Date Published: 11/19/09
Bridging the Gap Between the Haves and Have nots By Oghene Omonisa
Every society has its share of rich and poor people. In grouping social classes, sociologists came up with what has now been generally agreed as an acceptable theory. They opine that in an ideal society, there are three basic social classes and that these strata are better appreciated when seen in the shape of an ellipse, a regular oval shape. With a narrow top, a broad middle and a corresponding narrow bottom, the ellipse represents a small upper class at the narrow top, a populated upper middle class between the narrow top and the broad middle, and a more populated middle class at the broad middle that decreases at it blends downwards to meet both the lower middle class and the working class at the narrow bottom. Meaning that the haves are few, those in the average are many, while the have-nots are as few as the haves. Thus, the maxim of every society having its share of the rich and the poor shows there must be classes as there must be a company chairman, a manager and a worker – one provides the fund, the other, brain and the third the labour.
That is in an ideal society and in such societies too, government ensures there is minimum conflict in the mutual rivalry among members of these classes. Members of the upper class strive to maintain their status and improve on retaining their wealth and ensuring that their inherited or hard-earned status continues from generation to generation. Members of the upper middle class struggle not mainly to remain in that class but also to climb to the next level. And, of course, members of the middle and working classes,under which one can conveniently group skilled and unskilled workers and artisans, are equally in the struggling game. They desperately want to change their status. But again, that is in an ideal society and where government ensures conducive working relationship, provides basic amenities and general infrastructures. Little wonder why a cleaner in an advanced society proudly wears his uniform behind which is boldly written CLEANER, and does his job diligently because at the end of the day’s job, he will return in a good transport system to a poor but comfortable home, and to receive his job’s worth at the end of the month from which he saves to send his kids to school to lift them up from his class.
But trust sociologists to come up with corresponding analogy for every situation. In a society like ours, which can best be described as underdeveloped or developing, they compare it to a cone shape, a pointed top which broadens downward to the bottom. Meaning, the rich are very few up there and the lower the class, the more the population and the less rich until one finds the multitude of the very poor at the bottom. And what is worse? The government does not take notice. The poor struggling cleaner in Nigeria does not proudly wear his CLEANER uniform because he is being owned three month salary, because a large part of his pay goes for his transport where each trip is like a journey through hell, with rickety bus, bad roads and the chaotic hold-ups, because he cannot afford to save to change the future status of his children and because nobody cares about him. That is where the intense rivalry comes to play.
Every surviving member of our society, no matter his class, is scared of a fellow citizen, especially a less endowed fellow citizen, as he can tell from his desperate and determined expression that his fellow country man wishes to take from him and add to his, to increase his own in order to uplift his status. The rivalry among members of the classes is so fierce and barbaric that the rich keep their luxury among themselves, not to be identified outside their class for fear of their wealth provoking marauding robbers into shooting before robbing, even when there is no resistance from their victims. Now, private security and armoured cars are the in-thing for the super rich. And the marauders, some of whose misfortunes are self-inflicted, have developed a pathological hatred for the rich, privately envying their ability to seemingly earn much without sweating, not taking into consideration the sacrifices – academy or apprenticeship or long budding business years – members of the rich class made before getting where they presently are.
Of course, every country, even the advanced ones, has its own share of societal ills. There are armed robbery incidents in the UK and Japan, there are assassinations in the US and France and there are kidnappings in Italy and Israel. But ours, like few other developing countries, is a peculiar case because it is now almost becoming a normal and routine occurrence where a kidnapping expedition that claims the lives of ten soldiers is no longer stop press, where a careless accident on the part of the government that claims dozens of innocent lives is not worth declaring a day of national mourning for, where the arrest of an armed robbery suspect whose crimes include killing two of his victims, no longer makes news until the reporter learns he had killed eight in previous operations, making ten, where … where… where….
