By NBF News

Social contract, citizenship rights and duties
By Orji Kalu
Saturday , March 06 , 2010
When God created the world He ensured that everything He made was in pairs. First, He made them man and woman, day and night. Also in man, almost every part of his body has a spare: two eyes, two ears, two noses, and two legs, etc. The Book of Ecclesiastes Chapter 3 elucidated this fact when it listed other things in life that are in pairs. It says that everything has its time and season: time to be born, time to die; time for thunder and time for calm.

It is the attempt by man to dislocate this divine order that has precipitated most of the crises that bedevil mankind. Nigeria presents a classical example of this if we consider the disparity that has existed between the responsibilities of government towards its citizens and the citizen's duties towards the state. It is amazing that both have existed in mutual mistrust. While many Nigerians feel that government has not been responsive to their needs the government itself sees the citizens as shirking in their duties towards it.

As I stated earlier, the government and the citizens have viewed each other with deep mistrust. This stems from the fact that governments since independence have not done much to lift the people from poverty and make life better for them. It is the general claim by the citizens that all government is interested in is to tax them and divert billions accruing to it for the provision of social infrastructure into personal pockets. On the other hand government accuses the citizens of dodging the payment of taxes and other responsibilities they owe to the state.

All the accusations and counter-accusations contain some rational points. In fact, both sides can be said to be right if we view the accusations on their merit. It is sad that such accusations should arise in the first place since it is the duty of the government to ensure that the citizens derive maximum benefits from the taxes they pay.

Let me ask: How many qualified Nigerians pay tax, let alone pay it meritoriously. It is only those whose taxes are deducted at source pay appropriate taxes. Others, including reputable companies, pay whatever they like. It has since been proved that some banks that used to declare jumbo profits were actually cooking their books to hoodwink the unsuspecting public.

From what is obtainable in other parts of the world one can rightly conclude that the government is not living up to its social contract with the people. In my estimation, it is the people that have always been at the receiving end of government's inability to perform up to expectation.

To present an unbiased picture of what is actually happening let us take a look at what constitutes government's responsibilities to the people. It is the duty of government to protect life and property, provide basic social amenities, and defend the territorial integrity of the country. How far has government succeeded in meeting these responsibilities is what this article is intended to address. I wish to state categorically that government has not been fair to the masses. This is a position many armchair critics may not want to state emphatically. I owe it as a duty to the people to always speak the truth even where every other person fails to do so for fear of being ostracized or intimidated.

I read a mind-blowing report sometime ago that Nigeria earned over 548 billion dollars from oil between 1957 and 2007. This amount would have been enough to pave every street in Nigeria with gold if it had been judiciously used. It is unexplainable that this huge amount instead of transforming the lives of the people had only succeeded in impoverishing them. Could there have been any deplorable federal roads if the money had been used to develop the roads that are now death-traps across the nation? Potable water, functional hospitals, good schools, food and even housing are a mere mirage in Nigeria. What we have in their places is marginally disoriented infrastructure that tells sad stories about our flawed developmental initiative.

I do not blame the masses if they grumble that their governments have not treated them fairly. The high level of poverty and penury all over the country is unacceptable. Unemployment and inflation rates have also hit the roof. Thousands of graduates and other school leavers roam the streets in search of unavailable jobs. Many of them cannot survive without white collar jobs because they do not possess any other practical skills. The middle class has disappeared into thin air. I recall the little buoyancy the Nigerian economy enjoyed in the late fifties and early sixties, which was attributable to the existence of the middle class. How it disappeared remains a puzzle to me.

I have kept writing in this column that Nigeria cannot survive economically or attain its dream of a richly-industrialized nation without the middle class. It is the middle class that drives the whole economy. Indeed the disappearance of this class marked the beginning of our economic woes.

Again the issue of electricity remains a topical one, yet nothing concrete is being done in that direction. What is government doing in power if it cannot provide the people ordinary electricity? The hallmark of great nations across the world is regular electricity. Once any nation gets its electricity problem right then it has achieved 50% of its overall goal of competing among the comity of economic superpowers. Canada, the United States, United Kingdom, China, South Africa, etc., achieved their present global status because they were able to fix this problem.

Nigeria's effort to achieve this fizzled away as soon as the dream was conceived. Successive governments had made futile attempts to realize the dream and on each occasion it was thwarted by the usual red tape and insincerity that characterize our national life. Is it not the responsibility of the government to provide this essential amenity in order to stimulate growth and drive development?

I asked in this column last week when would Nigerians enjoy their country? Up till this moment nobody has provided an answer to that question. We all walk about everyday as if all is well. All is not well; and we know it. Something is endemically wrong with Nigeria. We will be wasting our time talking about government and development if we fail first and foremost to identify what is actually wrong with Nigeria.

