It does not give me pleasure to say this but the Nigerian middle class–whatever is left of it–is a reactionary, myopic one. It is complacent and complicit in its own victimization by our rulers. It is selfish and shortsighted.
During my recent trip to Nigeria, I cannot remember the number of times I heard my middle class acquaintances say the decision to increase the pump price of petrol was the right one since “we were already paying this price for petrol anyway and couldn’t find the product to buy.” Asking the question of why fuel was scarce in the first place and why they were paying a price way above the official price for the product would have led them to demand that the government make fuel available at the official price by fixing the problems in the sector. But Middle class Nigerians rarely ask such tough questions of government. If there is a problem that affects them, they look for shortcuts, easy ways out, in collaboration with the government, even if these quick fixes further impoverish the poor.
Middle class Nigerians just wanted access to fuel at whatever cost, since they can afford it, and are unconcerned about whatever the price increase does to the economy in terms of inflation–since they can also afford to absorb this into their budgets. There is very little thought for the poor whose lives would be (and have been) devastated by the runaway inflation caused by the increase in petrol pump price.
A responsible, selfless, activist middle class would have, instead of cheerleading the price increase, pushed the government to solve the problem at its root rather than washing its hands off it and unburdening its cost on already struggling Nigerians. A change-inclined middle class would have pressured the government to, in the short term, deal with the corruption that plagued the fuel subsidy regime and in the long term revamp local refining capacity to meet fuel demand and make fuel importation unnecessary.
Middle class Nigerians could not look beyond their car fuel tanks. As long as they have fuel in their cars, they reckon that this is what matters, a crassly individualistic and selfish disposition that supposes that the middle class will be shielded from the growing inflationary consequences of the fuel price increase.
This is a tragic, self-defeatist mistake on the part of the Nigerian middle class. The African extended family network ensures that no class of people can remain protected from the negative outcomes of national economic policies. No rich or middle class Nigerian exists without relatives who are poor and who need financial assistance from time to time.
The fuel price policy that middle class Nigerians are cheerleading has further raised the cost of living and undermined the standard of living of their poor relatives, ensuring that, sooner to later, these ostensibly comfortable and shielded middle class Nigerians will have to pick up the slack and be asked to pitch in to support their relatives whose lives and economic independence have been destroyed by the so-called removal of fuel subsidy.
If, as a middle class Nigerian, you do not push for economic policies friendly to and protective of the interests of poor people, your poor relatives will make sure that you do not enjoy your barricaded life of middle class comfort. You may have fuel in your car, which is what you wanted, but you will be surrounded by poorer, more desperate relatives that will increasingly depend on you for survival.
One way or the other, you will pay for failing to hold the government accountable, for failing to oppose policies detrimental to the poor, and for subsidizing the laziness of those in government.
At any rate, if the inflationary trend sparked by the fuel price increase and by the recent Naira devaluation continues, it is only a matter of time before many of those who think they occupy secure Middle class perches lose their middle class status and join their poor relatives in the lower socioeconomic rungs.