By Micheal A. Adeniyi
My friends, You know I have alway advocated for a simple living and high thinking, this is because I just won’t like any deviation from the Biblical strait and the narrow. In a sense, being a middle-class was nice I can say for sure after collating stories and history of the past from various older Nigerians
As a young Nigerian it is a surety that my talk of Middle class is not the way it was before now and ‘ not the way we are today’, My father use to take me back in time, then people were not poor, tho some had no money they have properties, some had little and none had a lot, but were all happy and nursed radical ideas over cups of Palmwine, tumblers of filter Juice shake or glasses of cold water, depending on the state of the health of their wallet.
They all enjoy healthy living as the Middle-class, The Middle class are the labour force and once you are working, you are comfortable. But today ” The working calss seems to be the lazy class: The poor ones. I don’t know about others who read this article, but I was transported to my growing up years not thinking of hunger, darkness, bad roads and all sort. Almost everyone was baring very rich pockets of privately-owned accounts which were also islands of relative affluence, their was less corruption Nigeria was one sprawling colony where everybody was equally a middle class citizen. We belonged to what was referred to as the ‘second-class’, quite unlike today’s middle-classes. Values, and not only the monthly salary daddy brought home, defined this amorphous segment of Nigeria society.
Tho people do say ‘Cut your coat according to your cloth’. My mother would not tire of reminding me, ‘Waste not, want not’. Food was never thrown into the garbage bin, it was recycled and reborn with exotic names, possibly coined to gloss over the misery of having to make do with shortages or she gets them packaged for the less privileged, those with defects and couldn’t work .
We were not poor, nor were our neighbours, including those in the extended neighbourhood. We were, as I said, a Middle class. Our parents counted their Naira and Kobo. We wear local designs and imported shirt that are not expensive. We wore shoes bought during festive season at discount sale. Home Sewn trousers was the owner’s pride and the beholder’s envy.
Simple living, high thinking was the glory, student were stars, workers were not beggers and looters were dishonourables, civil servants could afford to pay a gatekeeper, cleaner and so forth, they also help reduce unemployments. In a sense, being a middle class was nice, the rich were to be tolerated but not emulated.
In the last 16years the way we were was largely on account of corruption. Before then our economy, governed by, Agricultural export, and father said it was the only economy they knew. What we knew today was a oil version:
Materialism was not a guarantor of happiness. We were happy.
Since the past 16years we started suffering as we have to cope with eternal shortages, Salary structure was downtrodding, some looted our economy causing us to stand in long, serpentine queues at interviews, Lies and corruption in hand, for our quota of rice, wheat, sugar, salt, cooking oil and automobiles those saviour in those pre-genset and power-backup days, kerosene and Petrol. We today celebrate if we got a fraction of what we were entitled to after waiting patiently for hours and after casting our votes.
We today visit bookstores for school notebooks made of paper that were so bad it would tear without pen being put to it. Telcoms too will cut you off halfway through the few minutes you were entitled to on calls or data.
Today, the baby food we bought was adulterated in that order. We are now happy with books bought from second hand book stalls and long playing records bought with money saved over a month.
We weren’t happy to make do with ‘Made in Nigeria’ merchandise and drool over ‘Made in USA’ two-in-ones. At home, medicine foil was saved and recycled to scrub utensils, and newspapers and magazines were sold separately as they latter fetched more money. Creativity and skill, the means of doing without what would be considered necessary anywhere else in the world, for instance in repairing an iron plug or making a radio with burned out valves work, became a national passion and a profession for many.
Never mind the iron, repaired laboriously with a bit of this and a bit of that, would either over-heat or remain stone cold, and the radio would have more hiss and cackle than decipherable sound. We never innovated nor designed, we copy-catted and produced wretched replicas of which we were immensely proud of most especially because neither the government or citizens are promoting our products.
Fine electronic, much in demand, were made from China. They were then stamped ‘Made in USA’ , when we can have made in Aba or so the joke went.
Unlike before now when life in my Nigeria was predetermined, as were ambitions pre-defined. Most of those who went to Public School dreamt of three ‘F’s, that would follow in normal studies as our education system crumbles, In those days if you were able to land a job with the Government: A flat, a fridge and a Car were yours and even when you got bored just move on. To new jobs, new cities, new lives. Because of the fading people baulked at the thought of staying on the Middle class , they all sailed forth in search of a living, if not fame and fortune, either by crook or chance. That’s how the Middle class became Poorer or richer and yet fading away. And that’s how Nigeria changed, gradually at first and rapidly later, making the pursuit of wealth a perfectly legitimate and respectable aim in our life, now their is only a two class in Nigeria the First class or the Poor Class, middle class kept fading daily.
Michael A. Adeniyi is a Public Affairs Analyst.