Invoking a metaphor in any conversation is suggesting with some clear evidence that a direct similarity exists between a phrase or word used which in this case is “poverty of nurture” and the thing described, also in this case, “the Nigerian Youth.” Whichever you put first, that is in whatever order the naming phrases are arranged, the categorization of the metaphor for this author stands and would suffice.
Poverty, simpliciter means a lack, a deficiency, the absence of a thing or a state of affairs. Poverty of ideas, of qualitative life, of morals, of conscience, of decency of education, of taste would be what the subject in question suffers; a noticeable lack in the specific area being referred to. For this lecture, it is poverty of nurture, not the lack of its presence but rather the absence of its quality. Nurture is everything that supports growth, promoting flourishing quality nourishment or otherwise in contrast to nature which is innate to the subject, affirming its existence and naming its essence. For everything that exists as a living thing, there is within it its essence, the thing which makes it what it is which is its nature.
There is the nurture which though standing outside of the subject necessarily always affects it in a fundamental way, sometimes often totally silencing nature and stifling it. Hence, the always heated argument surrounding nature and nurture and their bitter colossal contest for supremacy: is nurture the greater force or is it nature which we are born with? It is not enough for example just to exist or to be born; without nurture, without the nourishing element of the environment, without the influence of other peoples, education, food and diet, culture, music, religion, to name a few, there would be no growth, no development, no purpose. There would be absolutely nothing to say about the subject. Nurture is thus the polish on nature, its shine or its dullness.
Nature is the common currency that is indiscriminately and universally freely given to all existing beings. In the case of human beings, nature equalizes us all.
To be born is to be blessed by nature. No one is born with a clean slate. We all abundantly come fully loaded – our coded DNA, our genetic autobiography, our heredity, the history that is contained in the bundle of our chromosomes, genes, and traits found in every cell of our body, our evolutionary inheritance. With this gift package, nature dusts its hands and steps back so that nurture can begin the vital task of decoding the deposit it has provided, working on it, working with it and permitting flourishing or decay.
I should stress here that with the free gift of nature and with every baby born innocently lying in the crib, beyond babies with names as the Yorubas claim such as from heaven, Taiwo, Kehinde, Ojo, Aina, Alaba, Idowu, Dada there are yet none born as hoodlums, vagabonds, sadists, fugitives and arsonists. There are no rapists, no cultists. All we see like the three wise men that came following the star looking for Jesus is a baby lying in the crib. Neuropsychologists will insist that all the ingredients are indeed present from the moment of our birth of what we could and would eventually become. This is exactly the claim again of the Yoruba with their belief in ayanmo or destiny. But our “could become” and or “would become” must necessarily get a little nudge, a little push, an activation from nurture for us to become something and have a name. If only each of us is left in freedom to choose but no, it is nurture and society that control the ‘shoulds’ of our lives from that point of hijack and in their hands, we all die slowly to nature.
The locale of nurture is the environment, the socio-ecological existential vortex in which we live and have our being; the human society with all of its elements, structures and superstructures. All of us seated here today were baked and are still being baked in that vortex and the product of that oven experience be it for good or for ill is what is being served to the world this very minute; the persons that we are, the purpose that we have brought to defining the meaning of our lives, the praises and blame that we receive and the memory that will be borne by different minds when we are finally done and are six feet deep in the cold ground.
The environment is characterized by nurture influencers and these are legion. Just to name a few: there are the father, mother, siblings, the home, family, schools, education, diet, religion, gender, civil society, law, policies, occupation, peer groups, friends, culture, the media, economy, moral codes, value orientation, music and entertainment. Any of these influencers can make or mar the individual as indeed they do for life, making use of the foundation deposit of nature. It is the rhythm of these influencers, their movement, their tenacity and presence that eventually cast us in our roles allowing little change. Combined with nature, we are wired for life. Environmental lawyers make a fortune as they advance serious arguments in defence of the murderer caught with a smoking gun in his hand. He is not guilty, my Lord, he is a helpless victim of his environment. Blame nurture. He simply cannot help himself. That is the way nature and nurture have wired him.
