Text of Lecture Delivered by Dr. Sam Amadi, Chairman/CEO of the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission NERC at the 7th Ralph Opara Memorial Lecture on Friday, November 2, 2012 at the Petroleum Training Institute, Effurum, Delta State.
I feel greatly honored to be asked to be the lecturer for this important lecture series. Going by the important position of Mr. Ralph Oparah as one of the founders of the Pyrates Confraternity, a lecture in his honor is highly revered amongst Pyrates. And for me to be asked to be the lecturer is an honor little deserved.
I will start with clarifications. I am not a Pyrate. But I have many Pyrate friends. I met many of them at the University of Calabar as a student. I could have joined the Pyrate Confraternity then. I know a little bit about the history of the Pyrate Confraternity (now the National Association of Seadogs). I know that the National Association of Seadogs is a registered voluntary organization championing positive social change. My PC friends studied different courses and now pursue different professions and vocations. Some are bureaucrats others are politicians. Some are civil society activists others are corporate leaders. But one thing defines them individually and collectively: the unrelenting and unrepentant determination to see Nigeria as a country where all its citizens share a common citizenship, a common prosperity and an equal security. Thus, in line with the creed of their confraternity they see Nigerians as human beings who should be accorded the rights that belong to human being everywhere in the world; they see them as citizens of a republic who should be free to pursue a life of happiness, liberty and prosperity everywhere in the territory; they see them as persons deserving the full and equal protection of the law everywhere they live in Nigeria.
This defining ideal of PCs is the framework to discuss the challenges that terrorism, insecurity and irredentist movements pose to the building of a secured, prosperous and free society in Nigeria.
I have just one argument to present to everyone here today. That argument is that the greatest strike force against the dream of a great Nigeria is the trinity of terrorism, insecurity and irredentism. This strike force is a creation of Nigerian consciousness and institutionalized in the constitution, laws and basic logical frameworks that direct the management of the civic, financial and normative resources of the Nigerian state. I will further argue, deriving from the famous statement attributed to Albert Einstein that we cannot solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used to create them, that we can only escape the threat posed by this triune strike force if we abandon those tragic ideas that have defined the institutional and normative structures of the Nigerian state. We are creators of the Nigeria calamity. And we should be its redeemers.
Terror: the State of Disorder in Nigeria
We need to understand this triune strike force before we can overcome it. Nigerian leaders habitually declare their readiness to defend the territorial integrity of the Nigeria state whenever debate ensures on the unity of Nigeria. Right from the Nigerian-Biafran civil war the rhetoric every time the Nigerian state faces a major crisis is that keeping Nigeria united is a task that must be accomplished. The problem is: none of those pious leaders go beyond rhetoric to understand why Nigeria continuously saunters into a whirlpool and sincerely and courageous work hard to build a strong foundation for Nigeria. Insincere and diffident rhetoric about commitment to national unity will not get us out of the crisis.
Today, the Nigerian state is seriously buffeted by forces of instability. Any casual reading of daily newspapers in the country shows the image of an embattled country. Fear has replaced faith and insecurity has become the directive principle of public and private governance. There are little certainties in Nigeria today, including the certainty that a person can enter a church building in Nigeria and come out alive with his or her family.
Nigeria has always been tested. But the confluence of cold-blooded terrorism, rampant organized violence and virulent ideological insurgency by irredentist movements appears too much for the usual Nigerian good fate. If God is a Nigerian, he is certainly getting overwhelmed. We have had violence in the past, even irate and irrational religious violence. But it is now that we have the specter of a violent fundamentalist movement that kills innocent people righteously in the name of religion, not like the Maitatsine fundamentalist who kill once in awhile because of flimsy provocation. The new nihilists kill without provocation all the time as long as everyone in Nigeria has not yet embraced its brand of Islam. The great French writer and philosopher, Albert Camus, warned that we were entering into the age when criminals will be motivated by an ideology. We are there now in Nigeria with regards to the present insecurity.
