To say class system is an ancient phenomenon is a statement that is not out of context. It existed among many societies in antiquity from the Hindus ancient caste system through the Romans system of separating the freemen from the freed men to Athenian system of eupatridae and the hoi polois.
For a fact, if we know anything about the Greeks of antiquity, two cities are famous for this knowledge. They are Athens and Sparta albeit Athens been the most progressive and could be termed the rock upon which the foundation of modern system of government is laid. Inasmuch as Sparta is famous for her military prowess and the use of few words to achieve great things by being laconic, it is infamous for her class system when discussing ancient history.
Now, racism is not only when one race believes and claims superiority over another as sociologists have said; racism is not only shouldered on somatic differences, but also when a class of people believe and claim superiority over another class of people in the same society. It was on this last view that racism that is shrouded in class system in ancient Sparta was based although the city-state of Sparta had Greeks of both Doric and Messenian origin, with the latter being around for some centuries before the former.
Three class of people existed in ancient Sparta, each with distinct functions and rights. The dominant class in ancient Sparta was the class of the Spartiates. In modern language, this class could be called the class of the untouchables. Many of the Spartiates lived in the best part of the city from where they ruled over a vast subject population, owned and controlled best of lands. Part of the things people in this class could do included annually declaring war on people in the lowest class. In fact, a young Spaeriate could spy on members of the lowest class and anyone in the lowest class thought to be a threat to the state could be eliminated without trial. Surprisingly, the population of people in this class was not up to half of the entire population, but they were strong enough to control the remaining classes – perioeci and helots.
These two classes lived outside the best part of the city but with a sharply differentiated lifestyle. The class of perioeci was that of a relatively free men who were of the same Doric origins as the Spartiates. However, they lived in their own villages and lacked both autonomy and share in the government and citizenship of Spartan state. The last class was that of helots who lacked freedom and are at best described as serfs. They constituted the majority of the Spartan population. Even though the Spartiates met the helots on ground during the Doric invasion of 11th century BC, the former was largely successful in subjugating the latter (of Messenian origin) on their own soil. Helots in ancient Sparta could not control their own lives, had no freedom of movement, and were forced to work on the estates of their Spartiates overlords where they were further forced to hand over about half of their farm produce to these overlords. In fact, it was because of this unconventional norm in Greece of antiquity that made the Spartan state a unique one (for Greeks don’t enslave fellow Greeks). It was indeed unique for a smaller population to hold a much larger one in perpetual subjugation. Of course, this was only possible with the use of force underscored by the strictest military discipline recorded in history of military from antiquity.
Verily, this type of class system also exists in Nigeria albeit with some slight differences underscored by modernity. The three classes of people in Nigeria are the political, the elites, and the masses. Nigerian politicians are not so much different from these ancient Spartiates (if not worse). Like the ancient Spartiates, Nigerian politicians control other classes of citizens. These politicians live in the best of houses in the best parts of the world and possess greater political rights and freedom than citizens in the elite and masses categories, even when the constitution declares all of us as equal before the law. For example, the president and the state governors are untouchable as long as they occupy the chief seat of the country or their respective states because of the immunity clause hanging over their offices. Even when they leave the helms of affairs, many of them still walk about with their soiled hands and command respect of the two other classes. These political overlords earn humongous salaries and allowances coughed out from the national coffers. In fact, tax payers’ money is daily being wasted on maintaining the extravagant lifestyle of the political class. Like the Spartiates, they are skilled in taking away the little money the masses could muster under the guise of tax and exorbitant tariffs for national development. They whisked money generated from the natural resources to foreign lands or buried them in places such as abandoned farmlands or soak-away where they are not needed in moments of enslavement to greed. These political overlords are indeed powerful!
