Is there still hope for the Nigerian dream?
President Buhari on Tuesday September 8 at the closing of the first-year ministerial performance review retreat held in Abuja has asked Nigerian elites to judge his administration fairly in governance. The germane question here is, has this administration lived up to the honest and reasonable expectation of the Nigerian people? This discourse will judge this administration based on the provisions of the 1999 Constitution as amended.
The concept of the Nigerian Dream is to live in a nation that thrives on the fundamentals of Peace and Justice. According to Cambridge Dictionary, peace means freedom from war and violence, especially when people live and work together happily without disagreements. +Justice on the other hand according to the renowned Philosopher, Plato is a virtue establishing rational order, with each part performing its appropriate role and not interfering with the proper functioning of other parts. Aristotle, a student of Plato on his own part believes that justice consists in what is lawful and fair, with fairness involving equitable distributions and the correction of what is inequitable. Saint Thomas Aquinas further elucidating on this thought argued that Justice is the rational mean between opposite sorts of injustice, involving proportional distributions and reciprocal transactions. Hobbes was of the view that justice is an artificial virtue, necessary for civil society, a function of the voluntary agreements of the social contract while thinkers of the Augustine school of thought propose that the cardinal virtue of justice requires that we try to give all people their due.
Peace and justice had long been recognized and has formed part of our national fundamental core values and ought to serve as the foundation upon which Nigeria, once referred to as a mere geographical expression by the astute Chief Obafemi Awolowo SAN, must stand.
The Nigerian dream, as I observed in my book THE NIGERIAN DREAM: The Passion, The Vision, The Hope, published in 2011 is predicated on the last line in the Second Stanza of our national prayer, which provides “to build a nation where peace and justice shall reign.” The above encapsulates our dream, our vision and hope. A nation where peace and justice reigns are the best height any nation could attain. Peace and justice are sacrosanct to any development and hence lies at the epicenter of the society itself. They are the fabric and glue, which must hold Nigeria together if it must continue to exist as one indivisible and indissoluble entity under God.
The peace being propounded is a positive peace, an active peace and not the negative one or that deafening silence of horrors that rips of the quality of our lives. Negative peace only encourages tranquility and uneasy quiet even in the face of harm, tyranny, depression and injustice. The unfairly treated people are expected to keep shut, maintain silence, and put up fake smiles while in suffering. Emphasis on peace without the concomitant duty to do justice has led to the triumphant entry and institutionalization of evil in human society. To Martin Luther King Jr., true peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice. Percival Noel J. Patterson also noted that “genuine and lasting peace is not merely the absence of armed conflict — peace is the presence of justice and equality.” Haile Selassie espoused his candid belief when he declared that society must seek justice and must not turn blind eyes to injustice. He continued, “throughout history, it has been the inaction of those who could have acted; the indifference of those who should have known better; the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most; that has made it possible for evil to triumph.”
Positive peace therefore advocates just behaviours and ensures that the right thing, just actions be done and that oppressed people have the right to voice out their feelings. Without justice, there cannot be true peace. Justice is what defines peace. Justice cannot be sacrificed on the altar of negative peace. You cannot hit a child and expect him not to cry. We should always demand and insist on doing the right thing. Keeping or maintaining peace requires justice and fair play, this is the very foundation for a just society. Let people be treated fairly and accorded the respect and honour that is due to their persons, thoughts and beliefs. Selessies’ conclusion remains forceful and pertinent here. We must look into ourselves, into the depth of our souls. We must become something we have never been and for which our education and experience and environment have ill-prepared us. We must become bigger than we have been: more courageous, greater in spirit, larger in outlook. We must become members of a new race, overcoming petty prejudice, owing our ultimate allegiance not to nations but to our fellow men within the human community.”
How do our leaders sleep at night?
The fundamentals of justice occupies the centre stage in morality, ethics, legal and political philosophy. It is applied to individual actions, to laws and public policies and governance. Traditionally, justice is reckoned as one of the four cardinal virtues and in most cases regarded as the most paramount of the four. John Rawls legendarily styled it as ‘the first virtue of social institutions.’
Social Contract and The 1999 Constitution
The Social Contract theory informs us that government is the creation of the people, exists for benefit of the people and the power or authority exercisable by the government enures to the people. The provisions of section 14 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) is quite telling. It provides thus in the following subsections:
The Federal Republic of Nigeria shall be a State base on the principles of democracy and social justice.
It is hereby, according declared that-
sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigerian from whom government through this Constitution derives all its powers and authority;
the security and the welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government; and the participation by the people in their government shall be ensured in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution
The composition of the Government of the Federation or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such a manner as to reflect the federal character of Nigeria and the need to promote national unity and also to command national loyalty, thereby ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few States or from few ethnic or other sectional groups in that Government or in any of its agencies.
A quick glance at the above constitutional provisions shows that the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari has conducted itself disorderly and had run afoul of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The Constitution is the only tool or instrument upon which every government or leadership must be measured and their actions weighed. It is indeed a fair scale provided to judge the actions or inactions of government and where necessary, to show the political actor or leader the way out if he no longer has the capacity or direction to lead.
