I have been thinking a lot about the Nigerian middle class recently. Two weeks ago, I wrote about the‘2019 Elections: The Role of the Middle Class’ and also spoke about ‘The role of the Middle Class in Nation-building’ at a recent speaking engagement. The more I deliberate on it, the more it is obvious her numerous failings in the political process.
When Nigeria had her independence in 1960, the Middle Class was very small in number. Most were either a member of the working class or a member of the new class of elites taking over power and governance from the British. The few educated folks became leaders in the Civil Service, Universities, Military, Police and Private Sector.
With the increase in citizens who now had access to tertiary education at home and abroad in the 1960s and 1970s, a growing Middle Class was emerging. Unfortunately, the middle cadre officers of the military who hated the elites but at the same time didn’t qualify as the working class, took over power and ruled Nigeria as the new elites from 1966 – 1979 (13 straight years).
The Middle Class did little to fight back for a return to a democratic dispensation and why would they? They finished tertiary education at home and abroad and got jobs with enticing perks given to them with little effort on their part. Besides, oil wealth flowed in the 70s and they enjoyed life with little workingdemands required of them by the ruling elites.
It was the Elites who lost out in 1966 that pressured and eventually got back power in 1979 but the outcome was dictated by the military elites to the distaste of the educated Elites. Of course, the rivalry and distrust between the Military Elites and the Educated Elites was bound to affect the tenure of the democratic dispensation. That sadly lasted for just 4 years and the Military Elites were back in power. The Middle Class were mere onlookers.
The Military stayed for another 16 years (1983 – 1999) before being forced to leave the scene. Unfortunately, at this point, most of the Elites of the 60s and 70s who fought hard to take back governance in 1979 were too old or had passed on. One would have hoped their place would have been taken over by the second generation Educated Elites but no, the battle to wrestle governance back from the Military Elites was led by a few first generation Middle Class.
One would have hoped to see the children (biological and ‘adopted’) of the Awolowos, Azikiwes, AhmaduBellos, Tafawa Balewas, Ojukwus, Waziri Ibrahims, Matthew Mbus, Akintolas, Soyinkas, Achebes, Eyo Itas, Michael Okparas, Anthony Enahoros, etc., lead the battle to return the military to the barracks through activities of their political movements. They failed to take up the vacuum left by their fathers because they focused on enjoying government privileges or stayed abroad to setup a comfortable living from the wealth of the parents.
If the few privileged children of the First and Second Republic Elites failed, it wasn’t as bad as the children of the second generation Middle Class – children born in the 60s, 70s and 80s to educated Middle Class parents who became the middle class of the 80s-00s.Like their parents, they too were mere onlookers even though they were far greater in number than the second generation Educated Elites and even the second generation Military Elites.
These were the citizens who benefitted the most from some form of free or subsided education, some went to Unity Colleges (inculcating the Nigerian Spirit) and almost all, participated in the National Youth Service Corp (NYSC). Though most didn’t study at first class institutions abroad, many did do a second degree abroad and with several enjoying government scholarship. Also, most of them returned home to join the Civil Service, Banking, Oil Companies, Telcos, Universities, etc.
Not even the economic downturns of the 80s and 90s would make this growing and influential group wake up to wrestle power back from the military (some preferred to relocate to Western countries). As a result, the minority first generation Middle Class citizens who obviously had come from a very challengingbackground seized the initiative in the late 90s. They became the beneficiaries of the return to a democratic dispensation in 1999 and they enforced their control through a structure that was built on the working class.
The end product was a new set of Elites, many of whom were intimidated by the profile of the second generation Middle Class and Educated Elites. They created militia groups, thugs and militants which they used to keep hold of political power instead of the use of ideas and true development strides.
This outcome only served to push the second generation Middle Class and Educated Elites far away from politics. Those who got invited to serve as political appointees soon found out their influence to implement their ideas was very limited due to the overwhelming influence of the first generation Middle Class who were now the Elites.
Since then, our political process has been largely distorted, making it difficult for credible Nigerians with great ideas to stand for elections, win and implement their ideas when in office. The new Elites control all parts of governance not just through their personnel in government institutions but also through the monetised and violent culture they have established.
It may seem the door was shut in 2007 and 2015 but the reality is, the well equipped group of second generation Middle Class and second generation Educated Elites have failed to build a political movement with the aim of hijacking power to bring real development. Until a critical mass of this group engages the political process strategically with long term goals and with a sacrificial mindset, nothing will change in our politics and national development.
It is therefore time to drop the Technocrat hat and wear the Politician hat. It is time for collaborations, synergy, initiating and building of a strong national political movement to firstly, sell their ideas that will build Nigeria and secondly, work on the grassroots level to win over the working class to vote them into office.