Everyone in Nigeria today lives in fear; not fear of the unknown; but the fear of the known, the fear that sooner than later a bomb will go off somewhere, likely in a church, a supermarket or a car park and the victim could be either himself or herself or someone he or she know. That is the state of the federation. The fear of the known makes life in Nigeria too miserable and incapacitated for the civic life to flourish. One can argue that fear has always been the stimulus of our civilization. It is fear of the unknown that drives us to creativity and innovation that sustains the human civilization. Even Thomas Hobbes argued eloquently that it is the desire to escape the fear of the uncertainties in the state of nature that pushed our forebears to the first social compact. It might then be that this fear of the known will inspire us to a different social compact that will guarantee freedom from fear.
The present challenge of terrorism is the handiwork of a religious sect, Boko Haram, that is intent on rumbling down everything until everyone and everything in Nigeria accepts its version of the Sharia. They have laid as a condition for the cessation of terrorism that the President of the Republic converts to Islam. For the first time the specter of the dissolution of Nigeria, not through secession or plebiscite, but through an act of terror, is clear and present. Sadly, the Generals, who continually avow their determination to keep Nigeria together at all cost, are yet to rise to this more insidious negation of their labor.
Boko Haram may not be the only terrorists in the country today. We can point to attacks by militants in the Niger Delta as a certain kind of act of terrorism. But there is something different about the Boko Haram challenge. It is not just the indiscriminate killing of Nigerians and non-Nigerians. It is not just that the terrorists seem focused to attack places of worship in a multi-religious country. What sets Boko Haram apart as a repugnant terrorist group is that its form of terror undermines the very foundation of a nation-state.
Boko Haram is not just challenging Christian religion or any other form of religion. Boko Haram is not just attacking the political establishment and whatever we may considers its waywardness, as some of its sympathizers often suggest. Boko Haram is dangerous because it poses an unequivocal negation of the idea of the state. It does not recognize that a state is a civic space where people matter simple because they are either citizens or residents. For Boko Haram, being a citizen is not enough to share in the bounties of the commonwealth. You need to be a fully paid up member of its own band of Islam to have the right to participate in the civic life of the country. Worse still, until everyone signs up to the Boko Haram creed even those who have signed up to the creed still get bombed to death. This is nihilism at its worst.
The Boko Haram terrorists are neither humanists nor spiritualists. They don’t affirm the right of life of Nigerians as human beings, which is the bedrock of a democracy. They don’t recognize the right to life of Nigerians as ‘citizen’ which is the essence of a constitutional democracy. Therefore they will continue to be at odd with the state. It is vain hope that we can somehow reconcile with the Boko Haram Terrorists in any principled way. We will achieve agreement with Boko Haram on the basis of acceptance of diversity of religious values, views and practices; what the late American foremost liberal philosopher of the twenty-first century, John Rawls, called an ‘overlapping consensus’. For a modern state, the doctrine of Boko Haram is not reasonable and cannot be accommodated. The only option is to defeat it. And defeating it is not just a matter of policing or military action. It also requires forceful expression of the centrality of the state as a civic society where citizens are free to form whatever religious opinion they choose.
Insecurity in Nigeria goes beyond Boko Haram nihilistic insurgency against the Nigerian states. In the southern region of Nigeria where Boko Haram terrorists have not made any inroad, insecurity is as high as in the terrorist havens of northern region. This lecture is taking place in the oil city of Warri. Everyone knows that some months ago it would be unadvisable to host this lecture in this beautiful city because of the rampancy of kidnapping and armed robbery. We are only here today because the city has been taken over by soldiers. We now have the peace and safety of a beleaguered city. In the South East of Nigeria, kidnapping has defied military solutions. Many Igbos residing outside the region don’t visit home again unless they are insured with battalion of Mobile Policemen. In these cities, kidnapping has become a cottage industry.
If there is a survey today on the biggest worry of Nigerians, overwhelming majority of Nigeria will answer that their greatest worry is being alive. Never has the simple fact of being alive in Nigeria become so uncertain. Anyone who is not bombed to death and is not kidnapped could still confront avoidable death on dilapidated roads. Travelling by air harbors its unique hazards. Do you know whether the aircraft is fit to fly; how do you know that it has enough fuel to get to its destination. The question is not if but when it will happen. And when it does, it does not seem like an accident. It seems like we have been working hard for it.
