Materialism is often celebrated in Nigerian hip hop, like it does in Ogaranya.
Artistes Kcee and Davido in a music video, “Ogaranya,” which is the Igbo term for wealthy aristocrats. Nigerian hip hop celebrates materialism, like it does in Ogaranya. Photo: BellaNaija

Materialism is a metaphysical view that a variety of existing things can be explained in terms of substance. The views of Ola Fajemirokun, newspaper editor and president of a New Age movement of the 1930s, as well as those of a few correspondents indicate that the philosophies of materialism circulated in the occult in colonial Nigeria, who synthesized ideologies from biblical principles. Soyinka believes that we live in a materialist world, and materialism appeals so strongly to humanity, no matter where. His works are concerned with tension between the spiritual and the material. In Nigerian cultural context, materialism often refers to the excessive desire to acquire and consume material goods.

The materialism of city dwellers hardly escaped the attention of chroniclers, even of the 19th Century. Anglo African Times newspapers of the 1860s recorded the Saros and the Agudas adorning themselves ostentatiously with fancy dress sporting characters like “Red Riding Hood” and the ‘first Duke of Buckingham’ “all in a town (Lagos) that had few roads worthy of the name, with much diseases, dirt, and death.” This was hardly the case, however, in the interior. In the second half of the pre-colonial era, many Oyo people disclaimed the commercial aggressiveness of Ijebu traders as materialistic, their philosophy being against the concept of wealth for its own sake. The tendency to reduce human aspirations to material gains escalated evidently in the colonial era throughout western Nigeria. Articles and letters to newspapers abound where concerns were raised about the surge in dowry demanded by the bride’s family. In Ado-Ekiti, a successful textile merchant, Comfort Oguntubi founded a group of wealthy women devoted to fashion.

Igbos of the eastern region were described by Forde and Jones in a 1950 publication as exhibiting a tendency to materialism resulting in a highly competitive and economically stratified society. It is easy to detect the rich, the middle class and the poor. This divisive trait of the Igbo features envy, jealousy, and deep squabbles resulting sometimes into fighting. Igbo society of the mid-19th Century featured a social and economic class called Ogaranya, a priviledged social and economic class, described by Ajayi Crowther in the 1850s as “persons of some property.” The Ogaranya are distinguished by their many wives, children, and slaves. They sponsor wars and purchase traditional titles to legitimize the link between their wealth and their new found political influence. Soon, the titled men of Northern and Central Igbo organized themselves into associations to regulate the administration of future local titles. Because of their wealth, the Ogaranya wielded strong political power, sometimes acting as generalissimo in wars sponsored by them. Under them were clients and dependents- lesser men who under the protection of the Ogaranya traveled and engaged in commerce. One Ogaranya, Nnodim Odu Obasili, having sponsored war with Egbu, became king of a town near Owerri called Naze.

The morality of materialism especially in the Christian religion, as experienced in Nigeria, is unclear. Even in early times of the Apostolic movement in Nigeria, Adenyi Ajayi’s importation of the Koffey African Universal Church known for its style of converting people from commercial point of view instead of the spiritual one, drew only a cautious criticism from the highly cynical Colonial Investigation Division. Ajayi, the local missionary was himself an American representative of the Industrial and Commercial Bank, and was on that effect, appointed second director to look after the commercial side of the Ghanaian movement. In Soyinka’s view, the prevailing material and socio-economic situation in Nigeria promotes religious opportunism. More explicitly, Matthew Kukah expressed the trend has produced the outward phenomenon of religious merchandising. Materialism is being fingered by many scholars in Nigeria as a primary cause of corruption.

Tope Apoola
Profession: Writer