As the count-down to Nigeria’s presidential election continues, debates on issues and programmes are beginning to dominate the political waves and this portends a good development for the country.
Buhari’s camp is obviously at the forefront of politics of issues and this is attracting scrutiny and examination. Lately it is being revealed that the camp is planning to turn the country into a liberal state. This is not only revolutionary, but it is also progressive especially as the cries of many years are beginning to attract attention. From Awolowo, to Enahoro and notable social scientist such as the late Claude Ake, the dominate thesis has always been that post colonial structure of the Nigerian society needs to be changed. According to the CPC manifesto: If you elect us in April, we will initiate action to amend our constitution with a view to devolving powers, duties and responsibilities to states and local governments in order to entrench federalism and the federal spirit.
From this, it can be deduced that the basic assumption is that the main problem identifiable in the Nigerian society is the presence of pre-modal unjust basic structure which consequently permits institutional injustice. The basic structure of the society is the fulcrum of society on which every other function stands and any break down causes social and political distortions which most times lead to social crises and political instability. The repair or reformation of the structure on the other hand therefore can lead to a reversal of this negative trend. And this reformation is better actualized through a political theory such as political liberalism being propounded by Buhari but originated by American philosopher, John Rawls. It is a theory that seeks to address the issue of social injustice.
Social justice is concerned basically with the assessment and appraisal of social institutions in a society. It is obviously true that the issue of social justice emanates from another concept which is justice. The concept of justice as a moral ideal is an age old concept that transcends the ancient and contemporary thoughts of philosophers and writers in general.
It is a word and concept that carries as many meanings and definitions as perhaps the people making them. While moral philosophers see justice as a moral concept, legal opinions would see it as a legal term. Some people would argue that the most important aspect of the concept of justice is that the meanings and definitions given to it have expanded greatly and have been transformed with the arrival of modern liberal and politically egalitarian democracy
In primitive and pre-liberal societies in Nigeria broadly speaking, justice was defined and constituted by laws which were ‘given’ and held to be unchanging and unchangeable. In consequence, they were known naturally by all normal adults, who learned them as they learned the language of the community. Justice as a concept can therefore be seen from both the legal and moral perspectives. And since the concept now covers social idealism in all its ramifications and all extents, it cannot be defined in positive and specific terms. Men can not arrive at any formula for an ideal society but can only think of social progress that is definable only as a direction of change through the alleviation and mitigation of serious cases of injustices that a society can agree upon and these find solutions to.
The whole idea of the issue of social justice which is simply justice in society is anchored on the indefensibility of unequal relations between people, the disparity in relations in society in terms of distribution of public good and the plurality of doctrines in society and the need to maintain balance and cohesion. As like civilizations long past, there exists in the Nigerian society, huge and serious inequalities in political power, social standing and in the control and dispensing of economic resources, hence the call for the enthronement of a theory of social justice.
And like Rawls I believe that social justice is primarily a function of the basic structure of society. The structure of society in-exhaustively refers to the institutions in society that together determine the access of members of a society to the resources of that society that are publicly produced. Social justice aptly applies to issues such as rules that allocate rights and privileges to members; rules that specify how access is gained into political decision making power; rules that concern business corporations, real estate development, social justice also affects institutions including educational system, professions, acquisition of property, system of taxation and rules that affect the distribution of income and wealth in the society. (Barry 1989).
Justice may be an age- long concept, but social justice is relatively recent Creeping into popular use in the mid 19th century. It came to the fore front as philosophers discovered that society’s key social and economic institutions crucially affect the distribution of benefits and burdens and as such should be properly seen as objects for moral and political investigation. It makes more meaning when it is thought that people can act justly or unjustly, and the question arises as to what it means to state that a society is just or unjust.
In view of the current structure of the Nigerian society, Buhari is employing the liberal principle to put the country on the path of individual liberty, rights and social welfare for the less privileged. According to Rawls, political liberalism centre on the questions: ‘What is the most appropriate conception of justice for specifying the fair terms of social cooperation between citizens regarded as free and equal, and as fully cooperating members of society over a complete life from one generation to the next?. What are the grounds of toleration so understood and given the fact of reasonable pluralism as the inevitable outcome of free institutions? And how is it possible for there to exist over time a just and stable society of free and equal citizens, who remain profoundly divided by reasonable religious, philosophical and moral doctrines’. Buhari like Rawls aims to unite the country in spite of our differences under the liberal ideology.