In my 2012 International Youth Day lecture under the auspices of the African Centre for Media and Information Literacy, I argued that “It seems clear to me that the first challenge of young people in Nigeria today is survival, physical survival. Young people want to be alive. This is not pedestrian considering how cheap life has become in Boko Haram Nigeria. Many young people on national service to their fatherland have been killed in the coldest of blood”. I have nothing to change in that statement today than to add that it is not only young people who sorely desire physical survival. Adults are looking over their shoulders and praying they survive the next day. We have been reduced to the basest condition of life: just being alive.
So, this is the state of the union. We are now a terrified people. We are not secured in the fields, not secured at home, not secured at places of worship and not secured at offices. This degree of insecurity and the inability to effectively overcome it encourage some to talk about early signs of state failure. The Foreign Policy Magazine in 2011 rated Nigeria as fourteenth in the Failed States Index. One of the main signs of state failure is the inability of government to provide essential services and protect lives and properties in a sizeable part of its territory. The significant collapse of central authority across large stretch of state territory is definitive of state failure.
Those who argue that the Nigerian state is showing early signs of failure point to the collapse of law and order in Nigeria. It is being reported that Boko Haram terrorism in Northern Nigeria has almost completely destroyed economic viability in that region. Long after the scourge is over, it will take decades and trillions of dollars to restore the economy and social capital of the region.
The insecurity of life in Nigeria and the collapse of law and order in some part of the country have led to a sense of hopelessness about the Nigerian project. Many Nigerians, including those who occupy high public offices, have lost faith and confidence in the future of the nation. They confess that Nigeria may not make it. The academic prognosis of an amateurish US Think-Tank that Nigeria may not survive as a country after 2015 is becoming a self-fulfilling prophesy in this climate of fear and hopelessness.
The political consequence of the traumatic impact of the climate of insecurity and nihilistic terrorism and the nervous reaction of Nigerian elites is the growing spate of irredentism as a new form of political activism. Today, those who ought to hold the lamp in search of true solutions to the challenges of terrorism, insecurity and bad governance are now groping in the darkness of an atavistic search for pristine identity politics that will not have the complexities that would task their inattention and lack of courage. Their only answer to the present crisis is a retreat to some form of identity politics or another. In their thinking the problem of leadership and development in Nigeria will be resolved if we restructure the country according to ethnicity so that the Yorubas will manage their affairs in the Southwest; the Igbo will do the same in the Southeast and the Hausa-Fulanis will govern themselves in the North. It is not clear how the minorities in the north and south will do.
This form of irredentism has become a potent challenge to building a modern democratic nation-state. A growing coalition of civil society activists and politicians is marching defiantly towards a solution that is simply throwing down the towel on the idea of a big African federation of diverse cultures and language and redrawing the structure of the nation-state, not the basis of administrative efficiency but on the basis of ethnicity. It is an admission that the experiments of 1914 and 1960 failed and there is no prospect of success in the future. Without making much intelligent and courageous effort to solve the Nigerian crisis within the existing geopolitical structure and constitutional framework, many Nigerian elites have given up on democratic governance in Nigeria.
This fatalism is strange to the march of history. The stable nation-states of the world also encompass multiple ethnic and religious identities. No nation is doomed to fail a prior because it is a federation of different peoples or a confederacy of multiple cultures and languages. Political stability is dialectical. It depends on how various human and non-human forces and dynamics interact. Fundamentally, the retreat to ethnic configuration of the Nigerian state is antithetical to the idea of a modern nation-state because the modern nation-state is based on the idea of a citizen whose identity is neither ethnic nor religious but political. It also goes against the proposition that every nation-state is a constitutive act; we constitute the state by what we do; not what is decreed for us.
When we say Nigeria is a geographical expression. We are saying nothing new. Every nation-state was a geographical expression until it is constituted into a solid political entity through institutionalization of the idea of citizenship. The problem is not that Nigeria was a geographical expression in 1960 but that we have refused or failed to institutionalize a robust idea of citizenship since then. If we do that and matched it with an effective and empowering political leadership we will have a country that works, that gives every citizen a sense of justice and belonging and that also secures our ethnic and other identities. We can all be Yorubas, Igbos, Hausas, Ijaws, etc and still be proud and happy Nigerian citizens.
