- Water-tight security in Kano •7 churches, 8 shops razed - Police
- Terror suspect nabbed with N3m •As army uncovers bomb factory
- 2012, deadliest year for journalists - UN
- Court adjourns on missing N12.4bn oil windfall
- Why we cleared Molete under-bridge - Oyo govt
- Court jails courier over $286,400 cash
- Court rejects fridge repairer’s plea to keep Ibori’s bribe money
- Oyo to involve artisans in N.5bn schools rehabilitation contracts
- All set for LG poll today in Benue
- Mrs Braithwaite buried amid encomiums
- Forget presidency, Jonathan’s aide tells ex-military rulers
- FG sends delegation to Onaiyekan’s consecration, Suntai
Is Nigeria Fulfilling Its Duty To The Citizens?
KUNLE ODEREMI examines the essence of what is generally dubbed a social contract between the state and its citizens in a participatory democracy.
THE populace arguably have one thing in common these days. They are outraged by what they consider as the despicable condition of the vast majority of the citizens in the face of burgeoning opulence of the privileged few manning the machinery of state.
To renowned legal practitioner, Mr. Fred Agbaje; avowed human rights activist, Dr. Joe Okei-Odumakin and a political activist, Mr. Hammed Bankole, the state appears to have abdicated its primary function, while the operators keep the people under constant pressure to bend backward almost to a breaking point.
Okei-Odumakin, whose undying spirit of nationalism and patriotism has kept the nation going in spite of its jerk and fit mechanism, has consistently led the campaign for good governance and probity from the dark days of military dictatorship to the current ‘benevolent’ civilian dispensation. But her greatest heartache is that little appears to have changed in the last 13 years of civil rule in the country, especially from the perspective of real impact of government on the lives of the generality of Nigerians. She is particularly miffed that the state appears to have shirked in its cardinal responsibility to the citizens.
She cited some current realities to buttress her point on what she considered the ignoble failure of the state to fulfill its constitutional obligations and duty to the citizenry.
She said, “The primary duty of a state is to guarantee the safety of lives and property of the citizens. The Nigerian state has failed abysmally in this regard as it has left the citizens vulnerable to all sorts of harms ranging from robbery and kidnapping to terrorism. Nigerians now live in the climate of fears as insecurity has taken over the land and the state is so incompetent to deal with the situation.”
Some might not agree with her completely because of varying dispositions, but a lot of political leaders have cleverly avoided making similar categorical statements on the inadequacies of the state in relation to its constitutional role and obligations to the Nigerian people, notwithstanding the actual situation on the ground.
These leaders often couch their statements in allegories and paradoxes such as claims that government should exist for the people and not the people existing for the government. However, many experts say the 1999 Constitution is not at all ambiguous on what constitutes the primary duty of the state to the citizens and vice versa. Of utmost relevance here are Sections 13, 14 and 15 of the constitution on the two-way chart responsibility theory.
Section 13 specifically states that the cardinal duty of the state to its citizens is to promote national unity, as well as command national loyalty. It declares that it shall be the “duty and responsibility of all organs of government, and of all authorities and persons, exercising legislative, executive or judicial powers, to conform, observe and apply the provisions of the constitution” contained in Chapter 2, entitled: ‘Fundamental Objectives and Directives Principles of State Policy.’”
This primary responsibility is further elucidated by Section 14 (2) (b), which states that the primary purpose of government is to ensure the “security and welfare of the people,” while subsection 3 emphasises the need to foster national unity and command national loyalty. Above all, Section 15 (5) expressly asserts that the state “must abolish all corrupt practices and abuse of power.” To give meaning to all the afore-mentioned clauses, Section 23 of the document provides that “The national ethics shall be discipline, integrity, dignity of labour, social justice, religious tolerance, self-reliance and patriotism.”
On the other hand, the document explicitly spells out the civic duties of a citizen. He is required to pay his tax, respect the rights of others, promote the good name of the country as well as defend it. In other words, he is by law required to reciprocate the practical evidence that the state was putting into prudent, transparent and good use the immense human and natural resources.
Evidence abounds in the country that the state has continued to shirk in its constitutional duty to the majority of the citizens. All those virtues clearly stated in Section 23 of the constitution that should constitute national ethos have been thrown to the dogs. No thanks to the whims and caprices of the capricious elite, both economic and political elite.
The recent controversial ranking of the country among some failed states has further brought to the fore expectations of Nigerians from those who hold public offices in trust for the people. The debate is further fired by the consistent push that Nigerians pay greater prices even for essential services that remain in very short supply in spite of having to pay their tax and other forms of levies.
A legal practioner, Mr. Fred Agbaje, X-rayed the situation more incisively. He declared: “There are two major roles. One is for the government to guarantee the welfare of the people. The other is to ensure the security of lives and property. Under the socio-cultural theory of the law, the people are expected to give up some of their rights in return for the government to protect them. That is all about the basis of the socio-cultural theory of the law. But in Africa, this theory has always been in the breach, and which led to the mass revolution by the people in the Magreb region against the government. Here at home, can we call what we have today a government? It has failed to live up to the socio-cultural theory of the law. The Nigerian people have fulfilled their part of the social contract, but the government has breached their own side. That is the ordeal of our people now.”
While corroborating other observers that security and sanctity of the human persons was a core duty of the state, Hammed-Bankole, said there is grave danger of descending into chaos if the authorities failed to perform the function. He said it was disheartening that “The Nigerian state has been in a very low state of responsibility to the citizenry,” adding, “Sadly enough, we got ourselves into this mess because of lack of courage to take a decisive action and nip the crisis in the bud.”
This healthy debate dovetails into another contention on if the Nigerian problem is more about the operators of the constitution or the document itself, hence the mixed feelings on the clamours for a national conference as opposed to the ongoing frenetic efforts by the stakeholders, including the government, to review the constitution.
On Tuesday, former Chief Justice of the Federation, Justice Alfa Belgore, submitted the report of the presidential
committee on the review of Outstanding Issues to President Goodluck Jonathan. Though he was obviously elusive on the core recommendations of the committee on the occasion, Belgore was emphatic on the need to improve on service delivery to the citizenry by the state through its apparatuses. He reechoed the necessity to enthrone what some have dubbed democracy with human face and good governance. One of the focal points identified by the panel towards achieving the goal was local councils that would not only be an “optimally independent, incorruptible and stabilizing system” administered by elected officials, but also “accountable, responsive to the needs, directed, controlled and sanctioned by appropriate laws.”
In most circles now, the consensus is that the state has not lived up to its own side of the social contract with the people. All relevant sections of the constitution that border on the duty of the government remain theoretical.
Of great concern is the attitude of the political gladiators to Section 23 of the constitution, which expressly states what should constitute national ethics: discipline, integrity, religious tolerance, patriotism and dignity of labour.Share