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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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 haemorrhage 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.
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 practising any
“true” democracy. At best what we have is “deceptive” democracy. This essay proposes to tackle, some of these
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.
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.
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.
2 Ibid., p.
3 Ibid., p.
4 Ibid., p.
Rousseau, The Social Contract and
Discourses, translated by G.D. Cole (New
York: E.P. Dutton
and Company Inc., 1950), p. 14
6 Ibid., p. 15
7 R. Mairi
ed., Chambers Twenty-first Century
Britain: Chambers Harrap Publishers
8 The Constitution of The Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999
(Lagos: Federal Government press, 1999),
11 R. Ekpu,
Newswatch, October 6, 1986, p.26, Cited in J. Odey, The Rape of Democracy (Enugu:
Ltd., 2001), p. 115
12 See E.O.
Ojukwu, Because I am Involved,
Revised edition (Ibadan: Spectrum Books Ltd., 1991),
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.