Many, in fact, most Nigerians apparently believe in some sort of tacit conspiracy among successive generations of Nigerian top politicians, high-ranking government officials and their associates in the private sector to perpetuate monopoly and manipulation of power and other sources of influence. This, in turn, has given rise to the widespread belief in the existence of a systematic class dichotomy in the country.
This belief is so deep-rooted that it’s repeatedly insinuated and even expressly asserted in academic lecture halls, newspaper columns, social media posts and, of course, mai-shayi and other roadside joints. In fact, even those who claim to never believe in conspiracy theory do unconsciously make subtle yet clear assertions confirming their belief in the existence of this dichotomy.
After all, the reality appears to justify its existence. For instance, obviously, notwithstanding a Nigerian’s moral and professional credentials, his chances of accessing privileged opportunities that guarantee him, say, a lucrative job in the civil service, a lofty political appointment in government or appropriate business opportunities in the private sector, depend on the extent of the influence of his direct or indirect connections in the corridors of power or mansions of influential power brokers. In fact, even the degree to which he enjoys protection from injustice is equally determined accordingly.
This explains why the overwhelming majority of Nigerians groan under social injustice and economic hardship. Non-corrupt civil servants amongst them who are, by the way, relatively few, struggle to survive on their relatively meager legitimate incomes, while the majority are involved in various corrupt practices and acts of extortion. Also, the already largely struggling self-employed and businessmen amongst them endure the persistent frustration associated with poor infrastructure and public services, inconsiderate government policies, sanctioned extortions and corrupt practices of many relevant law enforcement agents.
There is indeed a disproportionate disparity between the vulnerable majority and the tiny “privileged” minority in terms of access to quality education, quality healthcare, safety, security and other indispensable services, which has given rise to an apparent class dichotomy in the society that some Nigerians attribute to an alleged conspiracy, whereas others believe it has simply automatically developed over the decades.
Now, it’s pertinent to note that a systematic class dichotomy had indeed existed particularly in precolonial northern Nigeria. Also, upon their violent subjugation of the region, the British capitalized on it to consolidate their colonial reign over the region. They achieved that via the introduction of an indirect ruling system through which they directly controlled the emirs who, in turn, controlled their respective people accordingly thereby consolidating the British colonial rule.
Also, for obvious strategic reasons, accesses to privileged government positions, privileged business opportunities and other means of attaining positions of influence in the region were practically exclusively reserved for the descendants of the traditional ruling dynasties, their associates, friends and loyalists to the exclusion of the rest who were derogatively referred to as the Talakawa.
However, that virtual monopoly of the sources of influence gradually faded away over the subsequent decades particularly following the eventual departure of the British from the region and the country, paving the way for the children of the so-called Talakawa to aspire to, and indeed, attain high government positions, and also achieve their potential in education, business and other competitive endeavours.
Yet, many Nigerians still argue that a systematic class dichotomy does still persist in the country, albeit in disguise, referring to the systematic abuse of power perpetrated by successive sets of military and civilian leaders and top government officials in the civil service with the connivance of their accomplices in the private sector, hence holding them exclusively responsible for the persistent leadership failure in the country.
Nevertheless, I, for one, don’t see it that way. Instead, I believe the era of systematic class dichotomy has indeed ended. Nigerians who believe otherwise do apparently confuse the endemic culture of corruption, nepotism and impunity in the country with a systematic class dichotomy. However, inasmuch as I don’t absolve, in fact, not even downplay the particular responsibility of successive generations of Nigerian leaders for the country’s persistent leadership failure, I don’t limit the blame on them exclusively, either. After all, though the children of the Talakawa from the so-called humble backgrounds have already hugely outnumbered those from the so-called privileged backgrounds, in the corridors of power and other spheres of influence in the country, yet the same culture of impunity, nepotism, systematic corruption and its attendant economic deterioration and socio-political instability have not only persisted anyway, but have actually got worse.
Basically, it isn’t a question of class; rather it’s simply a question of attitude. In reality, there is actually no attitudinal difference between the average Nigerian struggling to survive and a typical privileged Nigerian in a position of authority. Both lack sincere commitment to nation-building. Also, the fact that the former is only engaged in relatively petty corrupt practices through which he makes few hundreds or thousands of Naira doesn’t basically make him any different from the latter who loots million or billions, for he (i.e. former) wouldn’t hesitate to do the same or even worse, given the chance. This, therefore, underscores the imperative of focusing on attitudinal change in our collective quest for a real and sustainable change in the country.