The Nigerian middle class and the second exodus (II)


By Chris Akor
Last week, I began by showing how the second phase of military rule coupled with poor economic management precipitated the first exodus of Nigerian professionals or middle class. Two professional groups were mostly affected: academics and medical doctors. I also argued that the impact on the academia was particularly severe and it marked the beginning of the total collapse of scholarship in Nigerian university, a collapse Nigeria never recovered from. Currently, what goes on in the Nigerian university system, with few exceptions, is best captured by the term “garbage in, garbage out”.

By a stroke of luck however, the medical profession survived, in part due to the strong foundation laid in medical training and practice by the British and also the appeal of the profession to Nigerians, even if quality has nosedived.

However, years of under-investment and a total lack of interest in the health of its citizens, has resulted in the collapse of the healthcare system in Nigeria. Currently, only about 4 percent of Nigeria’s budget is allocated to the health sector – and these largely go to subsidise the training of medical doctors. Healthcare provision and infrastructure has completely collapsed with a World Health Organisation (WHO) report on healthcare delivery placing Nigeria at 197 out of 200 surveyed countries.

Unsurprisingly, medical professionals have led the second exodus with most seeking better work conditions and pay outside the country. Just to show how terribly they fared in Nigeria, an average Nigerian doctor earns just about N200, 000 ($560) monthly while his counterpart in the United Kingdom earns between £49-83 per hour. A recent poll conducted by NOI Polls showed that 88 percent of doctors in Nigeria are considering work opportunities outside the country and the figure is projected to keep rising as more as medical professionals continue to grapple with deep systemic challenges in Nigeria that make it difficult for them to practice and survive.

So severe is the rate of emigration that if the current trend continues, Nigeria will be left with no middle class in the nearest future. This will make it the second time in Nigeria’s chequered history that the middle class is being decimated. But whereas the first time was under a military regime, the second time is during democratic rule, where the middle class should normally thrive and be the symbol of an open and democratic society.

This leads me to the question of the role of the Nigeria middle class in politics – a question I have had to return to so many times over the last four years.

So severe is the rate of emigration that if the current trend continues, Nigeria will be left with no middle class in the nearest future. This will make it the second time in Nigeria’s chequered history that the middle class is being decimated.

The middle class, that broad group of people in contemporary society who fall socio-economically between the working class and upper class or in classical Marxian speak, located between the bourgeoisie/capitalist class and the proletariat, is so critical to the sustenance of democracy, good governance and economic development. It is, according to David Madland, “a prerequisite for robust entrepreneurship and innovation, a source of trust that makes business transactions more efficient, a bulwark against credit booms and busts, and a progenitor of virtuous, forward-looking behaviours, such as valuing education”.

The middle class not only supply the workforce and expertise needed to run the country’s bureaucracy and manage the economy, they also ensure the government is run most efficiently with adequate public investments in education, health and infrastructure and in accordance with societal and democratic norms. This benefits everyone in the society and not just special interests. Of course, good governance sets the stage for economic growth and development.

The middle class act to protect the democratic order because their economic fate is almost directly tied to the quality of governance. They depend on public services more than the rich and as Obama opined in 2011: “When middle-class families can no longer afford to buy the goods and services that businesses are selling, it drags down the entire economy from top to bottom.”

However, evidence from Nigeria and other depraved societies suggest that the middle class are their own greatest enemies, often preferring personal emancipation than societal progress. The Nigerian middle class has been the greatest supporters and enablers of the status quo no matter how terrible that status quo is. Being part of the exploited class but with professional knowledge or privileged positions in the civil service, they often offer their services and knowledge to the exploiters for hire. Consequently, they have become the greatest advocates of the ruling class, the greatest defenders of Nigeria’s politics of plunder, neopatrimonialism and prebandalism. Being part of the exploited class themselves, they often speak the language of the downtrodden until they are noticed and called to the service of the ruling class where they have proved especially useful in fashioning strategies to further the exploitation of the downtrodden.

In Nigeria, the moment they had the chance, they wasted no time in cajoling naive military boys in their 20s and early 30s into a full blown civil war that consumed millions of lives when all that was at stake was the egos of the military boys. So comfortable were they with the military boys that after the war, the intellectual wing began to advocate for a diarchy – a form of government where both the military and civilians rule – as the best system for Nigeria. Not done, they recommended the rejection of the more collegiate parliamentary system of government bequeathed to Nigeria at independence and the adoption of a more dictatorial presidential system because, as they claim, sharing power between a president and a prime minister was not feasible in Africa. But they also forgot that investing so much power in the president in a system with very weak institutions of restraints is tantamount to creating a dictatorship. But how do they care; the “49 wise men”, as they were called, argued that in anyway, they presidential system they recommended was more compatible with African indigenous kingship/chieftaincy traditions.

Of course, they are quick to connive or offer their services to military boys to truncate the nation’s democracy, and immediately after such coups, they rush to legitimise the regimes, offering their services and expertise in entrenching the regimes. Their services do not go unrewarded. They are generously rewarded or they help themselves to the public till generously and quite a number of them have successfully transited from the middle to the upper class.

To be continued…

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