I wrote a while ago about the need for a new social contract for Nigeria. Since then, a lot has been said in the media and other fora about the need to convene a sovereign national convention to determine the future and constitution of the Federal Republic.
A few questions and objections have also been raised, in two areas thus:
- How feasible is it? – How would it be convened, moderated, and legitimized?
- Wouldn’t it break up Nigeria? – If the different parts of the country are given the opportunity to discuss their commitment to a united nation, wouldn’t they just opt to walk away from the federation?
- There is no silver bullet to Nigeria’s problems, why is this necessary?
Given that the subject of a social contract is inalienably connected to the subject of an autochthonous constitution, I am going address some of these issues in this piece.
First of all, for the purpose of context, a social contract is an intangible device intended to justify the appropriate relationship between individuals and their governments. Social contract arguments assert that individuals unite into political societies by a process of mutual consent, agreeing to abide by common rules and accept corresponding duties to protect themselves and one another from violence and other kinds of harm.
Therefore, a social contract captures the intangible values for which we are willing to come together as a collective and the conditions strong enough to justify our consent to relinquish our natural liberties or allegiances to a new collective order.
Think about it: What will make Nigeria a worthwhile project for you? Is it social attributes like peace, equality, security? Or are some economic thresholds important too? Which values, if not prioritized, will you consider to be deal breakers? What are you willing to contribute to make that Nigeria a reality? What do you expect others to contribute too? What kind of institutions would you trust to lead us in this collective project? How would these institutions be empowered to lead? What commitments must these institutions make to you that serves as their mandate? What instruments do you believe will be sufficient to constrain these institutions, just in case they stray from their commitments?
A lot of this may have been done before, but we probably need to think about this again, or renew our commitment to the spirit of the work that has been done before.
This kind of thinking leads to a social contract. This is why a social contract precedes a constitution. It speaks to the very conditions under which the preamble to a people’s constitution – “We the people…” – can be said to be true.
Given the above thoughts, I believe the process of relaying the foundations of our federation should be in the following order:
- Different interest groups begin to consult among themselves to establish the conditions for a social contract. For instance, the youth – particularly those active on social media – can establish a website to collate opinions on what should be the national set of values. This can lead to a statement of values and conditions.
- A joint statement by the National Assembly appointing a “Committee of Experts” to gather views and submissions from the public.
- The Committee will be mandated to engage in extensive consultations with the general public including multiple public hearings involving written and oral submissions.
- This is where different interest groups, like the youth in the example above, can come and make presentations or submissions.
- Submissions on values and conditions for a federation from different interest groups will speak to a social contract. The text of the new constitution must then be seen to conform to the values promoted by the majority of the people both in letter and in spirit.
- The process can be supported by an act or whatever 1999 constitutional amendments enabling the National Assembly to engage in this unique process to solicit constitutional opinions from the people.
- The mandate of the committee should include the consideration of the 1963 constitution as being the last known covenant entered into by the collective under no conditions of duress.
- Following televised consultations with the public, the Committee will submit a draft text to the National Assembly for adoption.
- Following adoption by the National Assembly, the text should now be subjected to a referendum to establish its sovereignty.
- Like the 1963 constitution, the text of the new constitution can contain a transitional section that governs the smooth transition of structures, positions and entities from the 1999 constitution to the new dispensation.
- The by-passing of the state houses of assembly is necessary because the existence of 36 different states with constitutional votes is not recognized by the last covenant that was effected under conditions of free will, hence these entities cannot confer sovereignty on the new text.
Would it break up Nigeria?
Frankly, I do not know this for sure, but I sincerely hope not. However, I believe that given the current situation in the country, it is important that the question of National Unity and the conditions for a federation should be put to the people’s court. There is no point saying “One Nigeria” if majority of Nigerians don’t want a federation. U cannot force a group of people to be united if they really don’t want to be. However, if what I believe bears out, an overwhelming vote in favor of conditional unity could be a very good boost to peace in the country.
There are many questions that remain and indeed even if this process is successful, there will still be more questions to answer. In that sense, there is no silver bullet. There are no solutions to national issues that you can apply, then sit back and watch all your dreams come true. That would be highly delusional. But a silver-bullet in terms of what could we do to get each other to come around on the same side of the table and start building this nation together in the same direction rather than in different ethnic or personal directions can exist. And this might just be our best shot at it.
Let me know what you think!