October 21, 2021


documenting the nigerian story…

Collapse of the social contract theory in Nigeria

In legal parlance, a contract is defined as an agreement between two or more parties creating obligations that are enforceable or otherwise recognisable in law. Adapting the rudiments of  the legal concept of contract, the likes of Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and Jean Jacque Rousseau treatised and  formulated the social contract theory. The theory is to the effect that, due to the absence of a government and a body of laws in man’s state of nature, men decided to enter into two pacts; pactum unionis and pactum subjectionis. The first being an agreement by men to live together peacefully and to respect each other, in order to ensure the protection of lives and property. The second agreement was premised on the need for the people to band together and surrender all or part of their freedom and rights to a supreme body, in return for protection of lives, property and some degree of civil liberties.

Although the trio of Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau theoritised differently on the social contract theory, they were in consensus ad idem of the fact that, the main gamut of the theory entails people surrendering their  respective liberties and rights in exchange for protection of lives, property and liberties by a sovereign, to whom all these collective freedoms and rights were surrendered.

The preamble to the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) implies that Nigerians had willingly and collectively surrendered their respective freedoms and liberties to the government of Nigeria, in return for protection of their lives, property and the provision of guarantees to enjoy certain natural rights like the right to life, right to freedom of expression, right to freedom of movement among others. This presupposes, therefore, that the 1999 Constitution subsists as the legally binding contract agreement between the Nigerian people and the Nigerian government.

Can we however say that the Nigerian government has spiritedly and faithfully kept to its side of the bargain in this contractual relationship? We are tempted to say, not in all terms. And these are our reasons:

By section 14(2)(b) of the constitution, the Nigerian government has the primary obligation of securing the lives of Nigerians and promoting their welfare. Section 33 on its part guarantees the inviolability of a Nigerian’s right to life and only permits the denial of this right in rare circumstances. On a daily basis, the print and electronic media are awash with stories of loss of lives, caused  by insurgents, criminal gangs and even law enforcement agents. For instance, killings and deaths in a car-crash in Zamfara, Kaduna State, Oyo, Imo and Delta State were reported in the Thisday Newspaper of 7th June, 2021. The Daily Trust newspaper of 8th June, 2021 on its part reported killings in Benue, Osun, Kaduna and Ogun states. This constant reportage of loss of lives in manners most unfortunate and despicable only leads to one conclusion; the absence of effective and efficient law enforcement. This smacks of anything other than the failure of government to perform its constitutional role of securing the lives of its most valued assets – the people. This also exemplifies not only dereliction of constitutional duty but also a breach of a contractual obligation to protect lives as per the government and citizens’ social contract.

As earlier stated,  a benefit which ought to accrue to citizens by virtue of the concessions made pursuant to the social contract theory, is the assurance of the protection of their properties, legitimately acquired. For most Nigerians, the existence of this ‘guarantee’cum-legal obligation of government appears to be a mirage. To the family who lost 500 cattle in Sakaba LGA in Kebbi State to cattle  rustlers(as reported on page 6, Daily Trust, 8th June, 2021) and many others whose properties and means of livelihood are constantly under assault by criminal elements, the rhetorics of the government on its commitment to protecting lives and properties would always sound like a fairy tale. It is common sight to find in residential estates and markets, private security outfits. These outfits obviously fill in the existing gap created by the absence of adequate state-funded security appratichik. Curiously, the government still levies and collects tax in such places. This scenario negates the ideals and very essence of the social contract which exists between the governement and  the citizens.

The recent ban by the federal government of the microblogging site Twitter and the subsequent threat to prosecute violators, continues to generate heated debate in the polity. Yours trully is in agreement with the group which have argued that the federal government’s action lacks a constitutional base. It is actions like this, that further calls to question, the Nigerian government’s contractual commitment to its legal obligations in its social pact with the Nigerian  people, as expressed in the 1999 Constitution. Section 39 clearly guarantees to every Nigerian, the right to freedom of expression, including the right to hold opinion and to receive and impart ideas through  any medium of dissemination like Twitter, print and electronic news outlets etcetera. This recent move further validates and buttresses our argument that the Nigerian government continues to undermine the inalienable rights which Nigerian citizens still retain  in line with their pact with the government and in the context of the social contract theory.

The silver linning however lies in the fact that, the rights available to Nigerian citizens by reason of their social contract with the Nigerian government, are open to be contested and enforced in courts. Regardless of the glaring failure of the Nigerian government to keep with its contractual obligations to the Nigerian people, the never say die spirit of Nigeria holds an assurance of a bright future.


John Aku Ambi, Esq., a Legal Practitioner, resides in Kaduna.