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 the capitalist system of production. While capitalist societies see the existence of a sizeable middle class as a characteristic of a strong, virile, and healthy society, Marxists see them as the natural enemies of the proletariat, betrayers of the proletariat revolution and the staunchest defenders of the capitalist systems. Indeed, for Marx, the middle class has “no special class interests” other than the defence of the capitalist system. That is why he describes them as “exploited workers and supervisors of exploitation.”
But the middle class do not just defend capitalism. Evidence from Nigeria and other depraved societies suggest that the middle class are the greatest supporters and defenders 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.
A hallmark of the Nigerian middle class is that they do not accept responsibility for any of their actions. They advise; they help legitimate regimes; they run ministries and agencies but when things begin to go wrong, they take the first exit door and begin to point accusing fingers at the ruling elite. Is it any wonder then that none of the Nigerian academics, technocrats and professionals that helped create the phenomenon known as IBB today accept any responsibility for the legitimisation and institutionalisation of corruption, nepotism and patrimonialism in Nigeria? They simply moved on to the next ruler, offering their services as usual.
With the dawn of democratisation, they have learnt to offer their services to political parties or candidates seeking high office. Their remit is simply to legitimise the candidacy of their client and present him/her in the most favourable light regardless of his/her past and inclinations. The People’s Democratic Party, deluded by its feeling of invincibility, failed to avail itself of the services of these political merchants even though it had many of them in its fold. But the main opposition, the All Progressive Congress, showed its political wizardry by carefully harnessing the services of this group to create a totally new and burnished image of its candidate.
At first I was hugely surprised that even our revered Wole Soyinka – who authored the timeless piece “The Crimes of Buhari” in 2007, in which he detailed the atrocities of Buhari’s regime in 1984/85, concluding then that “to invite back into power a man who did so much to destroy a people’s self-esteem, dignity, and faith in law and justice, is a sign of self-abasement, lack of self-esteem, a slave mentality that dooms, not only the present, but succeeding generations” – was now solidly backing the same Buhari. What happened? What could have necessitated such a major shift in position?
I was worried that no one seems to be taking notice of the man’s antecedents, which are anything but flattering, but I later got to realise that the middle class was particularly invested in the task of electing a particular candidate and had no business with his past. I also later got to know that Soyinka’s friends were all in the Buhari camp and when it came to his friends, they are always right.
Well, Buhari has been elected and true to type, he has taken us back to 1984/85. But as expected, the professionals and academics that helped to create a new image for the president, that helped to convince the poor masses that in Buhari lies their salvation have started to stealthily distance themselves from the APC. One does not need to be a prophet to know that they have done their job and moved on, hopefully to be back again in 2019 to sell another candidate to hapless Nigerians.
It appears to me that the poor have to necessarily rebel against these political merchants, these enemies of the downtrodden who enhances, advocates for and legitimises the rule of the oppressors and who, when given the opportunity, supervise the exploitation of the poor masses. By their conducts, they have forfeited the right to be listened to and to be taken seriously.
• This article was first published on November 17, 2016