Again, Chapter II of the Constitution By Kayode Komolafe
Politicians and their publicists talk so much about “dividends of democracy”; yet the meaning of the phrase has become imprecise. Depending on who is engaging in propaganda, the meaning could range from the construction of an expressway to the filling of potholes on a road built 40 years ago. The dividend could also be massive waterworks providing millions of litres of water a day to some communities or simply a handful of boreholes.
However, those who at least still harbour some social democratic convictions should insist that the gains of democracy should not be trivialised or perverted. For the real dividend of democracy is freedom including freedom from poverty, disease and ignorance. Therefore, we cannot seriously talk of dividends of democracy in a social order in which the basic human rights are not protected.
It must be emphasised that these rights include the socio-economic rights. So when next a politician tells you his story about “dividends of democracy”, steer away the conversation from propaganda and ask him or her pointedly what he or she has done in terms of policy execution, articulation or legislation to ensure that the socio-economic rights of the people are adequately protected. The struggle for the protection of basic social economic rights guaranteed in the constitution is a legitimate struggle ultimately towards the inauguration of a humane social order in Nigeria.
In this light, anti-poverty activists should support a bill that has passed the second reading in the House of Representatives. The bill, sponsored by Hon. Emmanuel Jime (PDP-Benue), is aimed at empowering the citizens to sue government officials for failing to provide basic needs in education, healthcare, security, water etc. Doubtless, social Darwinists in our midst would jeer at such a proposition and dismiss it as “utopian”. The state and society do not owe anybody a living in their limited comprehension of the inherent contradictions in this inhumane social order. To those with this philosophical bent, soci0-economic life is all about competition; those who cannot compete may as well disappear from the face of the earth. The authors of austerity budgets abhor social spending. However, the fact they often ignore is that if the resources lost to massive treasury looting, corruption, leakages and other forms of economic crimes are applied to social welfare programmes, poverty will be reduced and society will be safer.
Nobel Laureate in economics, Professor Joseph Stiglitz, has even argued that when policies bridge inequality the economy will grow better. The policy process in favour of people’s welfare would be enhanced when the basic law of the land backs it up. That is why those who are not outraged that 10.5 million children are out of school or that thousands die yearly in remote villages because of lack of access to basic medical care that could cost less than N1, 000 should be reminded that there is a Chapter II in the constitution. It is part of the basic law of this country. Millions of Nigerians are denied socio-economic rights that are fully guaranteed as “Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles” of policy in Chapter II of the 1999 Constitution that is currently under review. However, the weak point in the constitutional provision which enemies of social justice always exploit is that these socio-economic rights are not “justiciable”. A six-year old citizen who is denied primary education cannot go court to enforce his socio-economic right to education.
That has been the obstacle to the advancement of the frontier of this aspect of human freedom in Nigeria. The importance of the Jime bill in the House of Representatives is that if it were passed this obstacle would be removed in the way of the enforcement of socio-economic rights. The House of Representatives under the leadership of Hon. Speaker Aminu Tambuwal should go ahead and pass the bill. The Senate under the leadership of Senate President David Mark should also consider the social justice content of the bill and pass it as the real dividends of democracy. If the National Assembly passes the bill, it would be making a significant contribution towards building social democracy. It is when socio-economic rights are made justiciable that democracy in this land would mean more than calling on the people periodically to queue up to vote for competing candidates in elections.
To be sure, there is no illusion here that the poor will have a better deal in a selfish society by merely amending the constitution to make socio-economic rights justiciable. It would take a greater battle to be waged against the predominant ideology of governance that is opposed to government’s investment in welfare programmes. It takes a genuinely anti-poverty president or governor to focus more on those policies that would democratise access to basic needs rather engaging in propaganda of executing “projects” all over the place. For instance, a civil society organisation, the Socio-Economic Right Accountability Project (SERAP), has secured a judgment against the federal government in ECOWAS on the child education.
The court upheld the right of child to education; but the government has treated the judgment with contempt while not disputing the jurisdiction of the court. As the people’s lawyer, Femi Falana, often reminds his compatriots, even the idea of justiciability in the present situation should be tested.
For instance, the constitution guarantees right to life and that of free movement. But lives are being lost daily on scandalous roads including the so-called expressways because of the social irresponsibility of governments at all levels that refuse to fix these roads. Yet all what our bourgeois lawyers can tell us is that the citizens who use these hazardous roads cannot go to court because the rights involved in these instance are not “justiciable”.
Hence, in several public interest cases, Falana has gone to court to test the justiciability of the rights. Such advocacy should be embraced by all those committed to making the people reap the real dividends of democracy.
For clarity, it is not expected that poverty could be legislated out of this land; but the law could be employed as a weapon in the important anti-poverty war.
Dangote and Creative Capitalism
On January 25, 2008, the American billionaire who revolutionised computer software, Bill Gates, came up with an idea he called “Creative Capitalism”. It was in his speech to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The kernel of Gates’s advocacy is that businessmen should consider “doing good” to the society as they pursue their business objectives. The idea implies that businessmen should take part of the responsibility for social problems. As big corporations pursue profits they should also pursue social goals as well.
Since Gates made this proposition six years ago views have been predictably divergent on the exact content of the idea. For instance, some free market fundamentalists think that the sort of advocacy embarked upon by Gates will lead to erosion of profits and the weakening of capacity of big corporations to compete. Yet, Gates’s voice could not be ignored, being one of the most accomplished capitalists of this era. Indeed, he was Number One on the Forbe’s list of the Richest Persons by the time he made his statement. Indeed, Gates has devoted a good part of his fortune to practise what he preaches.
A conversation ensued after Gates made his statement attracting many highly informed participants such as billionaire Warren Buffet, distinguished economist Lawrence Summers, Financial Times journalist Martin Wolf and Chicago Nobel Laureate Gary Becker. The contributions have been published as a book entitled “Creative Capitalism: A Conversation with Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, and Other Economic Leaders”. The chatty book is edited by Michael Kinsley.
While the debate may be ranging globally on “Creative Capitalism”, the Dangote Foundation has simply given the idea practical life in Nigeria. The Dangote Foundation is responding to the Nigerian reality with its own idea without much of rhetoric. The Foundation has embarked on the disbursement of N10 billion grants to women and youths in the 774 local government areas of the federation. With the one-time grant, the recipients could start up their own enterprises and develop the capacity to meet the immediate needs of their family. In short, the recipients are being equipped to be economic players in the true sense of it. Disbursements have been made in Kano, Jigawa and Kogi states.
According to the president of the Foundation, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, the unique N10 billion cash-transfer is the Foundation’s response to the scourge of poverty ravaging the land. The billionaire explained the workings of the scheme like this: “ This is in keeping with the Dangote’s Foundation’s belief in working through partnerships for effectiveness, scale and impact in tackling the challenges that we face as a nation. This is a key feature of the programme which aims to support and complement state governments’ poverty reduction efforts”.
Dangote has not affixed any theoretical label on this exemplary programme; but it is clear that the content and method of the scheme transcend the tokenist display of corporate social responsibility and philanthropy that we see around.
Whichever way you define creative capitalism, it is certainly healthier than the capitalism of conspicuous consumption and social insensitivity. In social terms, there is definitely something creative in the rich transferring cash to the poor to make them productive instead of devoting billions of dollars to increase the fleet of private jets or import more champagne.
It is hoped that more billionaires would take a cue from Dangote in waging war against poverty.
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