Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Re: Ndibe's Nigeria's Separate and Unequal

By Goke Alamu, Sahara Reporters

I read, with considerable interest, Okey Ndibe’s discourse on Two Nigeria’s, Separate and Unequal and came to the conclusion that he has truly described Nigeria’s pitiable situation where two different worlds, those of the super-rich and the wretchedly poor really exist. What I intend doing in this piece therefore is to make a humble contribution to this incisive essay. Tracing the evolution of societal conflict, Marxist theorists have argued that class distinction between the bourgeoisie (the upper class) which the super rich in Nigeria, who are the wealthiest minority represents and the lower class (the peasants), who are the poorest majority has ultimately led to conflict between the two classes with the attendant oppressive and confrontational positions respectively adopted by the two classes who are always engaged in protracted social conflict. The wish of the poor to take away or reduce the wealth and privileges of the rich and the interest of the latter in hanging-on to their privileged position is a major contribution to this perpetual conflict. The almost non-existent middle class in Nigeria has also created a chasm between the poor and the rich. A Yoruba proverb: ‘Aja to yo ki i ba aiyo sere’ (A well-fed dog does not relate with a hungry one) is a metaphor that describes the gulf between the rich and the poor and the avoidance of genuine association between the two distinct groups.

Recently, precisely on 28 April, I attended a lecture by Professor Teju Olaniyan of the University of Wisconsin, Madison (with Akin, my cousin, who I had visited in the United States, and who also teaches in the same University). In the seminal discourse entitled African Urban Garrison Architecture: Property, Armed Robbery and Para-Capitalism, Professor Olaniyan critically examine the aesthetics of Nigeria’s so- called mega cities and describes the various imposing buildings of the rich, scattered in Nigerian cities, with their spacious beautiful lawns and environments, high protective walls laced with barbed wires, magnificent gates, protective iron window bars and steel doors as ‘garrison’ structures, unlike what we see in Europe and in the United States. Professsor Olaniyan’s submission is that while trying to create an illusionary world different from the realities of their society, and shield themselves and families from the result of such insincere engagements on the one hand, and hoodlums, who continuously ravage the society as a way of venting their spleen, the rich in Nigeria have developed a ‘garrison’ mentality.

But the pertinent question here is, for how long can the rich protect themselves from these hoodlums and others given the reality of the contemporary Nigerian situation? Recent events have proved that there is no hiding-place for the wealthy in Nigeria, more particularly the political class and their cohorts, who, over the years, have milked the country dry as a result of unparallel corruption which has been their only hallmark. The various dilapidated and collapsed infrastructure such as roads, public water, affordable health and most especially electricity still unattended to and which would have made life more meaningful to the hapless citizenry and helped in facilitating their struggles to earn a living are reflections of the inglorious rule of the political class. The collapse of public education has also reduced the opportunities of the children of the poor in having basic education for a better tomorrow as our compulsive class conscious rulers, feeding fat on our collective wealth, rather than give consideration to how the poor can have basic necessities of life have continued to neglect the masses they claimed to be representing and their general welfare.

But this is at their peril. As in all oppressive cases, the rich in Nigeria, especially the corrupt few, will continue to have no peace. In spite of their highly fenced fortresses or houses, their big noiseless generators, their SUVs and four-wheelers, their treated boreholes which they have acquired to make lives comfortable for themselves at the expense of the poor, the culture of hatred which their opulent living has generated between them and the poor will continue unabated and will continue to engender crime directed at them and their children by the latter. Nobody needs a prophet to prophesy what the unfolding events in later years will be unless the political class are responsive to the yearnings of the oppressed. The children they have refused to cater for today will not allow their own children to have peace tomorrow. The Yoruba proverb: ‘Irorun igi ni irorun eye’. Translated literally- (The peace the tree enjoys gives peace to the bird that perches on it).

Goke Alamu teaches at Osaka University, Japan

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