By Joshua Omenga
Even from the standpoint of the most insouciant observer of the goings-on in Nigeria for the past few years, one does not need an analyst to understand the degenerate level of existence in which its citizens have and are continually being relegated to. However, it is not an obvious assertion that Nigeria is a failed state – not at least for one who for a moment takes time to consider the implications of such assertion. For this reason, and not for its unobviousness, one needs out of respect for the reader’s justified incredulity to attempt an explanation.
A failed state is a state whose living standard has gone below the minimum standard of civilised existence, a state which is unable to function even at a minimum standard of basic competence in the globalised economy. Such a state often becomes a haven of criminal activities: smuggling, peddling of illegal drugs, extortion at various levels of government and its parastatal, and terrorist activities. Most significantly, such a state is unable, in the main, to curtail these activities. These are debatable criteria, and not in the least exhaustive; but for those who have been witnesses to these activities, they are mere academic locution whose correctness or otherwise does not diminish the people’s level of suffering in such a state.
Therefore, the question whether Nigeria has degenerated to this abysmal concept should be not a matter of definition but of experience – of none but those who are first-hand witnesses of the Nigerian story. Leaving then this question to be answered by each stakeholder, this article will direct its attention to the more germane issue: the IMPLICATIONS of the Nigeria’s degeneracy – its inability to provide security, economic stability, internal sovereignty and to satisfy the yearnings of its disgruntled citizens, in the light of the aim of governments and international law.
‘We, the People’ and the Social Contract Theory
The government of any state exists for the purpose of fulfilling the mandates of its people. The early philosophy on the emergence of governments, called the Social Contract Theory, derives from the crude understanding among a people to surrender their right of self-governance to a sovereign who, in exchange, would provide them with security of persons and ensure stability from the pristine state of nature in which the mighty devoured the weak. Prior to this pact, the people were solely responsible for their own protection, achieved in whatever means; after the pact, the sovereign is responsible for the protection of the people, in exchange of the people’s obedience. The end of the people’s obedience, says Hobbes, is the protection offered by the sovereign. This forms the core of the pact; it is from this that the sovereign, by whatever name called, derives the power exercisable over the citizens. We shall see later what happens when and if such right to self-governance ‘donated’ to the sovereign is withdrawn.
That this is no mere antediluvian elocution of philosophers, whose irrelevance never existed or has diminished, may be seen from its operation in most governments in the world, especially the acclaimed democratic ones. The grund norm of the Nigerian polity proclaims boldly that ‘sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria from whom government through this Constitution derives all its powers and authority; the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government: and the participation by the people in their government shall be ensured in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution.’ Bold assertions, these; one need not go far to appreciate its magnanimity: that the government belongs to the people. If for a moment we accept the tenability of this assertion, even theoretically, then we have a ground in this discussion. It would not be an empty inquiry if we attempt to explore the implication of failure of a party to this contract to fulfil its obligations.
The Nigerian state is an agglomerate of many nations, one need hardly reiterate, forced into an uneasy amalgam to sate the British exploitative desires. Fundamental though the flaw of its formation is, it is an immaterial inquiry into the validity of this political contract foisted on the peoples by the colonial power; what is of tangible moment is whether, having entered into this contract, any rights still subsist for the parties. To this we answer in the affirmative: that there remains the right vested in the people under the constitution to form and determine their own governments. Inherent in this – even express to one to one who is unused to the impoverishment of power – is the people’s right to determine who and how their political sphere is controlled.
Nigeria as a state has emphatically failed to fulfil its obligations under this ‘social contract’: it has failed to provide its citizens with security. And let it not be imagined for a moment that security means only the protection from ballistic activities. O yes, it is hardly worth anyone’s time to be burdened with instances of terroristic activities and other life-threatening criminalities which the Nigerian state has failed to protect its citizens from; it is simply a matter of res ipsa loquitur. Nigerians have in fact taken the constant unrest due to terroristic activities as a part of their lives’ phenomena. It is not a label of any particular government but of the state, an incorrigible determination to betray the owners of its mandate. The source of people’s outcry is therefore not in this aspect of security to which the people have adapted (being, in Soyinka’s words, a nation of short memory), but in a rather old kind of menace to which the people are unable to adapt: economic insecurity. It is by no means an agenda of this write-up to attempt to elucidate the reasons, much less proffer solution, for this menace; and so no moment will be spent than in the mere recognition of the menace.
