The Nigerian Middle-class and Development

image_1Class-consciousness is the enemy of the financial and political elites that constantly inseminate the idea that “all of us must work together and sacrifice” for the greater good, when in fact the “greater good” is largely favorable600566_413326042089829_1683486220_n to the elites. While perspectives may vary on the exact sociological standards of the middle class, it pays to note that what happens to these dynamics is very important to the sustainability of a healthy democracy and in this case Nigeria’s democracy. The ability of these group of people with a decent measure of “income” and comfort to participant in politics and economic activities is vital for democracy. It is assumed that a strong middle-class (a) acts as a voice speaking out for the (powerless) the poor (b) can hold the government accountable and will most likely fight for justice and (c) supports inclusive political and economic institutions, which underpin economic growth and development. Welfare performance indicators of this social group in Nigeria forces the question, is our middle class growing? or do we have a consuming middle class or a statistical median income group?

In 2007, the World-Bank classified Nigeria as a low income country, recently in 2011 according to the Migration and Remittance Fact book, Nigeria is now a middle income country. Per –contra, comparing the income level of this social group to their expenditures and measuring it against the globally accepted standard of living shows that the current scholarly work on the raising Nigerian middle class is largely flawed. Analysing the General Household survey (1996), the Nigerian Living Standard Survey (2004), correlating that to the 2004,2009/2010  Harmonized Nigerian Living Standard Survey shows that the term “middle class” is a relatively context specific concept whose meaning is derived from an economic circumstance over a period of time. Along these lines, the trends in welfare metrics shows that the current middle class group in Nigeria are relatively worse off. Although, there are statistically more people rising out of absolute poverty and are evident of more people having increase in spending power, economically they are living a lie, because the macroeconomic primitives and other factors of consumerism are not contributory to their existence and sustenance.

According to the Keynesian model, individual consumption has a cardinal role in reducing unemployment and inducing growth.  Solimona (2008) suggested that of all the social strata that makeup private consumption, middle class was the most important. Solimona further hinted that the primary focus of an economic policy seeking to reduce poverty be focused on the welfare of this dynamic.  Many more studies such as Easterly 2001, Pressman 2010, Khara 2010, Chun, Hasan and Ulubasoglu 2011, and Martinez and Parent 2012 all  laid emphasis on the importance of the middle class as having a stabilizing impact; a requirement for a stronger and more sustainable economic growth thus development. 

W.Cashell, 2007; Kharas  and  Gertz, 2010 argued that, components of what makes a middle class is arguably one of the most  controversial areas of social research. Study such as done by NBS (2007) Robertson, Ndebele, & Mhango, (2011) and the AfDB (2011) have all attempted to study emerging middle class countries including Nigeria. As a result, they prompted the emergence of the new sets of middle class however; such studies failed to take a stand on whether or not these emerging middle class were a consuming or statistically group. Looking at Nigeria’s socio-economic development in the last three decades of military government in comparism to the attendant nose-dived economic non inclusive growth since the return of democratic government shows that significant factors have clearly affected this social group even though their income distribution pattern have increased. For example three decades ago, electricity more highly distributive and more stable, the Nigeria railway system transported food from northern Nigeria to their distributive points, today food such as tomatoes coming from the north often get rotten on the way and sometimes involved accident due to bad roads by which all the goods may perish.

Some argue people are consuming far more today than they did thirty years ago i.e. the average poor person in Nigeria today has a mobile phone and some own or aspire to own high-tech phones such a blackberry. Yes consumerism is higher today, but its not an excuse for the depreciated state of infrastructure and social goods in Nigeria, it just means that social goods and service will require constant improvement and more maintenance.

Despite the success of the telecommunication and banking sector, this oil-dependent economy still suffers from various economic stresses; stress which is potentially diminishing the rising middle class.  The decline of the Agric and manufacturing sector as well as the inputs of corruption, income inequality, lack of social goods and infrastructure remains detrimental. The collective effects of the above mentioned scenario makes Nigeria an import-dependent economy.  As a result, almost 80% of the country’s spending goes to foreign exchange trading, also due to unreasonably high cost of domestic production partly due to the lack of stable electricity and fuel supply has reduced the country’s industrial capacity utilization to less than 30% (USASoS 2012).  Presently, Nigeria’s hopes of achieving vision 2015, 2020 and all other points’ agenda remains a mirage (Joseph, 2009).

