“During the night air raids we would run into the bush and hide, sometimes staying there for several days. For people at home, there was no way of knowing if I was dead or alive until I finally returned from school to the village after the war”. This recollection of the Biafran war of the late 1960s was from my mother, who was in college a way away from the village she was born and grew up in. The fighting never got to her school, yet she and hundreds of other students lived with the horror of impending doom as Nigerian and Biafran forces fought viciously for the soul of the country. The story of that war is now reposited in a couple of books and documentaries but mostly in the minds of Nigerians. But which Nigerians in particular?
Cohorts are groups of individuals who are born during the same time period and journey through life together, experiencing similar external events during their lifetime. For example, Americans now in their late forties to late sixties who were born right after World War II lived through the assassination of JFK, the risk of a draft into the Vietnam war, anti-war protests, the civil rights movement, etc. These events, known as defining moments, shape an individual’s values, attitudes, beliefs and behaviors in such a way that differentiate one cohort from another. Defining moments are usually economic changes, wars, political ideologies, technological innovations and social upheavals that lead society to redefine values, attitudes and preferences. These ‘cohort effects’ stay with that cohort and direct its behavior over its entire lifetime. Note that cohort-formed values, attitudes and preferences do not change as a function of age or lifestyle. The United States has the most extensively researched population with regards to this concept. Seven cohorts have been identified in the United States. They are the Depression cohort, the World War II cohort, The Post-War Cohort, the Baby Boomers – split into Boomer I (leading-edge) and Boomer II (trailing-edge), Generation X and most recently Generation Y or millennials. Unlike typical generational groupings, cohorts can be of any length. The World War II cohort in America, for instance, includes only those born between 1922 and 1927.
Each cohort is considered to have a distinct persona. Strauss and Howe argue that each holds attitudes about family life, religion, gender roles, careers, lifestyles and more, and even though there are individual exceptions and the boundaries get a little ‘fuzzy near the edges’, it is clear that history and shared experiences influence each cohort’s persona. Baby boomers, for instance, are known to be more individualistic, free spirited and social cause oriented as a result of growing up in a time of dramatic social change. As if to reaffirm the notion that a cohort can have a persona, Time Magazine named the baby boomer the 1966 man of the year.
There has been a tendency to generalize North American cohorts to other parts of the world. That seems logical considering the important role that America continues to play as a social, economic and political influence world over. Further, the idea of cohorts has been applied within global corporations with the understanding of the traits of each cohort taken into consideration when hiring, etc. However, with time it has become more apparent that the characteristics of generational cohorts in North America do not necessarily address the behavior or traits of people supposedly in similar cohorts in other parts of the world. In 2010, Deloitte published a global generation overview that showed a varied picture of generational cohorts in ten countries. The logic is that if generational differences are shaped by defining moments that have a transformative impact on a society, and such defining moments vary from country to country, then by extension, the definition of cohorts will be variable. Nevertheless, there is evidence to suggest that some countries are more influenced by western cohorts than others, with their own cohorts ‘trailing’ by a couple of years. South African Generation Xers, for instance, trail 5 years behind Generation Xers in the US and last much longer leading to an overlap with the older half of US Millennials.
My first step in trying to figure out the different generational cohorts in Nigeria was to reconstruct a timeline of Nigerian history. “Speak to the past and it shall teach thee” is a quote etched on the wall of the John Carter library at Brown University; speak to the past I did. And I learnt more about Nigerian history within those weeks than I had known in my entire life. The next step was to form a hypothesis of possible cohort groupings and identify their ages during what I perceived to be defining moments in Nigerian history. Based on these preliminary groupings, I developed a survey to find out which events people of particular ages remembered the most with the purpose of singling out the most significant events. I was able to harass a little over 50 Nigerians of different ages into filling out the survey as well as provide suggestions on important events that I had skipped. A timeline of some of these events are shown in the table below.
|Period||Rulers||National Events (Political, Economic)||National/Regional Events (society, spiritual)|
|1960s||Tafawa BalewaNnamdi AzikiweAguiyi IronsiYakubu Gowon||- Independence
- First elections
- Bloody coup
- Biafran War
|1970s||Yakubu GowonMurtala MohammedOlusegun Obasanjo||- Oil boom- Nationalization of industries- Second elections||- Born Again revival (SU)- Muslim students society global affiliation & growth- Student riots (Alli must go)|
|1980s||Shehu ShagariMuhammadu BuhariIbrahim Babangida||- Corrupt Shehu Shagari regime- Coup & Counter-coup- Structural Adjustment Program||- Maitatsine uprising in Kano, Kaduna riots|
|1990s||Ibrahim BabangidaErnest ShonekanSani AbachaAbdulsalami Abubakar||- Protracted military rule- Crumbling institutions (education, civil service)||- Pentecostal explosion- Niger delta unrest (Ogoni nine hanged)- Golden days of Nigerian football (Dream Team)- Birth of Nollywood & Rebirth of Music Industry|
|2000s||Olusegun ObasanjoUmaru Yar’Adua||- Return to democratic rule / Elections- 419ers, ‘Yahoo boys’ scourge- Privatization of industries- Deregulation of telecommunications industry||- Sharia law in the North- Religious riots in Plateau, Bauchi, Kaduna, etc- Extra judicial killings (Bayelsa, Benue)- Niger Delta crisis|
|2010 to present||Goodluck Jonathan||Boko Haram|
In a way, this list feels like an oversimplification of what is a very complex country with a web of connections and historical antecedents. There are many other important events which occurred during this period which probably qualify to be considered as among defining moments. Although someone else may come up with a list different from this one, there will definitely be a fair degree of overlap.
