As generations move from one phase of life to another, ethos, crafts, knowledge, among other attributes that have bounded them together as one will begin to give way for new ones. The old sometimes infused into the new, giving birth to something entirely different. Aside bringing changes that often disorient societies, this infusion could make the younger generation to culturally disparate generations before it, thereby causing distortions in thoughts and histories.
Perhaps, it is to avoid this that traditional societies across Africa continent subscribe to mentorship, using the patron (master)-servant (client) method to impact and transfer knowledge in the arts, music, technology, architecture, trade; all facets of life.
However, as the various African societies are opening up for new ideas, the principle of mentorship is also waning, shifting attention to self as against the general principle of working for the general good of the community. This inauspicious situation has begun to take its tolls on all human activities, especially the youths, the conveyor of culture from one generation to another, who are sandwiched between pop culture and the diminishing local cultures.
With this confusion in the air, one begins to wonder if the African society would ever get better and where lies mentorship amid the army of professional in the arts, culture and other facet of life.
Dr Raphael James, a psychologist, author and publisher, who runs CRIMMD Library, a free public library that is also into free skill acquisition training for women and the girl child, said the youth need mentorship to excel in any field.
According to him, mentorship could be likened to the parable of the hen taking its chicks through the process of searching for food by scratching the ground. He noted mentoring the youth would make them perform better in their studies and any trade they go into.
The author and publisher disclosed that he went into free mentorship programme on reading when he discovered that the current generation of youths could hardly sit and read for long on their own. Adding that mentorship has the good and the bad sides, Dr. James noted that the mentor must set achievable goals that would profit the mentee, show integrity and be of good character for anything positive to come out of the training.
“I set achievable goals of being able to make my mentees improve on their reading habit; make them develop interest in reading and also provide books of all kind, including school texts. I make the library free and they come at their own time to read and discuss with other readers.“To make my mentees believe in the goals set for them and also be focused, I eschew activities that could reduce the value and respect they have for me. With this, they trust, listen and follow the group and individual goals set. If the youth could imbibe reading culture, Nigeria and Africa as a whole will be a better place for all. We will have great, responsive and responsible leaders because readers make great leaders.”
James disclosed that mentorship is of great value to the youths, according to him, providing platform for the youths, especially those in the secondary school, to read and grow has encouraged many who would have been a secondary school dropout to not only complete secondary school education, but to excelled in their various internal and external examinations.
“Mentorship is of great value, I can categorically state that 95 per cent of my mentees are doing well in their studies and those who entered for the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB), and other examinations came out in flying colours. Through the use of my free library, I have helped to build self-confidence and instil good manners in the youth and this have saved many from dropping out of school, reduced the risk of getting involved in alcohol and substance abuse, as well as joining cults,” he said.
At what age must the mentorship programme start? The award-winning youth motivator said it is good to start young. According to him, catching them young is the in-thing because they are still at the age of innocence.“It is good to start while they are still young. Michael Jackson and his brothers (The Jackson Five) were captured at a very tender age. Venus and Serena, the Williams daughters, also started at a very early age. Mentorship should start from day one the child begins to learn; ‘teach a child how to grow and when he grows he will never depart from it.’
Mentorship is life and life starts from the beginning. A child that is allowed to play and destroy things at home because he is still very young will grow up to see such maladjusted behaviour as normal, which is why mentorship should start at a very early age,” he said.For Kenneth Uphopho, choreographer, arts manager, producer, content creator and acting coach, mentoring young ones is a deliberate and calculated way to transfer his creative skills to the youth, aside building a community of creatives. He disclosed that without mentorship, it would be impossible to have a vibrant community of theatre makers that will make Nigerian Theatre formidable and accessible both locally and internationally.
Identifying youth mentorship as a tough terrain to toe, Uphopho noted that many youths are open and ready to learn and for this, he is trying to revive the ‘apprenticeship’ format of engagement, which will expose them to the harsh realities of theatre business once they graduate from school, or even while still in school.He said: “Today’s youth have a lot of things distracting their them. They have access to the Internet and could use it to express themselves the way they want, but there is also the dearth of mentors. The percentage of theatre graduates practicing theatre is relatively lower than those in corporate employment or in business. This is an anomaly that we hope will change soon and it is part of the reason we are creating platforms such as the Lagos Fringe and the Lagos Theatre Festival for creative exchanges and to showcase emerging voices.
