By Suyi Ayodele
I was away from the church on Sunday, September 3, 2023. When I came back, I was given an account of what happened. The teenagers’ class staged a playlet as part of activities for the September Thanksgiving Service. According to the report, the young boy who anchored the playlet asked the congregants to enjoy their presentation. In doing so, the boy used the language his generation understands. He was said to have asked “you guys” to enjoy the playlet. I was told the older generations in the church gave a sound that showed their disapproval of being called “guys” by the teenager. I found it funny. What were the old grandmothers and grandfathers expecting? That a boy in his 15-18 years should use “ladies and gentlemen” or the liturgical “Brethren”? Haba! This generation’s ways are not our ways. I drew the attention of my interlocutor to how my last boy used to address his mother and I as “you people”, anytime we scolded him over anything he felt we were responsible for then. It was not his “you people” cliché that I found irritating then but the way he would arch his index finger to point us out as the culprits. I stopped the ‘nonsense’ one day when I roared: “that you people kill you there”, a borrowed language from his own generation! Though he stopped calling us “you people”, he never missed any opportunity to register his protest whenever he had reasons to do so. While that easily resonates with me, our family ‘General Overseer and Mother-in-Israel’, would not have any of that! The boy has a way of ‘dealing’ with the situation. He locks us out of his WhatsApp status anytime the ‘advice’ is becoming unwelcome. I have been asking myself if it is not better to know what the boy posts and correct him later than not to see anything at all.
What do we do to the children of this new era, the social scientists have aptly named Generation Z, or Gen Z for short? Colloquially, they are referred to as Zoomers. There is a saying in my place that if one makes a comparison between two children, there is the tendency to kill one for his or her misbehaviour (Ti a ba fi omo we omo, a ma lu ikan pa). Forbes did a piece on the age stratification of this era. On Gen Z, it says: “Members of Gen Z are those born between 1997 and 2015. In 2022, Gen Z is 7 to 25 years old. It’s important to keep in mind that more than half of this generation is still in grade or high school and living at home, while many are away at college… Gen Zers prefer brands that communicate with them in a personal and relatable way that speaks directly to them, not to some imaginary group of customers as a whole. They value transparency and expect brands to be honest and authentic. They also expect brands to have a social media presence, especially on platforms like Instagram and TikTok, which are steadily rising in popularity among Gen Zers.” This is how The Economist describes them: “Generation Z as a more educated, well-behaved, stressed and depressed generation in comparison to previous generations.” Incidentally, the group is more prevalent in the African continent. A recent report states that: “Generation Z currently comprises the majority of the population of Africa. In 2017, 60% of the 1.2 billion people living in Africa fell below the age of 25. In 2019, 46% of the South African population, or 27.5 million people, are members of Generation Z. Statistical projections from the United Nations in 2019 suggest that, in 2020, the people of Niger had a median age of 15.2, Mali 16.3, Chad 16.6, Somalia, Uganda, and Angola all 16.7, the Democratic Republic of the Congo 17.0, Burundi 17.3, Mozambique and Zambia both 17.6. This means that more than half of their populations were born in the first two decades of the 21st century. These are the world’s youngest countries by median age.”
For proper understanding of the ways of these folks, replace “brands” in the Forbes’ definition above with other age classifications such as: “The Silent Generation (78-95 years old), Baby Boomers (59-77), Gen X (43-58) and Millennials (27-26). Unless the older generations begin to make conscious efforts to study and understand this new generation, the society may take actions that will end up cutting off the tiny rope which binds the Gen Z folks and the rest of us. And they are in all homes. The older generation, especially the cosmopolitan elite class account for the behaviour of these new folks in our midst. Ask your neighbours how many of their children know their cousins, nephews, nieces, aunties, and uncles. How often do we take our children to our roots for them to know their backgrounds? How often do we allow relations to come around our homes? I was shocked to my marrow, when someone, years back, told me that he prevented his relations from coming around his home “so that they don’t come and pollute my children.” The aged saying of four eyes siring a child while 200 eyes nurture him to maturity (oju merin lo nbi omo, sugbo igba oju lo now dagba) is long gone. The sweet old extended family values are long gone and replaced with the Western idea of “me-and-my-family. Now when we begin to see ‘strange’ behaviours from this generation, we are all alarmed.
