June 22, 2024

First class appetite and third rate application, by Muyiwa Adetiba

First class appetite and third rate application, by Muyiwa Adetiba

Muyiwa Adetiba

This scene is very common these days among our elites – or those who like to see themselves as elites. They gather around a table in their favourite clubs or homes, washing mouth-watering delicacies down with champagne and expensive liquor and passing the time with complaints on the state of the nation. During the course of the evening, someone is bound to buttress his point about the deplorable state in the country by moaning about the cost of cognac, champagne or any of the expensive liquor they indulge in.

It never occurs to them that none of the exotic drinks their taste buds have become accustomed to is produced in Nigeria. The last time good wine was produced in Nigeria by Nigerians was decades ago to the best of my knowledge, and among those who frustrate such entrepreneurships through massive importation or strangulating policies, would be these people who sit in their posh homes and elite clubs groaning about the cost of things. It also never occurs to them that even those who produce champagne don’t consume the stuff the way they do.

Another favourite topic is the cost of air travel. They groan about how much First Class and Business Class tickets cost these days. No one would dare ask the searching or introspective questions begging for answers. What exactly are they travelling round the world for and how much value is being added to the economy or even themselves by those trips? How many Americans have ever travelled out of America? How many Chinese have ever travelled out of China?

These are the two richest countries in the world. Also among these moaners would be those who bring their children home every Christmas – including Easter sometimes – from their expensive schools in Europe and America, sometimes with Business Class tickets. Again, how many students of other countries travel home for Christmas? How many local students even do? It seems to any observer that this class of people who by accidents of birth and position has acquired expensive tastes, is complaining because its ‘larger-than-life’ but unsustainable lifestyle is being trimmed to size.

Our elites have very good tastes. They like the good things of life. They are accustomed to having expensive cars idling in front of posh homes and private jets for some, waiting at their beck and call. You know members of the elite class by the cut of what they wear whether it is native or foreign. Their accessories in shoes, bags and watches speak luxury – none of this made in Nigeria stuff for them. They patronize the best hotels and exclusive clubs in the world. Their exclusive parties are lavish. The very air around them has the aroma of fresh money.

Many have homes in choice places around the world. It is in finding out what they do for a living that we find answers to some of the country’s main predicaments. Many of them have either been in government or have strong ties with government. Some are in oil and gas which in itself, is a reflection of strong political or governmental ties. Some are into heavy importation. A few are into construction which again, is a reflection of their ties to the corridors of power. Not to forget the elite bankers who are masters of forex round tripping.

Or the elite preachers who propagate prosperity from the pulpit and travel in private jets. Very few of them, if any, are into manufacturing – the nitty gritty of production is too strenuous for them. Fewer still, earn forex legitimately from what they do – that would involve export of goods and services to meet international standards. That is why for years, ships come into our ports laden with all kinds of goods and leave virtually empty. But our elites are not worried for as long as they can have their bubblies. They are people who love good things but lack the capacity to work for them. Therefore, the system has to provide for their indulgencies anyway it can. In other words, our elites are, by and large, parasites at best. Or worse, thieves who looted government. 

About ten years ago, a friend told me he was tired of the country and if he could get a major contract with a good forex component, he would emigrate. It didn’t occur to him that the lifestyle he was hoping to have in Europe or maybe America, would then be funded by Nigeria, the same country that he and those with an identical mindset, are always trying to run down. Or that the kind of ‘work’ which has enabled him to live in a choice part of Lagos would hardly be possible in Europe. The elites who have had an unrestricted access to Nigeria’s succulent breasts are the ones now complaining that the breasts are flat and the milk dry.

I feel sorry for the poor who constitute the vast majority of Nigerians and who have been made victims of the rapacious appetite of their elites. But I feel sorrier that they have been weaned off the principle of hard work and the dignity of labour and made to focus on a lifestyle of entitlement, consumption and sloth which their leaders exemplify. Many of our youths are not in school and those who are in school are being taught by archaic teachers who have buried their heads in the sands of time and like every other class, are unwilling to apply themselves.

Youths who should learn a trade or attach themselves to apprenticeship are roaming the streets looking for a quick buck. The result is that we have teeming youths who are unskilled and yet unwilling to apply themselves. Peasant farming is strenuous and dirty with the yield uncertain but it would at least engage the masses and feed the country. The elites who complain about the price of tomatoes – the poor have long abandoned tomatoes – can plant tomatoes and pepper in their backyard. It is done in those Western countries they love to fly to. Even yams can be planted in sacks. I have tried it with success.

The North, especially the North-East, can use banditry as an excuse not to go to the farms but what is the excuse of the South-West? There are food crops, especially the much maligned tomatoes, that can mature in three months. Why can’t every available space be used to plant something, anything? Why can’t our schools, primary, secondary and tertiary, cultivate some of the land at their disposal? Why can’t we have a campaign to that effect? That is what it should mean to declare a state of emergency on agriculture.

The poverty index in the South-West is embarrassing given the head start that Chief Awolowo gave the zone – by the way, vegetables and maize were planted by students and supervised by teachers in the primary school I attended. As for the labour leaders who keep talking about living wages, I’d like to ask a question. What happens when too much money chases fewer goods? An honest answer to that should re-orientate labour. This said, the gap between the rich and the poor is so much it is unconscionable. Our elites, particularly the political elite and its accomplices, must tighten their belts too. They have to be weaned off champagne and other expensive but wasteful tastes. They have to be jerked off their parasitic lifestyles.