Ideas Matter; the Idea of the State:
Pluralism is not the enemy of the stability of the nation-state. It is poor management of pluralism that destabilizes the nation-state. And the nation-state does not come pre-paid. It is built by the people. Benedict Anderson, in his classic, The Imaginary Communities, shows us how national identity is created, usually through cultural and social imagination. Nations may be creations of the natural phenomena or the inexorable march of history. But definitely, nation-states are the work of communal imagination. They are products of our imagination. We don’t have them prepackaged. It is the citizens of the state, especially their statesmen and women who craft the bargain that defines the nation-state.
The quality of the ideas flying around at the birthing of the state is critical to the health of the nation-state. The United States is reputed as one of the few modern states that were erected on the liberal ideal of equal citizenship. The idea behind the US republic and its constitution, the idea that everyone is entitled to the ‘pursuit of life, happiness and liberty’, is unparalleled and has become a wellspring of renewal for the republic. We can talk of the liberal ideals of liberty, egalitarianism and solidarity inspiring the French revolution and its republic in the same vein. We can still find a few other examples of deliberate creation of a nation-state through the hammer and anvil of compelling ideas and values.
Whether eloquently articulated or not, the modern state itself is an idea that centers around the concept of a ‘citizen’, this denizen whose fundamental attribute is that he inhabits a ‘polis’ and is seen first and foremost as a civic person before he is seen as a religious or ethnic person. In any proper modern state (which, these days, is usually a democracy) your access to the bundle of rights comprised in the concept of ‘citizenship’ is disconnected from your ethnic or religious identity. We do know that high officers in these self-described democratic states sometimes act roguish. But the organizing logic of statecraft in these states is the promotion and protection of citizenship (or its pretension at worse).
The modern state originates as an escape from the thralldom of organized religion, especially the Catholic Church. This is what the French Philosopher, Pierre Manent, calls the ‘theological-political problem’ at the heart of western history in his book, An Intellectual History of Liberalism’. As he puts it at page 116 of his book, “The motivating force of modern history thus appears to be twofold: the natural desire to escape from the political power of revealed religion; the no less desire to escape the mechanism man conceived to satisfy that first desire”. We have now found solace in a secularity that is defined not by absence of religion but the substitution of religious identity with civic identity as the passport to the banquets of the state and the substitution of religious authority with civic authority as the legitimacy for the use of violence.
Ideas matter. The stability and the crisis of the modern state arise from the set of ideas that define it. The idea of civic identity stabilizes a modern state which is usually an amalgam of many different people brought together by nature, history or conquest. By re-describing ourselves as citizens we create a narrative and a lever to pull together through the course of nationhood in spite of our incommensurable worldviews, mentalities and identities. But also by positing the ‘fiction’ of civic consciousness against the verdict of history, the modern state triggers a perennial fever that destabilizes it. Our fate is like that of Sisyphus who must continually push the rock up the hills. But as long as we want to remain members of a modern state we have to continually push the rock up the hill. We must wrestle with the stubbornness of history.
The implication of the claim that ideas matter for this discourse is that unless we understand the kind of ideas that have predisposed Nigeria to insecurity and irredentism and could lead to failure and what ideas are required to reverse the slide, we could be digging deeper into the crisis. We need to come clean on the ideas that have led us astray in statecraft.
Colonial Legacy: a State or an Emirate?
Professor Chinua Achebe in his incomparably little book, The Trouble with Nigeria, famously described the problem with Nigeria as a failure of leadership. In his view, Nigeria lumbers perilously on the precipice of disaster because its leaders fails or cannot rise up to the challenge of great leadership. In his latest offering, There Was a Country, the sage has shifted the lens. He now sees that the rain that beat Nigeria began during colonial rule and not just after independence. The trouble with Nigeria is not just postcolonial leadership. It is also about the curse of colonial rule which constitutes in the fact that, as Achebe now sees it, the “amalgamation of the southern and northern protectorates inextricably complicated Nigeria’s destiny. Animists, Muslims, and Christians alike were held together by a delicate, some say, artificial lattice”.
