Heart of Arts


Toyin Falola

The African Humanities Research and Development (AHRDC) is holding its 2024 conference on the theme of “Citizenship” from February 19 to 21 at the Alex Ekwueme Federal University, Ndufu-Alike. Although it is being held in my honor, an urgent diplomatic errand has prevented my participation, but this is for the good of our region and the continent. AHRDC has chosen a powerful theme, and we all await the publication that will emanate from this conference. Here is a statement that I prepared for the occasion.

Scholars and political thought leaders worldwide and over several eras have viewed citizenship differently. Several political scientists have seen nations like human beings reacting and acting within and outside the spheres of social stimuli. I agree with these metaphoric innuendoes. So, I believe that the soul of every nation is its citizenship; the instinct and the muse define the fundamentals of social cohesion, orderliness, governance, relationships, cultures, and public policies. It is the focal point of nations’ essential existence and underlying values.

Aristotle supposes that “a man is by nature a political animal.” This view on politics marries the political orientations of society to the level and status of its citizenship. It is the core of justification and criticism of politics and political stakeholders. It means everyone is a politician, and nominating political representation is the concentration of some people’s political natures and orientations. In straightforward terms, it is called an election or selection. In whatever ways the political nature of every person in a society is conjured in a head, office, person, or family, the truth is that that political head or officeholder reflects what the people stand for.

Citizenship illuminates the idea that asks whether a government can be better than its citizens and whether citizens can be better than its government. Where the political institutions of any nation are running contrary to the political tolerability of any citizenship, it invokes evolution. This explains the ideas of revolutions and political reformations that have happened in history. It has brought about the change of political styles of nations and solidified some political practices. The idea is that problems that are supposed to have been caused by political officeholders are only directly or indirectly permitted by the citizens.

When the “commoners” in the French Revolution were tired of elite oppression, they declared their assembly. They demanded a political revolution to bring about a constitution reflecting equality and equal representation. Social instabilities, political upheavals, economic downturns, and other factors were the muse that set the tone of citizenship against the existing political structures. Citizenship and its leadership must align with each other; if not, there must be a readjustment that would make such leadership reflect the primary orientation of its citizenship.

Taking a cue from Nigeria, the perennial problem of corruption that has affected the basis of Nigeria’s democracy and development rests solely on the permissibility of the citizenry. Out of 180 countries put into perspective in the world, Nigeria is the 154th least corrupt. The corruption in Nigeria is systemic and is beyond the activities and greed of leaders. It has been shown that every parastatal of the Nigerian government and at every level has shown a high level of corrupt practices. It goes to the roots like the police, the educational system, the transport system, trade, and all imaginable sectors of Nigerian society. These ramifications are controlled and operated by the citizens; hence, the radiation of corruption is from the antics of the citizens who are either employed in those portfolios or interact with them. Many Nigerians harbor the instinct that bribery and corrupt practices could accelerate acquisitions and needs due to desperation. This instance shows that the Nigerian citizenry reeks of corruption, and it is only logical for the leadership to mirror it.

Understanding citizenship as the basis for leadership defines the society’s culpability in its governments’ shortcomings. It posits that for a long-lasting solution that would survive time, the orientation of the people must change, and they must be ready to instigate changes mirrored by their leadership.

In another stretch, citizenship is the abstractive definition of the social contract. The contract defines the following relationships: the relationship of the government with its citizens, the relationship between social institutions and the citizens, and that between a citizen and another. The social blueprint allows social philosophies, standards, duties, responsibilities, and rights to be safeguarded by each party in each of the relationships. The default in the obligations of any of the parties or the breakdown of any of the connections is equivalent to surmounting the cores of the society’s citizenship.

