Sokoto AANI Lecture 2021:
Responsibilities of the State for a Stable Democratic Polity in Nigeria: Challenges and Prospects
By Attahiru Muhammadu Jega, OFR
Professor, Department of Political Science, Bayero University, Kano
In the philosophical and ideological traditions of the western liberal democracy, which Nigeria emulates, the primary responsibilities of the State for a stable democratic polity are four (4) as follows:
1. Protecting lives and property of citizens
2. Regulating relations amongst citizens in all spheres of the political
economy and providing impartial arbitration and adjudication
3. Efficiently harnessing and effectively utilizing societal resources to
address the fundamental needs and aspirations of the citizens
4. Defending the territorial integrity of the country against incursions and invasion; indeed, against any threat, from within or from external sources.
To be able to discharge these responsibilities efficiently, effectively and creditably, the state has administrative, legislative and judicial structures and institutions to rely upon in the management of societal relations and resources.
It also has the power to legitimately use force, using police, armed forces and a range of other security agencies, to support its role, obligation and responsibilities.
Hence, in the liberal democratic traditions, the state is protector and defender of all citizens: it is supposed to protect the weak from the strong; the poor from the rich, the powerful from the powerless, and so on. On matters of regulation,
arbitration, adjudication and enjoyment of goods and services delivered by the state (e.g. in respect of health education, social welfare, etc.) all citizens are supposed to be equal before the law, and subject to the Rule of Law, with equality of opportunity, and not to be subjected to the arbitrariness of the Rule of Man.
That is why a country has a constitution, the supreme body of human law, complimented by parliamentary Acts/legislations and the citizens have the sovereign power under the laws to elect their representatives for a defined period into legislative and executive positions, with a corresponding power to recall them, before the end of their tenure, if they are deemed to be
misrepresenting their constituents or not discharging their constitutionally
Historical and Contextual Analysis
Nigeria was placed within the western liberal democratic trajectory under British colonial rule, especially from 1922 to 1960. The politics of decolonization further entrenched this legacy, through a series of constitutional conferences
leading to the granting of independence.
With independence in 1960, we retained the structures and institutions, with the trappings and rituals of liberal democracy introduced through colonial rule, and consolidated them in the republican constitution of 1963, using the Westminster Parliamentary model of liberal democracy.
Since then, the Nigerian state has articulated its responsibilities as listed above and has striven to discharge them, although tentatively, and epileptically; and certainly not substantively. Politics in the First republic soon degenerated and
began to deviate from the prescriptions and practice of liberal democracy, with attendant political chaos, arbitrariness and violence, heading towards anarchy.
The military intervened barely six years after independence, suspended the constitution, halted any pretensions to liberal democracy, and ruled arbitrarily and despotically. On and off, the military ruled for upwards of 32 years, until
1999, when they returned Nigeria to civil democratic rule, again under the liberal democratic constitutional framework, but using the American Presidential system (experimentation with which commenced from 1979 to 1983), instead of the Westminster parliamentary model.
For the past 21 years, while back again on the liberal democratic trajectory, the Nigerian state has systematically been abnegating its responsibilities in all the core 4 areas listed above. This may be partly on account of the legacies of prolonged military rule, partly due to inability to adapt the system to our Nigerian traditional values and partly because of the way and manner our elite engage in politics, mobilizing ethnic and religious identities in spite of the core values of citizenship and unity in diversity as constitutionally enshrined.
Thus, since 1999:
– The Nigerian state has increasingly been incapable of protecting the lives
and property of its citizens
– Its administrative, legislative, judicial and security structures, institutions and systems are very weak, feeble and increasingly incapable of
supporting the discharge its core responsibilities; the state institutions could be said to be virtually decomposed
– The state’s role in regulation, arbitration, and adjudication is no longer impartial, but either self-serving or politically motivated or based on
profiteering; justice and policing are increasingly cash-and-carry, in favour of the highest bidder
– The state seems to lack the competence and ability to protect citizens
from internal and external threats. Insurgents are threating its territorial
integrity and bandits and other types of criminals are creating, and
occupying, vast ungovernable spaces throughout the country.
– As the state loses capacity to enforce laws and regulations, or mediate
and arbitrate conflicts, there is a massive resurgence of violent ethnic and
religious mobilization, which in itself is threating to dismember the
– And the state, at all levels (federal, state and local), has been bedevilled
by poor leadership and bad governance, thereby failing to appropriately
harness societal resources efficiently, and therefore failing to use these to
effectively address the fundamental needs and aspirations of the citizens.
– Those who preside over and manage state institutions, and structures
whether elected or appointed, have been doing it poorly, generally
incompetently often selfishly and greedily, thereby, either wasting,
misapplying, misappropriating and/or stealing and vandalizing public
As a result of the serial failure of the Nigerian state to live up to the philosophical
and ideological expectations of the liberal democratic traditions, which it
imbibes and espouses, the Nigerian polity is very unstable, fragile and weak. The corporate entity of the country is now being threatened with dismemberment, perhaps more than ever before.
