Insight

Nigeria@61: Old folks reminisce over the good, bad, ugly

Nigeria, as most old folks know it before 1960, has certainly changed, especially in terms of the socio-economic, political and security spheres. In this piece, AYO OLADIRAN, EBUBE ERUCHALU and PRAISE ADEBOWALE speak with folks who witnessed the 60s and today.

There were a lot of expectations following Nigeria’s independence in 1960. These changes came, more like a pendulum, it swung towards the negative and positive angles. Just as there were global advancements in technology, medicine and economy, there have been increasing challenges with insecurity.

The greatest technological impact that has occurred since independence seemed to be the smart phone, internet and social media. Speaking with folks that witnessed the 60s, 70s, 80s and present day was an eye opener. While comparing their youthful days with the present, some of the old folks seem to prefer the present time to what obtains in the early years, due largely to advancement in technology and other things, buit others prefer what obtains yesteryears, especially in the areas of security, economy, education and politics. Reminiscing on what it was like back then, Dr. Olujimi Kayode, 70, said young Nigerians were more disciplined and Nigeria as a country itself was organised. He said: “We had a more moral and ethical society than what we have today.

As a young adult, corruption was almost nonexistent. When I was leaving secondary school in 1973, someone told me I could apply for a government scholarship. I went to the Federal Ministry of Education by myself without informing my parents. I picked and filled a form, I saw one of the staff and when he saw my results, he said I had a chance at winning the scholarship. I got it purely by my hard work. But it’s not possible today. Today, you need connection to get the form and even to get the scholarship.” Kayode said that things worked back then, including admissions into universities that were based on merit without parents struggling to bribe or have connections.

He said: “These days, what we have are parents calling that their children should be assisted into the university. My bursary from Ogun State then was N300 and school fees into the university was N50, which I paid without collecting money from my father. “Today, bursary is not enough to pay school fees. As bursary could be N50, 000 and school fees would be N150, 000.

I used part of my bursary to buy a refrigerator,television and typewriter without collecting money from my parents. Things were cheap and the naira was stronger than the dollar. In fact, visa was easy to collect then, because of our good economy and strong currency.”

Kayode, who is a lecturer, stated that the major issues leading to problems in Nigeria is because value system turned upside-down. He said that today, at least 99 percent of Nigerians are corrupt, which, he said, is tragic. He also said: “Security was also better than it is now; there were occasional cases of armed robbery, especially in the bank, but you wouldn’t hear cases of mass abduction of children from schools. The police were not as corrupt as they are today.

I can’t say that I preferred the era of when I was younger to now, but I know that everything I got was on merit. There wasn’t anything like ‘special centre’ for examinations. You had to earn your results. “When we gained our independence, Nigeria was a better country than now, even when we had problems. Everyone was proud to be a Nigerian back then.

When I got admission into the University of Lagos, Akoka in 1977, we told our friends that travelled to USA that they left Nigeria because they were not academically sound. There was nothing like universities going on strike, let alone series of strikes.” This is just as Mrs. Mary Olaoye, 71, says she is disgusted with the deteriorating state of the nation’s economy today. She said: “Things were very good back then and money was not flowing. However, what we had was enough to feed ourselves and family. Today, we can’t explain where Nigeria is heading and it’s only God that can save us. Nigeria was better because the leaders were a bit God-fearing.

The ones we have now are blinded by greed. This is a sign of the end time according to the word of God.” She narrated that there was a time when people wanted to travel out of the state, they would just go to Ojota at about 4: am without fear. She added: “Today, you can’t even walk at that hour because someone may attack and rob you. This shows that security back then was better. Before, we were at rest, but now we seemed to be running around in fear.

The period of 1960 was very peaceful. The former anthem ‘Nigeria we hail thee,’ signified a healthy Nigeria, but the new anthem ‘ Arise, O Compatriots,’ signifies a looming war.” Deaconess Comfort Oluwole, 71, recall that when she got married, a tin of milk was N5, “But today, a tin of milk is N220, while a bottle of oil, which was then N50, is now N700. In the 1970’s I bought a car for N5000.” Oluwole further said: “Then you can go out and return late without fear. These days even in broad daylight, one is not safe. There’s no security today compared to back then. I went with someone to Ondo State and I returned to Lagos that same day.