A little word as an example of what we presently parade as education which is essentially a literacy program which enables the individual to read and write and have some knowledge by acquaintance. If you excel in these chores and pass your exams, you are deemed successful and if not, a failure. Both outcomes elicit appreciation or blame, acceptance by society or rejection. They elicit a sense of pride and self-worth or a sense of low self-esteem and worthlessness; the former aiding flourishing and growth, the latter depression and suicide. But is passing or failing set examinations the last word on defining the worth of a human being? Is that all that is needed to make nonsense of the bundle of gifts nature has deposited? I do not think so. Success is not defined nor restricted to passing WAEC, and having a first-class at the university. These feats are commendable but they are not sufficient in defining the immeasurable unquantifiable assets that lie within every individual person.
The same oddity can, for example, be found in religion that offers everything to a supreme being no one has yet seen as the general overseer who is keenly interested in the type of dress you wear and when and in what order you wash your body, how you spend your hard-earned money and when and how you talk or pray to him or her as the case may be. At some other time, this same God could be a reluctant intervener as daily tragedies occur and corpses of adult and innocent children pile up courtesy authorities that claim to know him or her so well.
Here lies then the simple logic, the grain of the argument that forces the poverty of nurture. If all that is received from nurture influencers are at odds with all that is sublime, noble, decent, lawful, purposeful, life supportive, elegant, respectful, relaxing and positively empowering, the end product cannot be otherwise. You cannot plant cassava and reap cocoyam. The poverty of the influencers of nurture has only come home to roost when they manifest in the youth that is kept in its care to tend. Whatever the names that we call them, we first must see ourselves as custodians and nurture influencers. This exactly I suspect is what the Yoruba mean when they say owu iya gbon lomo n ran (it is the yarn that the mother prepares that the daughter weaves). The Omoluwabi is a product of nurture. The Omoluabi did not drop from the sky, he was baked and nurtured.
The EndSARS protests were peaceful at the initial stage. Some governors in fact identified with the demonstrators’ frustrations affirming their inalienable right to be heard. Suddenly, we started hearing the word hoodlums and what was once peaceful became rowdy and chaotic leading to arson, wanton destruction and looting, mayhem, shootings and downright murder. These are youth, be they peaceful protesters or hoodlums. They are first youth before becoming everything; and as products of nurture, sadly they came up very poor, irresponsible, violent, almost irrational, a sad pathetic reflection of the sources and influences of nurture. Thus far we must assume that the Nigerian youth has indeed been nurtured with all the prevailing influencers but for some exception where the dynamics of the influencers got modified. It is for the same reason that we have the youth from Ajegunle, Onipanu, Ikoyi, Warri, Mushin, Isale Eko, Ekotedo, Sabo as different from children from Ikoyi and Bodija.
The way forward. One basic unchanging law of nature is the law of cause and effect. It is the law that governs nurture. A cause will always produce an effect and when the process invariably assumes a dialectical rhythm, the effect becomes yet another cause which in turn produces another effect ad infinitum. Theologians and metaphysicians will argue that only God is the uncaused caused source who is eternally so owing his being to no other source. Within this dialectical process, the collective of all elements that serve as nurture influencers must come to terms with the huge responsibility that they bear as de facto moulders and crafters of destinies. This factum must be conscious and deliberate.
I wish to end this tiny lecture with a life experience which I was a part of to drive my argument home. I was at a dinner organized by my Bishop in honour of a Commissioner of Police being recently appointed to a higher post way up in Abuja. Eating and wining in progress, questions began begging for answers. One was, why are the police so unrepentantly corrupt, ever sweetly taking what they somehow consider theirs legitimately from motorists and okada riders? The guest of honour with admirable equanimity and grace befitting of his status and position got up to say that when any call up is made for those ready and willing to join the police force, parents and guardians usually and most often send them the worst in their family for the sake of their peace, just like Yoruba parents used to do in years gone by with recruitment into the armed forces. He then asks: if we have sent them the worst, the pigheaded, black sheep of the flock. How can coconut become apples? How can a fox become a lamb, a daredevil at war with law become a law-abiding angel? In response, we could only sip our wine. There was no further questioning after that on police manners.
Nature and nurture are co-travellers just as they are eternal collaborators. They both define us, who we are and what we are. Nurture, however, carries with present urgency, the mantle seeking from nature the enabling ingredients for naming our purpose and meaning. It is the agents at play that we must implore as catalytic influencers to become more seriously mindful and less recklessly and irresponsibly careless – that is if we seriously wish and desire most urgently better youth as true resourceful leaders for a better tomorrow. I soberly beg you, please do not bring in God. There is no one to save us from ourselves but ourselves.
Professor Wale Olajide
Department of Philosophy
Ekiti State University, Ado-Ekiti
Email address: email@example.com
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