- Category: Paul Onyewuchi Nnodim
- Published on Thursday, 19 January 2012 16:41
- Written by Paul Nnodim
- Hits: 1215
Since the election of President Goodluck Jonathan, Nigeria, especially the northern part, has witnessed series of bomb incidents and riots.
The most egregious cases are the bombing of the Nigerian Police Headquarters in Abuja on the 16thof June, 2011, the bombing of the United Nations building in Abuja on August 26, 2011, and the Christmas massacre of Christians in the various houses of worship across Nigeria on December 25, 2011. The Islamist group known as Boko Haram or “Western Education is a Sacrilege” claimed responsibility for all the bombings. Boko Haram seeks the full implementation of the Islamic Law or Sharia in all the Northern States, which would enable the group to legislate the moral and religious lives of Northern Nigerians via a vision of Islamic moral and religious ideals.
The outrage that greeted these bombings was not only informed by the public perception of Boko Haram’s activities as supercilious contempt for their fellow citizens or contemptuous indifference to the rights, feelings, and lives of their compatriots, but by something more visceral or deep-rooted: the failure of the Nigerian government to secure the lives and property of Nigerians. This perceived failure constitutes a deeper source of dissonance between Nigerians and their elected leaders. Nigerians have been asking themselves one question: If the Nigerian Police men and women, and their Headquarters are not safe, who can feel safe in Nigeria? The truth is that the Nigerian police was never prepared for the Boko Haram’s insurgency. For so long, the Nigerian police had made mockery of professional police education by confusing the drilling of men and women in “oop-high, oop-high” parade and the handling of AK 47 with the proper training of a 21st century police force. Security in the 21st century is intelligence, and Nigeria has a lot of catching up to do in that regard.
In the eyes of sympathetic and non sympathetic foreign observers, bombing incidents in Nigeria, especially those (possibly) involving suicide bombers, are indicative of a country teetering on the edge of collapse. However, Nigerian leaders confront such claims with a mystifying air of imperturbability.
A careful study reveals that the problems facing Nigeria vacillate predominantly around questions of justice, civic virtue, and poverty alleviation.
Poverty is still the scourge of 21st Century Nigeria. Absolute poverty entails hunger, malnutrition, widespread disease, high infant mortality, squalid living conditions, fear, and insecurity. Despite her enormous natural and human wealth, Nigeria is classified by the World Bank as a very poor country. About 83% of Nigerians live under $2 (about 300 Naira) a day. Nigeria shares life expectancy ranking with the war-ravaged Somalia, - circa 46 years or 30% below world average (Malaysia is about 74 years, and Ghana about 60 years). With an infant mortality rate of about 94.35 per every 1000 birth, Nigeria is ranked 212th in the world; only better than a handful of countries, such as the war-battered Afghanistan and the formally warring Angola.
On civics, Nigerians are lacking. Ask Nigerian children wishing to become governors when they grow up what they intend to achieve in that office. Their answer will most probably center on “big cars” and “big houses”, not on good governance. Through their innocence, children reveal the deep-rooted, obnoxious culture of corruption pervading the political, social, and economic institutions of our nation. The peevish impatience with which elected leaders abuse public trust and public fund exacerbates Nigeria’s poverty problems. Many Nigerian politicians flash their teeth and make empty promises once elected into office. However, Nigerians live to see those promises made with borrowed smiles, as transient as borrowed light, vanish very quickly. Even those politicians, whose natural dispositions may be good and kind at the beginning, do not hesitate to drink the fetal poison of irresponsible power and greed at the end.
By all indications, the basic structures of the Nigerian society sanction greed. Greed is a civic vice, a terrible way of life, especially when it makes our leaders apathetic to the penury of the masses. Greed is morally unpalatable in a well ordered society.
Now that many Nigerians, once again, are loudly talking about dividing the country along whatever lines they think viable – Religion, region, ethnicity, South-North, in fact whatever, - I am proposing a last minute alternative to division; something which might help all of us live together in peace and harmony. Did we ever try something like this in the past? No! Thus, I am proposing a thought-experiment based on a model developed by the late American political philosopher, John Rawls (1921-2002). I believe that this model of justice will help Nigerian leaders and Nigerians achieve a political conception of justice that will keep Nigerians safe, spur economic growth, alleviate poverty, and guarantee political stability.
The questions of justice border on how individuals in a pluralistic society, like Nigeria, should treat one another; what the law should permit or prohibit; and how society should be regulated. How should the Nigerian basic structures be organized so as to enable all citizens to share in the burdens and benefits of a fair social cooperation? Under what conditions would Nigerians, as free and rational individuals, commit themselves to upholding cooperative institutions that are mutually advantageous to every Nigerian, and thus find a moral basis for the public justification of their political, social, religious, and economic institutions? These questions gesture at a moral argument that Nigerians and their leaders ought to take very seriously.