In the first relationship, citizenship is the conception of what the government thinks of its duty and authority towards the citizens and the ideological contextualization and expectations the citizens have of the government. The understanding of the definition of the idea of citizenship in a country defines governance. For instance, in Africa, the people’s expectation could be to make policies that favor the poor and provide free education and access to food and water. However, that may not be the primary expectation in some advanced European countries. More so, the global blocs express this view. For instance, citizens’ expectations in a capitalist state would tilt towards the economic independence of the people, while those of socialist states would tilt towards state ownership or high regulations.

Another relationship is that of citizens to societal institutions. For instance, the social expectations of Police, traditional leaders, and other social institutions defer from society to society, although there are generic expectations. In this instance, the principle of cultural stakeholders is another strong inference and is essential in the trajectory definition of citizenship. The last relationship is the interaction of citizens with each other. These deeds regulate social cohesion, tolerance, understanding, and predominance of norms.

Seeing citizenship as the norms exacted in social contracts extends its relevance to social cohesion. The understanding of citizenship and the perception of it defines the characteristic glues in every society. It describes attitudes to social responsibilities, respect for collective subscriptions, individualism, ethnic tolerance, and nationalistic projection. It makes an Igbo man see another person from his village as a brother, and on a larger scale, it makes an Igbo man see a Yoruba man as a fellow son of the same soil. It forms focal points for understanding cohabitation, segregation, minorities, majorities, and relativism.

Social cohesion is the instinct behind social similarities, shared trauma, and the ability to relate with the status of others; it is the basis of the building of patriotism and nationalism. If citizenship must come from the social glue that binds us if being bound together towards the same goal of societal development means nationalism, it is logical to conclude that citizenship is the basis of nationalism. The dilemma in Nigeria is, with the contemporary problems faced by the citizens, to know if one could say that there is nationalism at the level that would transform into national development. Would one say that citizenship is afforded its orientation respect to incite it to gear towards national development? Can we say that there are still Nigerian Nationalists in the present era?

We understand there is no citizenship, social cohesion, no social cohesion, no nationalism, no nationalism, no accelerated national development. This is because people tend to take individual interests above national interests without regard to the direct or indirect marginalization and victimization of others. It would mean the nation is left in the dry without anyone convinced to express sacrifices for the good course. Disrespect to citizenship is a mockery of any idea of patriotism.

One must ask what might be strong enough to shake citizenship that would challenge a high sense of nationalism. When the citizens are temporally having their hopes and expectations dashed, when they are subjected to ethnic biases and hegemony, when poverty rocks their boat, and when they are constantly abused, the citizenship is shaken and tempted. The resultant effect is the loss of nationalism and patriotism. Would one say that Nigeria can convincingly display nationalism when the relationship between the South East and many parts of the nation has not been on an advantageous status? Would poverty let one respect others in social and personal endeavors?

The messages above allude to the fact that a nation must not lose the radiation of the lights of ideas of citizenship and must endeavor to strengthen the fibers that build it. Otherwise, there would be challenges to popularity and peace and order. One step to building strong citizenship is to make vital social welfare. Cicero states that “the welfare of the people is the ultimate law.” Where the people’s interest is poorly managed and respected, it would only invite a break in the cohesion built by citizenship. In addition, the government of the day must be ready to ensure that the constitution reflects the temporal dispositions of the people, as the constitution must be a codification of the people’s intentions no matter how many times they change.

Citizens must be intentional about building surviving acts of citizenship. This is made in the context of understanding others and accepting their differences. It also extends to maintaining political grounds for the betterment of the nation. Because citizenship, no matter how abstract, is important to the developmental trajectories of any nation.

I offer my heartfelt congratulations to the organizers, notably Professor Sunday Oge Elom, the Vice Chancellor of Alex Ekwueme University; Professor Egodi Uchendu, the President of AHRDC; Dr. Chukwuemeka, Vice-President of Research and Publications of AHRDC; Professor Mukhtar Bunza, the Keynote Speaker, and the specialized lecturers (Professor Samuel Fury Childs Daly, Professor Benjamin Kofy Nutor, and Professor Lorelle Semley)

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