The country is suffering from extreme policy decapitation of the government’s inability and indifference of ensuring provision of social goods and services. Presently, private individual’s out of pocket expenditure for healthcare account for 76% of total health care expenditures in Nigeria (WorldBank, 2012). The segmented non-inclusive growth coupled with unhealthy policies and other factors have the potential to reduce the size of the middle class as well as reducing their bargaining power in socio-economic activities. Joseph (2009) stated that economic and good governance are crucial factors in driving the middle class as economic growth and developmental governance must go hand in hand to empower the growth of the middle class; as observation showed that stable higher income democracies often results in stronger middle class and a relatively low absolute poverty rate and more equal society. In contrast, countries with higher unequal income and services distribution tend to have weaker middle class who are less likely to be involved in shaping political and economic decisions. Further, unequal social strata often contributes social, ethnic conflicts and operate populist political system thus, a stronger healthy middle class is deemed as a crucial factors in stabilizing political and economic development.

Nigeria is awash with the big idea of what Chen (2012) referred to as the rumour of the Chinese arising middle class. Evidently, factors supporting such claims remain conflicting and un-established, given that the proposed indicators and the macroeconomic fundamental underlining the middle class are not looking positive currently. The argument is not there are no middle class or that more people are not being lifted out of extreme poverty but rather that considering the economic situation and the development indicators of this group, the existing middle class may not be as sub-sequential and juicy to assume the ideal role of who a middle class is globally.  In order words; most of the people referred to as middle class in Nigeria could actually be termed poor in the globally accepted barometer of who a middle class is.

Nigerian Middle-class

The definition of a middle class is a long way off income and expenditure metrics imitative from the statistical numeric.  A lot of socio-economic and political aspects for example; place of residence, assets (includes financial asset), urbanization, political position and bargaining power, health, infrastructure, education, professional disposition, employment status, lifestyle, aspirations for better governance, minimal ethnicity, stability, economic growth and policies are all affiliated with the status of a middle class. As noted by Easterly, (2001), AfDB (2011), and Smith (2012) the likelihood that this social group can emerge and be sustained is dependent on these components.  The admonition to this also is that, these factors will lead to the rise of the middle class; as this social group has the capacity to reduce extreme poverty by way of distributive growth. However, the above outlined components and poverty are worlds apart in Nigeria which feeds the growth-poverty ambiguity and the economic growth enigma thus, changes in any of the aforementioned components will barely produce a consuming middle class in Nigeria.  Reasonably supporting the AfDB (2004) study which claims that the African middle is vulnerable and very likely to slip back into poverty should unpredictable events occur.

The average Nigerian elite are likely to have a first degree. Some have attained professional qualifications, while others have achieved additional academic qualifications such as Masters or PhD’s. The Nigerian elite is likely to live in the urban areas of the country. Nigerian elites come from all ethnic groups and are situated in cities like Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, and Kano, Kaduna and other state capital and major cities in the country. In Nigeria, the middle class is likely to have the qualifications of what ordinarily should make them up to par with the above scenario but are often unable to do so and the explanation for that is broad and multi-dimensional.

Furthermore,  as proposed by El-Rufai, it is the government’s responsibility to develop and implements policies that strengthens and addresses the challenges facing the Nigerian middle-class, for example the mortgage system as well as embarks on a massive housing scheme to reduce cost.  It is possible to achieve affordable housing however, necessary components must align. In order to bring down materials costs and stimulate construction, as well as make housing more affordable to the Nigerian population, government should continue its reconsideration of restrictions on the importation of cement and other building materials. Another alternative worth exploring for further research is how local materials such as clay and other local building materials can be used as an alternative. Furthermore, lack of basic infrastructure such as roads, water and electricity is a major constraint accounting for about 30 percent of housing costs. In most cases developers have to provide the infrastructure which invariably increases the cost of the houses they produce thus making such houses unaffordable. There should be an agreement or a law permitting home owners to consider the alternatives of monthly payment, but I guess that is inter-related with the cost of building as owners want bulk sums after spending so much on a house project. The three tiers of government should not shy away from their responsibility of providing primary infrastructure if we must achieve our goal of providing affordable housing. The infrastructure projects could be financed by issuing bonds and will also provide a future, this could also serve as an income stream for government through municipal fees that will be paid by home owners.

