An editor once referred to the 1980’s as better than present times. Ironically, the rapid technological advancement of the present time evolved from the desires to make life better and more comfortable. But how much of these truly affect the lives of the ordinary Nigerian.
Back in the glorious years of old, education was something every Nigerian looked forward to and could afford. Though the schools were fewer than what presently obtains, everything was done to encourage enrolment and delivery of qualitative education to the citizens. This included that grant of bursary. Government at that time approved the bursary for almost every child especially for indigent from poor background. The grant usually covered the school fees and some “change” as pocket money to take care of some personal expenses of the child. In those old days, attention was also given to the academic requirement of the students in addition to their personal welfare. Books were always made available for free.
Today, what obtains in our education sector is more of the shadows of the old. With more revenue accruing to the government, most of the policies and actions taken towards the welfare and quality education are empty promises. The indigent students are not properly encouraged in the schools as bursary granted by most of the states is not even enough to cater for the fees less any personal expenses. The high rate of unemployment has taken away vacation jobs enjoyed by the hardworking students of the old. In those years, students spent their vacations meaningfully by engaging in short term jobs to raise money for the school sessions.
The issue of the moment is no longer that of free books but how many modern books could be found in the libraries. The hostels in most of the schools including in some universities are so dilapidated and unfit for decent studies. Most of the infrastructures have collapsed.
Given the decent and conducive learning conditions of the old, any student that failed to perform well would only be fit to be thrown into the lagoon.
Besides, in those old days child training was the responsibility of all parents in the community. In a typical Igbo and Yoruba communities for instance, training of children were for both the man and his wife in the family as well as for the neighbours. The neighbours often look after the younger child when the parents were too busy with other chores. It was not strange to see a man disciplining a child who is not his own. If a child turns out to be bad, all the parents in the community were accountable for that and if a child turns out to be successful, it was the joy of all the parents in the community. Children were the pride of all in the community. So, kids that had no longer had parents enjoyed the privilege of assistance from other families while couples without a child too pride in those of their neighbours. There was no fear of kidnapping, neighbours molesting kids or food poisoning by one parent, everyone lived in peace and understanding.
Moving from one place to another was safer and less hassle in those days than now. Though there were less number of roads and fewer vehicles, but these were better maintained. Orderliness was easily the observed and established rules and regulations designed for safety in the roads were obeyed by all users. Then motorcyclists knew his limits and didn’t need to fear being knocked down by any motorist. The sharp increase of traffics has come without commensurate improvement in the roads. Disregard for safety rules and poor conditions of the roads have resulted in frequent accidents and carnage with the attendant loss of lives. By the mid-1990s lack of investment had left most of the roads to deteriorate.
At the family level, children were always treated to decent and meaningful orientation about life and their culture. All cultural groups in Nigeria have its own tale of where their ancestors came from. These differ from tales of people descending from the sky to stories of exodus from far-off places. There were also the old tradition of masquerades, festivals, and storytelling. Masquerades, which emphasized costume and dance rather than dialogue, were a key instrument of social control and political observations, especially in traditional south-eastern Nigerian cultures. In the southwest, Alarinjo, a court masquerade and professional popular plays, was common, especially in the 14th-century Oyo kingdom. The traditional Ozidi dramas of the southern Ijo took three days and nights to perform, after several years of practice. The theatrical traditions of the northern Hausa, still practiced today, include the performances of travelling minstrels known as ‘yan Kama’and public ceremonies of the ‘bori’ spirit cult. In the middle belt area is the Tiv’s Kwagh-hir, being an amalgamation of traditional masquerades, puppets theatre, acrobatics, dancing and music reputed of the rich tradition of communication and entertainment in the community. Today we find that most children know nothing of their cultural heritage less speaking of their local languages.
Clothing often represents the cultural and religious affinity of any people. It also define the social status in the society. Muslim men wear long, loose-fitting attire called caftan with colourful embroidery hats or (among traditional officials) turbans. The Christians are mostly given to the western styles of shirts and trousers as well as their traditional attires. Most Yoruba men also wear elaborate gowns and hats called fila. Many Nigerians in the south wear casual Western-style dress. Women wear wrappers round garments or dresses, typically made from very colourful materials, and beautiful head-ties (gele) that are usually fashioned into elaborate patterns. This kind of clothing is still very pronounced among older Nigerians but gradually declining among the youths due to competition from wears like jeans, suits and tops.
Communal and personal hygiene are other areas that have greatly declined over the years. In the time past, residents including the landlords were arrested for not keeping their residential areas clean or not planting flowers to beautify the environment. Sanitary officers commonly referred to as “wolewole” by the yorubas made sure that defaulters pay fine. Nowadays, we find dirt everywhere even in the hospitals environment, people peeing by the roadsides and more. Very few people live clean.
History is a memorial of the succession of time. Each generation imagines itself to be more intelligent and better than the past, perhaps also wiser than the one that comes after it. But the truth remains that much more is needed from the present to improve over the past.
Finance Estate, Wuye, Abuja