• Tuesday, April 16, 2024
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BusinessDay

Is it our culture, constitution or the citizens?

Is it our culture, constitution or the citizens?

One approach to the history of how sovereign states create change is to review the variables of culture, constitution, and the character of citizens in building their country. The concept of statehood implies a mutual undertaking between the political body and its constituent members. Each individual owes a duty to the whole of which he or she forms a part. It is therefore the undertaking of each citizen within the state that forms the general will of the state to create the kind of change it desires.

Every country must be clear on the construct and kind of change it seeks; it is such clarity that influences the country’s culture of politics, policies, governance, and citizens’ engagement, among other factors of social transformation. There is no doubt that, to a large extent, cultural and constitutional outcomes are shaped by elite consensus, exemplary leadership, and the rule of law. Since there are many roads to a village market, we shall explore all roads that lead to Nigeria’s development, focusing on culture, constitution, and citizens’ character.

A country’s constitution sets out the principles and values upon which it is organised and governed. The 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) has been easily referred to as the cardinal clog on the wheel of Nigeria’s progress, with some insisting that it is not “a people’s constitution.” No doubt, in terms of political architecture, if Nigeria seeks to practise federalism, a constitution that gives excessive powers to the central government under the exclusive legislative list, with 68 items reserved under the federal government’s exclusive control, is more unitary than federal. Albeit, the constitution with 320 clauses and six schedules, making broad and comprehensive provisions for certainty in governing Nigeria, particularly in its chapter two, which provides for development rights through the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy, cannot be adjudged to be the cardinal impediment, except for the inability of those entrusted with the powers to exercise and implement its current form for the common good of Nigeria and Nigerians.

Notwithstanding that Section 6(6)(c) makes the entire chapter non-justiciable, any country with the right citizens as its leaders will implement the chapter for the public good without being judicially compelled to do so. The morality that makes law possible is the character of the citizens and not endless amendments to the constitution, though regular and rational amendments are necessary for changing social realities. In the last 24 years, Nigeria has made at least 30 alterations to the constitution, yet we can neither account for the N24.85 billion we have spent in the process nor has the process yielded any development results for Nigeria.

After Nigeria’s independence, the failure of individual leaders, particularly those entrusted by the public, led to a failure of leadership. Chinua Achebe identified this as the root of Nigeria’s problem, stating that leaders were unwilling to take personal responsibility and challenge the public. This led to a character crisis among citizens, who now view success through opportunism, materialism, and corruption, with only a few willing to hold the system accountable.

Today, the trouble with Nigeria is the character crisis, caused by prolonged years of the government’s inability to build a functional country that works for everyone. We are now on a trajectory where everyone strives to survive by any means possible, even if it is through corruption or other means harmful to our collective good. In fact, almost everyone wants to succeed faster than the process requires. Through patronage, billionaires have been made out of unproductive enterprises, procurement and contract corruption, and sheer exploitation of the poorest of the poor. But we must never forget that the very idea of democracy not being divine presupposes that we, the people, as the masters of our socio-economic and political fate, can improve the condition of our lives if we work together to achieve our shared purpose.

Nigeria’s failure to function is attributed to collective leadership rather than an elite narrative that blames ethnicity, religion, and constitution clauses. The Nigerian political elite has effectively mobilised the mob against the mob to sustain their interests. This must end. It is no longer fashionable to teach students that colonialism and imperialism are the reasons for underdevelopment.

Instead, individuals have a moral obligation to change the trajectory of the state towards a more humane, civilised, productive, safe, and prosperous future. The National Assembly spends one billion naira a year on constitutional amendments. The focus should be on transforming Nigeria into a more humane, civilised, productive, safe, and prosperous future.

Perhaps if we all focus on and follow the character and legacies of some Nigerians whose patriotism, enterprises, and efficiency at whatever they do have helped place Nigeria on the map of excellence, honesty, and productivity, we will accept less of the elite narrative around skewed constitutional clauses, ethnicity, religion, and class divisions that continue to prevent us from reaching our full sovereign potential.

It is time to practise and uphold our moral and ethical compass as enshrined by Section 23 of the Constitution, focusing on “discipline, integrity, dignity of labour, social justice, religious tolerance, self-reliance, and patriotism.” The future of Nigeria does not lie in any legal document alone; it lies in the culture and character of citizens in executing the contents of the constitutional document. If we can fix our character, we can influence a culture of change that will make the Constitution work for all of us. Let’s give our constitution the life it deserves.

God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.