The challenges facing the middle class in Nigeria leaves us with no other choice but for intervention strategies to focus on creating enabling environments for entrepreneurship and in Nigeria’s case (informal sector) to enable more people develop multiply income to match their expenditure level. In order words “seek yea first the kingdom of increase of income and more income streams and more middle class shall be added unto the economy”. Currently, the Nigerian middle-class is at a cross road which produces conflict between the emergence of a statics middle class and their economic realities.

Why is the middle class important for Nigeria?

In “The Future of History”, F. Fukuyama cited the importance of the middle-class, suggesting that any government concerned about sustainable development had to pay attention to what happens to this group. Globally, there is a struggle to keep the diminishing middle-class afloat. Anyone paying attention to global politics and development will notice the rhetoric focus of world leaders addressing the economic afflictions of the common man. Essentially, it is recognized that there is a problem and that in democratic countries there is a huge disparities between those favored by the government (elites) and those struggling (middle-class) or ignored by the government(poor). Fukuyama offers a plausible explanation for why this is happening and what the consequences may be. Politicians on both sides of the aisle in countries like America, rush to use the woes of the middle-class to secure votes as it is increasing difficult to take any political candidate seriously on issues of the economy and job creation, the next best thing is “empowering the middle-class”, but the developing countries tend not to focus too much on this dynamic, leading me to ask; do they know something we have failed to pay attention to? Yes they do, the middle-class has power and our government know this so ignoring issues that affect them seems like distracting them with poverty and all these inconvenience so that they will not have time to “organise” and demand change or holding the government accountable. If anything positive can be said for these recent times in politics and economics it is that these issues of income inequality, welfare and a crumbling  economic foundation are now sipping into public discourse in developing countries. From an economic perspective, the consumerism rate of the middle class and the role it plays for growth has been emphasized. Juliet Schor (1999) proposed that it is the emerging consumerism that defines the middle-class; “continual, prevalence of the lifestyle norms; the preponderance of conspicuous, status goods and service and the race to acquiring them; the increasing disunity between desire and the income”. From a more academic perspective, Murphy and Vishny (1989) pinpoints the interest of the middle-class consumer to pay a little more extra for quality as incentive that drives product differentiation thereby feeding the investment in production and marketing of new goods and service. The latter role has become more conspicuous with the current push for global trade and new trade theories. There are many issues facing the middle-class in Nigeria, but I will be focusing on Income, access to credit and Housing challenges.


Measuring the poverty from income or money perspective is often criticized as development goes beyond income level. However, in Nigeria, I believe income is essentially the appropriate approach to measuring poverty, as money is required to feed, buy security, education, healthcare and others. The assumptions required for such imputations are generally somewhat heroic, but I am not negating the fact that increase in income level by itself are not development. The key assumption is that with a decent income, uniformed monetary metrics can consider all accounts of relevant heterogeneity across individuals and their situations. Although, lack of sufficient resources doesn’t necessarily mean that one is below the poverty line, income represents a convenient short-cut method, based on data that are widely available. The global average middle-class earns between N500, 000- N4m per annum however, in Nigeria figures are not certain, but I will for the sake of this assume that a middle class is someone whose monthly income ranges from N60,000-N180,000. It could be higher or lower, depending on whose perspectives it is being measure and whether or not such people work and live in urban or rural areas.

