Friday, 1st December 2023

Freedom, equality and justice

In a couple of weeks, elected officials across federal and state legislatures, governors and the president, take their oaths of office. They will swear fidelity to the Constitution and undertake to carry out their duties in the manner it prescribes...

Scale of Justice

In a couple of weeks, elected officials across federal and state legislatures, governors and the president, take their oaths of office. They will swear fidelity to the Constitution and undertake to carry out their duties in the manner it prescribes, without fear or favour; without affection or ill-will. Do they give it any thought beyond repeating after the judge swearing them in?

The preamble to the Nigerian Constitution states that we the people of Nigeria enacted the constitution because we decided “firmly and solemnly” to “live in unity and harmony as on sovereign nation, dedicated to the promotion of inter-African solidarity, world peace, international cooperation and understanding; and to provide for a Constitution for the purpose of promoting the good government and welfare of all persons in our country, on the principles of freedom, equality and justice, and for the purpose of consolidating the unity of our people.”

Compare it to the preamble of the Constitution of the United States, which says it was enacted “in order to form a more perfect union, establish Justice, insure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…”

There is a 200-year gap between both documents, and perhaps times were indeed different, but while we apparently chose to concern ourselves with inter-African solidarity, world peace and international cooperation and understanding, the Americans focus seemed more inward-looking. Theirs was a framework to improve cohesion between the states, deliver a common defence and promote domestic tranquillity, for themselves and the generations to come.

Maybe that is why Nigeria has struggled a bit. The burden of the international outlook. Not that we seem that much interested in inter-African solidarity anymore. We have declined to join the African Continental Free Trade Area and a crisis has been in ongoing in next-door Cameroon for several months now but it does not seem to have registered too highly on the government’s radar. We have given the global thing a bit of a time-out.

Perhaps it is difficult to have an inter-African focus when there are many intra-Nigerian issues on the front burner. There are the various longstanding regional insurgent flashpoints in the Middle Belt and the North East. More recently, there have also been electoral insurgencies, with bloodshed and other similar ballot-induced and voting-related injuries. Thankfully, the army is immensely equipped to deal with the insurgencies and is reportedly making progress, notwithstanding the soldiers from their number who participated in the electoral unrest.

At least the preamble and other sections say the purpose of government is the welfare of the people. To quote, it says “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government”. You are probably reading that with a cynical sigh, as you prepare to send your contribution for the neighbourhood security watch to your association chairman. Or is your contribution rather for rubble to fill the holes in your street or to construct a makeshift gutter so the rainwater can drain away once the rains start in earnest? Chances are, you are mostly responsible for your security and welfare. How about justice and equality? What about unity? What about good governance and accountability? Which of the stated objectives would you rate the government highly on?

As they get ready to take office again, perhaps Nigerians can collectively let the governing class know that we are more than happy to excuse them from their commitment to inter-African solidarity and international cooperation, particularly if they are getting in the way of their primary obligations.

Because something seems to have palpably changed. There was a body language, not of the President’s, that followed the election results in 2015. It was jubilant, triumphant and, most of all, it was filled with a bright, shiny optimism. It is markedly different now. A resignation in many, a despair in others. A time to live within our means, is the refrain from lap of luxury in Abuja.

It seems more than ever that it is the time for leadership. It cannot simply be business as usual. Our security and welfare have never been more at stake. And with regard to freedom, justice and equality, I daresay that I do not think there has been a time when my peers have been more cynical than now.However, good leaders rise from good followers. Perhaps it would also help if, as the governed, like our American counterparts, we collectively knew the most important bits of our constitution, as they do theirs.

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