A study of Nigeria’s social architecture reveals certain intriguing characteristics of its social and economic elite; those humanoids whose preferential placement in the higher reaches of the system ensures distinct advantages of wealth and opportunity. Now, this kind of social laddering is not unique to Nigeria, nor indeed is it necessarily totally undesirable, not least as a stimulus to striving. The in-built exploitation is inevitable, of course, and must stimulate the conscience of the advantaged and the fervor of the disadvantaged- in all climes.
Other places strive to mitigate the consequences of this disadvantage, by private charity or public programmes, and thereby aim to increase the comfort of the socially disadvantaged, that they might not perish and retain some potential, albeit reduced, to work their way out of their disadvantaged, or in older times, fornicate their way out of it. This is called enlightened self-interest and is an even stronger incentive to charity than altruism- a genuine belief in the responsibility of the strong to the weak, however, defined. At any rate, the wealthy would often avoid conspicuous displays of affluence, not to rub the noses of the poor in it, so that they might be mollified and encouraged. That’s how the lucky aristocrats kept their heads. The rich keep their fortune and the poor are provided a safety net, an illusion of democratic entitlement and from time to time, a fiesta of patriotic bonhomie to create a feeling of togetherness.
In Nigeria, our social elite has no such pretensions. Such is their collective blindness and utter lack of introspective capacity that, once most of the European colonialist buccaneers left, and thankfully the Arab thugs didn’t bother with more than hit and run banditry, they simply moved into the sinecures vacated by the foreign masters. And then acted as it that iniquitous social programme of systematic disadvantage could be vitiated by superficial sops, religious invocations and the irregular drips of juice from the gilded cups of the fortunate. When this fortune is attained, not by hard work, but often by vertically transmitted preferments or sexually acquired positioning, it loses any iota of genuine admiration and respect. If this is then compounded by a habit of lousy showiness, callous indifference and open disdain for others, a pit of resentment is being dug, slowly and steadily, in the minds of ordinary citizens.
Why do these perfidies persist when the perpetrators are so much fewer than the victims? Well, the weapons of inertia are of course quite potent psychological weapons. Somehow, stealing of the common patrimony is better if done by my kinsman than by the thief from the other group. And the soothing effects of this tribalist wound salve can be magnified by a recourse to religious belief, especially if you are lucky to have a zeitgeist where nebulous faith is the norm rather than a genuine context-purified understanding of Holy texts, and therefore the silly invocations of acolyte ministers are supposed to be indicative of a divine purpose, to be generally understood, unquestioningly accepted and obediently surrendered to, a prudent down payment for a blissful afterlife.
However, like the proverbial greedy fly that follows a corpse into the grave, the Nigerian elite miss, time and again, ample opportunity for both correction and restitution. They continue to flaunt their lavish lifestyles in the faces of the dispossessed. They maintain their opulent lifestyles. They continue to deny the poor a modicum of dignity and a tiny ray of hope. They are ever more inventive in designing and deploying outrageous means of conspicuous consumption. They forget that every elastic object has a limit and that even the long-suffering Nigerian poor have a finite limit to their tolerance of pain.
If they are lucky, the revolution will come from within and a small but effective group from their ranks, educated penitents like many of us University-educated professionals in some comfort and security. We are angry but reasonable and will probably punish these infelicities by no more than hard slaps on the wrist, and perhaps kicks to the groin. If that fails, the inevitable explosion of anger will consume us all and the angry mobs will not be impressed by proof of legitimate income when our gilded cages are stormed and like Bastille and Torquilstone breached.
If I could, I’d pray that the Nigerian elite has an awakening.
Femi Adebajo can be reached on Facebook