Very soon another round of elections will be called to elect new leaders for the country. Is there truly going to be the emergence of new leaders or are we going to recycle those who are there now and who have shown crass inability to offer responsible and responsive leadership for the country? Everyday people blame the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for our electoral woes. Let me state it unequivocally that INEC is not the problem of elections in Nigeria, after all INEC is not peopled by spirits. INEC has demonstrated some determination to conduct quality elections, particularly under Professor Maurice Iwu. The problem is not with Iwu but with the politicians who demonstrate wanton greed and desperation during elections. They are ready to kill, maim in order to remain in power. But is that the case in the developed economies?

I don't think so. What I think makes politics in Nigeria so pathologically enticing is its allures. Remove the attractions and many will scamper for safety. That is one of the things the entire reform programme should aim to accomplish. A situation where a federal legislator takes home mouth-watering packages monthly can only breed deeper corruption and desperation.

It may not be a bad idea to make it statutorily mandatory for persons seeking elective and appointive political offices have visible means of livelihood. I know many will not like to hear about this. But that is what our nation needs at this critical time, if it is serious about developing.

I am worried about the lousy manner the ongoing reform programme is being handled. Everything about the exercise is shrouded in secrecy. Even the government itself is not doing anything tangible to arouse the committee from its self-imposed slumber. It is March already and we are yet to conclude the exercise let alone have an amended constitution.

If you ask me, I will state that there is no genuine effort to amend the constitution. Constitution review is a serious national assignment. It is not something that is handled with puerility or laissez-fait disposition. It demands the consensus of all Nigerians coupled with the imperative on the part of the actors and actresses to demonstrate some patriotism and altruism in the discharge of the onerous assignment the whole nation has entrusted to them.

I still wonder why the Justice Muhammadu Uwais report could not be tinkered with and adopted wholesale. Hold it: Somebody may be harmed if done that way. That is exactly what I am talking about. Individual interests have shamelessly taken over the collective good of the people.

This is where I expect the government to wield the big stick if it sincerely wants to enforce pragmatic changes in our socio-political life. There is no way we can carry on this way and expect not to fail. Failure arises from the inability of the human mind to subject itself to what is right. This is mere ethics. In Nigeria, the rightness or wrongness of an action depends on which side of the divide one pitches his tent. Many Nigerians are always known for their penchant to flow with the tide, provided it favours them. This loose character stump is as a result of a debased and distressed mind.

That reminds me: Is it not proper to add in the list of items for review for a politician to visit the psychiatrist to obtain a certificate of mental fitness before he is cleared to seek the people's mandate? This has become imperative because of the weird manner some of our politicians have discharged themselves.

The Constitution, in Sections 36-39, confers some rights on the citizens. These rights are inalienable in every ramification. But it is very sad that they are being abridged with reckless abandon by the same government that is expected to enforce them. The government, should, in whatever it is doing, always bear in mind its statutory duty to defend these rights, even if it means hurting a powerful member of the cabinet. Personality cult has become a recurring decimal on our political life so much so that it now constitutes an albatross in our effort to democratize.

Now to the citizens: It takes two to tango is a common saying. Government does not comprise spirits. Government is run by human-beings and they can even be our relations. So it is wrong to expect the government to do everything all by itself without the people playing their own part. It is by pooling resources that set goals can be achieved. It is the duty of the citizens to support government by paying their taxes and rates (where applicable) as due, obey the law and respect the constitution, and do such other things that may promote peace and development of the nation. In fact, the duty of a citizen is summed up by the National Pledge. We utter the pledge without ruminating on its content.

I must confess that it intrigues me why any rational person should resort to criminality after reciting the National Pledge, despite the huge message embodied in it.

As much as we blame the government for not living up to expectation, I think it is fair to apportion equal blame on the people. Why should I not blame the masses for being a part of the national malaise? After all, who are the election riggers, the assassins, the thugs and miscreants that have vowed that we will never sleep in peace? Are they not the same people government is blamed for not taking care of? I am not a government advocate. I am only thinking aloud and wondering from which side the water in the pot escaped.

The people get the kind of government they vote for. If we want change in 2011, it is our duty to turn out en masse and vote for men and women of character and defend the votes. It is useless voting in an election and the vote does not count in the end.

If we like, we can execute all the constitutional reviews in this world, but it will come to nought if the people's wishes are not respected.

Government on its part must resolve today to tow the path of honour by respecting the social contract it signed with the people when it was voted into power. It is only by so doing that Nigeria will attain the greatness that has eluded it for too long.