One of the tragedies of a post-colony like Nigeria is the apparent refusal of leaders to be accountable and the glaring inability of citizens to hold their leaders to account. The leaders, often self-conceited and condescending towards the people they lead, are quick to take the glory for anything positive and refuse responsibility for negative outcomes.
These leaders have a surfeit of excuses – colonial condition, external environment, previous governments, and the opposition – for the abysmal fortunes of the country. They unwittingly reduce themselves to helpless victims, who are usually passive and acted upon. What is more, they take advantage of a citizenry who have a warped idea of the underlying social contract, a right-based idea that sees itself more as receiving from, rather than giving to the state.
This is complemented by the reality that the Nigerian state does not depend on its people for revenue (about 80 percent of the country’s government revenues and 95 percent of its foreign exchange earnings come from the sale of crude oil). And as research has shown, where governments do not depend on their citizens for revenues, those governments are usually not responsible or accountable to the citizens even if they claim to be democracies.
It is in that light that Wale Adebanwi and Ebenezer Obadare in their edited work, Encountering the Nigerian State argue, for the most part, that the ‘modern’ Nigerian state relates overwhelmingly to its citizens as though they were, at worst, adversaries, or at best, a nuisance. Since the discovery of oil, successive governments no longer felt it necessary for the people to fund the state. Consequently, the taxation system bequeathed by the colonial government was virtually dismantled.
Thus relieved of their basic duty, Nigeria citizens were reduced to the status of beggars – those who needed to be helped by the state but with no rights or privileges to state resources. Any wonder then that the state treats its citizens as nuisance and in extreme case, as adversaries! Meanwhile, the ruling elite see the state mainly as a vehicle of accumulation and of exploitation.
But even as the tides are changing and the country is starting to demand and depend on tax revenues to fund governments, Nigeria’s leaders are still stuck in their old ways. They see themselves as masters of the people, at best, and demand obedience and respect from the people without subjecting themselves to the rigours of accountability.
But the blame for this goes squarely to the Nigerian middle class – that class between the oligarchy and the poor, who, in contemporary society, are best positioned to hold the government to account. As I have so often written, the Nigerian middle class are the greatest supporters and defenders of the ruling class and their oppression of the poor.
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 meetings with leaders, instead of asking those leaders tough questions, compelling them to account for every one of their actions, the Nigerian middle class is more preoccupied with establishing contacts and relationships for future contracts, jobs and favours. Of course, to put themselves in prime positions, they compete to eulogise the leader or public official as the best thing to have happened to the country.
The average middle class Nigerian is inherently selfish and greedy and is willing to sell the poor for a mess of pottage. They have made nonsense of the well-established theory that a large and strong middle class is essential for economic growth and democracy.
Here, the rule of the jungle, and not some fine economic or democratic theory, prevails. To my mind, the main reason for this is the greedy quest by Nigerian middle class to become super rich and owners of capital themselves. Unlike the middle class in Western countries, they are not content with living a happy and moderate life.
No! They see themselves as future Dangotes and Adenugas, stupendously rich and enjoying the good things life and money have to offer. Their main preoccupation therefore, is not the holding of leaders to account. They are more interested in joining the ranks of the ruling elite and will do anything to be incorporated into that privileged class.