Obodo oyibo nor too dey send certain Nigerian forms of class and social apartheid...

If you see a house painter or a mechanic in Lekki, VI, Ikoyi, or Ikeja GRA, you know that Madam's car has developed some engine wahala and she has had Oga call Mukaila the mechanic to come and take a look at it. Mukaila found his way to Lekki or Ikoyi from his base in Mushin, Oshodi, or Okokomaiko. It could be that Madam needs a fresh coat of paint in the living room. That is why Bashiru the painter was summoned from Abule Egba to come and give an estimate in Lekki...

I live in Riverside South - middleclass suburbia. That is where Lawyers, Architects, Surgeons, Accountants, Professors, etc, congregate in your average four or five-bedroom, two or three-baths family homes with a fenced backyard.

A Nigerian Professor living decently in any Western suburbia always does a fair bit of gnashing of teeth because he understands, tragically, that we do not have a society in which he could live decently in such places on a Professor's wage in Nigeria.

I remember going to visit Moses Ochonu in his own patch of suburbia in Nashville. It looked pretty much like my own patch of suburbia in Ottawa. That puts us roughly in Lekki in Nigeria. That means we would not be able to be there decently on wage derived from academia in Nigeria. You would have to be part of the corruption architecture, or the myriad ways of bending the rules to earn an extra buck in Nigeria. I am talking of those ways in which civil servants live in duplexes in Magodo or Maitama...

But I digress. I was talking about Nigeria's class and social apartheid which gets a kick in the butt here. You know who you expect to see in Lekki. Don't be too sure here in the West. The West is a leveler...

My neighbors sold their home two years ago and moved to another province. My neighbor was a senior naval officer and his wife was a surgeon. We were such good friends so it was painful to see them leave. A few weeks later, their home was sold and I started to see one painter come in every afternoon to repaint the whole house. He was coming in his workman's truck - the sort of luxury trucks that Governors, Ministers, Senators, etc, use in Nigeria and even sit in the owner's corner. Only painters, construction workers, bricklayers, and carpenters use those trucks here.

One day, I took lemonade to the house painter and engaged him in a little chitchat. I told him it was sad to see our neighbors move and asked if he knew anything about the new owners of the house. I had assumed, Nigerianly, that he had been hired by the new owners of the house to paint it before they moved in.

Oh, this is our new home. I am a professional home painter and my wife and I figured that this suburban neighborhood is growing. Plenty of jobs here. We were ready to leave our old neighborhood anyway. So we decided to buy here.

For two years now, the Professor and the painter have been excellent next door neighbors.

At Penn State in the US, a BMW was always parked beside my own Toyota Camry. One day, I discovered that the owner of the BMW was the janitor in charge of cleaning the offices in my Department, including my own office.

In Nigeria, I don't think that a Lekki or an Ikoyi neighborhood association of Ogas at the top would tolerate certain classes of compatriots moving in - even if they could afford it.

Nigerians have such foolish ideas of class and social apartheid and they have evolved societal mores and mechanisms to enforce such ridiculous separations.

Moses Ochonu once told a story he heard. In Port Harcourt, some parents whose kids attended a posh school felt insulted by the fact that the children of Nigerians beneath their class had started to enroll in the school. They ganged up and approached the school authorities to force them to increase the school fees as a way of enforcing class weeding...

And I once told the story of the hostile looks I got last year when I dared to enter a top class, fine dining, haute cuisine restaurant in Abuja with my driver...

Obodo Oyibo no send such Nigerian frivolities. That driver you are doing your stupid Oga at the top to in Nigeria could be your next door neighbor here once he has a regular job and can pay mortgage and a car note.

Because of the centrality of class apartheid to the psychic makeup of Nigeria's elite, especially the political elite; because they are intellectually inferior and suffer from all sorts of inferiority complex, they will never allow this sort of society to emerge.

Mukaila must always only go to Ikoyi to repair Madam's cars. The day he starts dreaming of a society in which it would be possible for him to live there, other things being equal, they will stop doing business with him because he does not respect "constituted authority".

Bigmanism and Nigeria's social apartheid depend entirely on Mukaila knowing and remaining in his place. He is never allowed to aspire beyond it.

The point is not that there are no neighborhood or class divisions in other societies, especially in the West. The point is that a society must ensure a putative possibility of movement. Your society must never foreclose the possibility of your even dreaming that with hard work, you could move from Southside Chicago to Potomac, Maryland.

It is such dreams that Nigeria does not even tolerate. And that is what makes her one of the most socially hostile and underdeveloped environments I know.

Mukaila is not allowed to dream.

And if you try to goad him to dream, he will carry a placard screaming “LEAVE OUR SON ALONE” in support of the lunatics in the political class who have robbed him of the possibility of dreaming.

Pius Adesanmi

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