Insecurity in Nigeria: Evidence of a Failed Social Contract

Insecurity in Nigeria. Evidence of a Failed Social Contract

I’ve had a draft of this post on my blog for ages, but I wasn’t sure it was an appropriate topic for a blog. Yesterday, I heard about the gruesome lynching of Deborah in the Shehu Shagari College of Education by an angry mob of students. Her offence? Blasphemy. It further drove home the point that insecurity in Nigeria today is evidence of a failed social contract, and it motivated me to complete and release this post.

If you live in Nigeria, you will be well aware that the security situation is bad. We have separatist agitations in the South East, the Boko Haram crisis in the North East, militancy over oil production in the South South, farmer-herder conflicts in the North Central, and banditry, gun violence, and kidnappings elsewhere.

According to the social contract theory developed by Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, political authority is established by a tacit agreement between citizens and the government, whereby citizens willingly surrender some of their natural rights and willingly give power to a higher authority (i.e. the government), in return for protection from that authority. According to Thomas Hobbes, this is the only way to avoid the “state of nature” in which life would be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” because everyone would be struggling for their own self-preservation.

Most modern societies adopt the social contract theory implicitly. In Nigeria, this theory is embedded in section 14(2) of the 1999 Constitution:

It is hereby, accordingly, declared that –

(a) sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria from whom government through this Constitution derives all its powers and authority;

(b) the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government; and

(c) the participation by the people in their government shall be ensured in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution.

Babalola explains that when a government can successfully provide both prosperity and security to a citizen, the social contract is fulfilled. However, given the rampant insecurity in the country, it appears that this social contract has not been fulfilled in Nigeria. Virtually every area of the country has been affected by insecurity, to the extent that news of murders, robberies, kidnappings, and the like have become commonplace. It is almost as if we have become desensitised to the news, unless something truly gruesome happens.  

I think the death of Deborah was particularly shocking, because it wasn’t committed by the regular ‘bandits’ or ‘gunmen’ that we hear about. It was committed by university students, in a university building. She was stoned, matcheted, and burned in broad daylight, and no one came to her aid. Her killers even boasted on camera about killing her.

I’m not even here to talk about their misguided motivations, which they sought to justify in the name of religion. What shocks me the most is the manner in which the lynching was carried out – without any fear of retribution. Against this context, one wonders whether we have not reverted to the “state of nature” described by Hobbes. It cannot be doubted that the government in Nigeria has failed in their primary purpose of upholding the security and welfare of the people.

The educational system –  also part of the government’s responsibility – can also take some of the blame. I watched the video of her killers, and I could not see university students. I saw brutes and savages, who lacked any form of humanity and were capable of committing the most heinous crimes. How did these people pass through nursery, primary, and secondary school to get to the university? How were they so comfortable to kill in broad daylight in the university building? How was no university staff able to stop the process or intervene before she died? There are so many questions.

I am inclined to agree with Babalola’s suggestion that a sovereign national conference should be organised, aimed at revisiting the security and institutional structure of Nigeria. This is necessary because the increasing levels of insecurity demonstrate starkly that our current security structure is ineffective. In fact, we need to go beyond security and re-organise other structures in Nigeria, including those related to education, the economy, and politics. This is because they are all interconnected, as the killing of Deborah by university students clearly shows.

Ultimately, Nigeria failed Deborah, the Shehu Shagari College of Education failed Deborah, and the university students failed Deborah. For now, I can only hope that Deborah’s friends and family are somehow able to find comfort in these very unfortunate circumstances.

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2 thoughts on “Insecurity in Nigeria: Evidence of a Failed Social Contract

  1. Hm, interesting hearing about issues in Nigeria from the perspective of law/a lawyer. Learning interesting things 🙂.

    It’ll probably also help to set up (a) council(s) specifically to address religion-themed conflict. A good proportion of conflict in the country has religious underpinnings, so a body comprising of representatives from different religions experienced at navigating conflict – such a body should be specially capable of handling the nuance of religious tensions and hopefully quelling violence.

    That could help even at the sub-government level – if universities have say, a specific body that addresses religious tensions in the institutions, then given that they’re effective, people could come to trust the judgement of this body enough not to take such matters into their own hands.

    Hopefully all that is something that could help the government/institutions better fulfil their part of the social contract.

    Btw stuff like this might already exist, but I’m not sure how active/effective they are. They’re not effective at the national level- that’s pretty clear though.

    Again, very interesting post 🙂.

    Liked by 1 person

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