Both the government and the citizenry have dual roles to play in bridging the gap between the rich and the poor. Government needs to put on a new garb, which can easily be associated with seriousness, which will equally inspire the seriousness and commitment of its citizens. Good and implementable economic policies should be put in place so that as many applicants as possible can be gainfully employed. A government that provides basic education for the people, where a great majority can read and write, is the government that will have an enlightened citizenry to lead. It certainly will be a surprise to ascertain the percentage of Nigerians that earn much but do not have bank account because they cannot read and write – searching for the cash with difficulty and spending it with ease. It will dazzle the Labour Ministry to take statistics of workers, both in the public and, especially, the private sectors, who are being owed salaries that go back six months to one year, with the boss having deposited same in fixed deposit account. How do such workers survive if not through dubious means? Everyday, a poor applicant hears of people scooping cash in public offices and marvels at them riding in flashy cars while he is still ruminating about the possibility of his next meal. Give him an opportunity of a government job and expect him to play honest. The police declares a man wanted on suspicion of stealing N100,000 belonging to his company and invites useful information from members of the public, while the same members of the public read of former office holders, who are suspected of defrauding them of billions of naira, showing off at social functions. Only a dumb member of the public will finish reading such a published notice beyond the first two lines let alone consider providing ‘useful information’ by wasting his money to ‘dial the following numbers’. When government is serious, the citizens will notice and respond.
The citizens, especially the rich, and even corporate bodies, have a great role to play. Everything cannot be left in the hands of government alone. Banks and other financial institutions vote large percentage of their annual recurrent expenditure for security. Dedicating only about five percent of such money on building counselling, rehabilitation and training centers for released convicted armed robbers and providing them with little start-up capital will go a long way in reducing incidents of armed robbery. It is a fact that some of these corporate bodies do these things as part of their corporate social responsibilities, but a lot still need to be done for effective results. Many of the rich can afford to spare much to spruce up their social status but not little to spare for NGOs which provide free reading and writing classes for indigent citizens who missed their first chance at education or give a helping hand to NGOs which provide technical skills acquisition programmes for educationally disadvantaged citizens. Though it may seem difficult to correlate but for every ten palatial home built with sky-high barb-wired wall, with gigantic gate and gun-wielding guards, there is, perhaps, one dare-devil rascal thinking to wait outside instead, to engage the security men in a gun duel for just the luxury car, a wadded wallet or the super phone. The rivalry is that bleak.
But some of the so-called poor that take to crime do not help matters. Poor parents need to inculcate in their children the virtue of legitimate work. Most criminals from poor homes are so lazy intellectually and, oddly enough, physically too, that one wonders if there is no alternative to armed robbery. Even with our anachronistic method of combating crime, armed robbers are not known to last long. Thirty years is good enough before they either land in goal or grave. Robbers should help themselves by freeing their bondage to irrationality. A hungry young man who has no education or training to secure a legitimate and comfortable means of livelihood can go into manual labour to earn enough to survive and save to start a trade or apprenticeship. The unemployed graduate robber who takes to crime to make ends meet should put himself in the shoes of his victims for the table may turn some day. Imagine an ex-convict who gives up his illicit job after a big hit and goes legit, or one who surrenders his trade by divine intervention and lawfully hits it big time, but now at the receiving end of his previous jobs, he will swear and sweat after the horrendous experience, wishing heaven to descend on his tormentors. If it does not excite to receive, then it surely should not interest to give people anguish.
It is when the poor cleaner knows that from his meagre salary he can cater for his family the best he can, send his kids to public but good schools and save for their future, that he will proudly wear his CLEANER uniform. It is when the big shot is arrested, tried and convicted for defrauding the commonwealth that a happy citizen will patriotically spend his own money to call the police with information to apprehend a runaway suspect. It is when a common ex-convict is trained, rehabilitated and provided with a job that he will see the virtue of admiring the rich and wishing to lawfully elevate himself, than envying them. It is when both the haves and the have-nots, see and use electric power regularly, share equal security risk, knowing they are both equal before the law, that the present social conflict will reduce to an appreciable level. And it is only when government has conscientiously and effectively played its roles and the citizens provide a helping hand that the gap between the haves and the have-nots, will finally be bridged. It does not necessarily mean making every poor man to be rich, because class is the social reality of human existence.