One of such ‘alarming’ behaviours of the Gen Z class are those inherent in social media influencer, Ifunanya Excel Grant, who goes by the social appellation of ‘Baddest Lawyer’. The drop-dead young lawyer in her late 20s, was called to the Bar on July 28, 2021. A few weeks ago, she hit the internet with what some ‘purists called “her unconventional lifestyle and social media activities.” In some of the videos and photographs of the young wig in the public space, she was captured either smoking a cigar, or one brownish stick, and almost in her birthday dress, puffing smoke. Her professional body, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), was the first to rise in ‘condemnation’ of the lawyer. The body, in a complaint it lodged with the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee (LPDC), asked for disciplinary proceedings against Ifunaya. NBA spokesman, Akorede Lawal, who on August 19, 2023, announced the body’s action, accused Ifunaya of posting pictures and videos of herself unclad and smoking marijuana on social media while identifying as a lawyer. “The National Officers (National Executive Committee) also deliberated at their earlier monthly meeting over the unbecoming conduct of some members of the legal profession. Following the resolutions of the National Officers, the NBA has filed petitions at the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee against…Ifunanya Excel Grant, a young lawyer of Aba branch, wildly (sic) known as “the Baddest Lawyer” on social media. While it is important to underscore the fact that none of the lawyers petitioned or being investigated is deemed guilty of professional misconduct until the LPDC hands down its decisions after a fair trial, the NBA President has emphasised the need for lawyers to continue to be of best conduct wherever they find themselves. He reiterated that the present NBA leadership will not relent in ridding the profession of the very few bad eggs that may be found”, Lawal stated. The Aba, Abia State branch of the NBA, through its Chairman, Innocent Egwu, and Secretary, K.C. Okoro, issued a statement almost immediately, to wit: “For the records, we wish to state categorically that Miss Ifunaya Excel Grant is not a member of the NBA, Aba Branch, and she is unknown to NBA, Aba Branch.”
My first interest in this Ifunaya issue is her choice of appellation, “Baddest Lawyer.” Why for instance, would a child named Ifunaya (Love), at birth later choose to adopt a Gen Z’s name of “Baddest Lawyer?” What about her other name, “Excel?” Was the name given to her by her parents? If they did, which age classification do they belong to?
I have a granddaughter whose father named Dance! When I was asked to give the beautiful baby a name, I chose IfeOluwaKiitan (The love of God is inexhaustible). The father and I have a mutual understanding on this. Yoruba say “Oruko to ba wu ni ni a nso omo eni” (A father gives a name he fancies to his child). I simply modified the saying to read; “Oruko to ba wu ni ni a nso omo-omo eni” (A grandfather gives a name he fancies to his grandchild). That is one of the problems of the Gen Z group, a too self-opinionated group. What about the connotations of that name, Excel? Has Ifunaya lived up to the meanings of her names? A child who was named Ifunaya and Excel chose to be called “Baddest Lawyer” at adulthood and begins to live out the character traits of the same appellation. What do the parents do in this circumstance? What were their feelings and expectations when they sent her to go and study Law? What is happening to them in the society, especially a strong-traditional setting like the Igbo society that frowns at every non-conforming conduct? Are Ifunaya’s parents Catholic? If they are, have we imagined what her mother may be going through in the hands of the ‘saints’ in the Catholic Women Organisation (CWO) of her parish, or the Diocese? I was still pondering on these when the young lady decided to solve all the riddles. In her response to the NBA’s complaints against her, she stated unmistakably thus: “…I am not a practising lawyer. I am a lawyer by book. I am not practicing. At least for now, I don’t have any interest in practising, maybe someday in the future. But right now, I am not practising. I am a model. I am an actress. I am an upcoming musician, a rapper to be precise. Everything I do, everything I post is just for entertainment purposes. It has nothing to do with my legal career. I am not practising law. I don’t have the intention to practice law for now. So right now, my focus is on entertainment. Before I even became a lawyer, I was a model. I have always been a model. I have always been into music; I have always been an actress. Lawyer is just one of the numerous things I am. I am thinking about hustling, living my own thing.” I rest my case just as I have been waiting impatiently for the response of the sanctimonious NBA.
