By Ambassador Usman Sarki
The redeeming feature of civil society is its humanizing effect on both the citizens and the state, with the assurances of the provision of adequate recourse to justice and mechanisms for addressing grievances and complaints. Civic humanism, therefore, should be constructed upon the availability of genuine recourse towards obtaining justice and redress of complaints. Without these attributes society itself becomes atrophied and ossified in its significance as a collective and a commonwealth.
Civic humanism buttressed by the prudent exercise and enjoyment rights, liberty and freedom must be made to be the essence of a purposeful democratic government in Nigeria. This third essay in the series will dwell chiefly on this aspect of civil society and democracy. Civil society rests on the tripod of good laws, effective governance and personal responsibility towards upholding the established order. These three also form what can be termed the “national character” of members of a civil society and a country.
Upon pondering on the open crisis of identity that we are witnessing in Nigeria today, it is safe to surmise that we are a nation that is devoid of a “national character” on account of our failure to establish a humanist society based on civic institutions. Civil society “and the salutary curbs it placed on the individual” as one writer noted, is now no longer a significant phenomenon in Nigeria that can be said to drive a humanistic trend in both governance and other sublime pursuits like the organisation of the economy.
On the contrary, civil society can now be ascertained to be a dead hand that is stifling the development of the country in every way imaginable, on account of the cynicism and lack of patriotism that it is intrinsically imbued with across the country. There is a uniform disillusionment now in virtually everything that has to do with the government and the rest of civil society. There is even little discernible trend in improvement of anything apart from pockets of self-advancing enterprises here and there, that do not add up to a general rejuvenation of the country positively.
The dead uniformity of civil society has accumulated to the extent that the country can be considered a graveyard of happiness and joyful rejuvenation which in reality form the essence of the civic humanist philosophy that places the human condition at the center of all societal endeavours. Without any apparent sense of happiness and enjoyment of being alive, the alternative sensation of a doomsday foreboding is what is left to be experienced.
The moral bankruptcy of civil society in Nigeria has brought a sense of lack of accountability to anything and to anybody. This barrenness of morality has also made it possible for every known red line of individual responsibility to be crossed, violated and trampled underfoot. Without the gentle restraints set by moral precepts and examples, as well as the conventional attachment to virtuous pursuits and practices, all things forbidden have now become acceptable; and corruption and abuse of personal discretion have now become universally tolerated and even legitimized and entrenched.
The downfall of civil society is the precursor to the downfall of society itself, which is also the beginning of the end of the “nation” as we know it. This timeliness of being is manifested in the increasing disillusionment about the survival of the country and our morbid and pathological preoccupation with its downfall and dissolution as for instance, in the cacophony of noises that usually accompanied the “restructuring” debate in Nigeria. The obliteration of ethical boundaries has finally brought down the edifice of civil society crushing on our heads, whereby today insecurity has become its most egregious, severe and palpable manifestation everywhere.
All other cares and concerns are mere sidelines to this sad and dangerous reality of our collective being. We are now living in a wasteland that is barren of ideas and devoid of motivation for higher purposes of existence. Instead, we have all been reduced to scavenge and rummage around for the barest of necessities in the process of which we have lost the sense of loftiness and grandeur of life and its purpose. We are no longer a civilized and civilizing people like our forefathers had been. We are no more than an appendage of others’ achievements riding parasitically on their backs to scavenge for the remains of their intellectual and material productions and accomplishments.
We are only recipients and consumers of the labour and diligence of others have produced while we languish in indifferent existence in our forlorn and barren wasteland of nothingness. Politics, that noblest of endeavours in a civil society which is self-conscious and interested in itself and its progress, has been rendered in our own case into an incubus that is sitting on the chest of our progress thereby stifling and degrading us in various ways. One such a manner is the selection of leadership and succession arrangements in governance.
Instead of making politics to serve the ends of civil society, it is now the other way round, triggering a cascading avalanche of dissipated energy that leaves everyone and everything disappointed and exhausted even before we begin embarking on any noble enterprise. This exhausted energy has sapped our mental resources as well, whereby correct thinking has become a monumental task of immense exertion and hence difficult to perform. Where thinking has been rendered mechanical and virtually impossible, then recovery from a situation of loss and stagnation becomes an impossibility.
Perpetuating civil society must entail observing the principle that every edifice that we build carries within it the seeds of its eventual destruction. This dialectical reasoning should now make us become sensitive to the importance of maintenance of the edifice of civil society across the progress of generations, whereby cracks and fissures can be mended and the solidification of the edifice can be ensured over time. This masonry work can only be performed by adhering to the principles and tenets of good governance and observance of democracy both in its form and its spirit. Justice, equity and fairness are the foundations of all civil societies which should under all circumstances be entrenched in our system.
The mere fact of extending franchise to people and then alienating them in the conduct of governance proper does not amount to democracy. The people must be placed at the center of the process of governance and not at its periphery. Decisions and choices made should conform with the overall interest and destiny of the people and be endorsed by them through a genuinely consultative process. In this way, real civil society can be established and the humanizing benefits of democratic governance can be extended to each and every individual in the commonwealth.
The tripod of magisterial prerogatives, ministerial responsibility and peoples’ enthusiasm are the foundations on which democracy and civil societies are built. These in turn are upheld by accountability of all the three constituent elements to each other thereby creating a synergistic affiliation that is regularly nourished by elections and the other manifestations of democratic rule. The enjoyment of freedom and liberty will now no longer be a process that is fraught with danger from both the state and the populace, but a naturally flowing attribute of the commonwealth that is engendered by the traditions of the civic humanism that will now be entrenched in the system.