Politicians and middle class exodus



By Jide Oluwajuyitan

The middle class in any society is regarded as ‘the salt of life’. Without it, society decays. Often made up of youths with university degrees, they constitute the bulk of bureaucrats, professionals including doctors, lawyers, journalists, university teachers, accountants, engineers etc. It carries the awesome responsibility of designing and constructing the roads we traverse, the dams that supply our drinking water, finding solution to physical and psychological ailments and determining the quality of the education our children receive. In return for their immeasurable services to humanity, all it ever asks for its highly trained members are freedom and security to plan their lives, own houses even if through mortgage, receive non-slave wages that guarantee a decent living and ability to send their children to good schools with some savings for their old age.

The ruling political elite in Western societies understands very clearly that once they are able to make their middle class, the providers of labour and the major consumer of goods and services, happy, they can rule as long as they want in the name of democracy, their new god, whether the Trump’s variant, Boris Johnson’s or  Vladimir Putin’s.  As President Obama who believes “America does best when the middle class does better” puts it: “When the middle class families can no longer afford to buy the goods and services businesses are selling, it drags down the economy from top to the bottom”.  In fact many analysts believe it was his inability to fully meet the aspirations of America’s middle class that produced Trumpism. Jake Sullivan, the incoming American Security Adviser responding to a question  about Trump’s nationalism on a CNN programme last Sunday, admitted  that because they did not “ elevate and centre middle-class concerns in our foreign policy and national security meant that we were not delivering for the American people as well as we should have…”

And since the middle class is made up of universal citizens, it necessarily follows our ‘salt of life’ will gravitate towards where their services are needed  if their demands are ignored by our political leaders. At the height of the glory of our middle class, our naira was stronger than the dollar and almost at par with the pound sterling. Our bureaucrats including judges, doctors and university professors and our young men and women in the corporate world of Pfizer, Beecham competed favourably with their counterparts from the rest of the world while operating from home.

The rain however started beating us with the emergence of ill-equipped soldiers as leaders in the mid-sixties. Generals Gowon and Murtala Muhammed who did not understand that society decays without its intellectuals and bureaucrats started ordering university teachers out of their Ivory Towers and retiring senior civil servants, products of long years of training with ‘immediate effect”. Then Babangida and Obasanjo who craved for the approval of western leaders destroyed the budding industries that had sustained the middle class through ill-digested western-inspired policies including ‘commercialisation and privatisation” that turned our nation to importers of everything under the sun.

And just as it was during slavery when  leading Europeans including clergymen, driven by greed, claimed to be introducing Nigeria and the rest of Africa into the world economy by violently capturing and shipping millions of our able-bodied men and women that constituted  our own productive middle class to Europe in exchange for mirrors, spirits and horses, our today’s ill-equipped leaders watch as our middle class escape in droves to work as second class citizens in Europe and the Americans, consolidating in the process,  the capital immorally built-up through the sweat and blood of their forbears.

To sustain periodic migration of our youths and guarantee there is never a deficit of middle class- the wealth creators in the wake of reduced rate of procreation in their societies, Europe and America came up with different government policy thrusts including American Visa lotteries to secure permanent residency – green card and Europe welcoming with open hands, well-educated married professionals. But in both cases, the targets are not the new immigrants but their children who after assimilating the culture of their new environment, just as Barack Obama and Steve Job did, will have no incentive of returning to the countries of origin of their fathers.

To stem the exodus of our middle class, we must return to where the rain started to beat us. The starting point if we are to bring that era back is a productive base to sustain middle class. After all  up to 1981,  our  young professionals working in the pharmaceutical, textiles, tyre, battery, etc. industries even as they engaged in competition with their counterparts working in similar companies elsewhere in the world had no inclination of migrating to the metropolitan offices of such companies.

The south western region has had six ministers of agriculture. While the region doesn’t produce the tomato, pepper, beans, onion, rice and 10,000 head of cows they consume daily, most of the agriculture graduates from the region are working in Europe and America. The country plus Abuja has 37 ministers of agriculture, but instead of adding value to our farm products including cocoa to sustain our middle class, we continue to export it in a globalized world where what Ivory Coast, the world highest producer earns in a year is less than 10% of the profit of just one chocolate manufacturer in the US.

But more importantly, our political leaders including governors and ministers must stop playing the ostrich. Tony Enahoro as Western Region Minister of Information in 1959 spent only three months to build and get the first television station in Africa commissioned. Even while the buck stops at President Buhari’s table, it is today hard to imagine we have a Minister of Interior or Minister of Defence with daily harvest of deaths from herdsmen, bandits and kidnappers across the country. Ministers of education and labour kept our universities closed for nine months. In a digital age when one opens bank account and can transfer millions from one’s room, we have a minister of communication who, after failing to think out of the box and solve a problem in nine months, decided to prolong the nightmare of about 150million telephone users by decreeing two weeks ultimatum even in the midst of COVID-19 restrictions.

Few Nigerians today remember we had a Minister of Health when UCH was one of the best  three Teaching Hospitals in the Commonwealth of nations. I once visited  a colleague at UCH while Professor Adewole, a former Chief Medical Officer of the institution was a minister of health. I fled as soon as I opened the door of one of the toilets to ease myself.  But even with the sea of heads that greets one from any department one visits any day of the week in UCH, Adewole, confronted by a journalist over the exodus of over 9000 doctors to USA and UK was quoted as saying doctors are at liberty to emigrate because we have too many doctors in Nigeria.

Some of our uninformed ministers who today celebrate $24b diaspora funds while ignoring the repatriation of over $25b as profit back to the west by multinationals share the same mind-set with our forebears who traded our middle class for mirrors, spirits and horses during slavery, a synonym for globalization.

Unfortunately, some of our round pegs in square holes of ministers only provide additional incentive for our qualified professionals to flee the country.

 

Source: Latest Nigeria News, Nigerian Newspapers, Politics

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