One of the most significant changes brought about by the modern civilization is the concept of citizenship as the basis of people's belonging to their respective countries, thereby abolishing the old-aged concept of subordination that used to define the relationship between rulers and the ruled.
In the olden days of savagery, where people were mostly subjugated violently, there were no substantive legal, judicial or political frameworks to regulate the relationships between rulers and the ruled. Instead, the relationships between them were simply based on a master/subject basis. In those days, rulers were authoritative and openly suppressive, and every individual among the subjects could only enjoy basic peace, protection and some freedom according to the extent of his subordination to his master(s).
As a matter of fact, a subject could even enjoy protection and exemption from the ruler’s own decrees, by virtue of the level of subordination he was able to prove. He could be exempted for instance from paying tax and toiling in the ruler’s farms. He could even be elevated to be among the ruler’s retinue. On the other hand, any suspicion about his subordination could cost him his freedom or peace or possessions if any, and even his life. Some rulers in Hausa land for instance while on Rangadi i.e. tour allegedly used to sleep with the wives of some of their host subjects.
Consequently, people used to desperately seek closeness to their rulers in whatever way. And those who were lucky to be close enough, would over time be assigned with some “state’s” positions, which enabled them exert their own excesses on the other helpless subjects.
To digress a little, understanding this background would explain why when the Pharaoh of the olden days Egypt sought the services of some magicians to challenge Prophet Moses, he (i.e Pharoah) confidently motivated the magicians with a promise to make them among his retinue if they managed to defeat Moses. Because such was the most valuable reward they could be rewarded with.
Subordination as such, was what apparently gave rise to the Hausa concept of “Talakawa” which they still use interchangeably with "Yan Kasa" i.e. citizens, though over the centuries it also came to mean the poor. Incidentally, it is a corrupted form of a classical Arabic word “?????” which refers to a conquered community granted amnesty by the conquerors.
Nigeria today is presumably a civilized country, where such phenomenon is not supposed to exist anymore. However, in view of the circumstances on the ground, one wonders; to what extent Nigerians fit into the concept of citizenship in its real sense?
It is noteworthy that, a combination of historical, cultural, economic and socio-political factors, which have been unjustifiably –and in most cases deliberately- left unchecked over the decades, have undermined the concept of citizenship and effectively substituted it (if it had even existed in the first place) with the phenomenon of subordination. Predictably, people's faith in the state has eroded, and almost everybody turned into a bloody subordinate of an individual(s) on one hand, and an arrogant master to others on the other.
For instance, a typical civil/public servant in a critical sector particularly, probably owes his appointment to a certain individual(s), who might have compromised the standard criteria to favor him for the post. In most cases, the latter would in turn manipulate the former for his personal interests at the expense of the public interest. And he (the former) would have to succumb under the pressure of blackmail. His loyalty would always remain primarily directed to a gradually growing number of individuals, whose favors he would always need to secure his personal interests both legitimate and otherwise. He thus becomes affectively a subordinate of some individuals through whom he enjoys job security, rapid promotions and indeed protection from the very law of the land, depending on the influence and connections of his purported benefactors (i.e. masters). On the other hand, he in the meantime wields his influence on his subordinates in the same or even worst manner.
Also a similar scenario or even worst characterizes the process of nominating or rather anointing various political offices' holders, right from local government councillorship up to the presidency. In each level there are "appropriate" so-called power brokers who effectively determine who gets what in various political offices sharing. Upon assuming their respective offices, the elected (mostly selected) officials are generally expected to lend "listening ears" to those brokers who have maneuvered them into the public offices. The brokers would in turn consider the officials their milking cows, though in most cases the going turns sour between the so-called former benefactors and the beneficiaries, but ironically not in favor of public interests, but for the beneficiaries to rebel and build their own political bases in order to perpetuate their excesses as they wish. In any case however, they would maintain some "indispensible" godfathers in case of any eventuality. And the cost of maintaining such godfathers is always the public interest of course.
Being largely the institutions that basically introduced the concept of subordination, traditional rule institutions also play very significant roles in maintaining it by promoting nepotism and encouraging impunity. Over the decades they have earned the reputation of manipulating circumstances in favor of their favored, regardless of whether they deserve it or not.
Perhaps this is why many so-called statesmen encourage the young to maintain unswerving loyalty to their purported potential benefactors at any cost, if they are to grow in their professional, political or business careers. For instance a prominent Nigerian vocal “statesman” in Kano, who is widely regarded as a role model in oratory, would always attribute his dramatic success to his “loyalty” to the “elders” and encourage others to do the same. He would subtly make reference to his humble background, compare it with his attained fame (having held high political positions in the past) and attribute it to his “loyalty” to the “elders”.
The funniest aspect of it that, an intimidating "big shot" in Nigeria would nonetheless end up being a bloody subordinate of a sorcerer, a dirty local Mallam or fake pastror (depending on his cultural affiliation). The sorcerer or whatever would not only manipulate him but could even influence purely official decisions and policies. Predictably, by virtue of their (i.e sorcerers and their likes) closeness to such “big shots” many people solicit their interventions to derive privileges or escape punishments.
Mohammad Qaddam writes from UAE. For more of his articles visit www.qaddamsidq.blogspot.com