“It is important to have mentorship in the arts, especially performance arts because the creative process is a two way thing — the performer and the audience. You need someone whose interaction with the process has been oiled with time and has also achieved results (and battle scars).”
Uphopho, who has spent over two decades in the theatre business developing talents, creating content, managing festivals and directing plays revealed that he did not develop his stagecraft and directing skills overnight. According to him, he worked and honed his skills with seasoned choreographers, technicians, producers, directors and mentors, including Felix Okolo, Wole Oguntokun, Steve James, John Obeh, Muyiwa Oshinaike, Abel Utuedor, Prof Ahmed Yerima, Austine Ajibolade, among others who impacted diverse and varied skills in the arts in him. He noted that training under the masters should be encouraged.
ON who should mentor the youths? Isioma Williams, co-ordinator of Gongbeats Productions and Founder/Director of Drumsview Concept, believes it should be professional artistes/artists that have mastered his or her acts in his or her chosen art genre and also have the interest of the youth at heart that should mentor the youth.
Accepting mentoring to start early in ones life, he noted that those who lost the opportunity at an early age can still start any time they show interest, provided they will be willing to cooperate with their trainers.
Stressing that Nigeria has a paucity of art promoters/performers to mentor the youths, he observed that this is as a result of the industry not producing enough serious and committed artists/artistes. According to Williams, it takes selfless efforts, total commitment, interest and the desire for knowledge and to acquire skills to grow the art industry and to have mentors to nurture young ones. He stressed that mentoring should be a follow-up to encouraging young ones to developing and as well as hone their skills.
On whether the youths are ready to learn from the master, Williams, who runs a Traditional Drums Clinic to groom youths on how to beat different African drums, revealed that many of our youths are unserious and do not know exactly what they want in life or what they want to be. According to him, they want to get rich overnight, want a shortcut to success and do not want to be guided.
“While there are a few youths doing well in the system and making waves, majority of the youths are not serious enough to learn from the masters. They don’t even know what they want and are not prepared to be under authority. They want to be free and like to be where they can do whatever they want without being scolded. They lack the endurance and attitude to learn, which is the reason we are experiencing the rot we have today in the arts,” he stated.
Corroborating what Williams said, Segun Adefila, co-founder and artistic director/choreographer of Crown Troupe of Africa, a performance art company, noted that mentoring is key in growth and development of the arts. According to him, mentorship is a form of school, where knowledge and skill not impacted on the mentee in the formal school setting could be taught by seasoned and tested trainers. Revealing that since mentoring is carried out by masters that have tested the waters — have been there — he said such people will surely impact on the learner what the four walls of any institution can hardly do.
Philosophising that life is a classroom, the Crown Troupe of Africa co-founder disclosed that many people are not aware that mentoring and sustainability are offshoots of the same parents. He noted that great ideas die with the ideologues because such people failed to sow seeds, mentor people. Not sparing the youths, Adefila said many youths have allowed the waves of the times to take the better side of them, forgetting that they have a lot to learn from life and the master to improve on themselves.
President/Founder, Eko International Film Festival (EKOIFF), Hope Obioma Opara, disclosed serving as a mentor brings many challenges and rewards, especially with mentors shaping his or her mentees to be what they are capable of becoming, rather than just being his or her good followers or imitators.
According to him, the process if properly channeled leaves a lasting impact, including career benefits to both parties. Listing some of the benefits of mentorship, he said: “Mentor takes a long-range view the mentee’s growth and development; helps him or her to see the destination, but does not give the detailed map to get there; and offers encouragement and cheerleading roles.”
Opara stated that understanding the roles of a mentor makes a critical starting point for success in this relationship and urges anybody that has the determination to grow in his or her field to get a mentor and learn what it takes to attain great heights.