Individualism has a terrible effect in our families. This is predicated on the fact that “Just Me, I and mine” adjectives is on the increase. The influence of globalization has made our people today to import values especially from America, and hence we are loosing that family togetherness and sense of communalism which characterized Africans to a reasonable extent.
Our family is a large one in the sense that we have what we call the extended family system and our extended family system does not just include husband and wife and children. In our own culture, our nuclear family starts with husband and wife and goes beyond that. The extended family system in Nigeria is such that it includes what you may call hamlet because your brother’s children are your children, your uncle’s children are your children, and as people say, extended family system is a burden on the willing. It is a burden on the willing because some of us suffered under this family system and some of us have also gained under this family system. Meanwhile, in any family system, there must be advantages and disadvantages. However, in our own family system, its advantages outweigh the disadvantages. One can become meaningful in the society under the auspices of his or her uncle. A professor once confided in me that the level of education he has attained today, came as a result of his maternal uncle. In his words “He (the uncle) is gone but we have not forgotten him”. According to him, if the uncle had behaved like the whites, he would have just considered his family alone, which means his wife and children. But his uncle had a philosophy which he (the professor) would never forget. His philosophy was: “my brother’s children and my sister’s children has equal shares in my family”. Unfortunately, in these recent times, some people hesitate or even refuse to assist their young sister’s children. For them, their young sister has married away, and her children are not answering the same name.
Far more significantly, with what is happening in our society today, it will be difficult to subscribe to the fact that the family still remains the agent of socialization and a great transmitter of moral values, spiritual heritage and cultural legacy. In our society today, we have lost the ethics of nwa bu nwa oha. “Nwa bu nwa oha” in igbo context means that if I see my neighbour’s child (not even my own relation) misbehaving, I should correct him. Many families now resist such assistance in the sense that in neighbourhood, you don’t have the right to correct your neighbour’s child especially in Urban centres like Enugu. Nowadays, if one sees his or her neighbour’s children misbehaving, he or she will hesitate before correcting them because it depends on his or her relationship with their parents. If not, he or she may be challenged by the parents who would ask, “is that your business? They are our children. Leave them if they are misbehaving.” No wonder many of our young ones are becoming light-headed.
I therefore wish to make a clarion call for a reawakening of that sense of communal love and concern for the other. It is a family system that has continued to create enabling environment, both for the rich and the poor in our society to live in peace and harmony. It reduces acrimony and hatred among family relatives, it enhances community development and individual growth. It is our cultural value and our African pride. It defines us and makes us unique. It will therefore be incongruous for us to imitate the values of those who long to emulate our own values on the issue of family love and koinonia. Let us not forget that deep down in our heart and in our African language, we had no special word for cousins, nephews, niece and so on, for we are all brothers and sisters, no matter how distance the relationship might be.