In fact, I got to Lagos at about 10: pm, but today, you can’t try that. “Education and books were free back in our time. But today, schools owned by government look for ways to extort parents. In 1960, we were given flags in schools and we sang and danced to welcome Awolowo to our school after we gained our independence. Cassava flour was sold in large quantities and it was cheap. Now, even a small portion cannot be afforded by many Nigerians.” However, Mr. Patrick Abah, 66, said that back then, there were good and bad times, just like today.

His words: “During our time, our parents had no vehicles and we went to schools that were far away from home. Majority of parents didn’t have cars, so there was nothing like visiting days. Parents couldn’t come to visit us in school and there was nothing like visiting days. Our parents wouldn’t see us till the holiday periods, and there was nothing like mid-term break.

There was also no means of communication; no telecommunication and no social media. “Today, as you leave home for school, you can be in touch with your parents, thanks to digital devices. These days the students and their parents will be calling one another. They are aware of how you’re doing. You can even do Skype, Zoom, or whatever. In fact, the entire family can go on Zoom and have a chat.” Abah said that in those days, there were no phones, adding that the fact that there is phones and internet connections make this period better than their youthful era. He said: “Today, young people have laptops, which they can use to do their work.

They can work at home and school assignments in the comfort of their homes and submit same through the Internet. But during our own time, there was nothing like that. Now, lectures can be given via the Internet.” He also said that during his university days, 50 kobo was enough for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Abah stated: “Now, lunch cannot be less than N500 or N1000. When we graduated, we were given loans for cars immediately. I was given N4000 and I bought my first car for N3700. The remaining change I had, I bought sound system and other things. Today, one tyre of a car is from N14, 000 to N20, 000, depending on the type of car one wants to buy. You see how things have so skyrocketed out of the reach of an ordinary man.

The value of naira has gone so low and inflation has gone so high.” He also mentioned that security was not as bad as it is today. He remembered that as a pupil, he and his mates were put in trains and their parents wouldn’t worry about them until they return from school. He noted: “But these days, because of insecurity, you cannot allow your child to go far for education. Security is terrible in the country today.”

Michael Oche, 66, said that 2021 has become the worst year witnessed in Nigeria’s history. His words: “The way Nigerians are being killed is just terrible. I don’t think Nigeria was like this in our youth and I was born in 1955. Insecurity is the major problem today in Nigeria and there’s no security in Nigeria. This year alone, several people have been killed like chickens. This is the worst government I have ever seen.

If anyone reports to the authorities that something is happening, nothing would be done. We can’t compare Nigeria today to 10 years ago, or even five years ago.” Tracing the ruin being witnessed in Nigeria today to military rule, Mrs. Olagbeji, 72, insists it all started with Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida. Olagbeji recollected: “Before, a 25litre of oil was N4, 500, now it’s N28, 000. Then 50kg bag of rice was N3, 800, but now it’s N26, 000.

A carton of noodle was N800 as of last year or so, now it’s N2, 800. With a small change back then, you can buy many things, but now with plenty money, you can’t buy anything. There was an extraordinary inflation that only went down during Yar’Adua’s regime. At a point, a naira equaled a dollar, but now a naira is equivalent to $570, and things in the market are becoming more expensive each day.” She said that before, students could take holiday jobs to make extra money, but now, even graduates can’t get jobs. “Companies have collapsed and investors have left the country because they have to pay for electricity and they still do not have electricity, and will have to buy fuel and still pay workers, how will they make profit?” Mrs. Kafilat Taiwo, 70, said: “Those people that ruled in the military era are still in power as civilian leaders today.

There is too much greed in the eyes of the leaders now and it all boils down to corruption. None of our leaders can be trusted now, but back then, there was corruption, but the leaders still worked for the people. Today, our leaders work for only their families.

If they care about the people, they’ll create more jobs and employ people that deserve such jobs. If you don’t bribe people or have connections, you can’t get job these days.” She bemoans the fact that women are giving up their bodies in exchange for jobs in today’s Nigeria. According to her, it is not only charity that begins at home, corruption also begins at home.

