Reflecting on the depth of and widening rot that the Nigerian state is fast morphing into, it is difficult to blame the multiplicity of crises on any one cause. Yet a misfortune this consequential begs to be thoroughly understood. In this effort, one can do no worse than start with our elite. Who are they? What ought they to do? And what have they not done? An elite, by definition, is “the socially superior part of society”. It could likewise (which looks more like the case here) be that “collection of people within society who, on account of their position or education, exercise much power or influence in it”.
Regardless of how the elite is characterised, every society has what passes for one. And depending on society’s level of development the elite breaks up easily into political, social, academic, and military components. Yet, one could argue that the elite is not a social class in the Marxian sense. It is, after all, all about income and status. It has no role, necessarily, in the organisation of the workplace. Nor is any part of its definition about its ownership of property. Which ought not to be such a bad thing, since in this case, in well organised societies, social mobility should then keep the ranks of the elite regularly supplied.
Except that the elite is far more aware of itself than traditional Marxian classes are ever thought capable of. And much of history is replete with examples of the elite organising to defend their privileges. It could be argued that mankind’s progress is recounted in the internecine battles waged by its elite as these privileges are divvied up. Not even the Great October Revolution was a class act. Simply put, a section of Russia’s elite co-opted the working and oppressed classes in its bid for power. A possibility that the Iron Chancellor foresaw when in 1881 he opened debate in parliament on welfare reforms that would eventually, in Europe at least, take the sting out of the left’s pitch.
If therefore no human society has progressed without the conscious effort of its elite, are we to suppose that the elite are a moral construct? Earlier this week, I had argued on my social media handles that “When you describe a cadre in any society as its ‘elite’, my sense is that it plays key roles in the advancement of the place. In this sense, Nigeria lacks an elite. It may, however, have a moneyed class with all the virtues that access to illicit wealth confers”. Not a few of my correspondents disagreed, however.
Consensus is that everywhere, the elite is capable only of acting along very narrow lines ― described by its self-interest. Over the years, in parts of the world, it has gotten pretty sophisticated at doing this ― learning to keep large parts of society appeased, even as it continues to take up more than its fair share of the commonweal. Although, it would seem that globalisation has had two effects that bear on this capacity. First, is the large numbers that were “left behind”. And the ease with which populist solutions have tried to fill the resulting gap. In those parts where the elite have not evolved as well, they take from society far more and faster than the larger part is able to replenish itself. Entropy may ensue in those places quicker than elsewhere.
Distasteful though it might seem, this decay, it is argued, is man’s natural state. For even the two party structure that was a familiar feature of Western democracies was but the elite’s attempt to manage this entropy. To create, in other words, a schematic that successfully excluded the larger parts of society while supporting the illusion of the masses vote in regular elections being the condition for change.
How to explain China’s post-1995 growth spurt with this schematic ― especially in the degree to which it differed from Russia? Or how to explain the collapse of the two-party structure across Europe? Entropy? In light of the breakdown of relations between China’s political and business elite, the possibility of entropy as a measure of increased disorder in non-representative political spaces will bear further investigation. The implosion of elite structures is thus a legitimate path of enquiry. As are questions around the possibility that the increases in political party representations in Europe just mean that these places simply are more inclusive? Whatever the answers to these questions, that what passes for the elite in Nigeria is an abomination before God, there is no question.
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