“A Stitch in Time Saves Nine”
The question may appear strange. But it is pertinent. Do we have a nation? Or, have we been living in the illusion that we have one?
The landscape of insecurity in Nigeria ensures that the question is pertinent. A long list of disturbing indices compel us to ask the question: the Boko Haram insurgency that stubbornly stares us in the face in northeastern Nigeria, the Chibok girls who have been held in captivity for over three years, the phenomenon of murderous herdsmen, the ethnic cleansing in southern Kaduna, the unabating spree of abduction in virtually every part of the country, separatist agitation in the southeast, militancy in the oil producing Niger Delta, silent but ominous discontent in the southwest, the lawlessness of corruption, the equally lawless and less than methodic response to the lawlessness of corruption, the less than transparent approach to matters of governance, the display of arrogance by representatives of government when they are called upon to explain actions of government to the Nigerian, not to mention but these.
It has been said many times in the past, and it is still being said: life and property are not safe in our country. But their protection is the primary responsibility of the state. The state is made up of institutions. Institutions are established directly or indirectly by the Constitution, directly if explicitly provided for in the Constitution, indirectly if established in a manner that conforms with the Constitution. It is through such institutions that government fulfills its primary responsibility of protecting life and property of the citizen.
The Constitution that establishes these institutions is a set of fundamental norms for the regulation of the life of an association that a nation is. When it is truly legitimate, such a Constitution is not imposed. It is freely adopted by the people. Its adoption is informed as a sign that their membership of the association is consensual. The people who form the association that a nation is regulate the affairs of their association by a Constitution they freely adopt by such informed consent.
But here we are living in a country whose Constitution does not have our consent. By extension, institutions established by this Constitution exist without our informed consent. They exist, not to serve the people, but to serve the interest of those who imposed the Constitution. This Constitution was imposed by way of a “benevolent military dictatorship”—a contradiction in terms—and the forces represented by the so called benevolent dictatorship.
By further extension, officials of these institutions established by an imposed and dangerously defective Constitution cannot be expected to be at the service of the people. They can only be expected to be at the service of their own interests, and at the service of those who put them in office, and those who put the Constitution in place. Neither the state nor its officials serve Nigerians. That is why they constantly take Nigerians for granted. We may line up at polling stations, in the hot sun or in the torrential rain, when we go to the polls every four years, as we shall soon be doing come 2019 believing that we have a democracy. But, as recent publications are pointing to us, our elections are matches fixed by local and foreign kingmakers who decide on who gets “elected”. Little wonder we have a political leadership that arrogantly refuses to be accountable to the people they are supposed to serve.
This refusal to be accountable is not peculiar to one political party. It is, in fact, multi-partisan. Instead of being transparent, accountable and polite to Nigerians, our political office holders and their spokespersons, irrespective of party affiliation, have the audacity to call Nigerians who express legitimate concerns names that such Nigerians do not deserve to bear. If they really depended on our votes to be in office, would they be so insolent?
If the primary responsibility of the state and its institutions is to protect life and property, if institutions that constitute a state are not at the service of the people because this primary responsibility is assumed in the breach, then, neither the Nigerian nor his or her property is safe.
Nigeria has a cocktail of security agencies, and a huge percentage of Nigeria’s budget is officially allocated to them. We have the Police, the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, the Immigration, Customs, assorted intelligence agencies. But the simple fact is that they were not established to protect the people. They were established and are operated to protect political actors. Now, if the state does not protect us can we truly say we have a nation?
Nigeria has broken down and is not working. She was not well set up by British colonialists. She was further incapacitated by a succession of unprincipled politicians and lawless soldiers. That is why we are not safe. That is why we need to go back to the drawing board. We cannot validly claim that we are a nation. We urgently need to set to work to build one, and it is in our interest to do so. We must assume the task of building a nation on the basis of right relationship among Nigeria’s diverse ethnic and religious communities.
We need a new constitution establishing a new political arrangement, and this new political arrangement must serve the people, not the politicians at the expense of the people. When government is at the service of the people, and when each citizen seeks his or her own good by working for the common good, then we can truly say we have a nation, a nation we can proudly call our own.
Okogie is the Archbishop Emeritus of Lagos.