Nigerian middle class and the politics of apathy

December 30, 2011 § Leave a comment

Kenneth Amaeshi

Guardian Newspapers: Monday, 11 April 2011 00:00

MOST Nigerians, home and abroad, are very fascinated as the political drama in the country reaches its climax. Those in the diaspora are almost in frenzy about it. When it comes to news about Nigerian politics, they behave like starved lions. Their hunger for authentic news is unquenchable yet understandable. Unfortunately, they are not on ground to actively keep abreast of things for themselves; but rely on sparsely reported, and sometimes filtered, news items on both print and electronic media. Notwithstanding their nuanced perspectives, depending on the news media you pay attention to, from time to time, these Nigerians go back and forth in their analyses of the political happenings in the motherland.

Often, they inadvertently, but erroneously, measure the quality of Nigerian politics against the political standards of the countries they reside in – especially those in North America and Europe. Sometimes, you can feel their frustration and passion for Nigeria to realise its great but latent potential. They want to return to a great country. They know better than most that there is no place like home, and for many of them, they have outstayed their welcome in the diaspora. They want Nigeria to wake up from its slumber and wonder why we can’t make it as a country if other countries less endowed and enriched than we are have made it. These Nigerians in the diaspora are not necessarily in the middle class of the society in which they live in. However, they have been influenced by and socialised into political discourses and the power of politics in the societies in which they live.  They have seen firsthand how the collective power of the people can create positive governance in a good society, by holding the political class to account – an appreciation, which has eluded the ordinary man and woman in Nigeria. This is only a side of the coin.

In contrast to the passion and enthusiasm of the man and woman of the diaspora for a better governed Nigeria, there is this middle class Nigeria resident who is equally aware of good governance practices and, is potentially powerful. However, he has become unshakeably westernised in his tastes and preferences. He might even have lived abroad at some point in time and still has frequent opportunities to migrate beyond the shores of Africa.  Often times, he is materially and financially more advantaged than the average Nigerian in the diaspora.  His typical lifestyle would include a year long season ticket to premiership games, business class flights on business trips and first class flights to exotic locations.  His wife no doubt shares his flair for all things western. Her pastimes include catching up on Oprah Winfrey, Tyra Banks, and Loose Women. Their children are in private schools, with the hope of being transformed into westernised idols and icons.

Both parents probably work for a bank, a telecoms firm, an oil and gas company, or are self-made entrepreneurs in some knowledge-based industry. So many things seem to work well for them, and they try to re-create western lifestyles and tastes in their own self-made world. When you talk to them, they tell you that Nigeria is the place to make the big bucks. But this is where their attachment to Nigeria ends. Aside this, they remain aloof and disconnected from all the goings-on in Nigeria. They can give you a minute by minute analysis of the UK and U.S. by-elections, based of course, on their regular BBC and CNN channel feeds. Yet, they often know close to nothing about the parties and candidates contesting in their local wards. Did they even register to vote? And if they registered, would they vote?

Notwithstanding, this class of people is very knowledgeable. They have been exposed to and know what a good society should look like. To a large extent, and without prejudice, they are decent individuals who have worked their way to the top, counting less on good luck and banking more on hard work. They have grown to be independent of the government, and as such find the government very irrelevant to their cause. In the main, they think that the Nigerian brand of politics is a dirty and unprofessional game that should be left for the touts and no-gooders. Albeit, this perception is gradually changing, but not in quantum leaps and bounds. On the few occasions when they engage in political discourse, they know what is wrong with Nigeria and what could be good for the country, yet for reasons best known to them, they do not want to be part of the solution. As the proverbial underground animal, they have created escape routes in case Nigeria goes bad at any time. They have multiple nationalities – are their children not American and or European citizens? In sum, they are prone to behave like holocausts and feed on Nigeria as parasites. It is this detachment that is overly worrying.

However, given the global reach of their mindset, the average middle class resident Nigerian is usually de-tribalised. He constitutes a potential powerful force to re-balance the Nigerian political dynamics and landscape, only if he could be meaningfully engaged. His votes are not likely to be bought, since he is to a large extent financially self sufficient. He can serve as a credible link between the top and the bottom of the Nigerian polity. He can afford to hold the political class accountable. He can add rigour and vibrancy to the demands of the grass-root political activists. His mind offers a very fertile ground to sow the seed of ideology driven politics. Yet he remains passive and aloof. What will wake this sleeping giant amongst us, many ask? Definitely, not the old generation politicians who strive on the political patronage of god-fatherism with no ideological bent. These politicians are mere political prostitutes who epitomise the grand principle of the oldest trade: “money for hand, back for ground”.

Despite the political hopelessness of the nouveau middle class in Nigeria, I sense some level of optimism for change. This change, I suspect, will be led by the internet and information communication technologies. It will be led by the twitters, the facebooks, linkedins, and blackberries of this world. These technologies are beginning to serve as a link between the grass-root passions of Nigerians in the diaspora and the economic power of the middle class Nigerians resident in the country. I suspect that through these media, the tastes and preferences of the middle class Nigerian resident would be challenged to the point that he would be galvanised into very potent political astuteness. There have been pockets of such as the elections roll on.

Irrespective of their rudimentary nature, they could contribute to some permanent changes to the fundamentals of the Nigerian politics that has for a long time now been constrained by religious bigotry and ethnic rivalries promoted by corrupt and selfish politicians. To further demonstrate the power of the internet generation, as I was about wrapping up this piece, I got this message on my blackberry in relation to the Senate and House of Representatives election: “MESSAGE to the winning teams: We didn’t vote for you, we voted for change, if you mess up, you’re out in 4 years or before then. TRUST US!” One can only hope and wish that our politicians wake up to this new age politics; and long may the struggle continue!

 • Dr Amaeshi teaches Strategy & International Business at the University of Edinburgh Business School United Kingdom.

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