Seeing then that the Nigerian state has breached its contract with the people, what remedy should the people pursue? What say the propounders of the social contract theory as to the consequence of its breach? Hobbes: ‘the obligations of subjects to the sovereign is intended to last as long as, and no longer, than the power lasteth by which the sovereign is able to protect them.’ ‘A sovereign when ruled by passion and ignorance may govern in its own self-interest and prove too incompetent to protect the interest of its subjects. Such a sovereign loses the right to obedience.’ There is no need to pontificate on the glaring fact, namely, that the sovereign violates this social pact once, by its actions or inactions, it can no longer offer a measure of protection to its people; that the sovereign of the Nigerian state has demonstrated times innumerable its inability to offer the most basic protection to its people. I assert that a state which, through its policy or lack of it, has so bastardised the economy as to remove the bread from the table of the many, has failed in material respect, failed to the extent that the citizens’ right to legitimate disobedience may rightly be activated.
But quite apart from the right of legitimate disobedience to irresponsible government, it should not be imagined at all that peoples who have vested the sovereign with power under this social pact cannot of their own volition divest the sovereign of such power. I assert that not only may the people do so, but that the people may also in addition decide for themselves the political sphere under which they intend to be governed. The least option available to the people is to withdraw their mandate – which implies individual re-investiture with self-governance. May the same people not donate their power again to form a new government of their choice?
The Entity Vs The People
Those who preach the unity of the Nigerian state often hinge it, albeit inadvertently, on the concept of ‘uti possidetis’. We shall examine the flaws of that concept later. Then in a very righteous tone, they insist that the sovereignty of Nigeria is not negotiable. Leaving apart the rightness or wrongness of such pontification, what interest have those who preach this doctrine of inviolability of Nigerian territory, the non-negotiability of ‘its unity’? I seek your leave to quote and adopt in extensor some strong words of Soyinka long before the present degeneracy: ‘We must not even shy away from the possibility that a nation is a mere sentimental concept, unfounded in any practical advantages for its occupants…The inviolability principle of national boundaries is therefore a fictitious concept, born out of nothing more substantial than faith… When I listen therefore to the pontificating voice declaring that the unity of Nigeria is non-negotiable, I detect only wooly or opportunistic thinking. What the speaker is saying is this: It suits me and mine to keep Nigeria a single entity… Yes, whatever the individual or group motivations or expectations that compel this bond in the occupants of a national space, let us cling to them by all means and lodge them in the collective pot. But the language of “non-negotiability” simply has to be abandoned. It must be consciously terminated for reasons that are quite simple to grasp but are unfortunately obscured to a majority because of its overpowering Sunday school rhetoric. At heart, such language is subversive because it is designed to stop intelligent confrontation with the very issues whose resolution is essential to guarantee the emergence or continuity of such geographical spaces as true nations.’
Agreeing then that a state in no more than a summation of its occupants, sands apart, one encounters no difficulty in jettisoning the notion of sacrosanctity of a state’s sovereignty when those beating its knell are the citizens themselves. But that is the kennel of the uti possidetis doctrine: a principle whose primary aim is securing respect for the territorial boundaries at the moment when independence is achieved. Its damaging implication is the desire to extinguish not only external claims to territories prejudicing a sovereign state but also internal disruptive elements. By this doctrine, groups within independent states should not seek a fractionalisation of the state, except by consent of the constituent peoples. The impotence of this doctrine is hardly worth the discussion.
International Law: a Bulwark and a Restriction
It is necessary to explain before much is said about international law that unlike domestic legal system, international law follows practice and not the other way round. When therefore international law concept is posed, one should be circumspect to regard it as immutable, or mutable in the same way that a domestic legal system is; rather, states act and their acts become law. There are of course many qualifications to this rather oversimplified explanation, but we shall proceed on that assumption with its imperfection.