The philosophical implication of the theory being propagated by Buhari and his party is that every individual in Nigeria will enjoy total freedom and equality and cases of inequality shall be without discrimination. Also the inequalities permitted shall be to the advantage of the less privileged in the society. And with the removal of the concept of state of origin in place of city of residence, all Nigerians will be free to reside in any part of the country as full and equal citizens: CPC will initiate policies to ensure that Nigerians are free to live and work in any part of the country by removing state of origin, tribe, ethnic and religious affiliations and replace those with the state of residence.
In adopting political liberalism thus the Congress for Progressive change is assuming that for political purposes, a plurality of reasonable, yet incompatible comprehensive doctrines existing in the Nigerian society is the normal natural outcome and result of the exercise of human reason within the framework of the free institutions in our communities and a constitutional democratic regime. The importance of this theory in our society cannot therefore be over stressed. It is the application of this theory to the basic structure of the Nigerian society that can adequately take care of all cases of injustice and other social issues. The theory employed to restore the structure thus falls under the broad heading of theories of social justice. And the import of social justice is that it is concerned with the proper and desired functioning of the basic institutions of society which in turn administer the fundamentals of social justice that subsequently lead to the proper regulation of society in favour of all members of society.
That the incidence of social injustice in Nigeria is part of our legacy is to state the obvious and it is easily exemplified by the condition of the Niger delta. For example, Bayelsa state is the most riverine and deltaic state in Nigeria. It is at the centre of the Niger Delta and is rich in oil and gas. It is one of three other states (Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Delta) that account for the bulk of foreign exchange earnings for the country. Sadly however, the state is the least developed and the poorest in terms of economic indices. This situation is not because adequate attention is not being given to the state and the region, it rather because there is a system in place that promotes corruption and financial indiscipline. The system encourages mediocre and thieves to assume political leadership and loot the region recklessly.
This calls to question the morality of governance. The situation of giving out so much and getting so little as is the case with Bayelsa is one of the identified problems in the structure in the Nigerian society and it is not accidental that the goose that lays the golden egg cannot afford a plate of omelette. This situation is a consequence of political decisions and a political system is in place that encourages this kind of imbalance inadvertently and this system is a product of an unjust political constitution. So does it mean that society should exist and thrive rightly or wrongly only by political decisions, political systems and political constitutions? No, and in line with its liberal agenda, Buhari and his party in addressing these issues permanently plan to: bring a permanent peace and solution to the Niger Delta and other conflict prone areas such as plateau, Taraba, Bauchi, Borno and Abia in order to engender national unity and social harmony.
In very advanced democratic society where the main institutions of society are well developed, when people are dissatisfied with the actions of government they show this in their reaction of voting out the government in the next elections. This conclusively reveals that actions and conducts of government go a long way in either enhancing justice or injustice. If the actions of government agencies in the main institutions of society are so vital what can be done to ensure that good actions that will enhance society are carried out? This is the practical aspect and task of political theory. Liberalism as advocated by Buhari and CPC would put in place the strong institutions that will ensure that citizens are not denied the rights to change under-performing governments or elected officers through the ballot box.
In theory Nigeria is a democracy but in practice, it is so only on election days (even though the outcome most times is known before the exercise) that the people have a feel of democracy. This condition is part of the unjust and faulty structure inherited from post colonialism. Being democratic, presupposes the presence of some ideals such as the rule of law, popular consent, political equality, majority rule, popular consultation, freedom of speech and association, open and transparent governance etc.
The virtue of democracy in the society is that it ensures the establishment of liberal principles and one thing the Nigerian society craves is individual liberty, freedom, and human rights. But do they have it? No. So what can they do? The answer seems to be that they must continue to insist and crave for it. It is this idea that should occupy the minds of voters in the forth coming election as the people have the opportunity to assess the different political parties and their candidates and decide on the one that will guarantee protection of their rights and their liberties. The right thing for any state concerning this is to respect and administer the people with regard to equal rights and freedom of speech.
Nigeria being a society populated by people with different circumstances and with states that exhibit either extreme advantage or extreme disadvantage over their peers cannot afford a pure liberalism or even libertarianism. The normal thing would suggest that the federal (central) government moderates the situation in such a way that there is a minimum for individuals and citizens. The responsibility of doing this with transparency and fairness is part of the crisis. In the fashion of political liberalism, which is a version or variant of liberalism and hopes to equalize relations in society where no member will be left behind for any reason, the system of liberalism in Nigerian ought to cater for all members of the society
In theoretical analysis, the diversity of the society requires a strong state or government because the alternative system of small government or state will leave very large parts of the society in abject poverty or abject deprivation. This situation perhaps explains all the failed attempts at fashioning out an acceptable revenue mobilization and allocation formula for the society. These attempts have failed primarily because they are not scientific and theory based. The proper thing would suggest the adoption of a theory on social justice such as political liberalism. As it is, the socio political experiences in the country provides a template for the implementation of the theory.
