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Nigeria: On the Office of the Citizen

Fr Justin Dyikuk

The existing Social Contract between the citizenry and current power-handlers in Nigeria is supposed to elicit a symbiotic relationship. While it falls on government to ensure security of lives and livelihoods, citizens are expected to pay taxes and collaborate in building a prosperous nation. Expectedly, in every workable democracy, the functions of government include maintaining law and order, ensuring security, providing public services and guiding the community.

Where these are in shortfall, it is incumbent on the citizens to hold government accountable. Although linked to Thomas Jefferson, the saying, “In a democracy, the highest office is the office of citizen,” often attributed to a former US Supreme Court Justice, Felix Frankfurter is crucial for Nigeria. As incubators of power, the people determine who their leaders are. Functional democracies position citizens over the elect to remind them (leaders) of their humble beginnings.

Sadly, in Nigeria, reverse is the case. Instead of the bottom-top approach which gives legitimacy to the masses as indispensable power-brokers, in our country, power actually belongs to the political-elite. Not only do they anoint their successors, they also act with impunity. Although the law provides that political office holders can be recalled by their constituents, this is often untenable. Usually, the excuse is, ours is a fledgling democracy. The question is, how often shall we fall in the same waters?

At best, the Nigerian Citizen is an onlooker who is ready to die in abject poverty for the rich politician to live; the citizen is that person who would rig elections and snatch ballot-boxes during elections while the child of the politician is in Oxford; the citizen is the person whose children are in penury for want of good medical care, pipe-borne water, schools, roads and electricity and they are the voting masses who wear the cosmetics of ethnicity and religion instead of spraying themselves with the perfume of patriotism.

They are the over five million people several economic and human development indices from institutions such as the World Bank refer to who suffer acute joblessness, poverty, food insecurity, adverse economic conditions due to high prices of food, internal conflicts, terrorism and floods; they are those who bear the brunt of the unemployment rate which has risen to 33% being the second highest on the global list as reported by the National Bureau of Statistics and they constitute the over 3.2 million Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the country as published by The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Ironically, Chapter IV of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended spells out exclusively the rights of every citizen in the country. To start with, Number 33(1) clearly guarantees the Right to Life of every Nigerian Citizen. As a follow-up, Number 33(1) upheld the Right to Dignity of the Human Person when it said, “This right expressly prohibits torture, inhuman or degrading treatment of any Nigerian Citizen and also forbids any Nigerian Citizen from being held in slavery or forced labour.”

From the Right to Life through the essential Dignity of the Human Person and Right to Personal Liberty (35), we have, Right to Fair Hearing (36), Right to Private and Family Life (37), Right to Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion (38) and the Right to Freedom of Expression and the Press (39) which provides that: “It is the right of all Nigerian Citizens to express themselves freely within certain limits. The section also allows the establishment of Newspapers and other Broadcasting medium.”

In like manner, the Right to Peaceful Assembly and Association (40), Right to Freedom of Movement (41), Right to Freedom from Discrimination on the Grounds of Ethnic Group, Place of Origin, Circumstance of Birth, Sex, Religion or Political Opinion (42) and the Right to Property and Compensation for Property Compulsorily Acquired (43 & 44) arms the citizen for the politician’s shenanigans. Of particular interest are other rights in the Constitution that are crucial for integral development. These include the right to free and compulsory education, adequate health care, gainful employment, shelter, food etc.

Unfortunately, politicians care less about the electorate. In his speech during the Thanksgiving Mass of the immediate-past Vice Chancellor of the University of Jos, Prof. Sebastian Seddi Maimako which held at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Lu’ukwo (Bakin-Ciyawa), Qua’an Pan LGA of Plateau on Sunday 25/07/2021, the Catholic Bishop of Shendam Diocese, Most Rev. Dr. Philip Dung lamented that: “Nigerian Politicians have taken away the soul of the country leaving its citizens with just a map.” The Prelate who maintained that, “Our problem in Nigeria is not scarcity of food, but scarcity of love” added that “Our politicians must learn to love this nation and her citizens [and also] respect them.”

Moral as the call to love and respect the citizens may sound, political office-holders must know that leadership is a burden. As such, rather than engage in mundane political fireworks which end up hitting the polity, they should work towards poverty-alleviation, youth-emancipation and massive-investment in education. Only human-capacity building can raise actual and potential investors, captains of industry and future leaders. Rather than over-indulge in the champagne of partisan politicians, relevant stakeholders should beat the drums of national cohesion.

On their part, the masses must lift The Office of the Citizen from the gutter of begging politicians for peanuts by thinking outside the box. This translates to holding public office holders accountable. They must understand that hunger does not discriminate between Christian and Muslim or PDP and APC. While reflecting on our national emblem (Coat of Arm’s Motto) “Unity and Faith, Peace and Progress,” citizens should help one another to build a prosperous nation. We can borrow a leaf from US citizens who often become emotional at the sight or sound of their national flag and anthem. God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria!

Fr. Dyikuk is a Lecturer of Mass Communication, University of Jos, Editor – Caritas Newspaper and Convener, Media Team Network Initiative (MTNI), Nigeria.

 

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