My cousin and I recently visited the site of my uncle’s new house, and as we sat in the shade watching the goings and comings, Olamide’s Voice of the Street filtered to our hearing from the phone of one of the bricklayers working. My uncle listened for a few moments and then said “what is the meaning of this? Is this singing or just talking?” When he said that, my cousin and I glanced at each other, we knew what would follow. My uncle didn’t disappoint either, he proceeded to give us a lecture about how music was much better during the time they were growing up (in the 1970’s that is) because artists then were more creative rather than the meaninglessly lewd and violent lyrics that musicians spurt out these days.
However this piece is not about Olamide, or about musicians and entertainers for that matter. It is actually about another aspect of the “good old days” that is so quick to come to the mouths of the older generation when the issue of current society is being discussed. Academics, political activists, even young people all wistfully point to the period mostly in the 60’s, 70’s and the early 80s when Nigeria was often described to be a utopia for anybody who wanted to go to school to study. My dad for instance is always quick to tantalize me with the lack of overcrowding, the creature comforts, and the high standard of teaching that they enjoyed in the universities of their time, and (of course the lack of ASUU strike) compared to today” when the labour market is overcrowded, and certificates have no value”. The song on everybody’s lips seems to be “how we wish the good old days were here again.” I can understand why my father for instance wants to go back to the time when, he had a full head of hair and he didn’t have to worry about the wave of requests for books, that will inevitably assail him at the beginning of every school term, or why my mom wants to go back to a time she was capable of attracting whistles from passersby, the time before she gave birth to five children and all the “figure 8” went down south. However when young people my age who have never experienced any other time period, express the same sentiment, it really gets on my nerves. For us who are in the millennial generation (late 80’s till date), it makes us wish we had never been born.
So you want to go back to the good old days? I wish you luck. At last you will enjoy the creature comforts they claimed to have enjoyed, and easily get a job. But remember that even if you are lucky to have every member of your nuclear family educated, chances are that most of the members of your extended family won’t be, and thus you must be prepared for requests to help care for the thirteenth child of the seventh wife of your fourth uncle. You must be prepared for the relatives who would pointedly tell you: “is this all you have to give me? Aren’t you a graduate or don’t you have a job?” If you are unlucky to be the first to go beyond secondary school in your family (as was mostly the case in that time period) that’s even worse, because with your graduate degree, you will be inevitably be expected to pay for the marriage of your father to his tenth wife and all the eight children she’s going to give birth to (what is the essence of the good old days, if not the good old polygamy and the absence of the bad young family planning?). After all, you are a graduate, you have a job and you earn “loads” of money. And why should you try to stop him? It was the “good old days” anybody could have any number of children they wanted. If you think I’m exaggerating, sit your father down and ask him, why he never goes to your hometown. I am sure you will find out that it is not because he thinks the mosquitoes are too strong for your frail skin. Ask your father why Baba” Something” and Mama “Something” never come to visit, and you will find out it is not because they have leprosy or AIDS.