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Political obligation and obedience in Nigeria – Part 2

By Michael Aloye Orieso
30 September 2021   |   3:36 am
The issue of political obligation generates the question. What is the problem of political obligation in Nigeria and how does it affect the citizens? In any assessment of the predicament and prospects of Nigeria...


The issue of political obligation generates the question. What is the problem of political obligation in Nigeria and how does it affect the citizens? In any assessment of the predicament and prospects of Nigeria, the question of the relationship between the governed and those who govern must hold a central place. This is true especially given its socio-cultural, political and economic predicaments and prospects. This issue is about political obligation understood in its broad sense as the mutual responsiveness between the state and its citizens. This question has become pertinent in the face of the country’s recent multi-dimensional crisis of killing and mayhem by some ethnic tribes, Boko-Haram insurgency, banditry, hunger, poverty and violence in general.

The challenge before Nigerians will continue to be how to make Nigeria more organized, humane and progressive. In achieving this goal, Nigeria’s social policies must conform to the nation’s obligations to its citizens, and vice versa. As Obasanjo stated, the responsibilities of the citizens in Nigeria compel us to create and sustain a community in which the well-being of all depends upon the collective thrust towards a common goal, and the obedience to the laws intended to guarantee security, peace, justice, equity and accountability. But then, there is a need to emphasize the ideal of obligation in a Nigerian nation-state whose creation and formation created the problem and question of political obligation which can be said to be the root source of Nigeria’s problem of political instability and the challenges of social coexistence.

Nigeria has continued to battle with the serious problem of national unity occasioned by its citizens’ and including the leadership’s loyalty to ethnic creed instead of commitment to national vision and goal. In tracing Nigeria’s problem of social and political instability to the problem of political obligation, it is instructive to link the idea of obligation to human nature. According to John Dewey, an American philosopher, human nature can be defined by the innate needs of human beings. Dewey says that “I do not think it can be shown that the innate needs of men have changed since man became man or that there is any evidence that they will change as long as man is on earth. What this means is that, as an element in human nature, obligation is a psychological need of man. As a psychological need, it is the feeling of belongingness in man.” It is the absence of this feeling of belongingness of Nigerians to Nigeria that is the major problem. This lack of political obligation in Nigeria is responsible for the problems of terrorism, ethnic conflict, political violence and corruption, among others. The real issue about political obligation and socio-political instability in the Nigeria state borders on the question of its formation or creation. Seen in another way, it is the question of whose consent led to the creation of Nigeria. This is a problem of legitimacy understood as what rule of law created the Nigerian state. The crisis of legitimacy is one of the most pernicious, endemic and challenging problem confronting the Nigerian state. The prevalence of political violence and gross instability in Nigeria, therefore, is an empirical indicator of the low levels of political legitimacy, hence the crisis of political obligation. Therefore, political legitimacy in the creation of Nigeria remains a major issue. Some would put it that Nigeria is an artificial creation of the British, and which did not take into cognizance the diversities of the people and their willingness to be merged. According to Ahmadu Bello, in 1953, the mistake of 1914 has come to light.

In fact, according to the Time magazine of 10th November 1958, it captioned its article as “independence without difficulties is a dream of utopia”. The Time magazine also wrote that the conference in London of 1958 “had revealed ominous signs of trouble to come” These are facts which we are witnessing today.

Therefore the question of Nigeria’s legitimacy started right from its creation. The state should be seen in modern times as an association of willing peoples of close relationship.

Otherwise, it will fail. For example as close as the Irish and the Scottish are to the English, we are witnesses to what took place in Ireland and what is happening in Scotland. The Spanish are also having the same experience in Barcelona. Although we agree that the state is partially founded on force, the major content of state formation is consent. There must be consent of the ruled to inculcate the spirit of political obedience or the state would continue to rely on force and eventually dictatorship to enforce obedience. So, to have a true moral community, there must be consent. This is lacking in Nigeria.

Most Nigerians do not see the state as a truly legitimate entity. In fact, the constitution of 1999 is a clear example of falsification of legitimacy. The constitution reads: “We the people of Nigeria.” When, how and who sent the delegates to draft the 1999 constitution The constitution did not seek the consent of the people because the originators did not need the people’s consent or mandate. However, the legitimacy of a state is derived from the consent of the people. This would ensure their political obedience to the state and enable the state to demand and command obedience from its citizens. As a result, the state would provide the welfare and security for all its citizens, regardless of social status, ethnicity and religion.

Unfortunately, it seems that some ethnic groups get better security while others are perpetually exposed to attacks. Examples of this kind of inequality concerning security are the recent killings of a particular ethnic group by Boko Haram, bandits and herdsmen.

The security problem in Nigeria is easily seen in the inability of the Nigerian government to ensure the protection, integrity and continuity of Nigeria’s core values; its territory, infrastructure, officials, citizens, laws and institutions. This has ensured that the various governments and the state agencies have been unable to consistently and institutionally guarantee the adequate protection, peace and well-being of the generality of the citizens. The problem of security in the Nigerian nation-state is reflected in the fact that the idea of security is reduced to the personal security of the ruler and that of his close supporters and immediate ethnic group. In such a situation, why and how can the state expect political obedience from the citizens that are excluded from state security and economic well being? In fact the problem that the issue of legitimacy has created would make it absolutely impossible to generate and inculcate in the citizens of this nation the virtue of political obedience to the state. What the British created was a forced marriage of incompatible peoples in 1914. It was a big political blunder that should have been corrected before 1960.

In conclusion, the shortfall in political obligation arose from the absence of some core social values such as trust, cooperation, justice and tolerance, arising from legitimacy and consent among the different interests and segments in the society. The consequence is that the country achieved little or no sustainable stability. This has made it impossible for the national government to effectively manage the nation’s resources for the overall security, peace, prosperity and well-being of all. However, a reflection on the systematic restructuring of the state can help Nigeria organize a more humane and prosperous society that would encourage peoples’ trust lead to sincere political obedience from the citizenry. In the absence of this, individuals are automatically released from their obligation to obey the laws of the state.


Dr. Orieso was a Lecturer at the University of Benin and former member of the House of Representatives.