Islam

Friday Sermon: The Failed Social Contract

By Babatunde Jose

Social Contract is an implicit agreement among the members of a society to cooperate for social benefits, by sacrificing some individual freedom for state protection. Theories of a social contract became popular in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries among theorists such as Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, as a means of explaining the origin of government and the obligations of subjects. In moral and political philosophy, the social contract is a theory or model that originated during the ‘Age of Enlightenment’ and usually concerns the legitimacy of the authority of the state over the individual. Social contract arguments typically posit that individuals have consented, either explicitly or tacitly, to surrender some of their freedoms and submit to the authority (of the ruler, or to the decision of a majority) in exchange for protection of their remaining rights or maintenance of the social order. The relation between natural and legal rights is often a topic of social contract theory. The term takes its name from ‘The Social Contract’ (French: Du contrat social ou Principes du droit politique), a 1762 book by Jean-Jacques Rousseau that discussed this concept. Although the antecedents of social contract theory are found in antiquity, in Greek and Stoic philosophy and Roman and Canon Law, the heyday of the social contract was the mid-17th to early 19th centuries, when it emerged as the leading doctrine of political legitimacy. There is no doubt however, that the social contract is a dyadic relationship between the ruler and the ruled. It therefore involves reciprocal rights and obligations.

On October 1,1960, the newly anointed leaders of independent Nigeria entered a ‘Covenant’ with Nigerian citizens to fulfill their hopes and aspirations and to uphold the values of a new nation under God. Among other things, they were to promote Justice, Equity and Fairness’, lead the people to harness their potentials and build a commonwealth of prosperous people. Today in retrospect, Charles Dickens’ opening lines of ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ ring in our ears, as a testament to the failure of this social contract and covenant entered into at independence: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us.”  The above sums up our impaired vision of human prosperity at independence which has remain unmatched by our human despair. We have had our summer of hope turned into a winter of hopeless hope and despondency.

Sixty years after; we are embroiled in a virtual class war between the rich and the poor. It is a time of despair and suffering on one hand, and joy and hope on the other. A time of ‘suffering and smiling’: This is an apt phrase to be used in the context of today’s world when, on the one hand, the rich are enjoying luxurious lives; while on the other hand, the poor are struggling under the yoke of economic adversity, poverty, impoverishment and despondency. However, its best context is where we predict some revolution or sudden transformation that will usher in a new dawn that will lead to an advance to the ‘promised land’. That is why in the context of the times, wealth, inequality, and accumulation of wealth have become recurrent themes in our everyday discourse of the Nigerian situation. We have said it in earlier sermons that when the poor and impoverished are pushed to the wall and there is nothing left for them to eat, they will resort to ‘eating the rich’ and that is when the fight (revolution) will start.

There is no doubt for so long there has been a glaring betrayal of the social contract in our society. We have descended into the abyss of injustice, inequity, and inequality.  Justice, equity, and fairness are three interrelated concepts that combine to make a spiritual whole. Justice is the sum-total, in a sense, of all recognized rights and duties, as it often consists of nothing more than a balanced implementation of rights and duties, and of due regard for equality and fairness. There is no gainsaying the fact that the major themes of the Quran include God-consciousness, fairness, equity, justice, equality and balance in all our dealings. These concepts are drummed into the believers every Juma’at service in the form of admonitions where we are enjoined to heed the words of Allah in Surah Al-Nahl : Allah commands justice, the doing of good, and liberality to kith and kin, and He forbids all shameful deeds, and injustice and rebellion: He instructs you that ye may receive admonition. (Quran 16:90) It stresses the doing of what is right because it is the truth and proper thing to do. We are urged to establish justice and deal with all in a manner that assures equity, fairness and balance and safeguards the rights, property, honor and dignity of all people. God assures us that even though He is All-Powerful, and none can challenge His Authority, He deals with all with truth, kindness, justice, and the rights of none will be transgressed on the Day of Judgment. See (Quran 21:47)

Prophet Shuaib tells his people: Give just measure and cause no loss (to others by fraud). And weigh with scales true and upright. “And withhold not things justly due to men, nor do evil in the land, working mischief. And fear Him Who created you and (Who created) the generations before (you). (Quran 26:181-184)

In one way or the other we are all guilty of some of the injunctions in above verses, particularly our leaders. It was once said, that the issues of injustice, unfairness and inequitable dispensation of resources is an all pervasive malaise: From the flinching tramp, the woman who digs for gold, the rich with their insatiable thirst for more, to the legislator, who is the sole beneficiary of his legislations and the executive who corners the people’s commonwealth to feather their own nests, we are all guilty. When justice, equity and fairness depart from a society, that society is lost. A regime of injustice, inequality and unfairness makes nonsense of the social contract and put asunder the ‘Covenant’ between the rulers and the ruled.

We were warned: “Eat of the good things We have provided for your sustenance, but commit no excess therein, lest My Wrath should justly descend on you: And those on whom descends My Wrath do perish indeed! (Quran 20:81)

May Allah’s condemnation and wrath never fall on us, Amin! May the next 40 years usher in a purposeful leadership in this country that will lead our children and children’s children to the promised land.

Barka Juma’at and a happy weekend

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