Taiwo said: “Parents no longer bother to instill good morals into their children and they blame everything on the government. Those days, young people were willing to work, but now, everyone is searching for quick money. No one wants to work in the agricultural sector. In those days, even the military men had farms that they worked on and there was enough food for everyone. Now, those that are not willing to work are stealing and getting involved in fraudulent activities.”

An ex-military officer, Fasawe Emmanuel 81, said: “Times have changed. Before, one could use 70 Kobo to prepare a pot of soup, but now even N3000 is barely enough to cook. As an ex-military officer, I can say for a fact that the soldiers we have now are just like civilians, same with police officers. Before, police officers wouldn’t collect bribe in public and they usually dig holes in bushes to keep whatever bribe they collected, but now, they brazenly do it in the open.” Emmanuel further recounted: “When I was in the Army, I was transferred to Mushin.

If I arrested someone for breaking traffic laws, I would take his or her keys, and if they apologised, I would talk to them and call them cow because they were stubborn. I make them admit it, and after getting a promise from them that they wouldn’t break the law again, I would whip and then allow them to go. This earned me the nickname, ‘Baba Malu.’ “Transportation is expensive now because policemen at ‘Stop and Search’ will be collecting money from market women, and market women will add the extortion to the prices of their goods, making the goods expensive. The money I get for my pension now is barely enough, not able to feed my wife and I. Our leaders get paid too much money for doing nothing.

“Our Houses of Assemblies should be a part time job, and they should be paid less than what they are getting now, because sometimes they don’t sit for months, and they’ll still get paid. Doctors that are currently on strike have a good reason for that. They are not paid enough and everything is still expensive.” For Dr. Toyosi Owolabi, 73, Nigeria has become totally unfavourable to the lower class, leaving the middle age struggling to survive. The doctor said: “Comparing Nigeria today to Nigeria of old is like comparing sleep with death, because that period, we had little money, but the basic necessities of life were accessible compared with now, where even the middle class can barely survive, let alone the lower class. There was no time in history, that there was no threat to security, but it was relatively mild compared to what we have today.

“Insecurity is a very big problem today. When we were younger, we could trek from one village to the other. Back then, people sometimes worried about children being kidnapped, but today, adults are being kidnapped every day. Back then, little things could make your life comfortable, but today, you can’t enjoy life without money. We had to do everything manually, but technology has brought comfort.

The Nigeria as of early 1990’s was better than what we are witnessing now.” Deacon Bamidele Adeyemi, 70, believes that technology ruined more than it helped, stressing that Nigeria of before was better than the present day. Adeyemi said: “When I was young, with little money one can feed very well and things were not expensive. One could walk to far places and be safe, but now, there is no security in Nigeria. We keep saying that technology is making life easier, but it has ruined a lot of things. “I preferred then to now because there were jobs, security and all, but now even if someone has money, he or she always has to be looking over their shoulders to make sure no one is after them. Not having peace of mind has also caused many people to develop high blood pressure and die quickly.

Then, one could give birth to many children and take care of them, but now to take care of two children is expensive. Our politicians then were still a bit truthful, but the ones we have now have no iota of truth.” Supporting the stance of her husband, Deaconess Florence Fasawe, 71, said: “Security then and now are far different.

In 1960, you could send a child on an errand from one town to another, and he would walk to and fro and nothing would happen to him. A child could hawk goods and not come back on time and you will still be calm. “Thieves hardly went to houses and if they saw that people were awake, they run away, but today, it’s a different case. Now, one has to pray overnight before one travels just to make sure they are safe. Our naira was once equal to the dollars. Five shillings could buy shoes and clothes, but now you need thousands of naira to buy and sew cloths.

“Technology is what spoilt the country totally. What a small child shouldn’t be exposed to have been exposed to them through technology. They want to live like the people they see online and to achieve that, they want access to quick wealth.” But, Mrs. Abike Oluremi, 70, is grateful for technology, arguing that it made life easier in the present day Nigeria. “Security was better before than now. There were no kidnappers and these kidnappers are just doing it to have money.

People could move freely then, but now one has to be careful where they go. Before, the naira had value, but now it’s almost worthless compared to the dollar. Food was cheaper. When I got married, a tin of ‘garri’ was five shillings, but now it’s expensive. Yes, technology has improved standard of living, but things have become too expensive.