Rawls in Political Liberalism was of the view that government should be neutral when it comes to different doctrines and beliefs on the conception of the good which in most cases underscores decisions of the government. In doing this government assumes knowledge of what is good for the people without the knowledge that it is actually being arbitrary and dictatorial.
The concept of the good cannot be generalized in a pluralistic society like Nigeria because all the different groups hold different idea of what the good is. The way forward therefore is to think of what is right for the mutual benefit of all members of society. The aim of political liberalism is then to provide a political framework that is neutral between controversial comprehensive doctrines.
The questions of how to achieve social justice and political stability in Nigeria aptly set the tone for the fundamental ideas behind political liberalism as the issue of morality in a single prescription for society may not work in a practical experience of people who hold different moral, philosophical and religious doctrines which are reasonable and justified. In a modern understanding of social engineering it could be rightly asserted that the philosophy of unity in diversity is being advocated.
There is no agreement for now on how society can be so arranged as to satisfy the fair terms of cooperation among free and equal citizens. There is also no known workable formula to achieve a cordial co- existence of diversified people who live in a society on equal terms. So what is the way out? Have we come to the end of the road for social justice? If moral prescriptions will not work, what is the alternative? The alternative is the political concept of justice, rightly interpreted as political liberalism.
The focus of Political Liberalism as advocated by the CPC and its presidential candidate is social justice and the political stability of the Nigerian society within the reality of divisions that are necessary and born out freedom and equality of all Nigerians. It aims to provide the basis for the cohabitation of the different people in our society harmoniously.
Beyond electioneering and sloganeering, however, there are pertinent issues that are germane to the establishment of the liberal state in Nigeria. One of them is the procedure for such arrangement as throughout the discussions and debate about political liberalism, there is a loud silence on the issue of a conference. Buhari and CPC must bear it in mind that just social structures and stable polities do not emanate from fiats and government decrees; they do not emanate from the kind of shenanigans organised by Abacha and OBJ in the name of political conference. The kind of New Vision and New Nigeria Buhari and his party are promoting gain their legitimacy when they are a product of a social contract by the people.
In this respect, Buhari and his party must be ready to organise a sovereign national dialogue by the ethnic groups that populate the country to deliberate on the content of their Nation and society; they agree on the social structure and the principles of justice they prefer and at the end of their deliberations produce what Awolowo in 1968 referred to as the People’s Constitution which should then be subjected to a referendum. This Constitution once approved by the people, becomes a Social Contract that will be the unifying force and would attract total compliance and ensure that the entire country is seen as a unit like the structural-functionalists would describe.
It is the process that will produce the Nigeria of our dream and institute once and for all parameters to judge and administer social justice. Like John Locke would argue, there can be no social contract between the government and the people. The contract is among the people of Nigeria and the state and government are a creation of this social contract and they must work for the people as against the current structure where the people are at the mercy of the state and the government. Government at the end of the restructuring exercise rightly become servant of the people in words and deeds.
As it happened in America, France, Germany and so many other advanced countries, it is this Constitution that will outline the liberties and rights of the Nigerian people and stipulate the procedure for ensuring the administration of these same rights and liberties while sanctions on the denial of any of them are also stipulated. With this, strong social and political institutions would be enshrined and the basic structure of the Nigerian society becomes just and is able to deliver the necessary benefits, goods, opportunities and privileges to the people. Under this arrangement all the rights and liberties due the people are justice-able and the state will be bound to protect them. Right to things like education, private property including oil and gas, security, health, work, welfare, etc and all the freedoms as outlined by the United Nations declaration on human Rights become justice-able in Nigeria.
The conclusion of the matter is that taking the dream and vision of political liberalism beyond rhetoric, Buhari and his party must take Nigeria back to the original position which signifies the starting block and this can be in the form of a National Conference, Sovereign National conference or a National Dialogue with full constitutional powers. National consensus which can be overlapping must be built and the conceptions of justice in addition to the principles of political liberalism will be agreed on making Nigeria a well ordered society which is just and stable.
If Buhari and CPC can do this then forever they will be remembered as the architects of the modern Nigeria. As for other parties especially the PDP, they remain shadows and parties that have no real substance to offer the people of Nigeria.