Starting from subsection (1), the Federal Republic of Nigeria under President Buhari has not been and cannot be said to have run the Nigerian State based on the principles of democracy and social justice. The dwindling democratic processes that we were hoping to grow has been dealt a heavy blow under this administration. The people of Nigerian can longer air their views or conduct a peaceful protest without the fear of being detained or worst still killed by the security forces whose allegiance ordinarily should lie in their fatherland and not on whims and caprices of the government of the day. Social justice is the worst hit. Under this administration the South South and the South East geopolitical zones have lost a sense of belonging likewise the South West. The said regions especially the South East clearly has been treated with indignity and made to understand that they do not matter.
Under subsection 2 (a), sovereignty under this administration does not in any way belong to the people of Nigeria. This government in my view wields absolute power and is not minded by public outcry and the groaning of the people. The voice of the people means nothing to this government.
According to Woodrow Wilson, “the ear of the leader must ring with the voices of the people.” But that is not the case in this administration. The ears of the leaders in this administration appear to have been blocked against the voices and cry of the Nigerian people. One wonders if the present administration understands that government exists for the people and for the peoples’ pleasure and not otherwise. This takes me to the most crucial aspect of this discourse
According to Subsection (2) paragraph (b), the security and the welfare of the people which was mandated to be the primary purpose of government appears illusory to the present government. Government was instituted not for any other reason but to promote and advance the security and welfare of its people and any leadership or an administration which falls short on this most important purpose of governance has failed woefully and needless to say, should do the honourable thing of either re-directing itself towards the security and welfare of the people or should take a bow. After all, government only exists for the good of the governed. The timeless doctrine of social contract has been mindlessly subverted, as a result, we now live again like in the State of Nature where life becomes nasty, brutish and short.
The number of lives lost on daily basis to bandits, herdsmen, book haram, kidnappers and other criminal elements in this country especially in the Northern Nigeria deserves Days of National Mourning and an Emergency Security Summit geared towards rooting out these criminal elements. Since 2015 till date, more than 25,000 people have been killed and many hundreds of thousands displaced. Nothing inflicts on Nigerians greater pain than seeing these herdsmen and terrorists appear to command the sympathy and pity of this administration. They are hardly arrested and prosecuted. The ones arrested are “forgiven and empowered.” Mr. President has also allowed the security chiefs to hold sway against the demand of Nigerians and a Resolution of the National Assembly that the Chiefs of Army, Air Force and Navy Staff and Chief of Defence Staff be relieved of their duties to allow fresher hands to come onboard, Mr. President neither listened to the people nor the peoples’ representatives-the National Assembly.
In the area of peoples’ welfare, this administration has not fared well at all. The Nigerian economy is in a state of comatose. The exchange rate of a Dollar to Naira is about N430, inflation is galloping, there has been a steady increase in price of household commodities, food and other essential products as the cost of living continues to be on an all-time high. This has further dampened the hope of the Nigerian people. As we battled our economic devastation as a country, determined to survive as a people and resolute on prevailing as a Nation, the final blow was delivered in the form of a worldwide viral infestation that forced all Nations of the world to proceed on a total lockdown.
The Covid-19 lockdown set in motion another era of social deprivation and hardship being suffered by a people who can no longer wake up and go out and fend for themselves, and survive. They are now left to the mercies of the government who never cared for them, a precarious position. In these Pandemic, the effectiveness and efficiency of government all over the world were laid bare. Most government rose to the occasion and restored the hope and loyalty of their citizens. But here in Nigeria, it would appear to a reasonable man that the epidemic became a license to loot the people dry. You heard that government has spent over N30 billions of Nigeria on palliatives but these claims are believed to be false in the eyes of the reasonable members of the public. These claims cannot be verified with hard facts especially regarding claims of alleged feeding of children during the lockdown.
To make matters worse, this administration announced the increase in the electricity tariffs and implemented full removal of petroleum subsidy which invariably increased the price of fuel from about N145 to N160 just as the people were beginning to recover from the pains of the lockdown. This has further imposed a lot of hardship on Nigerians and increased price of commodities including household items for a second wave of inflation. Things indeed have fallen apart.
The questions that must be answered by this administration is, have Nigerians fared well or better in the hands of this government compared to previous administrations? The answer is a capital NO! The truth is that this administration in the opinion of most Nigerians is anti-people and tyrannical. No government has ever exhibited high sense of insincerity, insensitivity and poor judgement than this current administration. How does this present administration sleep at night in the midst of this penury, looting of our common wealth and general sufferings of the people? It is quite unfortunate.
With regards to the participation by the people in their government which shall be ensured in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution, the administration has not also lived up to a reasonable expectation of the people. The general election of 2019 conducted by this administration was a joke. There were high level of electoral malpractices, rigging, bribing of voters, partisanship of security agencies, voters’ intimidation, intimidation of the judiciary and general electoral violence. The people of Nigeria were denied the opportunity to participate in their government in accordance with the Constitution. The will of the people were supplanted with the will of the principalities and powers and godfathers that hold sway.
