SOCIAL CONTRACT IN JEAN JACQUES ROUSSEAU – IMPLICATIONS FOR NIGERIAN DEMOCRACY
It is in the nature of man as a social being to live together in a community. But, to achieve his utmost fulfilment, man desires to live in peace and harmony with his environment, persons and things alike. Hence, every nation continues to search for a workable system that would permit her citizens to live together in peace as much as possible. It is this quest by man for harmonious living that Rousseau addressed in his Social Contract, which he also refers to as: ‘the Principles of political right;’ a living reality which must be found present wherever there is a legitimate government. This living reality according to S.E. Stumpf, is the fundamental principle underlying a political association; this principle helps to overcome the lawlessness of absolute licence and assures liberty, because people willingly adjust their conduct to harmonise with the legitimate freedom of others.1
By this Rousseau seems set to present a prototype for all legitimate governments, which when conformed to, the sky would be the limit of the political freedom, liberty, equality and rule of law to be witnessed therein. And even Rousseau emphasised that no demarcation should exist between morality and politics. On this statement is hinged the belief that Rousseau inspired the French revolution of 1789.
However, the theory of social contract is so important in social and political philosophy that it did not start from Rousseau. Political philosophers like Plato, Hobbes and Locke had used it to situate the origin of the civil society. Plato holds that the origin of the state is a reflection of people’s economic needs; “a state comes into existence because no individual is self-sufficing; we all have many needs,” there must, therefore be a division of labour.2 Thomas Hobbes in his Leviathan says of people giving up their rights of governing themselves, to this man or to this assembly of men, who undertakes the function of protecting man from the strife and war of the state of nature, which he says leaves “the life of man solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”3 On the other hand, John Locke talks of man uniting into a commonwealth and placing themselves under government, for the preservation of their property. ‘Property,’ here in Locke’s thought refers to ‘lives, liberty and estates.’ 4
Rousseau prefers to take a middle position on the thoughts of his predecessors. He presents the problem of social contract as not simply to find a form of association, which will protect the persons, and goods of each member. But also to find an association in which each member will still obey himself and remain as free as before.5 This point brings out the reason why the peoples’ consent becomes important in major decisions affecting them. Thus, Rousseau summarises the essence of the social contract in these words:
Each of us puts his person and all his power in common under the supreme direction of the general will, and, in our corporate capacity, we receive each member as an indivisible part of the whole.6
The general will he referred to is the will of the “Sovereign”, where the sovereign stands for the total number of citizens of a given society. Such being the case, the general will of the sovereign is the single will, which reflects the sum of the wills of all the individual citizens.
Now, the thoughts espoused by Rousseau in his social contract have some affinity with the principles of democracy, especially the use he made of the general will. These principles of democracy are distinctly shown in the definition of democracy, given by the Chambers Twenty-first Century Dictionary as ‘a form of government in which the people govern themselves or elect representatives to govern them.’7 Obviously democracy means rule by the people, the common people. A state of society where freedom for the people, justice and equality of rights and privileges; both political, social or legal equality are recognised.
Similarly, these principles of democracy are clearly enshrined in the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Hence section 14(1) of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria declares it thus; “The Federal Republic of Nigeria shall be a state based on the principles of democracy and social justice.”8 Further, same section 14(2a) of the 1999 constitution declares, “Sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria from whom government through this constitution derives all its powers and authority.”9 And section 14(2b) has it that “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.”10
However, the factual experience of the Nigerian democratic practice for three good republics now, betrays the fact and makes the constitutionalised principle a huge hoax. The principles of democracy have been completely distorted and misrepresented. It was as if Franklin Roosevelt had Nigeria in mind when he talked about people being fed up with a democracy that breeds unemployment, insecurity, hunger and hopelessness. Nigerians have continued to wait to no avail for the dividends of democracy. The present dispensation leaves no light at the end of the tunnel.
Thus, in this work the researcher hopes to make some deductions from the social contract theory of Jean Jacques Rousseau, and apply them to the Nigerian Democratic process. The aim is to effect a re-direction of our deceptive democratic principles and engender proper implementation of democracy in all its facets.
STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM
The democratisation process in Nigeria since independence has remained nascent in every republic; its practices and processes have remained new, strange and fresh, and in most cases have always ended up in confusion, frustration and chaos. What has continued to go wrong? Ray Ekpu succinctly captures the situation in his article the “End Justifies the Means,” when he said: “…the ingredient standing between Nigeria and greatness is leadership… As far as politics and leadership are concerned Nigeria is still a psychiatric case due in part to the hemorrhage inflicted on it by most of its leaders.”11 True to fact, Nigeria’s forty-five years of independence have seen various administrations, military and civilian, all of which can be described as having struggled to make Nigerians strangers in their own land.
Worse still, despite the huge financial resources claimed to have been expended on the overall administration of the country and the provision of amenities, the socio-economic and political situation in the country have deteriorated almost irredeemably. While political office holders only scramble for public resources, infrastructures are completely neglected, inflation is galloping, civil servants and pensioners are owed their entitlements for several months, unemployment has almost reached unmanageable levels, and poverty remains a menace people must face.
It is on this backdrop that intelligent observers would agree that the first forty-five years of our independence have been, even as S.G Ikoku has put it “a monumental failure.”12 What we experience now is the rule of minority instead of the rule of majority, which is the true principle of democracy. Evidently, Nigeria is not practicing any “true” democracy. At best what we have is “deceptive” democracy. This essay proposes to tackle, some of these problems.
PURPOSE OF STUDY
The researcher was spurred by the words of the Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka; when he said that: ‘the man dies in all who keeps silent in the face of tyranny.’13 Thus, this work seeks to diagnose the political arthritis and democratic rheumatism that have bedevilled Nigeria since independence, and attempt a treatment with the deductions or implications drawn from the Social Contract of Jean Jacques Rousseau.
SCOPE OF STUDY
There is no doubt that Jean Jacques Rousseau has several works to his credit, but the concern of this work is the social contract (of 1762). The context of study would be limited to the Nigerian democratic experience.
The method of approach employed in this work is philosophical, expository, and evaluative. More so, narrative technique is adopted by the researcher to bring to limelight, the condition of Nigerian democratic experience since independence.
DIVISION OF WORK
The Work is divided into five chapters. Chapter one gives a general introduction of the essay, the statement of the problem, method used, scope of study and purpose of study. Chapter two exposes the social contract theory of Rousseau, while chapter three takes care of the Nigerian democratic practice. Then, chapter four brings chapters two and three together in a general analysis. At last we shall conclude with critical evaluation and conclusion in chapter five.
1 S.E Stumpf, Philosophy: History and Problems, 5th edition (New York: McGraw-Hill Inc., 1994), p. 296.
5 J.J. Rousseau, The Social Contract and Discourses, translated by G.D. Cole (New York: E.P. Dutton and Company Inc., 1950), p. 14
7 R. Mairi ed., Chambers Twenty-first Century Dictionary (Great Britain: Chambers Harrap Publishers Ltd., 1999), p. 355
8 The Constitution of The Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (Lagos: Federal Government press, 1999), p. 10
11 R. Ekpu, Newswatch, October 6, 1986, p.26, Cited in J. Odey, The Rape of Democracy (Enugu: Snaap Press Ltd., 2001), p. 115
12 See E.O. Ojukwu, Because I am Involved, Revised edition (Ibadan: Spectrum Books Ltd., 1991), p. 28
13 W. Soyinka, The Man Died (New York: Penguin Books, 1977), p.13, quoted in J. Odey, The Rape of Democracy (Enugu: Snaap Press Ltd., 2001), p. 15.