I will seek leave to amend the legend. If the problem with Nigeria is the ‘curse of colonial rule’, it is not the fact of colonial rule, but the curse of the ideas of aristocracy, oligarchy and other forms of traditionalism which post-colonial leaders gleefully regurgitated after the departure of the colonists. Sure, the problem with Nigeria relates to its colonial founding. But the problem persists because the ideas that created the problem are enshrined in the constitution and legitimized in state practices. The most prominent is the idea that the Nigerian state is not a civic space to protect the rights of the citizens. This is the simply the problem with Nigeria.
The problem with Nigeria is principally that it has not taken seriously the idea that Nigerians are citizens who have rights that those in control of political power must diligently protect. That is the basis of a rule of law state. In this wise, Nigeria is yet to become fully a rule of law state. When President Yar’Adua listed rule of law as one of his 7points agenda many lampooned the notion of making the rule of law a major agenda of governance in the face of many pressing social and economic crises. But the inclusion of rule of law as one of the agenda of governance was really insightful, even if the former President did not diligently pursue his brief. Rule of law is much more than have a constitution, some basic law enacted by the legislature, the courts working and the various branches separate and minding their own businesses. Rule is much more than that. It is principally providing effective implementation of the simple idea that the organizing principle of statecraft is the protection of the equality of every Nigerian citizen. This looks too simple to be the reason for the threat of state failure in Nigeria. But it is deceptively simple.
For the rest of this lecture I will explore how the absence or failure of an effective rule of law framework is at the heart of the insecurity and terrorism in Nigeria and how this absence or failure originates from the incomplete substantiation of the idea of citizenship in the constitution of the Nigerian state. By the ‘constitution of the Nigerian State’ I don’t mean the written text but the living document in the form of norms, beliefs and practices. That is, the stories we tell ourselves and the deeds we do to ourselves.
But first this failure starts with colonial rule. The scholarship that links Africa’s misadventure in political governance and economic development to Berlin Conference and the colonial amalgamation and administration of the territories is not new. What comes out of that scholarship is disarticulation and disconnection. In the realm of economic development the colonialists separated the economic realms such that any growth in one realm does not improve outcomes for the other realms. The hinterlands were completely abandoned and only cared for to supply cheap resources for export. The colonial capitals closer to the ports were slightly developed to cater for the need of the colonial administrators. The late social scientist, Professor Claude Ake has poignantly revealed this disarticulation in the African economy arising from the legacy of colonialism in his book, A Political Economy of Africa
In the political realm it is the same story. There were citizens and there were natives. Natives have not rights. Non-British citizens had a few rights. There were Government Reserved Areas (GRAs) for citizens and the rest of the slum for everybody else. There was limited right of votes for the so-called citizens and no such right for the natives. There is nothing real odd about this disarticulation and disconnection. Exclusion is the nature of colonialism and divide-and-rule is its strategy.
But the real problem is that postcolonial leaders continued that dualism. The highly revered African anthropologist and historian, Mahmood Mamdani, in his classic book, Citizen and Subject: Contemporary Africa and the Legacy of Late Colonialism argues convincingly that the failure of postcolonial African leaders to dismantle the legacy of colonialism is the disease that stunts political transformation in the continent. That ‘legacy’ he identifies as the ‘decentralization of dictatorship’. Instead of democratization the political space by institutionalizing civic rights for all members of the political community, the colonists created one law for a few and another law for the rest. English law was for city while ethnic customs governed the rest of the hinterland. They looked for the customary law that would govern the affairs of the natives and settled on the customs of the dominant ethnic group in the community. This sowed the seed of ethnic rivalry and interminable conflicts.
Nigerians leaders failed after gaining independence to dismantle the duality of citizens and subject. Although we gave ourselves a constitution that proclaimed that every Nigerian citizen has equal rights as citizens and have right of residence everywhere in Nigeria we still found way to negate this lofty ideal of nation-state. We never bothered to entrench the right of equal citizenship and full residence for all citizens everywhere in Nigeria in basic law and administrative processes and structures. The result is the many instances of ethnic violence and killing of innocent citizens in spasms of religious and ethnic bigotry.
