In major Nigerian cities, in the month of February, men and women live in a sort of romantic time machine – one that always revolutionizes a life or two. Only a few years ago did young people begin to embrace the idea that love should be the primary reason for marriage. As such, it doesn’t provide an avenue for their families to help in selecting a spouse.
Today, love has revolutionized. But it still doesn’t change anything. Men and women are still seen as fundamentally different beings, sexually and otherwise. Enter the 21st century. Things are changing. There is a breakdown of traditional gender roles, rising female independence, surplus birth control measures, and limitless sexual freedom: the sexual revolution.
In Nigeria, everything likes to happen at once, as is often the case. These days, thanks to urbanization, there is more opportunity for entertainment and more freedom. Social barriers are weakening; the mingling of sexes is more permissible. Gender politics is entrenched and our women are suddenly less dependent on men.
But don’t be in a hurry. This might seem like a ride. I have found out that our notions of love and longing — of dating and romance — are quickly changing. In the biggest cities, such as Lagos and Abuja, more young people are starting to expect independence, especially when it comes to their personal lives.
Their counterparts in smaller ones, such as Port Harcourt, are fast following suit. At the same time, however, the age-old forces of society/community, religion, and family expectations are pushing back. Many young people are thus squeezed between tradition and modernity.
Increasingly, as young people choose to live in such big cities, where they believe they will be free from family regulations and pressure and get used to better infrastructure — new road projects, new shopping malls, etc; all they want to do is talk of tomorrow — of new places, new lives, and new plans.
But this is only the beginning. Economic problems further compound the situation. The Financial Derivatives Company Limited (FDC), a Lagos-based financial advisory firm stated this in its 2014 outlook. Also, according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), the rate of unemployment in Nigeria stood at 23.9 per cent in 2011, while urban unemployment was estimated at 29.5 per cent in 2013.
Many unemployed young people delay their entry into the workforce by extending their years of education, with some going for further education abroad, especially in the United Kingdom. And as a result, most young people simply cannot afford to take financial control of their own lives — which means frustration and disappointment.
Recently, I met with some old friends and played catch up. One of us got around to the talk of young people, the symbol of modern Nigeria, who wear the latest western fashion and watch TRACE TV and American sitcoms – most of them currently pursuing university degrees, but all of them live with their families. They all have dreams (at least a majority of them) but no definite and structured plans for the future of their dreams.
Our young girls can wear heels, go to malls and, like everyone else, dream about the future. But many cannot realize those dreams because they are unable to take responsibility for their own lives. In contrast, other young Nigerian women have taken their future into their own hands. But that is a story for another day.
In a sense, though, this piece intends to show that Nigeria has changed — at least a little. There are more and more marriages, more and more divorce cases in our courts. Didn’t someone say that LOVE CONQUERS all things?
Like it or not, Nigeria is still at the beginning of a major social revolution. New ideas about love and gender are born every day, but old ones are slow to die. We are experiencing an increasingly liberal attitude towards sexuality. And social structures are changing as young people begin to prize independence.
Liberation (sexual and otherwise) is head-spinning. But it also creates new tensions that we as a society might not be prepared for or equipped to face. Still, despite the strains and broken hearts it may induce in the new month ahead, the revolution could bring more equality between the genders and increased personal freedom in the long run.