This generation eats the next
And so, among the Urhobos, ‘may you live a better life than your father’ is a standard prayer to an aspiring young man. It is accepted that the totality of a man’s life must come across as an improvement on the life that his father lived. By that rating, the opposite is somehow adjudged less than a fulfilled life. On the social scale, greater honour tends to go in the direction of he who improves on his father life than he who stands tall in the shadow of his father. I must add, however, that this does not replace the responsibility of the passing generation. If anything, the performance of the succeeding generation is a direct consequence of what the preceding generation did with its time. And this is the kernel of my outing today.
In Nigeria, the subsisting generation operates as if time will end with it. We so recklessly draw on the savings accounts of our children to service the greed of the moment. That is the reason the contractor feels no shame colluding with officials to circumvent the building of a classroom block for which money had been released to him. When this happens across board, a situation arises where children attend worse schools than their parents in spite of the relative expansion in time, space and all other indices of human progression. The fad today is for some delinquent adults, including persons who had and still have opportunity to make a difference, to congregate under old students associations and pontificate about fallen standards in the school system.
I ask; who caused the standards to fall? Is it the helpless children who were born into it and have been forced to swallow what is available or parents who decided to live better lives than their children? There was a time when universities in this country were among the best in the Common Wealth. In fact, the University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan, was rated the 7th best health facility in the Common Wealth, which included Britain, Canada, Australia and India. What then happened that, today, no Nigerian university is among Africa’s top 10, how much more the Commonwealth?
I return to the Urhobo cosmology. The land tenure system is a highly entrenched practice of inheritance among the people, such that the available land and its ownership structure is a product of systematic transmission of inheritance rights across generations. This, I hope is largely the practice everywhere in Africa. For instance, what I call my ancestral land in Oghara Agbarha-Otor is traceable to Odje Imoniekpo, the starting point of the Odje genealogy. I am fifth along the genealogy, yet my tiny place is assured because the generations ahead of me did nothing to obliterate the transmission of inheritance rights to the generations behind.
Even so, the conditions are fast changing and I cannot say for sure if the transmission shall continue for too long, as kindred detach from communal into self-feudalism. In other words, as excessive individualism erases every sense of common good, the tradition of ‘from father to son’ is dissolving even in traditional societies. We attack exhaustible resources as if they are renewable and in so doing we eat up the unborn generations. Today, there is a new occupation called sand dredging in the Niger Delta. Every person of average resources fabricates a dredger dumps into a stream to mine sand. Everywhere is a sand beach.
It is good business and government is turning a blind eye after collecting rent from operators. These people carry on as if they also have capacity to regenerate the environment and bring the intriguing network of flowing streams and rivulets to baseline conditions. The environment is under massive abusive and coupled with wide-spread seismic activities in the area, I fear what will be left of the Niger Delta in another 50 years.
There is simply no control on consumption. We chop and quench literally and then hope for some miraculous recovery of what has been eaten when tomorrow comes. Better tomorrow is not a guess work or some scene in Arabian movie that gets established by mere wish. It is a product of rational thinking and decision. It follows the same principle of investment which, simply put, is denial of consumption for the moment to create activities for bigger and more sustainable yield in the future.
Last week, youths came out protesting the current hardship in the country. They said the old generation should be blamed because mainly old people including the President have been in the commanding heights of the political economy. They spoke with statistics. Persons who built the Nigerian State and whom we address as founding fathers were in their 20s and 30s when they founded Nigeria. They actually wanted to know the task of nation building would get to them. No child revolts if he is well represented by the father. The impending youth revolt is a clear ‘no confidence vote’ on the old men and women that have been harvesting and do not have planting season in their farming calendar.
The story of Nigeria is also the story of unceasing conspiracies of an elite class to serve its purpose alone. They destroyed the rail so that their haulage business can thrive. They destroyed public electricity so that diesel and generator importation can continue. They truncated the refineries so that fuel importation and arising benefits of subsidy payments can go on. They destroyed tertiary education so that they can become successful proprietors of private universities. And they will foist on the nation a morbid political leadership so that they can be protected.
No investment is ever made for tomorrow. That is why our yesterday tends to be always better than our today just as our today, by the same measurement, will be better than our tomorrow. In other words, we are permanently on a retrogression mode. To me, the problem is more spiritual than otherwise. The starting point in Nigeria is to tell every man and woman that has opportunity to operate in the public space that a life lived to the benefit of others is much more fulfilling and meaningful than a life lived to the benefit of oneself.
I was in Starvanga, Norway in 2014 for the Offshore North Sea (ONS) oil conference. The Norwegian State oil company called Statoil (equivalent of our own NNPC) is a major operator in the North Sea. The other is the Anglo-Dutch oil company, Shell. A high ranking official of the Norwegian government said they, in Norway, understand that oil is a finite resource and as such proceeds from its exploitation are invested for the future generation and that the governing law allows the subsisting generation to spend on itself only 4% of the returns on investment. More or less, everything about the oil economy in Norway is saved for the future. The country has about $900 billion in Sovereign Wealth Fund even as fishing remains the prime occupation and foreign exchange earner.
Back home, we have nothing to give our children because the subsisting generation eats the next and it has been consistently so. Let politicians, civil servants, business people, militants and terrorists agree that life will continue after their activities. If we love and genuinely wish our children to live better than we are living, we should as a matter of duty cut down on our current obscene consumption and invest in our tomorrow. The Good Old Days! The unborn days could be better!