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While the state is responsible for providing security to its citizens, it is also true that it is the responsibility of its citizens to require the state to fulfill it task. Though, it is difficult to separate the factors that have led us to this current issue of insecurity because every factor that makes up Nigeria has been complicit: education, society, government, etc. However, let’s try to center the focus of this article on the Nigerian society.
How is Nigerian society divided?
Recent World Bank data (2013) indicate that 54% of the Nigerian lives in poverty, so keep in mind that more than half the country population lives in poverty, and then comes the middle class. This information here is a bit vague. It all depends on what you call middle class and it is divided into two levels: lower middle class, and upper middle class. The middle class is made up 25% of the Nigerian population, but this is a very ambiguous information if we consider that someone who earns between N19, 500 and N250, 000 Naira a month is part of the middle class (it is difficult to imagine, however, that a single wage earner, earning N19, 500 Naira a month can meet 100% of their needs).
To cloud the issue even further we must take into consideration that many people in the upper class are recorded in the censuses as middle class (they lie about their income). So it’s also difficult to estimate the upper class because it “dilutes” the middle class.
However, the one that stands out is the contrast in Nigeria; a country with more than half of the population living in poverty also is the home to the world’s richest black man on planet. That only confirms the fact that the poorest 54% in Nigeria collects 1.5% of total disposable income while the richest 10% accounts for almost 36% of income. So why should we care? What good is there in identifying the social strata? As is known, the middle class is what sustains a country. This class performs the work of production (the upper class generates income derived mainly from capital). The middle classes usually have a good education and good living conditions. This class produces most of the state revenues derived from taxation. It is precisely the middle class that is endangered in Nigeria.
So we have a country with many poor, few in the middle class that is actually shrinking and the rich that grows richer with each passing day. As I mention earlier at the start of this article, citizens are responsible for requiring the government to fulfill its functions. Why are the vast majority of the citizens not out in the street demanding that the Nigerian government fulfill its vital role of providing security? I have a theory: Most of the population, those living in poverty, is in no position to demand anything. Either they work to eat or they demand, but they can’t afford to do both. Furthermore, to be aware of the government’s obligations and the right to demand they be fulfilled you need a certain level of education that, unfortunately, this social class does not possess. It’s not that the poor don’t want an education, they can’t get one. Again, you work to eat or you study, you can’t do both. What’s more, thanks to the lack of education, the poor are easily manipulated by those in power. The poor have to seek illegal alternatives to move forward financially. These alternatives range from the informal or black market economy to robbery, terrorism, kidnapping, militancy, and of course the most profitable of all, drug trafficking. The terrorist elements have so many people to recruit, thanks to a government whose aim and agenda is to enrich the cabals. The whole country has been responsible for creating a huge pool of “human resources” for terrorist.
Much is said that education is the solution and yes it is, in the long term. But first you have to give the opportunity for people to meet their basic needs. Otherwise, as much as we could increase investment in education, the poor will not participate in it if they are starving. What is the upper class, the rich, going to demand? Do they want to change the situation in the country that is enriching them every day? Many of the rich have reached their position largely due to favoritism and nepotism in government. A few even have certain complicity with terrorist group. Of course, this part of society has to pretend they are concerned about the country; they have to keep some appearances.
The irony is that only now that insecurity is spinning out of control, they are beginning to worry. The downside is that they will not be able to fix this problem with motivational commercials.
It is left to the shrinking middle class, therefore, to demand change from the government. What recent history has taught us is that the middle classes have been the driving force in other countries for significant change. In Nigeria, however, not only is the middle class a small percentage of the population, but they unfortunately are “focused” on other objectives. You could say the middle class is too divided. Those who are close to passing to the upper class are concentrating all their energies into it, to make contacts with elites, not to fall down the social ladder. Those at the bottom, in the lower middle class, are totally occupied with not falling into poverty. They have to work extraordinarily hard to maintain that level.
Those in the middle (one might call the true middle class) are very few and exhibit some conformity of opinion. Here there are usually several “currents” of thought: “Things are going badly but what can we do” and “We’re not doing so badly, it’s the national media that promotes negative images. Anyway it’s only Bokoharam killing.” or the “The problem is between the political elite and their parties.” I would think that there is an alternative “current” at this level that thinks the situation is very bad and that something must be done about it NOW. Unfortunately they are too few to drive a change in the long-term outcome with their occasional protests.
So what can we do?
The truth is not easy to face. Some people fall into despair thinking that “promoting good family values is what will bring Nigeria forward.” I’m not saying good values should not be promoted, what I’m saying is that this kind of thinking, “I promote family values and love for children, and you? What are you doing for Nigeria? “Will you not fix the current problem of insecurity? To promote family values should have started decades ago, it’s too late now. Unfortunately promoting values at this point in time does not protect us against grenades, car bombs and massacres.
Anyway, as a society what can be done?
My opinion is: Society must unite, not all but at least the most important part, the middle class. All the middle class must unite and it would be ideal that many people in the poor class also participate. You must be wondering about all this talk of class X and class Y but what do you expect? Nigeria is a class based country. The point is that a large segment of the society must begin to apply pressure, begin to demand that the government fulfill its functions, to denounce corruption and end the tolerance of impunity. (This reminds me of a popular online TV program called “Keeping it real with Adeola” on SaharaReporters. The show provoked laughter and sadness at the same time. It seemed like the storytellers felt defeated by the fact of having come from a country were nothing seems to work: “Keeping it real with Adeola” Here we live, what can we do?)
So most important of all is that we must create a society that is no longer indifferent and demands change. A society that removes its blindfold and sees that there is a huge problem in Nigeria right now, and does not pretend that it is the product of bad press, or thinks that it is not directly affected and therefore should not act.
Finally, a society should act collectively, not individually. The government will never react to a few people, but will bend in the face of a united society that pressures it to comply.
Comrade Ahmed Omeiza Lukman.
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