Tying these events back into Strauss & Howe’s theory, I failed to see in Nigerian history a clear pattern of societal conditions. Their theory is that, just like there are four seasons in temperate and sub-polar regions, societies evolve through a recurring fourfold cycle of conditions. This cycle is marked by the recurrence of periods of war and periods of politics. Different historians who believe in the periodicity of time have captured these cycles and explained them differently – war and peace, growing and decaying order, yin and yang, love and strife, etc; while also capturing the difference in the time that leads up to these points in historical cycles. An Awakening begins when events trigger a revolution in culture, a Crisis when events trigger an upheaval in public life. A High begins when society perceives that the basic issues of the prior Crisis have been resolved while an Unraveling begins with the perception that the Awakening has been resolved, leaving a new cultural mindset in place. These four turnings comprise a quaternal social cycle of growth, maturation, entropy, and death (and rebirth).
In Nigeria, the 1960s should be considered a time of awakening, as independence from the British was achieved and the country seemed set to establish a new order, however events within the country led to a brutal crisis, the Nigerian Civil War. The decade following the Civil War was one of relative peace for most of the country and is also fondly remembered as one of the rosiest periods (read a High) in Nigeria’s economic history – the oil boom. Richard Dowden, in his book Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles, remarks on how Nigeria was so awash with petrodollars in the 1970s that the then President, Yakubu Gowon, said that Nigeria’s only problem was knowing how to spend the money. This period also marks the start of Nigeria’s ‘resource curse’ days as agricultural production declined rapidly due to growing disdain for rural living as people pursued education to fill up white collar roles in the civil service, etc. The Nigerian story seemed set for greatness at the turn of the decade (and start of the second republic) when the country was ravaged by the corruption of the Shehu Shagari led NPN government in the early 1980s. This decade is remembered for the peaceful coup and a brief attempt by Muhammadu Buhari to sanitize the country including the arrest and detention of most political leaders on accusations of indiscipline and corruption. This ‘iron rule’ was promptly deposed in the palace coup of 1985 which ushered in IBB and set the stage for fourteen years of Military rule in Nigeria. Nevertheless, an awakening was going on in the larger society. The 1980s saw the rapid spread of the Scripture Union (SU) across Nigeria as the born-again revival hit campuses and secondary schools all across Nigeria. At the same time, the Muslim Students Society became radical and assumed a new role especially with the Iranian revolution of 1979. By 1980, dissension had risen among many of the society’s members, some decided to reject the secular approach of the 1979 constitution, supported the establishment of an Islamic state and acts to stop the sale of alcohol in some Northern Nigerian universities notable Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. The 1980s were marked by religious motivated riots in Kano, Maiduguri, Kaduna and Yola, notable of which is the Maitatsine uprising of 1982 – an event considered a pre-cursor of the current Boko Haram crisis. The 1990s in Nigeria were clearly a time of unraveling. A protracted military rule led to crumbling of what institutions existed – education, public service, health care, etc. The country faced rapid emigration of qualified professionals under the torment of the post SAP economy with inflation reaching its highest in Nigeria’s history – 72% in 1995. Student unionism was at a peak, leading to the infiltration of student unions by military backed cultists and a rapid increase in campus cults – interesting because campus cults in Port Harcourt were the breeding ground for armed robbers, election touts and militants of the next decade. The end of this decade also marked the start of the Pentecostal explosion in Nigeria, a euphemism for prosperity preaching. The death of Abacha from eating the literal and proverbial poisoned apple averted what many thought would have been a revolution or even greater crisis and Nigeria entered the new millennium a democracy.
Ask a Nigerian about the 2000s and the response you get will depend largely on how old they are or whose side they are on in the ever raging political and cultural debate. The 2000s can be considered part unraveling, part high. It saw, for the first time in decades, the gradual restoration of the Nigerian middle class; self-empowerment of many young Nigerians through a booming banking sector, a deregulated telecommunications industry and not to leave out an important group, a booming advance fee fraud industry. It was also marked by Sharia law being declared in some Northern states and the religious chaos that led to; ethnic disputes and land crises, extra judicial killings in Bayelsa and Benue States as well as the crisis in the Niger Delta.
Compare the sequence of the Strauss-Howe Model (Crisis – High – Awakening – Unravelling spanning 95 – 100 years) with what I believe to be Nigeria’s progression in the table below.
|Strauss-Howe Model||Nigerian Reality||Decade|
|Crisis||Awakening / Crisis||1960s|
|Awakening||Unravelling / High||2000s|
Still, there are useful insights that can be drawn from generally thinking about Nigeria in terms of these cycles and the definition of generational cohorts in Nigeria. But one thing, you’ll have to read about that in this post.
Lets continue the conversation on twitter... Follow @agogodavid