Are Nigerians Really Citizens of Mere Subjects?

One of the most significant changes brought about by civilization is substituting the old-aged concept of subjectory with the system of citizenship as the basis of citizens’ belongings to their respective countries. Citizenship could be defined as the right of belonging to a sovereign political entity, where citizens' rights are guaranteed and obligations defined in the context of the rule of law. Essentially, citizenship entails –among other things- absolute loyalty of the citizens to the state as duly represented by the law of the land.

In the olden days of incivility, where people were mostly subjugated violently, there were no substantive legal, judicial or political frameworks to regulate the relationships between rulers and the ruled. Instead, the relationships between them were simply masters/subjects relationships. In those days, rulers were authoritative and openly suppressive, and every individual among the subjects could only enjoy basic peace, protection and some freedom according to the extent of his loyalty to the master(s).

As a matter of fact, a subject could even enjoy protection and exemption from the ruler’s own decrees, by virtue of the level of loyalty he was able to prove. He could be exempted for instance from paying tax and toiling in ruler’s farms. He could even be elevated to be among the ruler’s retinue. On the other hand, any suspicion about his loyalty could cost him his freedom or peace or possessions if any, and even his life. In fact some rulers could even sleep with the wives of some of their subjects if they so wished.

Consequently, People used to desperately seek closeness to their rulers in whatever way. And those who were lucky to be close enough, would over time be assigned with some “state’s” positions, which enabled them exert their own excesses on the other helpless subjects.

To digress a little, understanding this background would explain why when the Pharaoh of the olden days Egypt (Fir’aun) sought the services of some magicians to challenge Prophet Moses, and when the magicians enquired: what would be their prize if they defeated Moses, the Pharaoh confidently replied them that they would be among his retinue, which was indeed the highest prize and motivation they could get.

Subjectory as such, was what apparently gave rise to the "Hausa" concept of “Talakawa” which they still use interchangeably with "Yan Kasa" i.e citizens, even though over the centuries it also came to mean “poor people”. In any case, it is a corrupted form of a classical Arabic word “Tulaka’u”, which refers to a conquered community, granted amnesty by the conquerors.

Nigeria is presumably a civilized country, hence such circumstances are not supposed to exist therein. However, looking critically into the reality, one can reasonably wonder to what extent Nigerians fit into the concept of citizenship in its real sense?

Realistically speaking, one should not be idealistic more than necessary to expect perfect adherence to the rule of law in any country today. Nevertheless, for any country to be considered civilized, the laws of the land should significantly and conspicuously rule it accordingly.

In Nigerian situation, a combination of many historical, cultural, economic and socio-political factors, which have been unjustifiably –and in most cases deliberately-left unchecked over the decades, have undermined the concept of citizenship and effectively replaced it (if it had even existed) with the concept of subjectory. Predictably, the attendant impacts of the culture of subjectory –among other things- eroded people's faith in the state, and created a situation whereby every individual has to find his way to share the benefits derived from the state, which turned almost everybody into a mere subject of another or others. Incidentally, almost everybody is a master in some situations and a bloody subject in some other situations. Funny irony indeed!

For instance, a typical civil/public servant in critical sectors particularly, probably owes his appointment to a certain individual(s), who might have compromised the standard criteria to favor him for the post. In most cases, the latter would in turn manipulate the former for his personal interests at the expense of the public interest. And he(the former) would have to succumb under pressure of blackmail. His loyalty would always remain primarily directed to a gradually growing number of individuals whose favors he would always be needing to secure his personal interests both legitimate and otherwise. He thus becomes affectively a subject of some individuals through whom he enjoys job security, timely or even rapid promotions and indeed protection from the law of the land, depending on the influences and connections of his purported benefactors. On the other hand, he in the meantime wields his influence on his subordinates in the same or even worse manner.

Also a similar scenario or even worse characterizes the process of nominating or rather anointing various political offices' holders, right from local government councillorship up to the presidency. In each level there are "appropriate" so-called power brokers who effectively determine who gets what in various political offices sharing. Upon assuming their respective offices, the elected (mostly selected) officials are generally expected to lend "listening ears" to those brokers who have maneuvered them into public offices. The brokers would in turn consider the officials their milking cows, though in most cases the goings turn sour between the so-called former benefactors and the beneficiaries, but ironically not in favor of public interests, but for the beneficiaries to wean themselves and build their own political bases in order to perpetuate their excesses as they wished. In any case however they would maintain some "indispensible" god-fathers in case of any eventuality. And the cost of maintaining such god-fathers is always the public interest.

Being largely the institutions that basically introduced the concept of subjectory, feudal institutions also play very significant roles in maintaining it by promoting nepotism and encouraging impunity. Over the decades they have earned the reputation of manipulating circumstances in favor of their favored, regardless of whether they deserve it or not. As in any similar case, this always maintains the continuation of the status-quo of subtly subjecting the loyalty of people to some selected individuals instead of the state.

Perhaps the funny aspect of it that, even local “Mallams” who claim to have some super natural influences, are able to influence purely official processes, policies and decisions. It is a common practice among typical influential persons to keep some of such “Mallams” and seek their advice in almost whatever they intend to do, including issues in which the expertise of such “Mallams is no better than that of a bloody layman. Moreover, by virtue of their closeness with some “big shots”, many people solicit their interventions to derive privileges or escape punishments.

Interestingly enough, these phenomena have created a situation whereby almost everybody counts on some individuals or others to not only grab what he does not deserve or escape what he deserves, but to also guarantee and protect his rightful interests, as the state is apparently helpless. Consequently there is a deep-rooted culture of jostle between various conflicting interest groups and individuals, and survival always remains with the more connected of course.

Perhaps this is why many people parading as statesmen encourage the young to maintain unswerving “loyalty” to their purported potential benefactors at any cost, if they are to grow in their professional, political or business careers. Hardly would any body hear such statesmen encouraging promising youth to be hardworking in order to excel and succeed. A prominent Nigerian vocal “statesman” widely regarded as a role model in oratory, would always attribute his dramatic success to his “loyalty” to the “elders” and encourage others to do the same. He would subtly make reference to his humble background to boast of his achievement (having held high political positions in the past) and link it to his “loyalty” to “elders”.

It is obvious that a country as such can not make any appreciable headway in its quest for relevance globally and success domestically, in the current age of civilization. Nevertheless, going by my usual principle while addressing any particularly obvious problem, I would not propose any solution here, because I believe that the solution(s) is too obvious to elude anybody including laymen. Furthermore, the solutions have been exhaustively discussed not only in official levels, but even in “Mai shayi” joints. The only missing ring is thus; a sincere political will to act accordingly.
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