People’s participation also takes the form of holding the government accountable through general criticisms or peaceful protest against unfavourable government policies. You will recall how the present administration used propaganda, critical criticism, hate speech, protests and other means to come to power in 2015. But now in power they seem to have ensured that their administration is not criticized or any meaningful protest led against it. How else can one define dishonesty and insincerity?
Finally, subsection (3) of this constitutional provision in discourse provides a constitutional mandate to every administration to ensure that federal character is maintained. This obviously is the last straw that broke the camel’s back. The rationale behind the principle of federal character can be found in the said provision to wit; “the need to promote national unity and to command national loyalty.” Knowing the federal character of Nigeria comprising a multi tribal, cultural, linguistic and religious groups, it goes even without saying that in forming a government or in making appointments, there should be a well-balanced spread to ensure that there is no predominance of persons from a few States or from few ethnic or other sectional groups in that Government or in any of its agencies. When this is done, the government can easily command national loyalty and will be able to promote national unity and social justice.
Unbelievably, this administration had thrown caution to wind and appears unruffled about the legitimate fears of most Nigerian. Consequently, this has triggered the secessionist spirit amongst Nigerians. There has never been a time in the history of governance in Nigeria where many right thinking members of the Nigerian populace have reasonably believed and called for separation so that the interest of every tribe or region can be protected. The government of President Buhari is divisive, unjust and not incompetent enough to unite Nigeria and promote the security, general welfare and happiness of majority of Nigerian populace. Rather than promoting meritocracy in governance, this administration has exhibited unimaginable bigotry, advancing the supremacism of one region and religion over and above the others.
The resultant effect of breaching one of the most fundamental core principles in the 1999 Constitution (federal character) which fosters unity and bond of brotherhood among the different ethnic groups, has led to the clamour for disintegration. This ought not to be so. A look at the appointment to security agencies, and other key sectors and department in Nigeria had been handed over to North. No equilibrium and equality in appointments. When it comes to infrastural development, this administration main focus is the North. Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) too is looking more like a Northern affair. Oil and gas which make up for over 80% of the Nigerian revenue is derived from the southern Nigeria especially the South-South, yet this fact is not of any consequence to this administration. “Everything must go to the north mentality” of this administration had hindered economic progress in our dear nation and had increased the fear of the alleged Islamization Agenda. Employment, appointment and promotion in government agencies and parastatals are geared towards northern Fulani. This conduct is highly divisive, reprehensible and condemnable.
In summary, the Nigerian Dream of having a Nation built on the principles of Peace and Justice has been rendered nugatory. National loyalty and unity is at the lowest ebb in the last forty years. Democratic principle, social justice and rule of law are largely not in operation or have been made slaves to a roguish and ambiguous theory of Public Policy which rages like an unmanned horse only to the whims and caprices of the Executive. This administration as have been observed by many Nigerians is exercising absolute power and authority. And absolute power they say corrupts absolutely hence corruption is on a steady rise.
How will this administration be remembered? What difference has this administration made in the lives of the Nigerian people? What area or sector can we say this administration has fared better than other administrations? Unfortunately, this administration in the minds of right thinking members of the Nigerian populace has not always exercised any iota of good judgment in the way and manner the affairs of this country is being conducted. There is no clear direction as to where this country is heading. This is a travesty of governance.
This administration is strongly advised to perform heroic acts by restructuring this country. We need a need Constitution. Nigeria as presently constituted would continue to sink until social justice, equality, fairness and equity is not taken into account in any administration. To maintain peace and justice, this administration should do what is right by ensuring that the federal character principle is adhered to. Corruption appears to be more pronounced in this administration which ought not to be so. This administration has to exhibit seriousness in nipping corruption in the bud starting with the security and law enforcement agencies. Imagine where the agencies whose duty are to fight corruption, maintain law and order are the repository of corruption and lawlessness. No society can function without sane and incorruptible law enforcement officers but what we have is an aberration. Though the outstanding integrity and dedication of a fraction of these officers who in their own little way have endeavoured to make things work, likewise some government functionaries who have led exemplary leadership are recognized and appreciated, we want their examples to become the standard. This administration should see to it that hardworking and committed officers, civil and public servants are rewarded accordingly. Establish a merit-driven civil and public service where goodness is rewarded and misconduct is adequately punished.
Starting from Edo to Ondo, we want to see the resolve of this administration to conduct a violent free, fair and credible election. This administration should suspend the increase in electricity tariffs and fuel prices. Let new security chiefs be appointed with a term of reference to fight to a standstill banditry, herdsmen and other criminal elements that have been slaughtering the lives of Nigerian in the North and across the Nation. This administration should desist from intimidating and arresting Nigerians who exercised their constitutional right for freedom of thought, conscience and opinion under section 41 of the 1999 Constitution as amended. And lastly, concentrate fully on the four (4) more sectors of the Nigerian sector, say for instance; health, economy, security and infrastructural development. Let this administration be remembered for an overhaul in few sectors because right now, nothing seems to be working.
• Kingson C. Uwandu is a legal practitioner, human right activist and the author of the NIGERIAN DREAM: The Passion, The Vision, The Hope
For inquiries Kingsonuwanduesq@gmail.com
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