While waiting, the NBA threw itself into another controversy. To round off its just-concluded NBA Conference in Abuja, the body contacted an entertainer, Habeeb Okikiola, popularly known as Portable, to perform at its ‘Unbarred Concert’. Hell was let loose. Many people asked: why Portable of all entertainers? As the concert was underway, many of the lawyers were said to have walked out. Part of the ‘objections’ raised against Portable’s appearance was the artiste’s public conducts, especially his ‘weird’ looks, the tattoos on his body, his recent faceoff with the Police and others. I heard someone saying that “a more decent artiste should have been invited to perform”, and I asked the fella to show me one decent artiste in his judgement. I have seen artistes in their numbers. Portable is just one artiste in a class of his own. There is really no difference between what Portable, the Zazzu crooner, is doing and what the skit writers and socialites who have been attempting to jump into the lagoon but were ‘rescued’ do. I asked the proponent of “a more decent artiste” how long it takes to take a plunge into the lagoon that those ‘rescued’ jokers had to wait until their friends had to hold them? He argued that Portable “is definitely on a strong substance” and I asked what the ‘rescued’ jumpers took before attempting their ‘suicide’ missions. I asked him, a lawyer himself: why are lawyers who watch Big Brother Nigeria (BBN) withdrawing from Portable? Why are lawyers who fought over souvenirs last year at the NBA Conference complaining about Portable dancing naked or Ifunaya dressing like the model she is? Which is worse: Portable’s ‘nakedness’ or the raw (un)conjugal intercourse on display live on BBN?
I agree that every anti-social behaviour stands condemnable. But we cannot be too sanctimonious and magisterial in matters like those of Portable and “Baddest Lawyer”. The NBA needs to look inward to remove the logs in its eyes before thinking of the speck in the eyes of an errant lawyer. There are so many “Baddest Lawyers” in its fold. It is pure hypocrisy for lawyers who aid and abet judicial recklessness through frivolous motions to talk about one of them not wearing her clothes properly. There is no difference between Ifunaya in her pants and bra only, and a lawyer who goes about procuring judgements. The two are dancing naked. We have had cases of very senior lawyers facing charges bordering on attempts to, or outright compromising of judges. The NBA should focus on that. We have in large numbers, lawyers who defraud their clients. Some fraudulently take over the estates of their deceased clients while the children of the deceased suffer in penury! What about the near-slave-trade penchant of big names in Law Practice who pay junior lawyers in their big chambers takehomes which cannot take them anywhere near home? What is the position of the LPDC on that? It would not even matter if some lawyers walked out at the concert or not. Entertainment is a ‘crazy’ business all over. We have our cultural prejudices against some behaviours, ‘nakedness’ is one of them. But nowadays, we see pictures of women in ‘family picnics’ clad in bikinis in the presence of their children and other men. Is the idea of a beach party part of our cultural orientations as Africans? It is absolutely wrong for the lawyers who attended the unbarred concert where Portable performed to think that the arena was a hallowed ground sanctified by their mere and usual claim to moral rectitude. Mature people who sing and dance for others including egbe won (their mates) or their juniors cannot be said to have ojuti (shame). In fact, an entertainer’s first major fight is the war to conquer shame. Portable won that war a long time ago. Ifunanya is in that same game now. Anyone who loves entertainment should not expect a Pastor Adeboye kind of piety in their beloved artistes.
(Published in the Nigerian Tribune on Tuesday, September 5, 2023)