We are now less than a year to the next general elections and very soon, the political parties will commence their party primaries to determine their candidates for the elections. While most Nigerians desire a change in governance, many believe that most of the available elected offices at the elections will be won by one of the big two parties (APC or PDP) and also, that those who have been around and have loads of cash stand the better chance.
However, in the last few weeks, citizens with no political experience but with credible records in their industry have put themselves forward for various offices and several are using political parties that are new or not part of the big two. While the rise in Technocrats putting themselves forward should be exciting news, there is an urgent need for a mindset change by Nigerians particularly those of the Middle Class.
The Middle Class is defined as the social group between the upper and working classes, including professional and business people and their families. Ours may not be a Middle Class with a high average income bracket but she does have influence and a responsibility.
At our independence till about the late 80s, the few Nigerians who were educated emphasised tertiary education for their children (both boys and girls). Also, during that period, the working class seeking to elevate their class harnessed the free or affordable public school education to ensure their children gained good education.
The result was a growth in the class of Nigerians with education, global experience and worldview that emerged at a time Technology (Internet, Social Media, e-commerce, etc) and globalisation took centre stage. Interestingly, several in the Middle Class are dual citizens of Nigeria and countries like UK, US, Canada, Germany, France, etc.
Yes, the majority of our citizens are still in the working class but the growth of the Middle Class has reached levels never seen before and with the employment market decreasing as this group’s numbers increase, theyare seen not only in Diaspora and in urban cities but also in rural areas where some are putting their education to use by harnessing opportunities to create wealth.
However, I believe the biggest failing in our democratic experiment since 1999 has been the lack of active engagement by the Middle Class. We focused on our businesses, careers, private education of our children, acquisition of houses and cars, passionate following of sports and various leisure activities to keep our minds off the Nigerian problem, while Nigeria continued to decline.
Now, we cry the loudest because government policies are hitting us hard and more painful is the fact that we know we have many ethical, credible and competent citizens in our class who can deliver better governance. I believe there is no time like now for many in the Middle Class to become key actors in our political space.
So, what role must ourMiddle Class play?
Educate/Enlighten the working class: It is usually argued with the current mindset that our current politicians will exploit the poverty and ignorance of the working class to gather sufficient votes to defeat the credible candidates. The Middle Class may not have the controlling percentages of votes but she weighs enormous influence on the working class.
Every day we interact with our drivers, security men, cooks, cleaners, artisans (plumbers, electricians, mechanics, tailors, carpenters, etc.) which offers us a great opportunity to properly educate them on why they should not allow campaign gifts or ethnic/religious consideration influence their voting decision. If need be, they can be made to understand that they can collect those gifts and still vote for credible candidates.
The Middle Class has to work hard to paint a picture of what can be achieved by credible candidates in the Legislature and the Executive. Part of the enlightenment/education includes helping them understand that their State Governor, Local Government Chairman and member of the State House of Assembly are more relevant to their development than the President.
This is the main work for the Middle Class and it requires consistent effort to persuade and turn them into ‘evangelists’ to their families and communities.
Participate:The Middle Class has to lead by example by ensuring the working class see their participation in the political process. Political engagement doesn’t mean standing for office alone; in fact, that is a small part of it.
The Middle Class need to be involved in a political party, supporting with finances and expertise and participating in the party primaries so that the general elections can have many credible candidates presented by the parties.
When the Middle Class is actively involved, they will not only educate/enlighten the working class but will also actively mobilise them to participate or vote for their preferred candidates by selling to them what their candidate will do when in office.
There are two key ways change comes – Messaging and Modelling. The Middle Class may not have the power and wealth of the political class but she is closer to the working class and therefore her biggest influence. With effective messaging (educating/enlightening) and effective modelling (participating), the Middle Class can change the so called predicted outcome of the 2019 elections by ensuring credible candidates are voted into office and also provide the platform these candidatesneed to undertake the much needed reforms.
This calls for an enormous sacrifice of resources (time and money). Will our middle class stop complaining on Social Media and reduce the distractions so we can focus their energy on what we all greatly desire? The ball is in our court.