(I congratulate Nigerians on the success of the 2015 general elections. Granted these are not the best of elections, but this country has, no doubt, taken a giant leap. Nigerians have told our leaders that power belongs to the people. There is a lot more that we can do and that is why I reproduce this article, which was first published in the July 29, 2013 edition of PUNCH. – Niran Adedokun)
In the wake of the outrage that greeted the Senate’s attempt to delete Section 29 (4b) of the 1999 Constitution about a fortnight ago, I have found myself thinking almost interminably about Nigeria. In particular, the complex, ineffective and inefficient system in the land. How nothing seems to work in the country. How 14 years after a return to democracy, we still do not have a functioning democracy. How I can testify that the brief practice of democracy that I knew as a child between 1979 and 1983 bears more sophistication and purpose in my memory than anything that I have seen in the past one and a half decades.
I wondered why 10 years after the National Assembly passed the Child Rights Act, one-third of the states in the country are not even thinking about it. I asked myself questions about why Nigerian consumers are always at the mercy of service providers. I wondered why a single senator, who attends sittings at will or at most three times weekly and goes on a vacation for an average of three months in a year, earns an obscene N30m monthly. And this, in a country where hundreds of thousands of youths have no jobs and are wandering on the streets without hope. Why did we even need The Economist of London to break the news of our legislators pay to us?
I do not understand why in 2013, Nigeria has two sets of laws, which are colonial relics, governing our criminal justice system. This is the reason why the penalty for the man who steals billions of taxpayers’ money is the same as with the man who steals a goat. Those who drafted these laws did not contemplate that Nigerians would get so greedy but why have we not reformed these laws in tune with our extant realities. Why do we even have different laws governing criminal justice in the southern and northern parts of Nigeria when we have just one constitution?
Why do we have the worst possible statistics in maternal and infant mortality and morbidity? Why do we have the highest number of out-of-school children in the world? Why is community health insurance like a mirage? Why are we hungry when we are so endowed? Why is business so difficult to conduct in Nigeria? I just have not been able to stop the questions from flowing.
In my contemplation, I realized that no country, especially one emerging from dictatorship, should totally situate its destiny in the hands of politicians. You see politicians, no matter what ideology they profess, do not always work for the people’s interest. In politics, it is the survival of the fittest; it is the interest that currently satisfies the end that the politicians of the day want to arrive at. Sometimes, they camouflage their interests as identical with ours, but that is no more than a smokescreen. Even those things that they do for us are about building their electoral capital. It is either about winning a second term or retaining their political party in power. The philosophy that guides the average politician, anywhere in the world is political survival. What accounted for Barack Obama’s flip-flop on his position on gay marriage between 2008 and 2012 for example? Politicians just want to survive!
Society however needs more than this to survive. That is why political theorists have spoken about the concept of the civil society. John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, Gorge Hegel, Karl Marx and Antonio Gramsci, (although they differ in their appreciation of the roles of the civil society in a nation) all expressed opinions on the importance of civil society in the democratisation and consolidation of the democratic process. Civil society is the “third sector” of society, which is independent of Government and Business, that is, in my opinion, the lacuna in our polity.
It is true that a rainbow of Nigerians fought the petroleum industry deregulation move by the Federal Government in 2011 and that the incident on the floor of the Senate two weeks ago has thrown up an emergency collation in the interest of the Nigerian child, but with due respect and admiration of the mobilisers and participants in these efforts, such impulsive and emotive reactions are mere tentative interventions which leave us where we started from.
An effective civil society must be permanent, strategic and focused on its purpose. It must be made up of credible people who are committed to the promotion and protection of democratic values including tolerance, rule of law, good governance, political education of the people, national integration, the common good and good citizenship.
The civil society works vigorously towards making governments at all levels accountable, responsible and all-inclusive. It is the link between government, business and the common man, the ray of hope which the common man should see.
Although there could be a network of civil society organisations, the civil society should comprise of groups working in different areas which affect the country’s development. For instance, a group which works on child rights would have mobilised towards removing every strand of tradition working against the interest of the child in the country. It would meet with governors, traditional rulers, religious leaders and even parents on the desirability of the domestication of the child rights law.
A civil society group could pursue the reform of Nigerian laws. For instance, it beats my imagination that a country with the burden of political and official corruption would fail to amend Section 150 of the 1999 Constitution, which combines the office of the Attorney General with that of the Minister of Justice. There are arguments that the two offices are combined in most commonwealth countries but Nigeria certainly has peculiarities and that should guide our lawmaking process. Civil society groups should be worried about the stagnation of local government administration all over the country.
The civil society should not come together for the purpose of election monitoring alone. It should be found training politicians on the science of social contract and social responsibility. It should in the four years between successive elections, train and build the capacity of Nigerians to make credible choices and stand by the choice that they make. The absence of such empowerment is why Nigerians keep electing the same set of people and parties as the bulk of the Nigerian electorate depend on some stalwart in the neighbourhood to tell them what to do.
The civil society should be worried about Nigeria’s total dependence on oil. It should campaign for causes like ending environmental degradation, fundamental educational deficiencies, (including the improvement in the standard of our universities), ethno-religious strife as well as the deteriorating decision making process in government. It should also be concerned about the plight of farmers in Nigeria. Civil society groups should fight for improved health care delivery (including community health insurance) for the common man; groups in the civil society should initiate bills and lobby the national assembly.
It is true that Nigeria once had the benefit of strong civil society organisations. Nigeria misses the services of the late Chief Gani Fawehimni and Chima Ubani (who died in active service). We remember the commitment of Mr. Olisa Agbakoba , Mrs. Ayo Obe, Nnimmo Bassey and so many others too numerous to mention but the democratisation process is currently in dire need of a third sector intervention if we shall one day attain true democracy.
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