(By Cosmas Odoemena)
“In the past, people went from childhood to adolescence and from adolescence to adulthood, but today there is a new, forced, intermediate phase as you go along the way. It is a new and separate life stage – a strange, intermediate never-never land between adolescence and adulthood in which people hang on for a few extra years, putting off the weight of adult responsibility. They’re betwixt and between. You could call them twixters.“
TUNDE, Uche, Ejiro, Ahmed, Omo, Ade and Ngozi are all between the ages of 24 and 35 years. Only three of them have a job, and even then they are still sending out their resume and attending any available interview in the hope of landing better paying ones. Two of them are doing a Master’s degree programme, while one is about rounding off his PhD programme.
Some still get pocket money from their parents, and from relatives who helped sponsor them in school. None of them is married. None of them has children. Some are putting up with friends, while the others live with their parents and relatives.
Thirty years ago, people like these did not exist. Before them, the average age for a Nigerian woman to get married was 20, and for men 25. As Lev Grossman asked in TIME magazine, “What are they waiting for? Who are these permanent adolescents, these 20 and 30 something Peter Pans? And why can’t they grow up?” In that thought-provoking issue, Grossman went on, “Everybody knows a few of them – full grown men and women who still live with their parents. This isn’t just a trend, a temporary fad or a generational hiccup. This is a much larger phenomenon, of a different kind and a different order.”
In the past, people went from childhood to adolescence and from adolescence to adulthood, but today there is a new, forced, intermediate phase as you go along the way. It is a new and separate life stage – a strange, intermediate never-never land between adolescence and adulthood in which people hang on for a few extra years, putting off the weight of adult responsibility. “They’re betwixt and between. You could call them twixters.”
For Nigeria, it could be that for this generation, their parents, who seem not to be complaining, are still in some sort of late phase honeymoon from vestiges of the oil boom. Their parents and the older generation who had things easy and indeed, who really enjoyed the oil boom themselves, can cut them some slack.
I am sure these ones will recall with nostalgia when the Nigerian naira could measure favourably with the American dollar; when you graduate you were sure of a job, a car loan and decent housing; when going overseas was not to escape hardship, but for educational and life experience; when Nigerians were respected abroad, and not seen as cons or corrupt people; when going to public schools meant value and dignity; when in Nigerian homes people could afford on a daily basis almost all Nigerian newspapers; when life was living, and living was life.
But based on natural progression, if Nigeria is to move forward, it has to be on those who have more years to live. Nigeria’s place in the foreseeable future rests squarely on the younger ones. They have to get on. But I am worried that this generation of Nigerian youths is not growing up because it can’t. All the economic, social and cultural wherewithal that usually help people grow from dependant to independent are no longer there. The Nigeria of today will not let Nigerian youths live their dreams.
In the past, when you enter a four-year programme in a university, it is a four-year programme. But nowadays industrial action by university academics and sometimes non-academics has made graduation date unpredictable. And upon graduation, there is no job waiting. To improve their employability, some go back to school to acquire higher degrees. But adding degrees after degrees costs precious time and money and further pushes adulthood into the future. Even with that, there is no guarantee that with these higher degrees the person will get a job.
Now, because many Nigerians are acquiring higher certificates, there has been a relative reduction in the value of degrees and diplomas. The last JAMB/UTME, 1.5 million people wrote it, seeking for few available spaces, while in the past people were encouraged with scholarships to go to university. The value of wages has as well depreciated. Most jobs available are the low-paying jobs where the take home on average for a graduate is N50, 000. Even then, most companies prefer those with OND, who they can pay even ridiculously lower still, stacking the cards even more against university graduates.
How far can that go when you factor in that a two-bedroom flat on average, depending on location, ranges from N250, 000 to N450, 000? And most Lagos landlords will still want you to pay at least a year and half rent, if not two or three years, with agency and agreement fees, never minding the new Lagos tenancy law. Transport fare is there, you have to pay the national electricity provider, PHCN, and, yes, money to fuel generator. Forget a car. You have to feed, you have to wear clothes. Even the minimum wage of N18, 000 government is reluctant to pay can go nowhere.
So, when you discuss marriage with such a person, as my dad used to say then, “he will parry your punches.” And as this generation marries late, it also means that they tend to have more sexual partners than previous generations. They are more prone to sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV. Yet, in Nigeria, paper qualification matters a great deal. But today a degree only places you where blue-collar people of the same age were 30 or 40 years ago.
Even then, the transition to adulthood gets tougher the lower you go on the educational and economic ladder. Companies and industries should increase exponentially with the increased turnover of skilled manpower. Instead, many are folding up, and many still are relocating to neighbouring countries. The increased number of graduates that should be an asset has been made a liability. And what should be strength has been made a weakness.
Furthermore, Nigerian government pays lip service to issues concerning its youths, and will not let them have a voice. Any sort of programme that government says is for the youth is usually paternalistic, anachronistic and hypocritical, another avenue to enrich themselves. For them, young people are objects rather than resources. If they are not used as political thugs, they are killed serving their fatherland. What hope for the youths whose society seems to suffer from ephebiphobia and adultism?
The adults have remained agents of youth suppression, and have systemically denied them economic power. Till today, there are many old men and women, who are on pension and have continually denied the younger ones job opportunities because, after normally retiring from active service, they have remained in the system on contracts, which they renew yearly. In politics, it is still the same old people that are recycled – spent forces that have their greedy paws on political appointments, committees and boards. Only death or incapacitation can wrench these off them.
But this should not be so. Inter-generational equity should be the norm. For Nigeria to achieve greatness, it must harness the great potential of her youths, who are indeed her future. The government and society must understand that they are morally responsible for helping the youths find their bearing. There should be jobs, social security, mentoring and easy access to credit at low interest rates. Indeed, it will take a society that strives for social justice; indeed, it will take leadership that sees the promise of the future!
• Dr. Odoemena, a medical practitioner, wrote from Lagos.
“Opinion pieces of this sort published on RISE Networks are those of the original authors and do not in anyway represent the thoughts, beliefs and ideas of RISE Networks.”