by Pius Adesanmi
There is a certain Nigerian demographic that is being raised by my generation. All of a sudden, the kids of many of my course mates in the University are now undergraduates. My generation is raising Nigerians in the 17 – 25 year-old bracket. Millennials.
I have called them the orphaned generation because they have been left to their own devices at too many levels owing to the complete collapse and atrophy of Nigerian society and nation.
My generation could still peep into the political public sphere and bask in the symbolism of credible and worthy role models. Today’s millennials have no such luck as the Nigerian political public sphere is peopled exclusively by unprincipled brigands and Ishola Oyenusis occupying political office and every space of public symbolism.
If you are working for a political office holder today and making politically correct noise to defend them on social media, chances are that in the safety and privacy of your bedroom and your conscience, you will never be able to brandish your principal to your children as a role model.
My generation also enjoyed superior, ethical, visionary, informed, principled, and purposeful parenting on a very broad basis. I understand that there is a risk of generalization here but it is a risk worth taking in the service of contrast with the sort of parenting we are providing to today’s millennials. I think there are fundamental principles we received from our own parents that we are now failing to pass on to the new demographic we are now parenting in Nigeria’s tertiary institutions.
Of course, I am a funky, in-touch, cosmopolitan pragmatist. I would be the last to recommend an unmodified transfer of the parenting manual of our own parents to the new generation.
I am the first to always advise my own mother, Mama Adesanmi, that she has to modify her relationship with today’s millennials; that she cannot just copy and paste the methodology with which she raised me and my generation at Titcombe College while trying to train and discipline millennials (her grandchildren’s age) in Isanlu today. I tease her that her parenting methodology is old school lapel and she must receive training in how to relate to today’s kids from me because I have those millennials aplenty on social media and I am more in tune with their psychology than her.
In essence, I am aware of the need to raise today’s kids in today’s circumstances with today’s tools and methodology. However, this should not translate to a wholesale jettisoning of the fundamentals of parenting that we received from our own parents.
Consider the case of work ethic. What exactly should be old school about the work ethic, the conceptualization of hard work, honest labour, toil and grind, and swotting that our parents passed on to us? That is how we were raised. Why is this philosophy of work ethic not being passed on to the generation that we are raising today? Mama Adesanmi’s work ethic should not be old school lapel. We should be able to pass it on to today’s millennials.
If the work ethic of the millennial is appalling, abysmal or even non-existent, the reason is to be found in the sort of parenting that my generation is providing. It is terrible. Consider the case of the education sector. Nigerian tertiary education has moved from rot to total collapse. University, Polytechnic, and College of Education students have been at home for so long some of them will need driving direction to their own campuses whenever they eventually resume. All around, I see millennials who have zero clue what to do with all the free time on their hands and I put that down to disengaged, uninvolved parenting.
As an undergraduate, there was no year I did not spend a minimum of two to three months at home due to ASUU, NASU, and other assorted aluta strikes. First rule of Baba Adesanmi’s parenting methodology: school closure due to strikes is never an excuse for your education or personal development to stop. For every ASUU strike, I had to come up with a reading and study programme which he supervised meticulously. He was constantly on the lookout for all kinds of conventions, seminars, and other activities of personal and intellectual development that I would attend.
Baba Adesanmi would contact and write letters to Professors he knew in faraway Universities – ABU, UI, University of Ife – to ask about opportunities I could productively engage in during the strike: “my dear Professor so and so, your son, Bola, is at home because Unilorin is currently closed as you know. I was wondering if…” Productive engagement of my time during strikes and school closures was crucial to my father’s methodology of parenting. I was never allowed to transform school closure into an alibi for indolence, laziness, or fatalism.
My work ethic, rigour, and incipient sense of pertinent initiative were not to be affected by strikes. Baba Adesanmi would not tolerate that. Engaged parenting ensured that these things remained intact.
Today, knowledge is borderless, democratic, and free because of the dynamics of the global knowledge economy but I look around me and I see a demographic grounded by tertiary education strikes; grounded and lost because they mostly do not know how to rise above the strictures and limitations of their immediate circumstances; they do not know these things because of parental disengagement. Strikes become an alibi and an excuse for far too many of them.
Recently, Bamidele Ademola-Olateju and yours truly launched the Sahara Reporters’ Education Café in Lagos. Our target: University undergraduates. We had space for only thirty students and we stated that very clearly in the advertisement. The ad went out on our Facebook Walls as well as the combined Twitter and Facebook accounts of Sahara Reporters boasting nearly five million followers. Our mission: teach participants how to navigate the resources of the global knowledge economy for your personal development and education for free.
You are a LAUTECH student and His Excellency Constituted Authority has grounded you at home for months in Ibadan. Are you aware of all the free online courses at Harvard, Yale, Columbia, etc, that you can stream and follow for free to grow your knowledge base? Are you aware of the knowledge hubs and cafes that you could join for free in order to rub minds with your peers in Europe, North America and Asia via streaming? Are you aware of how to navigate these opportunities and maximize them? What to do with them? How to acquire and instrumentalize the skills and resources of the new global knowledge economy?
Bamidele and I went to the venue of the event with very concrete resources we were going to share with participants.Because we are both social media public figures, we easily filled the room to capacity.
However, our audience was made up exclusively of postgraduate students, Lagos-based professionals and social media admirers eager to benefit from resources we had designed exclusively for undergraduates. Only two undergraduates were in the audience. We went ahead and had a fantastic time with our audience but I kept thinking about all those Unilag and LASU undergraduates. I kept thinking of all those Polytechnic and College of Education kids in Lagos.
Most importantly, I kept thinking of all the parents of undergraduate millennials that Bamidele and I have combined on our Walls. Such a well-advertised, unbelievable learning opportunity with resources for free during endless strikes? Bamidele and I had gone to the event expecting not only to meet undergraduates but their parents who had taken the pain to invest the time in coming with them.
In my undergraduate years, Baba Adesanmi would have borrowed money to buy petrol for his car and personally driven me from Isanlu all the way to Lagos to attend such a programme and interact meaningfully with the facilitators.
If you are parenting a millennial in any of our higher institutions, here is a warning and an admonition: his or her work ethic is your responsibility. It is still malleable. And, I’m afraid, you’ve got competition from corrupt politicians and public officials for your child’s time.
You will either shape that work ethic the way your own parents shaped yours or a Governor/Senator/Rep with a very long EFCC rap sheet will move in and shape your child’s work ethic for you via social media.
Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija
Pius Adesanmi, a professor of English, is Director of the Institute of African Studies, Carleton University, Canada