It is not an over-exaggeration to say that Nigeria is ‘inching’ towards the
precipice and it is time to apply the brakes to avoid a catastrophe that would negatively affect all citizens, including those who seem to want and are agitating for the country’s breakup.
What’s to be done?
It is, no doubt, desirable to make Nigeria a Stable Democratic Polity and the
Nigerian State has a primary role to bring this about. But the Nigerian state as it
currently is, needs to be redeemed and reformed, and its capacity strengthened
for it to be able to do this appropriately.
The Nigerian state needs to be cured of bad governance and infused with the
values of good democratic governance for it to regain its strength and capacity
to discharge its traditional responsibilities under a liberal democratic dispensation. State institutions need to be reformed and state officials whether
elected or appointed need to be reoriented towards good governance and effective and efficient discharge of the responsibilities and obligations of the
state towards it citizens.
The Nigerian state is currently conquered and occupied, with perhaps very few
exceptions, by mostly vandals and bandits interested only in accessing the public treasury for their personal aggrandizement, without any belief in or
commitment to the basic tenets of liberal democracy, in terms of rule of law;
transparent and accountable governance, participatory democracy, popular representation, and conduct of elections with credibility and integrity. If and when essentially undemocratic elements commandeer the state for selfish and self-serving objectives, there is little if any hope of developing and entrenching a stable democratic polity. On the contrary the country would only be a galore of crises and conflicts, violence and anarchy, underdevelopment and chronic instability.
This situation has to change. The earlier it changes the better. All hands need to
be on deck to bring this change about.
Therefore, for the situation to change positively, specifically, Nigeria needs:
1. More, and more, good, experienced, competent, selfless people, who
have integrity and commitment to democratic principles in the political
2. A reformed and improved electoral process, managed by independent
EMBs and headed by people with integrity, that would ensure that the
true legitimate choices of the people are the ones who emerge as their
elected representatives in both the legislative and executive branches.
3. Effective penalties and sanctions against all those politicians/officials/citizens who use money and or violence to truncate the legitimate choices of citizens in the electoral process.
4. Effective political and voter education to sensitize citizens about the value
of their votes and the need to ensure that they vote for their legitimate
choices regardless of inducement, threats, violence, etc.
5. To strengthen the legal capacity of citizens, and empower them to hold
elected representatives to account and to recall them if necessary.
6. To deconcentrate power and resources from the federal government to states and local governments, with adequate measures and appropriate
sanctions to ensure effective and transparent utilization of these
additional powers and resources to state and local tiers of governance.
7. To strengthen the fight against corruption, with strict penalties, at all tiers and levels of governance
8. To build capacity for citizens engagement and oversight, through civil
society and non-governmental organizations, of government policies,
programmes and projects in all tiers/levels of governance.
Challenges and Prospects
Given the fact that things have been so bad for long, with regards to the erosion
of the capacity of the Nigerian state to discharge its traditional responsibilities
and make Nigeria a stable democratic polity, halting and reversing the trend in
the right direction would be challenging indeed. Those who are used to the old
order and are benefiting from it would struggle to maintain the status quo ante.
Many citizens have become fatalistically resigned to the current situation due to
a combination of distorted religious beliefs, poverty, disempowerment and total loss of faith in the democratization and electoral processes. And the leadership recruitment process in the political parties, especially the dominant ones, is skewed in favour of ‘money bags’, ‘godfathers’, party bureaucrats, and governors, who literally install their favourite candidates and clients.
Nonetheless, resilient, concrete and actionable citizens’ mobilization on the
basis of right vs. wrong, good vs. evil and integrity vs. greed and selfishness, by
an organized group of responsible, respectable, selfless citizens could go a long way to address these challenges. There are many good people dispersed in the dominant political parties and they are overwhelmed by the control and
activities of the bad and selfishly motivated people, such that they could only be frustrated and marginalized, or they become amenable to “joining them” since they “cannot beat them” in their dishonourable machinations. Such good
people, in bad company, need to act in accordance with the dictates of their
conscience, search for and find accommodation in a more desirable
congregation of decent and publicly motivated citizens; so that pooling their
resourcefulness and abilities, they could bring about the desirable change that
our country desperately needs.
Therefore, changing the current situation, as challenging and difficult as it might
seem, is not impossible. With courage, resilience, determination and focused
mobilization, sensitization and enlightenment of citizens to recognize what is right and to stand up against evil, it may be difficult, but doable.
All citizens, with basic common decency, who see the need for a stable
democratic polity in Nigeria, who want a halt of the current decay, conflicts and
destabilization, need to organize on a common platform for credible reforms of politics and governance in our country Nigeria. A lot can be done between now
and 2023, in the short-term, if we address our minds and apply our energies in
the right direction.