A little below the political class is the elitist class. In this class are the rich businessmen, administrators in civil services, religious leaders and traditional rulers. While the people in business are exploiting the have-nots that dominated the masses class, the religious leaders have taken the minds of the masses off such things such as freedom fighting through their teachings on obedience to people in positions of authority (what the Spartiates called eunomia) thereby further subjugating the masses and making them live with unfavourable socio-economic conditions. Whereas the politicians and their business cronies have sworn an oath to make the country more difficult for the masses, the religious leaders compound their woes, luring them by subterfuge in a bid to make money to maintain their flamboyant lifestyle in a manner comparable to those in the political class. And since many of these religious leaders now know the corridor of power, they have lost their voices against these political overlords who parade themselves as good but are the real enemies of the people.
Unfortunately, the traditional rulers who are the custodians of the people’s culture and morality have lost their relevance in the face of conscripted relationship with the political and business overlords who now take them for granted. In fact, it is obvious Nigeria is a conspiracy between the politicians, businessmen, religious leaders, and traditional rulers for each of them are disconnected from the plight of the masses. The politicians supervise the meting out of penury to the masses, the business people consolidate on this and enjoy the proceeds of harsh economic laws aided by their politician friends, the religious leaders are busy making money off the people by preaching prosperity and relegating character to elevate miracle, turning a blind eye to the injustice in the land and instead enjoying in their private jets and supervising the activities of private universities. The traditional rulers that could have salvaged the situation are losing their traditional values by their unhidden inability to separate their role from politics, the role that the political overlords are fast usurping through lies and deception, bastardizing the traditional institutions.
Nigerian masses are a replica of ancient Sparta’s helots, bearing the brunt of the activity and inactivity of the political and elitist class. As far as Nigeria is concerned, equality of people is a theory that exists only on paper. Perennial subjugation of the people in this class is a cause for concern. Unfortunately, the people in this class are everywhere on the street. You see them everywhere you turn to, battered and shattered with little or no hope of survival. The masses are daily being betrayed by their political overlords and the religious place where they could find succour are now being managed by business owner who are after the little that the masses were able to gather in their long hours of toiling under the sun. While the politicians and others in the elite class stroll out of law courts with their soiled hands and their entire body neck deep in larceny, the masses are not always lucky with the pronouncement of the law courts even on mundane offences such as stealing of goat or foodstuffs often hinged on poverty.
Unlike the helots in Sparta who in 650BC revolted against the Spartiates, the masses in Nigeria seem to be contented with their lot. In fact, the masses are the defenders of these overlords because of reasons bordered on religion and ethnicity. These overlords are also smart in supervising division among the masses, playing them one against the other to maintain their own selfish interests and perpetuate themselves on the corridor of power.
That nothing good comes easy is very true. Shall the masses because of this uneasiness resign their collective destinies and those of the generation unborn to the hands of these of these men and women that meant no well for them? As Thomas Aquinas once said, if the highest aim of a captain were to preserve his ship, he would keep it in the port forever. This is a time for revolution, not one that is characterized by the use of firearms nor one based on religion and ethnicity, but of the mind. We are truly free as humans, but our minds are not and no subjugation is worse than that in which the mind is subjugated.
We in the class of the masses should rise above our differences and feckless attitudes towards the people that govern us and strive for freedom, not just for us but also for coming generations. The time to revolutionize our minds is now. As the 2019 general election is getting closer to us, these oppressors are gathering themselves to further perpetuate their evil. Like the Spatiates in ancient Sparta dealt with the helots, they are ready to keep us in perpetual subjugation by any means possible, fair or foul. Of course, no oppressor would want the oppressed to be free and it is for the oppressed to work out his own freedom. We are not unaware of the evil scheme that lay in the bottom of their hearts even as they smile with us and eat akara or roasted plantain at street junctions. It is left for us to make up our minds and decide whether or not we want to be in perpetual subjugation to these powers that be in both high and low places of the country. We have been subjugated long enough and it is time we start working out freedom. Truly we are free from imperial colonization but the people that power was handed over to have proven to be worse. As I have said before, no oppressor wants the oppressed to be free and it is for the oppressed to work out his own freedom.
Segun Ogunlade writes in from University of Ibadan, Ibadan.