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How Social Contract Theory influences Nigerian Democracy

Democracy as defined by a former American President, Abraham Lincoln (1809-1965) is “government of the people, by the people, for the people”. Put it another way, it is government that the people feel its presence, get involved and enjoy its influences.

The social contract theory on the other hand as propagated by Louise Rusling, can be defined loosely as a sort of hypothetical or actual agreement between society and its state. This agreement has been said to be responsible for the bases of our moral decisions and stances. In other words, we merely abide by the governments rules and regulations in the hope that others will do the same, subsequently leading to a more secure and comfortable life.

Rousseau on his part begins the social contract theory with the notable phrase “Man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains” asserting that the solution of legitimate authority is the “social contract”, an agreement by which the people band together for their mutual preservation.

How then does this theory of social contract have a place in the Nigeria’s modern democracy? What influence(s) does it have in our modern day Constitution and democracy? How can it help in solving some problems in this country? Relevant sections of the constitution will be cited to help us bring out the thrust of this analysis.

Apparently, a true reflection of elements of social contract theory in democracy is clearly seen in the wordings of section 14 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal republic of Nigeria, as amended. A little perusal of its subsection will suffice in buttressing this assertion.

Section 14(2)(a) states: “sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria from whom government through this Constitution derives all its powers and authority”. This clearly shows that the “people” cannot be excluded in the practice of ideal and genuine democracy in Nigeria. Beyond that, section 14(2)(c) expressly guarantees the participation of the people in government.

In correlation, since the constitution as the ground norm derives its powers from the people, it sets the yardstick and parameter for the performances of its government which will enable the people to see and measure the effectiveness, expediency, transparency and flaws of the constituted authorities they summit their powers and resources to, to be used in their behalf.

Chapter 2 of the constitution (sections 12-24) has also provided for fundamental objectives and directive principles of states policy. In simple terms, it provides for the duties of both the government and citizens of the country. These include economic, political, social, educational, environmental, foreign policy objectives etc. These have ipso facto formed the basis of government performance to the people.

Though by the provision of section 6(6)(c) of the constitution, these objectives cannot be challenged in any law court, but it has set the yardstick for performance.

It states: “shall not except as otherwise provided by this Constitution, extend to any issue or question as to whether any act of omission by any authority or person or as to whether any law or any judicial decision is in conformity with the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy set out in Chapter II of this Constitution”

From the forgoing analysis, government performances should be measured based on what they should do (their statutory responsibilities) and not on baseless sentiments like unnecessary comparisons to her sister states or States, comparison with the past authorities etc.

It is so clueless, unreasonable, uncouth and shameless that the credibility and competence of government is now subjected to personal reasoning, past administration formula than the standards set by law.

The fact that others have not been doing is not a defence and does not in any way justify the incompetence and failures of a present administration in discharging its statutory responsibilities that is paid for. A wrong or crime can never be justified by the influx of wrong doings and criminality in detriment of its set standard.

People should stop behaving like they will die if governmental authorities are questioned for an unreasonable act or decision. The people have the constitutional right of doing so. Participation in government must not at all time be in tandem with the trending order of the day, it may differ to some extent.

It should also be borne in mind that heaven will not fall if governments are criticised. The right of constructive criticism is shielded by section 38 of the Nigerian constitution.

As long as democracy is concerned, public opinions cannot be done away with; government must always listen to the cries, comments and criticisms of its people. Doctrine of check and balances, rule of law, supremacy of law will always be employed in democracy.

Most importantly, governance should be separated from electioneering, propaganda and sentiments. The constitution is the basis of governance in the country as against personal idiosyncrasies and sentiments. A country with constitution without constitutionalism is like a sailor or pilot without a compass

Summarily, the government should always strike an acceptable balance between itself the people, the masses should be carried along, and social welfare of the people should always be of concern to the government.

Laws and powers should not always be a shield to the government and at another phase a sword to the authorities at the detriment of the masses.  We are all humans who demands fair treatments from others.

“All things, therefore, that you want men to do to you, you also must do to them. This, in fact, is what the Law and the Prophets mean”- Matt 7:12

Thank you.

Edikan Ekanem is a student of University of Uyo, a contemporary writer and a columnist who remains politically neutral. He can be reached at 08130015006 or

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