The welfare state as enlightened self-interest
Given the pervasive environment of poverty without cause in Nigeria, political discussions are necessarily dreary or un-interesting in the absence of sincere interrogation of the root cause of the failure to establish the incidents of the welfare state regime in the country. It would be an odd sort of state which regards the general welfare as irrelevant to policy.
General welfare is however not the same thing as the “welfare state”. The general welfare may be vague or in concise as exemplified in tokenist or gratuitous intendment of government “interventions” like Trader Money, NAPEP, N-Power, etc. The welfare state, on the other hand, offers concrete benefits to identifiable individuals albeit at the expense of the general or public revenue.
Some critics of the welfare state have however imagined it to conduce to a possible or envisaged decline in national fortunes. They argue that benefits deriving from such a policy will weaken self-reliance, discourage thrift and enterprise, induce irresponsibility, encourage dishonesty, and support begging or fine bara. This position is however specious even as it is self-serving. It is strangely oblivious of the historical foundations of the underpinnings of our social contract exegesis.
The care of the sick, the education of the young, the relief or alleviation of poverty, the provision of succour to old age both by the private charity and public provision are canons of good governance. They are the desirable goals of any human society.
The natural corollary of the abundance created for us by nature is that the safety net should be more widely spread and the level raised or heightened. Those who are in work and adult who are in health are naturally positioned to bear the burden of their own and others’ insurance in the interest of our common peaceable living and of the all-round enjoyment of our common heritage. The physically challenged whether by accident, disease or by birth, the old and the young are by virtue of their condition not able to compete to benefit by the “impartial” standard required for success in a competitive environment. It has therefore been accepted as a sign of our evolving civilisation that these matters be catered for by public provision and not left to the vagaries of charitable trusts, church institutions, etc.
Social security which is what a welfare state offers its citizens is little known in Nigeria because no government has seriously addressed itself to it as a conscious policy of eliminating want, poverty, destitution, and disease from among the people.
However, so much is known about state security – that hydra-headed network of state security organisations (with grotesquely dreadful names like DSS, DHQ, NIA, Guguru Defence, etc) spread all over the country and responsible for a large number of people detained without trial for the untenable reasons of “state security” Little or nothing is known said or done about social security.
No serious official efforts are visible about how to secure the individual against want, poverty, destitution, disease, and idleness which are generally foisted on him by some inevitable hazards and unpredictable change in fortunes regarding social life. These unfortunate circumstances arise notably from loss or suspension of income or means of sustenance, from sickness, maternity, accident injury, invalidity, old age, unemployment or death of the breadwinner. There is no clear or affirmative statement of policy regarding social welfare and little is spent by the state except in its capacity as an employer of labour.
The lopsided emphasis on state security and the unfeeling neglect of the economic security of the individual clearly indicate an oblique slant of values in our set of priorities. The economic security of the individual should be of far greater concern even as the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) solemnly prescribes that “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.” -s 14 (2) (b).
Contrary to received official opinion, the threat of danger to the Nigerian state today arises principally from the absence of economic security, especially economic insecurity deriving from mass illiteracy and mass unemployment. Therefore, governmental efforts ought to be pointedly directed at confronting the root causes of this real threat to the security of the state.
To be continued tomorrow
Rotimi-John, a lawyer and commentator on public affairs, wrote from Lagos.