Age is an important factor when it comes to social hierarchy in a society. It determines when an individual is deemed mature enough to drive, drink, smoke and be regarded as an adult. Moreover, in Africa’s cultural context , age acts as a standard/measurement for respect. From an economic perspective, age is a good indicator of ability. Especially considering that ability highly correlates with experience and experience/specialization typically comes with age. However, age becomes an erroneous judgment of one’s ability when it’s taken as the sole factor of assessment.
At a meeting where I was representing my organization, I got constantly ignored when materials were shared and contributions were being made. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I was the youngest there and that automatically meant I was filtered out like a computer virus. Several other similar cases later made me realize just how much Nigeria suffers from a serious case of adultism. Adultism is a specific form of ageism (prejudice based on age). Adultism refers to discrimination against young people. It’s the belief that adults are better than young people, and entitled to act upon young people without agreement. In Nigeria, your age in many ways determines how much respect you’ll be accorded, irrespective of your abilities. Such fanaticism on age leads to adverse political, social and economic consequences for Nigeria.
First, adultism in Nigeria causes an immense gap in the level of knowledge, training and experience passed from one generation to another. Nigeria has no internship culture and as a result, very few youths gain any real work experience. The average Nigerian youth will be having his first work experience during his NYSC year. And that depends on if he’s not simply asked to make tea or get food for the ‘Ogas at the top’. As a result, the foundation that could be developed during this formative years of the average youth goes to waste. Valuable experience to be passed on remains jealously guarded by Elders in an attempt to keep power. Eventually, each generation that comes loses more experience from subsequent past ones as each generation continues in the trend. For the mathematically-minded, this can be expressed as:
Generation (n+1)= E(n+1) – E(n)
What this shows is that for every generation that goes by, less knowledge is passed on to the next thanks to adultism.
Second, an insistence on excluding the youths leads to a process of fossilization and inflexibility. The older one gets, the more rigid one’s perspectives and way of thinking becomes. Ever heard the saying, “You can’t teach an old dog a new trick?” Yeah. It’s like teaching my Grandmother to be an expert computer hacker. In the midst of an ever-evolving and transforming world, it becomes easy for a homogeneously old group of leaders and decision makers to get left behind. Little wonder why the nation is still burdened by ancient and prehistoric policies. Still on that analogy, if I assisted my Grandmother, she would certainly pick it up faster than if she had to learn it herself. Likewise, the older generation could tap into the strength of the new one and progress faster than they would on their own.
Samuel Johnson says “Unburdened by old habits and prejudices, a mind in fresh bloom is poised to see the world anew and come up with fresh innovations—solutions to problems that have sometimes eluded others for ages.” Youths are simply more amendable to new skills, ideas and pattern of thought than the older generation. Need proof? Isaac Newton was 23 when he began inventing calculus; Albert Einstein published several of his most important papers at the tender age of 26; Werner Heisenberg pioneered quantum mechanics in his mid-20s. As a teenager, Steve Jobs interned at HP. Bill Gates started working on Windows during his 20s and Mark Zuckerberg worked on Facebook as an undergraduate. The list goes on and on.
No one’s saying that creativity dies with old age, rather, I’m attempting to emphasize the tremendous potential of youths: a potential that Nigeria stupidly wastes away. Instead of ideas that transform lives in Nigeria, we have youths in cults or youths that can only be bothered by what latest gossip Linda Ikeji’s got on her site. So rather than a productive youth population, we’re ending up with an unemployable youth population which simply leads to further justification for shelving the youth population to the side.
Moreover, the practice of adultism potentially explains why Nigerian leaders and in general, African leaders eschew a retirement plan during their ruling period. Adultism creates a cyclical system where the older generations have no incentive to support and eventually give way to the younger generations. Let’s put more clarity to this. During the period of time when the current older generation was the young generation, they were most likely marginalized and shelved to the side. Eventually, they got into power at an older age than was expected. So assuming the average individual expected to get into some position of leadership at 40, he got into such a position at 57 instead. Given that he just got it and plans to enjoy it as long as he can, he will not relinquish power any time soon. Thus, his own insistence on staying in power and thereby marginalizing the younger generation after him leads to the same cycle that continues on. This is why we still have dinosaurs who lack new or innovative solutions to issues ruling every sphere of the country. Also, it’s why we don’t see the irony in the PDP Youth Group being run by a 61 year-old man.
This dead and clichéd saying, “The Youths are the Leaders of Tomorrow” needs to be changed to “The Youths are the leaders of Today”. For Nigeria to have a tomorrow, today has to be assured. Our ‘today’ cannot be solely assured by an older generation that has failed in ensuring the growth of Nigeria. We simply cannot lead tomorrow when we haven’t been taught how to lead today.