Various sociologists, political scientists, anthropologists and social historians have attempted to stratify society into a set of hierarchical social categories or classes. They have attempted rather unsuccessfully to agree on the appropriate classes but the most common remain the upper, middle and lower classes.
It is however, still debated as to the basis for the various class systems. While renowned Philosopher Karl Marx argues that “class is determined entirely by one’s relationship to the means of production hence the proletariat, those who work but do not own the means of production; and the bourgeoisie, those who invest and live off the surplus generated by the former, Max Weber avers that “class is determined by economic position… which is determined by social prestige rather than simply just relations of production.
Whether it is the Marxist or Weberian, it is important to observe that the concept of class is an appreciation of the correlation of income, education, wealth, social background, influence, power within the framework of our overall social interactions. It suggests that the degree of possession of any or all of the above variables determines the class such an individual belongs. Therefore, those possessing higher have been identified by scholars as the upper class, the bourgeoisie, the elite etc while those possessing little are identified as the lower class, the proletariat, the masses, the serfs etc.
Since income remains a determinant of social class, in Africa, the term elite has been loosely associated with the rich and educationally privileged few as against aristocratic bloodlines projected in other climes. In Africa, it can be agreed that the agitations for independence were championed by educationally privileged and sometimes relatively affluent individuals. They echoed what seemed to be the voices of the masses for freedom and boom! Sovereign states were springing up all over Africa.
It did not take long for Africa to realize that many of the independence champions only sought to consolidate on the new exposure garnered within the classrooms and on the streets of Europe to enthrone themselves as Africa’s foremost elite class. Their actions afterwards were precipitated on the need to perpetuate their fiefdom.
Soon, a new bar was set; break into the top echelon of government and remain there or amass a war chest of government treasury during your brief stay within government corridors and you have secured a lifetime of elite supremacy for even generations unborn. As a result, the daily struggle of the average African focused on wealth acquisition. He sees his self worth in his bank account statement and will spare no evil to ensure that it is constantly on the rise. Once his ‘self worth’ is aright then it must be flaunted to the indignation of all around.
Nigerians are akin to this trend and characteristically are indeed high flyers. As Hon. Patrick Obahiagbon once humorously remarked that …the microscopic few that have piloted the affairs of this nation live in peasantile luxury…” So much so that class is honoured in schools, hospitals, markets, prisons, offices, religious places of worship, to such extent that being poor seems repulsive.
World Bank president, Jim Yong Kim, stated at the IMF/World Bank spring meetings of April 2014 in Washington D.C. U.S. that Nigeria is ranked 3rd in world poverty index with 7% of the world’s poor. This according to the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics report (The Nigerian poverty profile 2010) released in January, 2014 represents 69% (112.519 million) of the country’s total population estimated to be 163 million. This is in paradox to the fact that we have in our recent history consistently featured individuals who grace the Forbes richest and even sit ‘gloriously’ atop the list of richest in Africa (Forbes richest list 2016).
Consequently, while many walk cap-in-hand for daily bread, others feed their dogs in golden bowl. They make bold to accentuate their distinct class in the faces of the masses. The legion of lower class men are forced to serve their upper class lords with utmost chivalry as they hope to receive pittance to their utter degradation. They indeed have to contend with being oppressed with what should have been their share of the common patrimony.
And so we hear of the man who sends his driver with N1.2million to purchase a brand of fine wine for a wild night but pays same driver N17,000 monthly and is not interested in his tales of a sick mother or the big boss whose Mai-guard washes his six cars every morning, cultures the flowers, sweeps the compound and shows up bright as he opens the gate for Oga’s visiting girlfriends but he is rewarded with a reminder of how lucky he is to keep a job as he pockets his pittance.
It is this unfortunate sequence that has made social commentators to caution that we are waiting by a ticking bomb that will soon ‘implode’ upon us to grievous consequences. They stress that the masses will soon revolt the status quo just like Aminata Sow Fall portrayed in her classic – The Beggars’ Strike. The looming danger for some is already blooming in the horizon.
When that day comes, the masses will blame the denial of what they believed to be rightfully theirs for their agitations; lament a gross insensitivity on the part of the elite; bemoan a denial of an opportunity to conveniently contribute to the nation’s discourse and grieve the lures of elite lifestyle. But they will forget that there is a moral rectitude which a person acquires irrespective of social class that dictates a propensity to do good no matter the reward or contrary attraction. They will forget that man is a product of choices made and the notion of choice implies freedom. They will forget that at no point did their actions cease to take to account duty to God, to others, to country and to self.
As I sit back to another news bulletin chronicling the problems bedevilling my dear country Nigeria, I ask, are the elite the problem?
By Agunwa Martin. (firstname.lastname@example.org)