The Economic Consequences of Adultism in Nigeria


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.

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  • Your last question got me laughing. I’ll tell you what they do alright, chop money! And as for the 61 year old youth leader, that’s just hilarious. I guess he’ll say age is just a number and he’s still a youth. Ha.
    It’s very clear that the reason Nigeria is stuck wayyy back in time is because we have leaders at most levels who are ancient. It’s sad that most young people are not given opportunities to really work and gain the needed experience and exposure. Most offices recruiting always ask for a minimum of 3 years working experience. The question then becomes, how does one even gain that experience. The NYSC like you rightly noted ought to be the major window of opportunity for young people to work, rather most of the corpers when they aren’t being sent on random errands are merely ignored. That’s the reason some would resume work at 10:00am and leave at 2:00pm; there’s simply nothing for them to do.
    Indeed the older generation must begin to give room for the younger ones to begin to flap their wings a little bit so that when that future comes, we would be strong enough to fly. It is also pertinent to note however, that young people must not abusive privileges given to them to serve. I’ve seen it happen a number of times.
    Great piece. I’m off to share 🙂

  • Anonymous

    Rather than give room for innovative youthful inputs in the working of society, they tame us by encouraging skill acquisition and empowerment programmes, to ensure their continued hold on to the system. Valid as the advise seems, if all of us run SMEs, who mans the big corporations, bureaucracy, etc. in the near future?

    • yeah, very good question! I guess we keep managing the SMEs till we’re “old enough” to manage the big corporations, the bureaucracy and indeed the political scene too! 🙁

    • Haha! At least they’re even putting something on the table. But then, it’s easy to see it as a means of sidelining the youths.

  • Agbon Oche

    hahahahaha…reminds me of earlier this month when Sure-P came to inspect our section of d abj-lokoja dualization… I wasnt on the reflectors as the ministry engrs..cos i was represntin the consultant to the project…I noticed the way all those old eyes kept staring @ me…Wheb the entourage was to leave one of dem still asked the E-R if I was actually an engr here or a student…lol

  • Ayo

    Timely .

  • This piece is great by itself. Next time, ask mommy to use a proxy to spread the word. That way, you’d get the full merit of your work without her shadow cast over it. And then, you suffer bias.

    Now, while you’re unforgivably right in most of your assertions, You might wanna check and critique the knowledge gap. The generation just ahead of us – our parents – know infinitely more about the things we consider obsolete. Unfortunately, those obsolete things are the very bedrock of our Internet-age civilisation. So if we jettison the old guard due to adultism or ageism, what’s your offer as to how we can and should acquire the requisite knowledge we obviously don’t have?

    How do you propose we fill the knowledge gap? How do propose the Youth imbibe a culture of learning the ropes in order to become better managers of selves, institutions, systems et al? I’d say we join forces with people like Oby Ezeks – permit me to call her that – and her well-meaning friends to learn, first of all, their mistakes and how to avoid them. Furthermore, those of us, like you and I, who were constantly battered into victory by rising above the age stereotypes need to let our peers and contemporaries know that pace isn’t an advantage where caution is permanently required. Patience and gradual progress aren’t vices. We lack those as Youth. Perhaps, it’s why we are scarcely trusted to lead at all, let alone well. Because those two qualities are inalienable of a Good leader.

    • Ha. I understand what you’re saying. For me though, the priority is spreading the word, the merit I get from it ranks lower. So with that, I use the most effective ways I can find to spread it, even if it means going through mom. 😀

      And yeah. I think you might have misunderstood my point on the knowledge gap. The knowledge gap exists because youths lack mentors in the older generation and the older generation alienates the youths. The most optimal option would be a synergy of knowledge between the old and the young. The old, bringing their invaluable experience and the young bringing their innovative mindset. Both come together to create something beautiful.

      And you’re most certainly right about patience and gradual process. A bird isn’t pushed to fly as soon as it hatches. It takes a gradual process. Likewise, as youths, we must all learn patience. However, the bird that sits still and isn’t aware when it’s its stage to fly stays stuck in the nest and will one day starve to death.

      • Chijioke Ezeh

        I almost prefer your response to the main article. I believe the synergy will work better for us than the us-and-them approach. I’ve been working for 13 of my soon to be 34 yrs and I’ve seen the great divide between us and them.

        Our generation is very flossy and superficial but they’re bloody dogged and believe extra-firmly in hard work. We’ve transitted from hard to smart work but only in the words and far from the action. They’re not blind and see these things. We’re frustrated at their reluctance and resort to distancing ourselves from them.