One other aspect of the legacy of late colonialism is the accommodation given to religion in Nigerian politics. It should be stated clearly that the Boko Haram terrorists are religious fundamentalists and not political agitators. This clarification is necessary to avoid the error of confusing the essential nature of the threat from its strategic manifestation. It is possible that political opportunists are manipulating the terrorist campaign for their own political ends and the investment of resources by politicians has strengthened the campaign. But it is clear that the Boko Haram leaders see themselves as missionaries who have a divine call to reconstruct the Nigerian state into a ‘Halal’ state. It is also true that they are a bunch of confused and unenlightened religionists. But it is in the nature of religion that its adherents may often be ignorant and perverted.
We should acknowledge the religious fundamentalist foundation of this terrorism. The Boko Haram onslaught builds on the devastation wrecked by the Maitasine rioters. For several years religious fundamentalists killed other Nigerians for the simply reason of difference of faith. The impetus for such lawlessness comes from the incoherence in the idealization of the Nigerian state. Our Constitution formally proclaims Nigeria a secular state in its Section 10. Secularity ordinarily means that the statecraft in Nigeria is not in promotion of religious beliefs. It proceeds from the recognition of religious pluralism and therefore the imperative of neutrality in statecraft to give every citizen an equal sense of belong.
This same provision has been part of every Nigerian constitution since independence. In the same constitutional document Nigerian leaders build layers of exceptions to this radical idea. It encourages the state to get involved in sponsoring and underwriting religious obligations like pilgrimages. It encourages religious laws whose essence is to complicate the relationship between citizens and the states where they live. The constitution ends up perpetuating confusion as to whether it aims to have a state that is neutral about religious beliefs or a state that will promote the religious beliefs of its citizens. The first idea is the one that is align with the fundamental idea of a modern democratic constitution which the Chapter 2 of the Constitution clearly articulate. The second idea is a repudiation of this idea.
The Sources of Insecurity and terrorism in Nigeria
Many Nigerian optimists, responding to the present crisis of insecurity, assure us that the present rate of insecurity in the country is not usual. Every country goes through waves of insecurity. Terrorism is not peculiar to Nigeria either. Democracies and oligarchies are assailed by terrorism. Terrorism, especially terrorism by fundamentalist Islamists is a challenge to the survival of the idea of the modern state as an escape from religious authority to civic authority. But the problem is that whereas many of these countries have developed state capacity to defeat terrorism Nigeria is not so blessed. Our institutional capacity to defeat insecurity and terrorism is weak because the underlying idea of citizenship in weak or absent in our state institutions.
Take the case of criminal impunity that is the heart of insecurity in Nigeria. The trouble with Nigeria is that there is one law for the weak and another law for the strong. There is one law for the man who kills another in the name of Allah and another law for the man who kills another in the quest for money. It is an unconscionable religious exceptionalism that supports Professor Wole Soyinka’s claim that we would be better off without religion. This is the central failure of law in Nigeria and it relates to insufficient commitment to the idea of citizens. Where the idea of citizenship has taken roots, you can’t escape punishment if you kill a fellow citizen in the name of God. In Nigeria we have always pampered the person who kills in the name of God and damn the person who kills in the name of secular creeds. If we had hunted down those who killed Gideon Akaluka; if we had prosecuted those who burnt down churches and mosques and imprisoned those who called on fellow worshipers to attack other people, perhaps we would have escaped the scourge of Boko Haram. By blessing those who killed in the name of God we have weakened the capacity to defeat Boko Haram.
The same goes for the militants in the creeks, the irredentists in the southwest and the kidnappers in the southeast. The waterline mark for all form of disagreement with the state should be the life of the Nigerian citizens. It does not matter your political or religious ideologies you are forbidden from killing or violating a Nigerian citizen anywhere in Nigeria. The constitution does not make exception between citizens. No one should be discriminated against on account of religion, gender or ethnicity.
Impunity is not just for religious fundamentalists. Ethnic fundamentalists enjoy amnesty in the Nigerian state. The most pervasive violence in Nigeria is ethnic, even long before independence when Igbos became targets of mass violence in Jos. All across Nigeria communities have attacked other communities because of some claims of ethnic superiority or primacy related to tradition claims but not to law. Today, Jos has become a ceaseless cauldron because the Hausa-Fulani and the Biroms are tangling on who is a settler and who is a native. If we had dealt decisively with the first ethnic violence against the Igbos in Jos, we may have avoided the present crisis.