The population has increased and in a way it has affected the economy. If there’s too much demand for food items and there are little supplies, there is bound to be inflation.” Engineer Bello Adegoke, 75, said the current economic situation could have been avoided had Nigeria not focused all her attention on oil after its discovery. Adegoke narrated: “In our days, the economy was not as harsh as this. Dollars was very low. Our leaders do not know how to manage and project the country and that is why we are where we are today. If our leaders had foreseen that the country was going to be like this, they would have harnessed all our resources for the future.

“Unfortunately, the resources then were not harnessed and things in the country are down and naira is falling and things are becoming expensive, especially in terms of importing. There has not been a time in the world that there were no security challenges.

There were robbers and thieves too, but it was on a very small scale. “Today, it has become socially acceptable. Lives are no longer important to people and people kill without second thought. Nobody wants an era where things are tough. Nobody wants an era where the currency is so devalued. If we had been able to manage our agricultural products, instead of depending solely on oil, Nigeria would have been one of the largest exporters of agricultural products now.”

Recalling that during his youth security in the country was better than it is today, Mr. Azeez Adeleke, 60, stated that the way things were going in Nigeria today, it was as if, “God is angry with us.” He added: “Our present President, who is also our former president back then made security in the country strong, compared to today. Today, the rich and poor are scared because of insecurity. I prefer the state of security then in my days than what we have today.” Mrs. Blessing Nwani, 75, said that when she was young, the value on shillings and pounds was high. She recollected: “If anybody had £5 that time, he was considered to be a millionaire. When we got our independence, we moved from pounds to naira.

The naira then had more value than now. For example, one cup of rice was one naira and a rubber of beans N25 or N50 and one tin of garri was N50. Now we live in fear and now have local vigilances watching us and the streets. “Those days, we could walk miles without fear of being kidnapped and we can leave our doors open to buy something and come back, we even leave our children at home without fear. At night we walk about with the torch, but the torch is used to see where we are going or in case we encounter a snake, but now, no one can walk around in the bush like that.” Nwani added she preferred the old days because people did not live in fear and had peace of mind. She added: “The government then was alright. They do not have to kill people in order to become office holders. People obeyed the laws.

The only improvement now that we did not have then, is to move from country to country by air. Back then, if one was to travel abroad, we go by sea and we can travel for three months before we get to our destination. During that time, I was in primary school and Nnamdi Azikiwe was running for presidency with Obafemi Awolowo. “When Azikiwe came to Iselukwu, Delta with his people, all the schools in Iselukwu lined up to welcome him. He promised to give free education and he did. There was free education and we didn’t pay anything in primary and secondary levels. They fulfilled their promises, but now it’s not like that.”

Mrs. Ima George, 76, said: “When I was younger, we go to farms without locking doors. In fact, we don’t have doors and use palm leafs to close the doors leaning it on the door frame. We then used sticks to wedge it. It was not because of suspicion of anyone, but because of goats. We didn’t want goats to enter our houses. When it comes to security, I can say it was better because we were a bit free.

But now, we have burglary in our houses and still live in fear. There was respect in my time, and there was good discipline, maybe one may prefer today because of being exposed to different modern technology, but when it comes to discipline I prefer my era.” For Mrs. Kudirat Babatunde, 72: “During our time, we had a lot of opportunities. We were not callous and while there was corruption in the system, we had chances and hoped for a greater future. I pity children of the next generation because they are going to be born into Nigeria’s dead economy. Back then, we had free food from politicians, free education and there was hope.

There was nothing like ethnic or religious fighting. There was nothing like the unknown gunmen. “Also, during our days, life was easier and the poor among us could afford two square meals, unlike now that the poor remains poor while the rich get richer. Now the dollar is so high that to import goods into the country is so expensive.

“The next generation will pay dearly for everything that is happening today. My prayer is that Nigeria will not experience slavery, especially becoming slaves to the Asian community. And this is with reference to the way the President relies on them for loans.”

Additional reports from Peter Sonibare, Kafayat Olalekan, Precious Yusuf and Adeola Akinola

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