marriage or adoption and residing together (Lasswell and Lasswell, 1987).
Family is the primary social invention that shapes us into human beings. Families are prominent feature of every society. Families are molded by society into functional forms and they contribute greatly to the success of the society to which they belong to. Families prepare citizens, nurture and sustain adults who are engaged in the day-day business of the society. Thus, in a nut shell, the family is made up of a group of persons united by ties of marriage, blood or adoption and characterized by common residence and economic cooperation. The family is often composed of a man, his wife and children.
STATUS: The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary defined Status as the social, legal or professional position of someone, state or country in relation to others. The family as a unit ascribes a position to its members in the society in terms of kinship, nativity, citizenship, socio-economic level and others. Thus, the family helps its members to achieve a sense of belonging.
THE NIGERIAN FAMILIES AND ITS CHANGING STATUS
The Nigerian society, over the years, has undergone through some developmental stages. These developments emanated as a result of Western education and influences from the cultures of other countries.
The Nigerian families as the basic unit on which the survival of the country depends is not left out of these developmental stages and changes. Hence, there have been some significant changes in the economic, social and cultural backgrounds of the Nigerian families and these are enumerated under the following sub-headings:
1. ECONOMIC FACTORS
(I) Agriculture: The family provides the requirements needed by members of the family, such as food, clothing, shelter, education, etc. This role was predominantly the responsibility of men who are by nature, the overall head of their families and breadwinners. As a result of this, the men engaged in the act of marrying many wives (polygamy) and producing many children in order to have more human labour to assist them in their farm works that was then the main source of livelihood of almost all the members of the families in the Nigerian society.
Today, the reverse is the case, though agriculture is still the main stay of the Nigerian society, it is no longer being done by human labour alone, rather mechanized agriculture is now being practiced and the traditional method that involved mainly human labour is gradually dying off. This has immensely contributed to the reduction of the practice of polygamy among the Nigerian families.
SOCIAL FACTORS: The socialization of every member of the society is basically the responsibility of the various individual families. The social aspect of members of the families in the Nigerian society has experienced great changes in following areas:
(i) Formal Education: In the past, formal education in Nigeria was given to only the masculine genders while the feminine genders were denied the opportunity. They were forced to marry early and engage in early pregnancy that led to the teeming population of our country Nigeria. Today, the reverse becomes the case. Both the masculine and feminine genders have been given equal right to go to school and receive formal education.
(ii) COMMUNICATION: In the past, means of communication among family members in Nigeria was a very big problem. For instance, people travel long distances to pass information to other members of their various families. At times, they are involved in accidents on their way. Today, information technology has brought a tremendous change to the incommunicado of the past years. Therefore, families, friends and relations can now pass information among themselves within few seconds.
(iii) SHELTER: Some years back, families in the Nigerian society were living in poorly ventilated thatched houses but today standard of living of families has improved significantly. Most families no longer live in thatched houses rather they now live in well ventilated, and well furnished modern houses.
(iv) MODERN HOUSEHOLD EQUIPMENT: In the past, some families were living in abject poverty. Women carry out their responsibility of food preparation for the family mainly with the use of firewood. Today, the reverse is the case food preparation is now being done with the use stoves, gas cookers, electric cookers, micro-wave ovens, etc. In addition, the list average Nigerian families have television sets, video sets, radios, refrigerators, etc. These facilities have indeed improved the living standard of members of families in the Nigerian society.
(v) WOMEN LIBERATION: In the past, women were being looked upon as second class citizens. They were married into various homes just for the sake of child bearing, manual labour, food preparation and some other odd jobs. They were not consulted by their husbands during decision making of the family. As a result of Western Education and influences from other cultures, the Nigerian women have been liberated. They can now contribute not only to the decision making in their various families but also to the society at large. Women now are involved in politics and are allowed to occupy some important political positions.
CULTURAL FACTORS: Culture is the totality of a people’s way of life. No society exists without culture. Therefore, the Nigerian society and her families are not left out. Some cultures have positive or negative effects in every society. For instance as a result of influences from Western Education and cultures of other nations, some cultures that have adverse effects on the Nigerian families have been discarded. Some of these cultures are as listed below:
(i) The Killing of twins: Some years back, the birth of twins to any Nigerian family was a taboo. The babies were thrown into evil
forests to be devoured by wild animals. In some communities even the women that gave birth to these babies were ostracised from their marital homes. Nowadays, this negative culture has been discarded as a result of foreign influences.
(ii) The ‘Osu Caste System’: This refers to a socially created inequality. In the past, especially in Igbo land, these groups of people were discriminated to the extent of not buying nor selling in the same market square with their counterparts. This culture adversely affected some Nigerian families but in recent times, it has been discarded by most Nigerian communities. Though, some remote communities still practice it.
(iii) Marriage: In the past, it was culturally right for parents to detect for their children whom to marry. At times, the marriage was even contracted without the consent of both parties. Presently, children have the right to make choices for themselves.