By Bamidele Adeola-Olateju
Nigeria has afoot a debilitating moral crisis with the middle class as the causative agent. The steady decline leading to the crisis had always been there. However, it is only now that it is exacting its detrimental cost. The crisis of public morality in Nigeria doesn’t lie in the symptoms like stealing, corruption, greed and all those social ills that define us as a people. The major problem is the disengaged educated elite – the middle class.
The middle class is an amoral collective – the ruiners of this nation. At issue are their socio-political indifference, I-better-pass-my-neighbour mentality, general apathy and a certain exaggerated sense of comfort and worth. At issue also is their complicity in entrenching the deep rot in their country – tolerating, aiding and abetting a decadent and exploitative system and a set of policies and politics that has been used and still being used to batter and browbeat their fellow Nigerians.
These policies, as they are often coined since 1978, are dressed up with catchy titles like “Operation Feed The Nation” (OFN), “Green Revolution”, “Structural Adjustment Program” (SAP), “Vision 2010″, “Vision 2020″, “Economic Growth and Debt Payment”, “Seven-Point Agenda”, “Transformation Agenda” etc. All of these were never imbued with any kind of moral or social currency. They were designed to hoodwink the masses and gain access to the treasury.
That is why we have policies that gut education but increases defence spending so the military fat cats cream us off. The health care system is broken but importers of fake, expired and substandard drugs are thriving. We have crumbling infrastructure, where available, but contractors have their accounts awash with cash. The land use act, designed as a program to enhance food security and accessibility to land for industrial and residential purposes, has been twisted essentially as a land grab scheme where top military figures fleeced locals out of their land and complicating land issues.
There isn’t a single policy since the late 1970s that is not steeped in moral failing while being dressed up in moral righteousness. It is a very strange thing that a people who are so steeped in public display of religiosity and who most fervently want to project morality are those who are helping to sustain an immoral system and finding loopholes to derail the implementation of whatever good policy there is.
Anywhere, energy is the engine for economic growth but as long as generators can be bought, no one deems it necessary to confront the power issue headlong and demand real change. The economy lies prostrate chiefly because of epileptic power supply leaving people without a key ingredient in employing their creativity and ingenuity. The middle and top classes are completely disconnected with the bottom who they treat with utter disdain. The bottom is the war front where there is constant battle for survival. The bottom is where the infrastructure of the stomach is important than physical infrastructure as revealed by the election of Ayodele Fayose in Ekiti-State. The bottom is where the language is survival. The bottom is the biome of neglect.
What to do? This country’s middle class must save this country to save themselves. The middle class must embrace a traditionalist philosophy. Adam Smith in “The Theory of Moral Sentiments,” developed a crucial policy question: How do you embed people in relationships that will discourage selfish behaviour and emotionally reward virtue and self-control? Nigeria’s middle class will be better served to adopt the traditionalist philosophy of building and strengthening institutions that breed responsible people instead of undermining them as long as their own basic comfort is guaranteed. Elect the right people to build institutions and strengthen old ones instead of distributing cash, money, rice and clothing. The tone and nature of politics in this country can and will change if the middle class stays engage in the political process. Nigeria can be a better country if the middle class believes that there is more to life than owning a house, car, generator, borehole, guards, maids and enjoying vacations.
The Ekiti election once again exposes the ugly soft underbelly of the aloof middle class. Political office holders are not elected on Twitter, Facebook or on cable channels in the comfort of our homes while we flip channels looking for our favourite program. We can elect the right leader only when we go out to vote. How do you encourage equal access to education for every child by not electing someone who believes in education and has a workable plan? How can you get young men to stay back in the villages, farm and be useful instead of drifting into the world of cult, kidnapping and all forms of violence without people who can get the process going?
How can you build a nation that cares for the vulnerable among us without electing someone who shares your belief into a position where it can be done? We want a nation held together by shared beliefs. We want a nation where people flourish because they have been encouraged by society to adopt certain habits and behaviours that advances everyone fair and square. Nations who have had these done definitely have a politically engaged and active middle class with heightened sense of values.
Nigeria is all too sick and getting sicker. Politicians in the executive arm and their minions loot because the civil servants, who are in the middle class, allow it. The top military brass creams off defence budgets because the officers cadre let it pass. The Judiciary subverts justice because they are given to inducement. Law enforcement takes bribes and they are the middle class. The legislatures do not legislate because they are in bed with the executive and separation of powers is alien to them and voter apathy makes it possible for charlatans to be elected into high office.
Apart from the Judiciary, other arms of government are subject to elections but the middle class does not vote. They are too pedantic, self-conceited and self-opinionated with a certain uneducated arrogance to “waste” a few hours on a line with peasants and “ruffians” to vote. The battle is between cutthroat free-market capitalism on a pedestal of indifference on one hand and social philosophy on another.
The first step is to acknowledge that there is a moral crisis in this country. A frightening crisis of voter apathy has enveloped us leaving a small section of the citizenry to elect those who determine what gets done and for whose benefit. Who is causing this crisis? It is the amoral collective of this nation known as the middle class. They are the ruiners of this nation and that includes you. Yes, you!
Bamidele Ademola-Olateju is on firstname.lastname@example.org