Sam Omatseye: Nigeria’s growing artificial class

by Sam Omatseye

Nigerians shopping

I refer to the children of the very rich among us. They are disconnected from the soul of the society. Or shall I say they are engrafting a new soul on our society.

Nothing explains the primitive profile of our capitalist system more than the chasm between the rich and poor. This is a cliché, but that is why it is a tragedy. I see this tragedy more in the furtive rise of a new cadre of the young in the society.

I refer to the children of the very rich among us. They are disconnected from the soul of the society. Or shall I say they are engrafting a new soul on our society. I call it furtive because we see it and we seem not to see it.

They are those kids who attend the very elite schools in our midst. Those schools, especially those in Lagos and Abuja, cost a fortune per year. Parents spend millions of Naira per ward just to ensure that they enjoy the most rarified and snobbish of classrooms. The classrooms are different. They are five star in quality, in facilities, ambience, in the accents of the English, even in the trajectory of their curriculum. They feed better at school, are chauffeured to and from school, and know no circle of friends except the vortex of snobbery that such an exclusive club offers.

On graduation, the parents cannot see any secondary school good enough for them except in the United Kingdom or the United States. They spend top dollars. When they are done with high school, the next step is to secure a place for them in some of American or British universities. But these children are still not British, neither are they American. They are Nigerian. They spend their holidays here and circulate within the same circle of friends in the primary school in Ikoyi or Victoria Island.

But the father, a well-heeled man in the business and political high tower of society, knows that the son or daughter will return home. He has a job waiting, and the job is a tony one, in the banks, telecoms or oil sectors. Others enjoy the privilege of high political apprenticeships.

When they come they lord it over those who have sweated in the innards of Nigeria. They understand what it means to suffer and to enjoy in Nigeria. They know what it means to be without electricity, to jump on danfo, to hunger, to hope against hope for school fee to be paid by a struggling uncle. If they are female, they understand the alienation of their bodies from their souls as they have to compromise their pride for lucre just to get by. Those who live in Mushin or in the creeks or on the crowded suburbs of the North understand the fears of living in the life of the average Nigerian.

But the new cadre of the young have no such experience. Yet they are placed in a position to rule over those who know the society. How will they decide what best product the average Nigerian should consume, what are the emergencies in education or in infrastructure or the heres and nows of political agitation?

While the kids are enjoying the high-profile education in the upscale suburbs and in the Western world, the young here are educating themselves in the crucible of underdevelopment. But the new cadre has now spawned another cadre. These are the ones who go through the normal school system from primary to secondary school and even to the university but think they want to belong. So they eke out the funds to secure a master’s degree abroad.

Others pursue their first degrees abroad. But they know, too, that they don’t belong there. They belong here. But their parents are not so rich and connected. When they come back, they do not get any jobs. They are alienated from the society they left behind. They are immiserated. They are like the character in one of J.P. Clark’s poems who cannot go forward and cannot go back.

What created this class dilemma? It is our educational system. The parents do not want their children to suffer the inadequacies of the Nigerian education. But the same elite class impoverished and devastated that education system. Now they have left the education system to rot and decay.

I have had a chance to interact with some of the products from “abroad” and I find them so synthetic. I also see that they love Nigeria but different from the way a Mushin man loves Nigeria. These synthetic Nigerians live and breathe only in the tony part of the land, and when they travel it is either to Europe, Dubai or the United States. They don’t see Nigeria as a nation to save but a place to exploit. They see it as a place to tap and enjoy because that was how they were raised. Those who rise genuinely can understand the life of privilege from the context of the life of the deprived. Those are better able to handle our anomies.

When they organise events, they see only the world they know, the world of the privileged. Those who have lived in the United States know this experience, especially in the relations between the whites and blacks. The whites tend not to understand the peculiar sufferings and needs of the blacks, partly because those in power tend not to have experienced it except in the abstract. The whites go to white schools, worship in white churches and shop in the high-end stores. Over a decade ago when Jeff Bush, brother of President George W. Bush, was asked what he would do for the blacks, he said he had no plans for them. It generated firestorms of attacks and recriminations. I recall being asked by a white woman to have dinner with her family in Colorado. She had two sons. She was happy I came because, according to her, her sons who were in their early twenties had never sat before at dinner with a black man.

But the society is making efforts to address this divide even among the rich like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. The Supreme Court ruled that affirmative action should factor in admissions into American top universities. The reason was that if the whites and blacks schooled together and lived as roommates, they will understand the society better.

The best way we can attack this is by reviving our education. Indications show that the fruits are beginning to show, if slowly. The work going on in Lagos State public schools with standards rising is a potential antidote against the toxic trend of the emerging artificial class. The governor of example, Babatunde Raji Fashola, SAN, is doing this with a blend of standards, testing, facilities and training. On the other end, the elimination of the house boy and house girl syndrome in Akwa Ibom State by Governor Godswill Akpabio are good signs. Some will take time to seed and flower like the leveling of classes with the tablet of revolution from Osun State and Ekiti State’s insistence on standards.

Our rich do not know the value of money other than personal comfort. They think like the privileged that are lampooned in Thorstein Veblen’s masterpiece of social x-ray, The Theory of the Leisure Class. He coined the phrase “conspicuous consumption” to mock the avoidable waste of resources for their egos. It is the attitude of throwing weddings and birthdays in Dubai and Spain that we have also transferred to education. Nothing is worth rescuing at home. We plunder the home front and take refuge abroad. The result is to alienate the many and plant the seed for a potential social unrest. The trend must stop as the bomb ticks.


Red, amber or green?

I learned recently that Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan has enshrined a new template to monitor to progress of Delta State’s project and commissioners. They are used to know on a quarterly basis who is working and who is behind. If you score red, it means you are not performing, and your job is in danger. If you are amber, you are in a precarious position. If green, you are doing well. This is a simple way to work. I think other governors should follow this or create their own templates. It simplifies governance. It is the traffic light of performance.


Read this article on the Nation Newspapers


Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

Comments (0)

  1. Interesting article. I dont think the writer has a beef with rich kids, I think he has a beef with the clear demarcation of classes. I have said this before, there are many “Nigerias;, the one you live in a function of your class, wealth, regions, ethnic group and religion.

    I grew up with a lot of these artificial class you speak of, the sheltered type. I was always not as connected as they were and had to use my brain, scholarships and the like to get some of the things they did. I think the problem with a lot of these people is that they have been conditioned not to empathize and chose not to empathize with the plight of other members of society. They stay in the bubble of their pre-ordained life and make decisions for the country without touching base with the majority.

  2. Well written article but do you think Gov. Fashola is doing enough? At N169k per session he has not only reduced the number of ordinary Nigerians that will attend university, he has widened the gap between the rich and the poor further in a nation where N18k is the minimum wage.

  3. BEEF for rich kids…simple

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