Ebere Onwudiwe and Okey C. Iheduru
You can quote us on this: you can take a Nigerian out of the village, but you can never take the village out of him. The later condition is a serious matter. Most Nigerian urban dwellers never really leave their villages in the Western sense of cutting links with rural life without nostalgia. For us Nigerians, no matter where we are or what we are, there is always the village to return to. This is a very good thing. However, it is inadvertently contributing to the death of the village in many ways. Today we are letting our precious villages go the way of our local languages and traditions” die slowly.
They have become so depopulated that only the aged, widows, youth and children and women whose husbands have migrated to the cities are left behind. The social structures and institutions that held the communities in the villages together have begun to crumble, thanks ironically to those of us who live in the cities, the urban villagers who occasionally return to the villages with streaks of modern lifestyles and attitudes that often undermine community norms.
As we all see during Christmas period, but also at Easter, Id El Fitr, Id El Malud and the end of Ramadan, there is a great migration by Nigerian urbanites back to their villages and hometowns where the well-to-do among them have erected modern homes with high fences and barbed wires. This is the situation in many parts of Nigeria .
In many villages, the children of these occasional returnees the urban children rarely interact with their poorer bush neighbors, the children of the villagers proper. The snob further exacerbates existing hierarchies and act as further impetus for unskilled out-migration to already over-crowded and inhospitable cities. When this happens, the village dies a little bit more.
Another thing killing the village is inattention. When they return in large numbers, urban villagers generally devote two or three days to village matters. They attend community meetings where they pledge money for this or that projects “water, light, roads and other amenities that the governments are elected to provide but never do. They impose sanctions on social deviants, on defaulters on community levies, and on unrepentant trouble-makers. These are necessary for maintaining the life of the village that means so much to all of us.
Soon after the New Year, however, the migration train is reversed as these urban villagers head back to the cities for another year of rat race. The dying village returns to its relative emptiness in young men and women although richer in gated compounds, water tanks, generators, showy automobiles and other ornaments of conspicuous consumption. Some empty homes of urban villagers are even guarded by foreign mai guards who neither understand nor do participate in the moral economy of the village.
At the end, the natives left behind in the villages are usually too old to enforce the sanctions made by the urban villagers before checking out. The others are frequently inexperienced, brash, and increasingly unskilled and un-educated youth. Nationally, we are told that a whopping 74 per cent of youth in the villages are unemployed. And here is the rub on national security.
In our country, frequent inter-communal conflicts, often lead to loss of lives and property. The causes of these conflicts are usually trivial, ranging from disputes over phone re-charge cards to livestock straying into a neighbor’s farm, and increasingly, these conflicts have been instigated by urban village politicians and acting warlords.
Some of the conflicts have become protracted and complex emergencies not only because of formal police incapacity, but because community conflict resolution institutions have collapsed as the moral economy of the village is eroded. More devastating is the menace of hard drugs and drug addiction “mostly marijuana “with these drugs now sold brazenly in almost every village, from Bonny to Kaura Namoda.
In combination with the disempowered of the village folk, this has proved to be a potent cocktail for the so-called youth restiveness, the caustic situation that has now evolved into militancy, multi-gang armed robbery, and lately into the despicable but lucrative business of kidnapping for ransom.
The Nigerian villagers who make their homes in the cities unconsciously undermine the very moral economy that feed their nostalgia for the village. They do this through mindless modernism and conspicuous consumption in the villages. They do this when they treat village children as lesser beings. In combination, this behavior of urban villagers are part of the forces that drive people of the villages and leave the youth who cannot leave with a fatalistic sense of helplessness.
It is not sufficient to engage in pious statements urging young people to behave well when we are inadvertently destroying the basis of community life in our villages.