Let us start this discourse with a light-hearted and brief look at the two main schools of thought which bifurcate the categorial heart of social anthropology as a contemporary field of intellectual enquiry, namely: the nature verses the nurture school. The Nature school holds that human beings as social animals are primarily influenced and shaped by genetics or heredity. In other words, what we turn out to become in life is as a result of biological determinism. That is to say, if your father is an armed robber, like the infamous Anini of the Nigeria criminal lore, you are most definitely going to turn out a chip off the old block; a gentleman of the highway. Your fate has been inscribed in the stars. Accept it like a man. On the other hand, the Nurture school of thought argues to the contrary, to wit: your earthly estate, your destiny on this side of the grave is a direct consequence of how you are raised, an ineluctable outcome of your social conditioning, your environment. Thus, if your mother is a harlot like Moll Flanders but you end up being raised in a morally-healthy environment, say, a parsonage, then you would grow up, sloughing off, like a molting snake, your depraved inheritance, your accursed DNA and imbibe the noble family and social values of your Christian habitus. To be sure, this latter persuasion is piquantly dramatized by the “mad logic” of the Gospel as memorably monumentalized by Chinua Achebe in Things Fall Apart, notably in the tear-jerking episode in which Nwoye, Okonkwo’s first son, repudiates the ancestor worship of his animist clan, Umuofia, to wholeheartedly embrace Christianity, the disarming method in the overwhelming colonial madness. Although, Nwoye did not understand the message of salvation but the alien faith broke the shackles of benumbing superstition under which he had existed like one drifting desultorily in half-sleep. Nwoye’s new faith transformed his life, giving him a new-fangled handle on reality and experience. Nwoye’s the miracle of grace, and this is the enabling element of Nurture, of environmental determinism. Again, the persuasive argument of nurture or environment over the claims of blood or sheer biologism is eternally sketched in fictive terms by Emily Bronte in her novel entitled Wuthering Heights. Mr.Earnshaw, the Yorkshire householder, chances upon an infant on a deserted road, abandoned to die by its helpless parents for reason(s) the novelist does not vouchsafe. The Good Samaritan adopts and raises the foundling called Heathcliff in his mountaintop home, unseasonably buffeted by rough winds and tempests. The point is, Heathcliff’s home is located strategically on the craggy ramparts of an eminence called “Wuthering Heights” whereas at the feet of the mountain is an earthly swathe of Edenic plenitude, an Arcadian idyll in which a genteel family, the Lintons, live, distinguished by the trappings of politeness and privilege. Whilst Heathcliff exemplifies all the boorish and loutish disposition of brutish nature, his counterpart, Linton comes across as a prim and proper gentleman, refined in taste and deportment. What Emily Bronte, the 19th-century English novelist is trying to tell her readers is that: environment is everything; it discounts the cradle and directs the feet of the pilgrim along the path of destiny with his iron sway. Environment, in a word, is fate.
Applied to our own Nigerian situation, the Nigerian child is either raised like a latter-day Heathcliff, a ghoulish soul hell-bent on exacting vengeance on society and laying waste everything we hold dear or s/he is a Linton born and bred in a Thrushcross Grange of healthy upbringing and embodying society’s cherished dreams of greatness and distinction. Whilst we do appreciate the countervailing merits of the opposing tendencies in social anthropology, we, however, hasten to project the superior claims of environmentalism. Let’s look at it this way: two children, the one born and bred in ‘Ikoyi’ and the other in ‘Ajegunle’ (or AJ City as its ghettoized denizens prefer to call it). The Ikoyi-born child, surrounded by the appurtenances of privilege develops an entitlement mindset, on the one hand, while on the other, the Ajegunle-boy sired in privation wears a woe-begone mien, eternally apologetic, a living mummy of a slave mentality. He or she lives in a run- down hovel bereft of space for the exercise of the limbs and mind; the school premises also do not have open space for play, thus there are no extracurricular activities. Normally children are required or expected to do sports like football (or soccer), basketball, tennis, athletics, etc. But most of our children lack the opportunities we their parents had in our day. Back in the day, we had lots of playing areas in villages or cities. Every school had a standard football field, basketball court, lawn tennis court and other places where you could play netball, volleyball and the like. Besides, we had various types of physical structures erected for the teaching of non-academic trades such as carpentry, wood-work, catering, brick- laying and tailoring. To be certain, every school had its own gardens, orchards and farms where students were exposed to horticulture and animal husbandry. Then we lived close to the earth;we were the earth’s and the earth was ours. How about music? Every school boasted a music room where kids, both gifted and fumbling went to practice on the piano or the organ and other string or wood instruments.
But that was then, this is now. The locusts have visited and Umuofia is in ruins. Now look around you; our villages abandoned by the youth fleeing the bogey of witchery, have been overtaken with rank undergrowth, clumps of bush with few houses fighting heroically to defeat the onslaught of the elements. The old and the elderly with their little ones dawdle about, moping vacantly into the distance, utterly stranded in a time-warp. City dwellers do not fare any better. Our urban conurbations are nothing but steel-and-concrete jungles with unsightly tenements and semi- industrial monstrosities- dilapidated houses, overflowing drains, piles and piles of rubbish, abandoned vehicles everywhere and everybody in a hurry going to nowhere.
Given this depressing picture painted above, does anyone still wonder why, in most age-grade competitions, our children are age-cheats? They doctor their records because they are late bloomers. Our people say whenever a man wakes up is his morning. So, it does not matter if you are already married or breeding, when the call for the young is made, you present yourself, claiming to be as young as your own children. This is rife in our own sports, hence when it matters the most, we fail spectacularly!
Let us be thankful for cable television or the so-called digital satellite television, a technological wizardry which has fortunately equalized ‘Ikoyi’ and ‘Ajegunle’ as far as information and entertainment go. To the inhabitants of darkness, light, luminous light has finally come. Every prince and pauper can now go overseas without leaving the comforts of the living room, thanks to the television. But when our children- yes, yours and mine – sit to watch television, how do they feel? Elated or deflated? Inspired or despondent? When they see images of excellence and exceptionalism incarnated in child prodigies in sport, education, music, showbiz, film, etc., do they feel joy or sadness? What will it take to replicate what they see on television in our environment? What budgetary allocation can be made to replicate and revitalize our schools, primary to university? Believe it or not, in every child is a Serena Williams, a Lewis Hamilton, an Aubamayang, a Rafael Nadal, a Soyinka! To change things round here and for us to globally competitive does not require much thinking; government should simply provide the requisite infrastructure like stadia in every locality, refurbish old ones or build new ones. All schools must prioritise sports for the psychomotor development of our children. Our reward system must be based on MERIT, and not primordial considerations. Thus during independence celebrations or Democracy Day celebrations, youths who excel in any activity, sport or academic, must be publicly celebrated and rewarded with scholarships. We must also revive the old culture or practice of inter-house sports, Principal Cup, NUGA, the national sports festival, among others.
The motto of the University of Nigeria (UNN) Nsukka is “Restoring Dignity of Man”. Tweaking that sentiment, a bit, I daresay, let us restore the dignity of the Nigerian child whose self-belief has been robbed by harsh and inhospitable environment exacerbated by the dearth of home-grown mentors and role models. If the older generation has missed the bus, if they have squandered and frittered away their own opportunities to hug the lime-light, the least we can do under the circumstances is to help the sprouting, the blooming and the fructification of talent. Let our young saplings, thirsting for sunlight, reach the sun. After all, they are the leaders of tomorrow.
Associate Professor of English
University of Lagos