Citizens and burden of subsidising the state
The usual thing these days is to read in Newspapers or hear from the electronic media, the views of some of those who are in the positions to equitably distribute the wealth of the nation, threatening the populace with the intention to withdraw one subsidy or the other, even when there is a clear indication that the available resources from the so-called subsidised sectors are simple outlets for draining the economy dry. Where they cannot use withdrawal of subsidy as a threat, they will continue to implore the citizenry not to think of what the country can do for them but what they can do for the country and their immediate environment.
The point usually emphasised is on the need for the people to realise that everyone is for herself and only God is for us all and that the people have to embark on various communal or personal efforts to provide necessary infrastructure for their own upkeep. These personal efforts are usually cloaked in the garb of self-help or community development. The issue is that while people are not enjoying any subsidy from those they elected to represent them in government they are also expected to subsidise the government by putting up personal and communal efforts to provide amenities in contemporary Nigeria. This raises a lot of dust concerning what should be considered self-help. One important question that this generates is what then remains as the obligation of the state to the citizens if, at the end of the day, the citizens are made to provide for every of their needs?
The idea of a civil society presupposes that some members of the society are already identified as the custodians of the power of the state. Such individuals or group of individuals are usually assigned the responsibility to see to the running of the society. The civil society is set up specifically to prevent tyranny and usurpation of the rights of someone by some other persons or group of persons. Going by the postulations of the social contract theorists, the insecurity and uncertainty associated with the state of nature, the state in which human actions were governed by the instincts for natural survival divested of any sense of morality, prompted the establishment of the civil society.
In the civil society, which was considered a better alternative to the state of nature, individuals were assumed to have entered into some covenants or contracts to surrender their power of self-governance to the sovereign, made up of one person or a group of persons, into whom all individual power and interests are reposed. Sequel to that self-surrender, those into whom power was reposed were expected to shoulder the burden associated with governance on behalf of all others. While taking custody of the societal power confers some privileges on the holders of power, it is also the case that citizens have a lot to contribute to the development of the society. Citizens should pay taxes as promptly as practically possible. They should also be gainfully located and locatable in the economic and political confluence. The need for the citizens to contribute to the society does not amount to saying that the rulers should just be watching while the citizens are breaking their backs carrying the burden of the society. Both the rulers and the ruled are expected to partake in moving the society forward.
Governance in Nigeria has been a gradual shift of the burden of the society to the shoulders of the citizens. The Nigerian political class is gradually taking the posture that suggests that the only responsibility that the state owes the people is to merely send down rules and order to the waiting obedient citizens. While the rulers are rollicking in the affluence produced by the collective labour of everyone in the society, they forget the fact that it is the responsibility of the government to provide social facilities and infrastructure. Rulers in Nigeria behave in ways that suggest that all that governance entails is the use of power to suppress the views and interests of those on whose behalf they hold power in trust.
If we carefully watch the goings on in Nigeria, we can easily see that provision of electricity, potable water, motorable roads, and security is being gradually and tactically ceded to individuals or group of individuals. In spite of the usual talk, by people in power, about subsidy for petroleum products and electricity, Nigerians know that the particular areas of responsibility have been ceded to the populace long ago. The vogue in Nigeria now is that as soon as one is planning to own a house, no matter how long it may take one to complete the building, the first thing is how to procure a power generating set for electricity since the body given the responsibility to provide and distribute electricity has been materially incapacitated. Ordinarily, one would have thought that if there is going to be any need for power generating set, it would have been a mere back-up. Here in Nigeria, the electricity provided by the state is a mere back-up to the generating sets. The recent development is for people in neighbourhoods to tax themselves endlessly for provision of transformers and feeder pillars.
The case of potable water is even worse. In most places in the country, people can no longer remember the last time they enjoyed pipe borne water. As people plan for power generating sets they also look for well or what they sometimes call borehole, to satisfy their needs for water. This is because of the failure of the state in this respect. The common vogue now is for people to talk of boreholes and water pumping machines, surface or submersible. It is also unimaginable that after paying their taxes and performing other obligations expected of them by the state, Nigerians still need self-help to have road access to their various places of abode.
It is always nauseating and uninteresting listening to chairmen of Landlords’ Associations soliciting cooperation from members of the Associations to contribute to pay Caterpillar owners to help them grade roads leading to their homes. These same members of Landlords’ Associations are those who are also saddled with the responsibility to mount guards as members of Vigilante in the night to ward off night marauders.
The mother of all the subsidies for the governance of the Nigerian state is the incessant and timeless threats that this year or the other the subsidy will be fully removed from petroleum products. The issue has become so repetitive that it is too monotonous to carry any meaning any longer. Recently, the president has been blowing hot and cold on the matter. Sometimes he would say the country could not go on without removing the subsidy. Shortly after that, there would be a National Broadcast where people would be told that the removal would not happen immediately. From the look of things, subsidy removal has become a bait as well as a cane that the state can use to either lure or threaten the citizens.
The reports on the management of fuel subsidy and the controversies surrounding various attempts at sanitizing the oil sector, have continued to make Nigerians to see the talk about subsidy on petroleum products as the most potent means to further enable the few cabals, who are more powerful than the state, to further drain the economy of the state and the sweat of the citizenry. Nigerians can no longer fathom any reason why they should always be threatened of subsidy removal while the people in other climes are enjoying reduction in the prices of petroleum products.
These days you now find people who pretend to derive joy from trekking to their distant offices and places of work because their wages cannot buy them enough fuel for the month. This is not to talk of the amount of deforestation and its possible consequences because of the inability of the citizenry to purchase kerosene. Despite this reality that Nigerians confront daily, the people in power still go about talking of the dividends of democracy.
Given this situation in which Nigerian citizens are expected to subsidise everything from electricity, potable water, roads, security, health, education, to petroleum products, one wonders what is left for the state to offer the citizens, in spite of the fact that the citizens have fulfilled their main civic responsibilities. Really, can the state actually make any rightful claim to governance any longer? Your answer is as good as mine.
Yunusa Kehinde Salami is a Professor of Philosophy in Obafemi Awolowo University.
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