A Purpose for Government

Note: You should probably read my earlier blog posts as a background for understanding this one. Also, part 1 and part 2 of my recent article for YNaija!

pur·pose  (pûrps) n.The object toward which one strives or for which something exists; an aim or a goal

It is clear that government is an absolute necessity, and that the People must cede some of their natural rights in order to give it its essential powers” – Publius (John Jay) – Federalist Papers #2

I am writing this because I am convinced that the flawed process of the birthing of our Nigerian Federation robbed the people of a collective understanding and defining what Government really means and what it’s purpose should be. The end result is that, to the average citizen, the institution of government is mystified. Therefore, I am going to take the liberty to justify the need for a government from first principles – and in so doing, hopefully pass on the understanding of how a true need and purpose for government evolves from the expectations, sacrosanct values and the will of free citizens.

Let’s imagine that in this world with no government, I’m typing this article for you on my laptop right now. And let’s imagine that there’s a very large man–we’ll call him Blaze–who doesn’t especially like my writing, so he walks in, throws the laptop on the floor, stomps it into little pieces, and leaves. And before leaving, Blaze tells me that if I write anything else he doesn’t like, he’ll do to me what he did to my laptop.

Well, in doing that he just established something very much like his own government. It is now, as a matter of practice, against Blaze’s law for me to write things that Blaze doesn’t like. The penalty is severe, enforcement fairly certain (at least within this jurisdiction). And who’s going to stop him? Certainly not me; I’m smaller and less violent than he is.

But Blaze isn’t really the biggest problem in this no-government world anyway. The real problem is a really greedy, heavily armed guy–we’ll call him Kpoxalot–who has learned that if he steals money and then hires enough muscle with his ill-gotten gains, he can demand goods and services from every business in town, take anything he wants, and make almost anybody do whatever he says. And since there’s no authority higher than Kpoxalot that can make him stop what he’s doing, this jerk just literally created his own government–what political theorists refer to as a despotism, a government ruled by a despot (which is essentially just another word for a tyrant). In this kind of government, the power flows from the top to the bottom. Your rights are what the person at the top graciously extends to you.

If we don’t want Kpoxalot in charge, we have to all get together and agree to do something to prevent him from continuing to run our lives. And that agreement itself is a government.

In other words: The reason we come together to form citizen governments is to protect us from other, worse power structures that would otherwise form in our midst and deprive us of our rights (or sacrosanct values).

In order to do this properly, we must first define these rights and agree that we all need them protected. Then, we must design an institution, government, ensuring that this institution is capable of protecting (or guaranteeing the protection of) these rights. Then, we must mandate this institution to guard and promote these fundamental rights (and values) we have agreed on.

Hence, the most fundamental criteria for government is purpose.

It is this purpose, which if sufficiently aligned to what the people value, that will inform the willingness of the citizens to not only continue to empower their government by ceding to it some of their natural rights, but to continually watch and monitor this government to ensure it always represents what they value.

A government created, defined and constrained in this manner derives its power from the people and will be people oriented by origin and nature. In other words, the power would flow from the bottom to the top – not the other way around.

So here’s my assignment to you:

  1. What was the purpose for forming and amalgamating Nigeria in 1914?
  2. How was that purpose aligned with what the citizens value?
  3. What was the social contract (constitution) that emerged out of the efforts of Nigeria’s self-government leading to 1960?
  4. How different is that social contract from what we have in effect today? What are the reasons why?
  5. What is your best guess of the most sacrosanct values of the citizens of the Federal Republic of Nigeria? Justify why you think these values are considered sacrosanct.

This is no JAMB or WAEC… no need for long essay. Just say what you know and what you think in the comment box below.

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