        I guarantee that they wanna reach out to us and we desperately wanna be reached out to, too. In addition to the synergy, I’d further that we weigh in on what we taught to do as kids as opposed to what we have learnt as youths. That way, we’d really focus on LEARNING good and not just becoming the mistakes that we criticise.

  • Tope

    Age is not wisdom.gray hair is gray hair, not intelligence. Experience can be a guide but not the best teacher.our culture is good but not perfect in this area.I want to suggest that our generation should raise better generation without autocratic and underrating mentality and actions.our children should be given right foundation for them to follow their instincts and act their minds as I enjoyed from my father.most developed countries economy are being driven btw age 15 and 35. Obama,cameron,sackozy etc assumed power as president and prime ministers in there early 40s. Bush’s son is coming out for president in US while the grandfather is still alive,3rd generation in a lineage.the reverse is d case here.we should not give up.our youths need to be enlightened and motivated to demonstrate excellence via inventions and innovations that will daze the adults.I agree with you guys about adults’ reactions to youths but I personally showed them when it happened to me with no sense of inferiority and without being rude or rebellious.Thanks for this wondeful piece.God bless you

  • Akin

    Very true. Imagine grandpa Anenih at the Ports. Its a huge laugh. As for your question on the min. of youth etc. they do what our rulers do best;appropriate money and share it. Have a wonderful week.

  • So NYSC doesn’t do NYSC? I recall them being different bodies. :/

  • Bros, you hv the most interesting and thought provoking website i hv seen since last year!
    Your website and post was mentioned on air this morning & i believe u wud go places.

    • Wow. Thanks a lot! I’m really glad you find it educative. I was tuned in on it. The discussions were pretty good. Thanks a lot for your support. 🙂

  • ogo

    Its a very sad situation and needs to be addressed asap, this mentality has eaten deep into our system. A youth has no voice,his or her opinion doesn’t count no matter how brilliant it may sound. A situation where a youth is sent on all sorts of degrading errand instead of allowing him/ her to contribute meaningfully to the organisation. This age syndrome has destroyed our value system and simply given the older ones the opportunity to kill emerging dreams and enthusiasm. God help us.Good write up bro

  • Leah

    Soooo true bro!

    Amartya Sen explained that poverty is currently seen merely through the standard criterion of low incomes however poverty should be seen as the deprivation of basic capabilities and therefore if youth is handcuffed just because of ageism then they’re deprived of their very capable mind and voice. The bigger problem is that this ‘ageist’ belief is a mentality catered to the mean of society. As you write, it assumes that only age and thus life-experience is the tool measuring our capability but obviously that’s not true! However, if it is indeed still true for the average then how do you revamp the system in a manner that incorporates outliers? Or, would you do a reshuffle of the entire structure?

    This is a super hot topic especially in business school. As we’ve entered the tech generation, the question becomes: how do you shake-up old established companies to ensure that they remain competitive in this new environment of disruptive technologies? Same with your comment above, how do you change societal, social and/or governmental structures that are well-established and cemented in believed decorem to ensure that a youthful voice is heard and therefore the system remains competitive and successful- thereby incorporating new, innovative and, at times, disruptive beliefs?

  • Damz

    I think the equation is supposed to be:

    Generation (n+1)= E(n+1) – E(n)

    Generation (n-1) is actually two generations away from Generation (n+1)

    😀

    • Wow. Of course! You’re right. Was waiting for someone to correct me on that. It’s two generations removed. Didn’t notice that. Thanks for correcting me on that. I’ll change it ASAP. Cheers!

  • Gerald ibeh

    That is just the truth of the matter in nigeria situation, but i thank God that we have started discovering our lapses if we can accept it.

  • The only value some youth corpers and IT student can add in organisations may be the menial task as they are not prepared for anything else. Common in ministries and the huge organisations that are like government setups.
    The good ones float to the top and are given useful work to do
    Others value their BB chat and FB more than learning anything remotely useful
    Bottom line is that you have to earn your position and be ready to fight to be recognised, then nobody pushes you around irrespective of age.
    Those who were not taught this early enough are entering real life with a HUGE disadvantage

    • hmmmn. When I started reading your comment, I drew my “battle axe” ready to hammer you head until I read through it completely. lol. You actually do have a point. There are corpers that just stay in offices and facebook or chat on bbm all day. It’s sad but I guess that’s what makes the staff in such organization look down on them. You actually do have to distinguish yourself for anyone to recognize you. You cannot go to an organization with nothing to add and expect that they would “magically” determine that you’re responsible.
      You must note however that because of the terrible acts by their predecessors in some organizations, some of these corpers and I.T students aren’t even given an opportunity to prove themselves.

  • Anonymous

    Enough of analysis! We need to practice all these ideas. We have to work the talk and we can make a change in our generation.