The Lamentations of a middle class Nigerian


About a week ago, I stumbled on a Facebook post on the pages of Agunze Azuka Onwuka. David Hundeyin, CEO of TupstartNG and a columnist with this publication wrote the piece.

According to the piece, he had attended the alumni meeting of Atlantic Hall, a private coeducational secondary school in Lagos, and their discussion was dominated by how they all wanted to leave Nigeria for greener pastures through migration to Canada, the United States of America, United Kingdom, and Australia down under. He made three important points that I believe we need to interrogate. This is important, as many Nigerians that have commented on the piece did not see the connection between these points and the scale of Nigeria’s present crisis.

The first point he made was about the composition of the group discussion. As alumni of Atlantic Hall, they were all middle class, arguably considered the elite of this country. They all had cars, and some of them own houses or inherited the ones that their parents built. They were not only middle classes by virtue of the jobs and assets they keep, but inherited middle class statuses from their parents. This is so because their parents were able to afford to send them to such prestigious school. Currently, they all have jobs and businesses and they enjoy reasonable standard of living. Despite all these, they wanted to leave Nigeria.

The second point is as important. He said that most of them actually returned to Nigeria after studying and starting their careers abroad. Majority of them had studied abroad; some have 2 – 3 degrees and started their careers in these countries. Many came back to Nigeria between 2000 and 2013. They came to Nigeria to build and share in the above population growth rate averaging over 5% during that period.

The third point he made is that this group of Nigerians – middle class, reasonable standard of living, with jobs and businesses – are now leaving in droves. This group of Nigerians are stampeding themselves out of Nigeria with familiar destinations such as the United Kingdom, United States of America, Canada and Australia down under being the common ones. He argued that they are migrating, some selling properties in the process, because Nigeria is strangulating them and because they are becoming poorer.

Now, there is no educated and above poverty level Nigerian that is not familiar with this story. It is the descriptiveness, apt, and literary simplicity that made the post very unique. Hundeyin described the hopelessness and desperation of Nigerians in under 500 words. Indeed, the piece followed a similar, but expansive piece I wrote for this publication June 2018.

In the piece, titled “Nigeria’s broken middle class”, I argued that given the trend in the first decade of this century, many had thought that it was only a matter of time before Nigeria’s middle class will act as the foundation for continuous significant foreign investment inflows, sustainable growth and jobs. But since the dramatic decline in oil prices in 2014, and the economic recession of 2016, the middle class has shrunk and continues to shrink, along with the expectations for the role it was to play in expanding Nigeria’s potential future growth and prosperity.

As data has continued to show, and never mind what the government is telling you, the greatest danger of Nigeria’s current poor economic growth is that the poor that had aspirations to enter into the middle class are falling farther behind, while those in middle class are becoming the poor.

Yes, in the growth of the middle class in the first 15 years of this century, a number of mistakes were made. First, the middle class had expanded on the back of industries that were most vulnerable to decline in oil prices. These industries, including financial services, telecommunications, real estate, and government sectors rely on oil prices themselves. Second, the economic reforms of the 2000s, though sound, did not go far enough. Consequently, the reforms did not deepen Nigeria’s productive base.

Third, the expansion of the middle class had been on the basis of expansion of income, and not wealth. The income expansion, within a decade, did not create sufficient wealth to withstand the significant shock that arise following fall in oil prices in 2014. Finally, the rise in Nigeria’s middle class belies the unsustainable level of inequality in the country. Consequently, as a rising economic class, Nigeria’s middle class was still very vulnerable to significant fall in oil prices.

However, and in conclusion, despite these policy errors and the decline in the income that followed the decline in oil prices, there is something missing in many of the migration analysis of the last four years under President Muhammadu Buhari. The missing point is a new level of fear and hopelessness. So Nigerians are not leaving in droves purely for economic reasons, but also because of the fear and hopelessness about Nigeria’s future.

I thank you.

Ogho Okiti

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