“What the elders see while sitting the young ones standing on their toes won’t see”. ~ African Proverb.
I am Nigerian and African, and very well proud to be. We still boast of a very intact cultural and family system where a community’s smallest unit is the family comprising a male parent known as the father, a female parent known as the mother (could be more than one for a polygamous arrangement) and the children. Then we have the extended family, the immediate community and the whole society at large. We pride ourselves in this structure and the tenets that we hold as our core values and cultural heritage.
When the saying – charity begins at home – is used, it could also be intended to infer that you learn RESPECT from home. Respect, or reverence, for any family member or any other person older than you is a very fundamental value and crucial to law and order in our systems. Economic status notwithstanding, this is still held in high regards; even though power plays are influenced by people with a higher economic status. So it is common place for Nigerians and Africans to regard people older than they are and show them some form of humility. You don’t call them by their first name, atleast not without adding a prefix like bro, sis, uncle, aunty, sir, pastor, etc before their name. If they are much older, do not bother to call their name at all or you risk offending them. If he is old enough to give birth to you, or he has children already, just call him daddy, baba, elder or anything that shows you have regard for his seniority, ability to procreate, or having a child of your age at home. Well, you get the idea.
So, it is common place in our homes to show this respect, even if you don’t have it. Also, I could say unfortunately, it abounds in our workplaces too. But why the word unfortunate? This cultural value brought to the workplace has been substituted for other workplace values and ethics such as professionalism. Most times it is regarded first before core business values like integrity, objectivity, productivity, and the likes. It has now become the guise under which mediocrity can be safely celebrated. Unless an elder’s daily bread becomes at risk, it is of no consequence the issue at hand, you have to first give him/her that regard, then you address the issue. Also, it is not upto you to decide if he/she takes to your rebuke, advice or any required responsibility for the issue being addressed. The degree to which you show some respect is the extent to which you can get some audience to address the issue. So in order words, you can never call an elder out, especially if he/she is way older than you, no matter the issue, even if it is looting our national purse. And guess what? It doesn’t even have to be the elder chastising you for calling out your father’s mate – it could be your fellow workers or even the people you may be advocating for. You don’t have a case when when your respect for elders is questioned at all.
THIS IS A MAJOR PROBLEM!!!!!!!!
So here we are, very rich in cultural heritage, yet the same culture undermines our quest for a better life. We would rather uphold the culture than save our humanity. Corruption is so rife that it is the most thriving institution in Nigeria and Africa, yet the champions of these pilferies that have turned our nations into leaking buckets with gaping holes, who happened to be mostly senior citizens, can not be called out because you will be calling out an elder.
Or do you want to talk about the mediocrity that plagues the civil service since time immemorial? It is the order of the day! If you are PRODUCTIVE, VISIONARY, and have INTEGRITY…you are a huge PROBLEM to the system. You have to be insubordinate and disrespectful to possess those business values aforementioned. Infact, to view the Civil Service as a Business is a colossal mistake. That institution is just an extension of our cultural COMMUNITIES. Same goes for our public schools – primary and secondary. Excellence is over-rated. So if you are productive, visionary, objective – anything good, it’s simple – you are a virus, and the system will eject or crush you. This is the kind of legacy people grow up into as youths and children.
What about politics? Well at it’s most basic, here is the scenario: Now young people are crying saying we are #NotTooYoungToRun. It is amazing that one of the challenges this campaign will (and definitely has) encounter is, first, young people should not even speak where there are elders. And now you are demanding to run? What do you know? Well, that is the reality of the African youth. Whatever your perspective, skills, intellect as a young person, first you are a young person and should realise your place.
As a nation and as a continent, we are not ready to move forward. There is an abundance of sound minds, natural resources and land. However the primitive mentality of man, which manifests in the Nigerian and African context in form of systemic slavery, using the mechanisms of religion and culture, is used to undermine the voices and efforts that calls out the cancer eating us up, used to fuel bigotry across political, ethnic and religious lines and to impoverish the masses as a control measure to keep them on a leash. Our governance systems across sectors (unfortunately including the religious institutions) is best typified by the story of Stalin and the Chicken, sometimes as directly put, and most times subtly. If it ever comes, we need a revolution to create the kind of environment that can contain the kind of future we want…the type we deserve.