Between expectations and opportunities: urban youth navigating duress in a globalized southern Nigeria
This project looks at the ways in which youth in southern Nigeria navigate their lives in a context of experiencing long-term socioeconomic uncertainty and political insecurity (duress).
This project, provisionally entitled ‘Between expectations and opportunities: urban youth navigating duress in a globalized southern Nigeria’ looks at the ways in which youth in Nigeria navigate their lives in a context of experiencing long-term socioeconomic uncertainty and political insecurity (duress). Key to understanding this navigation, is the (global) connectedness of these young Nigerians through local networks and global connectivity, through ‘old’ and new ICTs.
Being increasingly connected means changing expectations, but also changing opportunities. In a context of duress, where the state is absent in providing basic needs, security and infrastructure, and where traditional and modern expectations collide, Nigerian youth has to creatively adopt ways of securing (improved) futures for themselves and their families. They are using their online and offline networks in inventive ways to work themselves up the social ladder, for example by setting up small scale businesses or building up a political career.
Mobile internet and the social media play an important role, not only in the ways in which youth use them to their future advantage practically. It’s also arguably essential for young Nigerians to inform themselves about and cope with uncertainty and insecurity in the country: a crucial aspect in dealing with the complexity of everyday life in urban centers in Nigeria’s south. Religion and humor are examples of discourses through which duress is emotionally digested and which grasp the soul of long-term endurance of societal uncertainties. This research argues that these media and these discourses on duress shape youth’s decision-making in contemporary southern Nigeria in new, inventive ways.
But not only does this research look at contemporary Nigeria, with all its problems concerning security (Boko Haram), high levels of corruption and a huge gap between the rich and the poor. It also looks at the (recent) history of the people in the region of the study, through the experience of key informants and their families. By collecting and analyzing life stories, biographies, of some key informants, the research tries to understand decision-making in contemporary Nigeria within the context of long-term duress. Not only did the environment and sociopolitical circumstances change in the last 30 years, so did the ways in which people could connect. Whereas there was occasional exchange between the rural areas where people came from and the urban environments they’d settled in a few decades ago, the ties with family back home have increased and become much more regular with the coming of the mobile phone. This arguably leads to new uncertainties for youth in the southern Nigeria city, which come forth out of a discrepancy between (traditional and ‘historical’) generational, ethnic and religious expectations and those of the young urban settler of today.
For this PhD research, I have conducted 14 months of ethnographic fieldwork in Nigeria between 2013 and 2015. In my final work I will equally draw on my experiences, data and notes of earlier fieldwork in Nigeria in 2010 and 2011. Most of my fieldwork was done in Enugu, in the southeast of Nigeria, but I’ve conducted smaller parts of my fieldwork in Calabar (south south) and Ibadan (southwest). Much of my research was also done online and with my smartphone, through the virtual world of Facebook and Whatsapp.