The seeming postulation under the international law regime that the sovereign integrity of a state should not be undermined either from without or from within is also logical in the face of another benevolent doctrine: the doctrine of non-interference which posits simply that states are not to interfere in the domestic affairs of other states. But what constitutes the domestic affairs of a state? They are too many, and highly subjective; I will therefore only answer in the evasive by giving what it does not mean. It does not include human rights and racial oppression of the people within the state’s jurisdiction. When an action of a state amounts to oppression or violation of human rights of the people within its jurisdiction, it cannot lay claim to this non-interference doctrine.
One such international dimension of collective human rights is the right to self-determination. We shall for now overlook its rather controversial political perspective and focus on its rights dimension. The Helsinki Final Act of 1975 iterated that self-determination includes ‘people’s right, in full freedom, to determine when and as they wish, their internal and external political status, without any external interference and to pursue as they wish their political, economic and cultural development.’ Article 20 of the African Charter (which in a questionable decision the Supreme Court admitted to be superior than the Nigerian constitution) recognised the right of peoples to self-determination. Some words in lieu of definition: self-determination is not a magic concept which vests any disgruntled group of people with the right of secession. Secession and its attendant breakdown of law and order is the very thing that the promulgators of the doctrine aim at preventing. To this end, the traditional, political view to this right is that it ends at the door of colonialism: an independent state has no further use for the self-determination concept. That is as far as theory goes; no, not even theory but merely the entrenched level of development. For even at the heart of this ‘freezing’ of territory at independence, the independent Yugoslavia broke up. The Advisory Opinion to this act? ‘Republics must afford members of those minorities and ethnic groups all human rights and fundamental freedom recognised in international law, including where appropriate the right to choose their nationality.’ The Canadian Supreme Court, while emphasising the necessity of non-interference in the state’s sovereignty and boundary, mentioned ‘exceptional circumstances in which a right to secession may arise within an independent state.’
What is often advocated in lieu of secession for independent states is ‘internal self-determination’. This means simply that within the polity of the independent state, there should be guaranteed a people’s pursuit of their political, economic, social and cultural developments. To this end, individuals and groups have a legitimate interest in ensuring the efficient functioning of the state in a manner consistent with respect for the rights of individuals and groups. I assert that even in the concession that only internal self-determination applies in the Nigerian situation, the Nigerian state has failed in this respect as to amount to an exceptional circumstance in which the peoples’ right to seek a political definition for themselves should be honoured.
Thus even within the contradictions of international law, the Nigerian situation has reached a maximum level of tolerability. There is no pretence left for the sovereign to continue holding on to the destiny of the Nigerian peoples.
The Way of the People
Not for a moment should it be construed in earnest that the main aim of this article is to justify the right of a particular people to secession – not of course that it deprecates that. Rather, the aim of this article is to say what many are already aware of but afraid to admit: that the Nigerian state is a failure from the human perspective and that the time has come for its people to determine their destiny. What this collective determination will result in is another question. The anthem should be stifled midway in its chant that the Nigerian sovereignty or territory is not negotiable. The peoples who are the initiators of this ‘contract’ may vary its terms as they wish, or dissolve it altogether, and it is of no moment to anyone what new contract they decide to enter into.
The lesson for the present government is not to think that it can hide behind any hollow concept in deploying resistance to the peoples’ will. It should instead seek to understand the desires of the people, and so long as it attempts to any discernible degree to fulfil them, the people will continue according it obedience. Any policy of the sovereign, no matter how well intentioned, which the people do not see as beneficial, will meet inevitably with resistance. It should be no surprise to the Nigerian government that having led its people into dark, bitter waters, they should resist at all possible fronts. This is merely the beginning; people are only gradually realising by the totality of their travail that the Nigerian state is a failure. The culmination of this realisation no one should be comfortable to prophesy.
© 2017 Joshua Omenga
Published By Great Opara