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Nigeria returning to a state of nature

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Reading through the front pages and major news pages of some mainstream newspapers today such as The Guardian and Daily Sun brought tears to my eyes and reminded me that indeed existential philosophers were right to conclude with the founding fathers of scholarly philosophy that in life the only permanent phenomenon is change.  You may want to know the source or cause of this upsurge in the emotional upsets I experienced. If in the affirmative, permit me to let you know that it was the photograph of hundreds of children, women and young persons in Plateau State that stood on the queue for their turns to receive plates of foods from the emergency relief services. 

These were persons hitherto happily doing their farm works in their different villages in Plateau State prior to the sudden invasion by well-armed Fulani militia who slaughtered over 200 persons and drove them forcefully out of the ancestral homelands and indeed the invaders had the temerity to settle down in those ‘conquered’ territories and have begun to rename them as it suits them and yet there are both the State and Federal Governments that are silent as these unpardonable crime against humanity go on. As soon as yours faithfully took a contemplative look at these front page photographs showing fellow citizens with plates waiting to be served food as internally displaced persons, some thought flashed through my sub-consciousness. One of those sub-conscious thoughts was to ask what the essence of government is if the ordinary people are slaughtered in their prime and in their great numbers by some other citizens who are armed and to have some high level supports within the top echelons of government.

Another thought was to interrogate the import of government borrowing from the profound leadership philosophies of fathers of philosophy of politics such as Aristotle (384 -322BC); Thomas Hobbes (1588 -1679); Thomas Aquinas (1225 -1274); John Locke (1632 -1704) among others. These great men were of the opinion that the primary purpose of government is the protection of life and property of the citizenry. Thus, the framers of the Nigerian Constitution also adopted this locus classicus into the frameworks of our supreme body of law.

What this therefore means is that the written and unwritten social contract existing between the people and those officials elected into offices for specific tenure is that we the people of Nigeria have agreed to donate to you the legitimacy to exercise governmental authority provided that you will abide by the primary tenet of this social contract which is the protection at all times of the lives and property of all citizens. The consequence of a willful or negligible breach is the resignation from such offices and prosecution of the officials if found to have conspired with mass killers. We will look at what some of these philosophers affirmed as the central reason for the formation of governments in human societies. 

For John Locke, the essence of government boils down to the unbiased enforcement of the rule of law which to him was the basis for man to have transited from his original state of nature whereby he had unbridled freedom to do as it pleases him.

He stated that the best way to understand political power aright, and derive it from its original, as a point of origin to compulsorily and compulsively consider what state all men are naturally in, and that is a state of perfect freedom to order their actions and dispose of their possessions and persons as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of nature without asking leave, or depending upon the will of any other man. John Locke states thus: “A state also of equality, wherein all the power and jurisdiction is reciprocal, no one having more than another; there being nothing more evident than that creatures of the same species and rank, promiscuously born to all the same advantages of nature, and the use of the same faculties, should also be equal one amongst another without subordination or subjection, unless the Lord and Master of them all should by any manifest declaration of His will set one above another, and confer on him by an evident and clear appointment an undoubted right to dominion and sovereignty.”

He then proffered fundamental opinion to explain the whyness of enthronement of government in human societies thus: “But because no political society can be nor subsist without having in itself the power to preserve the property, and, in order thereunto, punish the offences of all those of that society, there, and there only, is political society, where every one of the members hath quitted this natural power, resigned it up into the hands of the community in all cases that exclude him not from appealing for protection to the law established by it.” John further explained when there is a willful transition away from a state of nature it is because all private judgment of every particular member being excluded, the community comes to be umpire; and by understanding indifferent rules and men authorised by the community for their execution, decides all the differences that may happen between any members of that society concerning any matter of right, and punishes those offences which any member hath committed against the society with such penalties as the law has established.
To be continued on Sunday.
Onwubiko is Head, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA)


In this article:
Emmanuel Onwubiko
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