For a pluralistic society like Nigeria to be just, the government must treat every Nigerian as a Person: a rational, free, and equal citizen. Nigerians would then see their society as a fair system of cooperation for mutual benefits. If Nigerians can attain such a human society, fellow citizens would practice ‘reciprocity of perspectives’ by granting one another a fair share in the distribution of the benefits and burdens of political and socio-economic cooperation.
But to achieve this level of civic development, Nigeria needs well-informed and well educated citizens, who are capable of viewing themselves as free, self-authenticating sources of independent and legitimate claims against their government. Given their nature as rational, free, and equal cooperating agents, citizens of Nigeria would then freely choose the principles of justice to govern their society. This can take the form of a national conference.
According to the Rawlsian model, to think about justice as fairness, we must first immerse ourselves (mentally or hypothetically) in a condition of strict equality. For example, we should imagine a national conference attended by the representatives of the major political parties in Nigeria (let’s say, PDP, ANPP, ACN, APGA, etc,). Furthermore, the representatives of all ethnic groups – Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba, Fulani, Efik, Ijaw, etc. will be at that conference. Also, the representatives of all religious groups - Christians, Muslims, Traditionalists, etc. will be there too. All major interest groups in Nigeria should have a say at this national gathering. These representatives have come to Aso Rock, Abuja, from every corner of Nigeria to choose principles that would govern the collective life of every Nigeria. Given the argumentative nature of Nigerians, our competing political ideologies, and conflicting religious doctrines, it will be a knotty task (at least initially) to expect all these representatives to agree on a set of principles regulating the life of every Nigerian citizen.
In fact, I would expect some skirmishes: physical and verbal brawls at the preliminary stages of this conference. A Northern Muslim may not endorse the political aspirations of a Southern Christian, vice versa. An Igbo may not agree with a Yoruba or Hausa-Fulani representative on what constitutes fairness, vice versa. Women’s group may seek greater role for Nigerian women across the board against the agitation of some men, who see Nigeria as a patriarchal society. Self-serving politicians among the representatives may argue for the status quo, knowing that a new dispensation may discontinue disbursing billions of Naira to government officials in the name of security votes. Consequently, some representatives may favor one principle of justice over another because of religion, ethnicity (in more crude terms – tribalism), political ideology, greed, etc.
In real life, as we know, sometimes our representatives do reach consensus on less contentious issues, such as those that favor the distribution of money among the ruling class. However, such agreements do not reflect fairness, but rather the bargaining power of the majority party, interest groups, and the urge to cut a chunk from the national cake.
Now imagine that these representatives were to pass through a famous dark tunnel known as the ‘veil of ignorance’ before entering Aso Rock, one that inflicts a special form of temporary, dissociative amnesia on all representatives. Suddenly, they do not know any particular thing about themselves. They no longer know their ethnicity, political association, religion, gender, position in society, talents, psychological dispositions, advantages or disadvantages, etc. All that the representatives now know is that they are citizens of Nigeria choosing principles of justice to govern their democratic society. Thus, they representatives are in an original position of equality. Rawls thinks that in this ‘original position’ of equality, the representatives would only choose principles of justice that further their rational interest, since no one knows how he or she would fare in real life. The debilitating effects of poverty on the poor, and the life of self-absorption and debauchery symptomatic of the super-duper rich, are now veiled by ignorance.
These conditions ensure that the representatives adopt a conservative attitude toward risk and thus choose principles that allow the least possible, undesirable conditions for the poorest members of society. Rawls calls principles chosen in this hypothetically strict condition of equality or ‘original position’ the principles of ‘justice as fairness’. These principles guarantee that every member of society has equal rights and equal opportunity. Furthermore, they secure decent life prospects for those at the bottom of society.
A society governed by the principles of ‘justice as fairness’ will not be inflicted with abject poverty. Such a society will not have millions of destitute people or Almajiris. If there are no Almajiris, there may be no Boko Haram. This well ordered society will lack large bands of brutal armed robbers. Kidnappers will not find their actions rewarding in such a society. Excessively greedy politicians and an abhorrently corrupt political system will vanish. Such a society will experience lasting peace and stability. The poor of such a society will not be absolutely poor. The rich will live in a safer and less antagonistic society, since everyone, irrespective of his or her biographical standpoint, will look to the future with the hope of a better life.
Our leaders should close their eyes for a minute and pass under the hypothetical veil of ignorance for the good of Nigeria. Government cannot remain on the sidelines while the Nigerian people are subjected to unconscionable misery.
* Paul Onyewuchi Nnodim, PhD is a professor in the Department of Philosophy and Interdisciplinary Studies at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, Massachusetts, USA.