There is a big debate about Professor Chinua Achebe’s account of the Nigerian-Biafran civil war, especially on the description of the pogrom against the Igbos that led to the declaration of Biafra. This debate should not obscure the point which Professor Wole Soyinka brought out clearly in the Book, The Man Died. Professor Soyinka reflected on the killing of Igbos and wondered why those who masterminded and those who executed such dastard and criminal acts were being treated as heroes. He concluded that the crisis was a result of the failure of the rule of law. The unwillingness or failure of the government to enforce the laws of the land built into a civil war. The failure of the idea of citizenship led to the near loss of the nation
Why is there insecurity everywhere? Some people argue that it is because of widespread poverty. If you use both the income and vulnerability tests poverty in Nigeria could be one of the highest in Africa, even higher than in many of the poorer African countries without any natural resources. Nigerians are not just poor because they have low incomes. They are poor more so because when they are sick they cannot get medical treatment even for the most basic emergency. Our health insurance is not working. We don’t have any social security. Why on earth should citizen of such resources endowed nation be so poor? One answer is gross inequality of income. Nigeria has one of the highest inequality rates in the world. In Nigeria, few people who are fortunate to have access to political power appropriate for themselves much of the wealth leaving little for public health and public education. Even apart from the general fact of poverty the sense of deprivation and the unaccountable wealth of those in government drive many Nigerians to crime and violence. The Nigerian political economy is a provocation to violence, even for a people reputed to be highly religious and disposed to the jolly life like Nigerians.
The fact of widespread poverty causing violent behavior is a story about the failure of the rule of law and equal citizenship. A country with such huge inequality and discrepancy in life chances for its citizens is not a genuinely rule of law state. The current articulation of the concept of rule of law focuses on economic and social rights. Citizenship must have equal opportunity for meaningful employment and livelihood to be citizens indeed. As usual, the Nigerian constitution recognizes this fact by directing that the management of national resources must be such as to provide equal opportunity for a meaningful life for every Nigeria. It forbids the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few. But the same constitution makes this major prescription merely exhortatory and the dominant political economy of rent-seeking in Nigeria frustrates the practical realization of this constitutional ideal.
Today, Nigerian leaders have added to their sin of the exclusion of Nigerian citizens from the wealth of the nation the sin of excluding them from employment opportunities. Every employment in private and public sector in Nigeria today is based on a letter of sponsorship from one Senator or Governor or Minister. Poor Nigerian working family that spent life savings to educate their children have little hope of them getting a good job because the people in power distort the recruitment process from merit to privilege. This is the new aristocracy in a republic. Recruiters in the public service will not ask for aptitude. They ask for letter of credence from a Senator, Governor or Minister. What will the much deprived graduate without such reference letter do if he is never considered for employment many years after leaving school than to seriously consider resort to violence and criminal enterprise?
Yes Ideas Matter and We Need New Ideas
It is good that the constitution is being reviewed at this time. Although I think that the energy devoted to the review of constitution is misplaced because the main problem is not the constitutional text but the constitutional idea we live out everyday in Nigeria. But if we must amend our constitution it should be to put it beyond doubt that we are a secular modern state where religion and ethnicity has been subordinated to the idea of free and equal citizen. It should be a constitution that makes every citizen of Nigeria free to live wherever he likes and enable him to enjoy all rights of citizenship in that place, as long as he establishes connection to that place through birth or continuous residence and payment of tax in that place for a considerable number of years. It should be a constitution that prohibits such huge inequality of opportunities and wealth and that commits political officeholders to pursue policies that promote the economic and social conditions of equal citizenship. In a word, it must be a constitution that takes seriously the idea of citizenship and the fact that a modern state is a civic territory guides by laws, not traditions or religious beliefs.
This postulation agrees with values of the Pyrate Confraternity and my own belief in Jesus Christ and his teachings about the sanctity of the human person and the right of every one to believe in whatever they like, including believing in a lie. In my view we cannot build a stable and prosperous nation on any other basis except the basis of a state actively pursue the good of citizens, qua citizens.
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