Furthermore, considering, the expenditure of the people in this income bracket, can they really be termed middle-class? although, high but considering that everything is paid for, this is relatively low and most middle class groups are struggling not to fall of the middle-class line. The use of monetary concept suggests that the solution is generation of adequate or higher money income. The delusion about measuring a middle class based on income in Nigeria is most poor people do not see themselves as poor because they are earning a monthly income. I recently heard that Global Communication (Glo) pays graduate N30,000 month as a starting salary, I spoke to a few new entry level from Glo and in their perspective they did not consider themselves poor as they were and I quote at least not unemployed.  But we all know that this sort of middle-class is powerless as they monthly income cannot equal their expenditure.


Housing is one of the vital basic needs required for survival. It is a major challenge of most middle-class group, delaying the age at which young professional become independent from their families. In the western society at 24 year old still living at home will be frown upon, but in Nigeria it is normal to be 30 and still live at home.  The provision of houses through the availability of the mortgages system and the option of monthly rent payment is often taken for granted in developed countries. However, it remains a major challenge in developing countries, especially in urban cities in Nigeria. In October 2012, Nasir El-Rufia referred to the housing challenges facing Nigerians as daunting and of great concern in his words; “majority of Nigerians who go to bed thinking of landlords, estate agents and house rents”. The government has long identified house as a major priority, but unfortunately, it is yet to development a tangible mortgage market therefore, houses continue t be provided through the traditional methods of buying land in millions of Naira and more recently  millions of $ depending on the location. House-hunting in Lagos is one of the most daunting task anyone could ever embark upon. In Lagos after going through the hassle with unaccountable agents the landlord will be requesting for rent for two years further widening housing gaps among the citizens of Nigeria, especially among the rank and file of middle and low class, the gap still yawns wider. With the current housing trend, the chances of this focus group renting a decent accommodation and or owning a house one day is very ranges between lowest to non-existent. Recently, Lagos state government set-up a scheme known as the Lagos Home Ownership Scheme to enable young professionals buy properties in Lagos state. While this is a great idea, I find the conditions of being credit worth confusing for the purpose considering that Nigeria has very little or credit system, how is that going to work? What will the basis of classifying a working class credit-worth in Lagos? Most working class people have no access to credit facilities to even build a record.

  Lack of access to loans and credits

Between 2005-2011 more than 40 million people were lifted from poverty to the middle-class group making it the biggest social class in Brazil.   According to economist Marcelo Neri, this raise is largely attributed to access to credit services.  Nigeria has no credit system whatsoever. We spend cash, not that spending cash is wrong however, how long will it take for a middle income earner to save up for buy a car? Based on the average income bracket what are the chances of owning a house in a life-time for this class of people? Nigeria is a developing country with the challenges listed above; access to credit for the middle class could go a long way in stabilizing this dynamic. The list goes on and on with various types of loans like – car loan, housing loan and educational loan and the worst part is not many would be ready to share this responsibility, thus continues in the rat race of struggles. If Nigeria is to have the young professionals who make up majority of the middles, independent from their families and support system in order for them to act their role in the society, then access to credit is non-negotiable.

Although oil remains the major focus of income generation, it only contributes 10% to GDP growth while an underutilized agricultural sector contributes 47% and two-third of employment (NBS, 2012). It almost seems as though the private sectors pays as low as it must do, in order to employ more people creating the illusion of a growing middle-class. The Nigerian employment trend needs diversification in order for income level to increase. In conclusion, comparing the Nigerian middle class to their expenditure shows that most Nigerians are not living to that standard, therefore, it can be said that there are no middle class in Nigeria and or that we require local standards for measuring this social group as the international standards of living are highly disputed in current scholarly work.

About rebeccaidd

Fun, passionate, inquisitive exploring development
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5 Responses to The Nigerian Middle-class and Development

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  5. babatunde odubanjo says:

    thought provoking article, i am exploring opportunities of providing affordable homes for the upper segment of middle income earners in Lagos. i see my initial parameters may be questionable. I have been looking for those who can afford single/family of $1500 per month towards their own home. Those who are presently paying up to $800-$1000 in rent per month. I am still working on my figures that can solve my ‘ rent to own’ scheme .

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