Every Eid on social media—and the time is upon us again—a polarizing exchange around social status tends to erupt between users from clashing classes.
The most noticeable used to be a pattern of demonizing remarks on the ostentation of the rich, and their failure to heed the warnings of Islam.
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Oftentimes, the response is a shared image of a shrouded corpse to remind the rich of their final destination after a lavish life, jumping from Lamborghini Aventador to Bombardier Global Express.
In recent years, as Nigeria’s sectional division thickened, the lens of this analysis switched from social to quasi-regional. The Arewa community on Twitter, which is a mostly Muslim bloc on the app, has become a target of moralizing takedowns, and their Eid parades, which are mostly young people in colourfully embroidered babbar riga and gorgeous dresses posing by posh cars and inside private jets, cited as a crass demonstration of ill-gotten wealth. While a section of non-Muslim Twitter users was innocently amused by the photo parade, another demonized it as audacious ostentation by oil wealth-driven parasitic Northerners.
Last year, after this Eid parade, the former Deputy National Publicity Secretary of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Timi Frank, tweeted to promote the stereotype of the biennial parade as a display by children of the criminally wealthy political class. “These are the Children of the Cabals under @MBuhari (sic),” he wrote. “Where is EFCC, DSS, and the Police. Are we sure we are one Nigeria? Corruption stinks under Buhari’s watch. May God save Nigeria under Buhari’s watch! (sic).”
In one of the photos shared as those of the offspring of corrupt politicians by Mr. Frank was my good friend, Abdulrahman Usman Leme, in a private jet. He’s a fine social development worker and policy analyst. Having worked at the Dangote Foundation before becoming a United Nations consultant, he had interacted closely with the upper-class in driving public policies, and this included travelling in private jets. One of such photos was what Timi Frank misled his audience to perceive as a lifestyle driven by corruption. His inference was, of course, inspired by Mr. Leme’s religious and ethnic background.
But Timi Frank and his gang were shocked to find that the self-styled Arewa Twitter, instead of being provoked by the bigotry, responded in humour. In doing so, even the celebrating Muslims who had previously stayed off the radar shared photos of their sleek supercars to further irk the judging bystanders. Mr. Leme ended up profiled as “Leader of the Cabal” on Twitter amidst the humour, and all the Eids since then have been characterized by an ostentatious parade and the consequent laughter, judgements and outrage.
In the past few days, the well-known socialite, Obi Cubana, has been trending over the opulent preparation for, and celebration at, his mother’s burial. What seems like a contest among his friends to demonstrate their net worth has re-ignited the old debate around the morality of such public display of wealth in an unforgivably impoverished country. Only this time, some of the characters known for carpeting Arewa Twitter for such display have suddenly found such lifestyle fashionable.
The fawning bystanders have reacted enviously to the display, and that “there’s money in Nigeria.” Our get-rich-quick syndrome has also amplified, with celebrities “broke-shaming” the fawning underclass and even their less-fortunate colleagues or those absent at the burial ceremony. One of the most absurd derision was by the renowned Nollywood actor, Kanayo O. Kanayo who, struck by the ostentation, ask his followers to hustle so that whenever the EFCC come to arrest members of their household, they won’t be left alone. It’s not the first time one comes across such thinking—an attempt to wear being in the spotlight of the anti-graft agency as a badge of honour.
But, as beautiful as such ostentations look, they are not a reflection of the Nigerian microeconomic reality. The show business is a place of false wealth and “packaging,” and social media has become a stage for fake lifestyles. You don’t have to heed the pressure of Mr. Kanayo to get involved in a life that makes you a regular at the EFCC office. There’s a reason for this sentiment: Nigerians aren’t rich. Most of the country is poor, including some of the Gucci-rocking fellows you idolize. Most of them are merely pressured, or insecure. The motto of that life is “fake it until you make it”—and, unfortunately, some “die trying” to escape poverty.
In 2016, at the Businessday Capital Market Development Annual Conference in Abuja, we found out that only two percent of Nigeria’s bank account holders had up to N500,000 in their accounts. Based on the data revealed by Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation, there were 70 million account holders in the country, and only 1.4 million had N500,000 and above. That’s a paltry $1000. So, if you do a quick maths of those parading themselves on social media, especially Instagram, where everyone lounges at the same place as Dangote, you may find out that you are fawning over people in worse material misery.
Even Nigeria’s upper-class is a fragile space, and the revelations of our debt-recovery agency, Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON), are proof of this. AMCON has serially published names of debtors in Nigeria, which included some of the self-styled “billionaires” we glorify. Early this year, the agency stated that 350 Nigerians owed it N3.6 trillion. Unfortunately, some of these debt-defaulting individuals are politically advantaged figures still thriving on the resources of a country where almost half the population live below the poverty line.
Like the individuals, the country itself isn’t a rich place. Some of us, without bothering to understand, often rush to celebrate our ranking as the wealthiest by GPD in Africa and Seychelles as the wealthiest by GDP per capita. We don’t tend to get the difference. I once attempted to explain this in layman’s sense by imagining Nigeria as a father with 70 children and a net worth of N400 million, and little Seychelles as a father of 2 with a net worth of just N100 million. Who’s richer? Nigeria, of course. But whose family is faring well and can afford the best luxuries and amenities more conveniently? When you distribute N400 million to Nigeria’s 70 children, each has a paltry N5.7 million. Seychelles, with just 2 kids, will have N50 million given to each kid. So, whose family do you think is living a better life?
Nigeria may have the largest purse in the village (GDP), but it doesn’t rank among the top 10 with well-doing children (GDP per capita) in the African village. So, while Nigeria parades himself as rich, he can only afford, based on family responsibilities, to take his kids to lower-income places, while Seychelles’s children go to well-structured schools and hospitals designed for high-income families. It’s our wish to escape this poverty, but the problem is more complex than it seems on social media.