According to the Merriam Webster online dictionary, elites are groups of persons who by virtue of position or education exercise much power or influence. They are usually regarded as the best of a class or the socially superior part of society. In Nigeria, people have different definitions for the elites but in this article, I define elites as highly educated Nigerian government appointees or external critics that are good with problem analysis but often detached from reality and the Nigerian masses.
The Nigerian elites are usually not politicians, and even when they hold high government office or run for office, they often prefer to be called technocrats rather than politicians. While many of them are content with foreign and local media accolades, international awards or donations, as well as social media celebrations or rants, some elites are vocal critics mainly to get government attention for appointments.
Full disclosure – I am generally biased on the side of the poor in my Nigeria arguments and writings, and I am not apologetic about this. Also, I identify mostly as part of the Nigerian masses and my views are mostly different from the elites’. So I feel very bad anytime people lump me with the elites just because of my education, state of residence or medium of expression. Though I believe some Nigerian elites genuinely want to fight for the poor, they really need to humble themselves to learn from some traditional politicians how to better identify with the masses instead of just playing to the gallery.
Let’s take a look at two articles that were published recently – https://thenationonlineng.net/how-cbn-can-boost-production-and-investment-by-tinubu/ and https://www.pulse.ng/news/local/oby-ezekwesili-china-must-pay-africa-for-not-being-transparent-about-the-coronavirus/54ts7q0. The first article was written by an influential Nigerian politician (Bola Tinubu) and it focused on realistic solutions that can improve lives in the country. Whether you agree with this politician or not, his article nicely focused on solutions that many educated masses can relate to. Even if we do not understand some of the technical details, we can understand the suggestion that lowering interest rates will help small businesses.
I have heard from a few Central Bank officials in the past that Nigerian banks have the capacity to lower interest rates and still be very profitable, but the greed and complicity among regulators and the bank owners will not make this happen. So if an influential politician is writing publicly about this, it is a good reference point or business news for Nigerian small businesses and electorates as we may be able to seek related action from him or other politicians in future.
The second article was written by a popular Nigerian elite (Oby Ezekwesili) who chose a theoretical subject that appeals more to the foreign media than educated masses in Nigeria. She is asking China to cancel Africa’s $140b debt because of the allegation that the novel corona virus started from Wuhan, China and the country irresponsibly managed the crisis. But most educated Nigerian masses view this as a typical academic story from a Nigerian elite. The reality is that China will not cancel the whole of Africa’s debt. In fact, China may experience recession this quarter because of the covid-19 crisis and cannot afford such largesse. But singling out China at this time that virtually the whole world made mistakes is appalling.
I did an extensive google search for any locally published article where Ezekwesili clearly articulated what the federal and state governments should do to improve distribution of palliatives, how to mitigate the impending economic quagmire due to corvid-19 or how certain Nigeria jobs can be preserved during this crisis. I was surprised not to find any of such articles because I thought these are discussions that matter more to the Nigerian masses now than an academic argument with China.
If the elites really want to collaborate with the masses to start defeating traditional politicians in elections from 2023, they need to humble themselves to learn from traditional politicians. They do not need to learn evil characteristics like rigging or violence from traditional politicians, but the elites should learn how to better communicate and relate with the masses in their articles, interviews, social media comments and speeches. It is very easy to blame election losses on rigging, bribery and violence, but have we genuinely researched why many honest educated masses don’t even vote for the Nigerian elites that run for office?
I am sorry to say that I believe most vocal Nigerian elites align a lot more with the oppressive ruling class than the masses. In fact, many credible Nigerian journalists that I have spoken to, agree with me that there seems to be a tacit conspiracy among a significant percentage of the elites that suggests selfishness, greed and lip service to Nigeria’s liberation. But because I am usually a solutions person, and I strongly believe that the masses require significant support from Nigerian elites and some repentant traditional politicians to wrestle power from the oppressive ruling class, I will continue to preach collaboration among the masses, elites and traditional politicians.
The two recent stories about the secretary to the federal government (Boss Mustapha) – https://www.thecable.ng/extra-we-may-ask-madagascar-to-send-us-a-plane-load-of-herbs-to-treat-covid-19-says-sgf and https://www.premiumtimesng.com/health/health-news/387036-i-never-knew-nigerias-healthcare-infrastructure-was-in-such-bad-state-sgf.html portray an example of an elite in government. He had corrected his earlier statement about not knowing how bad our healthcare system was, by explaining to us that he was not an “ajebuta” (a Yoruba word referring to an affluent person). But it is amazing that he made a subsequent remark about Madagascar herbs at a time that Nigerian herbal professionals had been talking about covid-19 herbal solutions for several weeks. Indeed, a prophet is not honored in his hometown. Mustapha needs to identify with the masses and learn that it makes a lot more sense for Nigeria to seriously explore its local herbs before seeking help from Madagascar.
Of course there are several other elites in the current federal government, including the minister of health (Osagie Enahire) who told the house of assembly that he was not aware of Nigeran doctors’ hazard allowance (https://www.vanguardngr.com/2020/04/health-minister-says-hes-not-aware-if-nigerian-doctors-are-paid-hazard-allowance-for-covid-19/). Simply put, elites usually do not get it. Remember when former president Goodluck Jonathan’s government officials (including Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and Sanusi Lamido Sanusi) reportedly told us that public transportation in Nigeria were usually run with diesel, not petrol. Some of them did not even know that most of the small buses and taxis across Nigeria were fueled with petrol. This is the way most of our technocrat elites in government reason. They are usually very detached from reality and I am happy that Sanusi Lamido Sanusi (now former Emir Muhammadu Sanusi II) later said that becoming an emir helped him better understand poverty than he did while he lived in Lagos and Abuja.
Because I don’t believe in criticizing without proposing solutions, I provided my humble suggestions regarding Nigeria’s revival and covid-19 solutions in my recent articles: Covid-19: Nigeria must prioritize homegrown strategies, Covid-19: It’s time to discuss universal free healthcare for all Nigerians – https://www.vanguardngr.com/2020/03/covid-19-its-time-to-discuss-universal-free-healthcare-for-all-nigerians/ and Revolution in Nigeria. I also explained a lot about this subject in my recent book on Nigerian elections.
Many people may ask, “Debo Onifade, are you exonerating the corrupt political class and blaming the elites instead?”. Absolutely not! I hold our oppressive ruling class fully responsible for Nigeria’s failure, but we must also begin to hold our elites accountable for focusing too much on grandstanding rather than the actual fight for freedom. The fight for freedom includes learning politics and relating better with the masses to stand a better chance of defeating our oppressors from 2023.
Finally, my vision is to politically enlighten, organize and influence five million voters by 2023, and twenty million voters by 2027. That is my objective for writing, and I wish to remind us all that Nigeria can only be liberated when a greater number of good people win elections across the country. Good people must also always remember that they cannot win elections without collaborating with some traditional politicians, and that they require votes from both good and bad people to win elections. The elites that genuinely care about the masses should stop the showboating, connect, and communicate better with the masses, and move from theoretical analyses to realistic politics and policies.