Justice for Sale?

Practitioners of political

philosophy usually rely on John Rawl’s A

theory of Justice (1971) to try to unravel a lot of the foibles bedeviling

societies. Before publication of this document in 1971, utilitarian ideas used

to hold sway – that is, people wanted to make laws that affected the greater

good and for the greater number of people. Most of the people who were making

laws in the 18th-19th Centuries made laws that did not

consider the interests of the few who would be unhappy for the majority to be

happy. Therefore, when a relatively

unknown Rawls showed up with his A Theory

of Justice, it caused quite a stir – the book seemed to provoke the eureka moment

for the Archimedes of the 20th century.

So what was this theory? Simply,

Rawls was saying the exact opposite of the utilitarian ideal – that you cannot

make a greater number of people happy at the expense of the interests of a few.

Make people happy, make laws for the greater good but do not rest the happiness

of a lot of people on the unhappiness of a few people. Prior to Rawls, there had

been many kinds of justices – while some saw it as the promotion of the

interest of the most powerful man, others saw justice as a level playing field

where everyone saw to his own interest while totally ignoring the interests,

goals and aspirations of the other person. But Rawls saw justice as the ‘first

virtue of human institutions’ and the foundation on which society stands. He

saw justice as fairness, and went on to argue that for there to be justice,

there must be an even distribution of the things we all aspire to – wealth,

good position, opportunity, skills, liberty. For Rawls, how such ‘goods’ are

distributed will determine how just that society will be.

A common issue concerning the

distribution of the things we all aspire to in our country has been a

denominator dominated by unevenness. There has never been any kind of justice

in this Nigeria. In times past, some of the things that we should all aspire to

were either in the hands of one strong man and his linguistic or regional

divide. Before this time as well, Nigeria’s unwritten code for distribution of

areas of human enterprise and endeavor ‘shared’ power to the North, educational

prowess to the West, and ability and success in business to the East. Nothing much was supposed to go to the other

parts of the country apart from the perception that they were only to be used

like the oil that oiled the machine of government. Nobody was supposed to disambiguate the

equilibrium of the status quo – that is, if you were from the South or North,

you were not supposed to be successful as a business man – and vise-versa. It

is even worse if you were from any ‘minority’ in Nigeria. In terms of

appointments to Federal establishments, all other Nigerians are usually

considered before you – your many degrees and accomplishments notwithstanding. Instead

of a level playing field, our country has been standing gidigba on a foundation of stereotypes and archetypes. Indeed we

all want to enjoy the good life – we want wealth, good positions, opportunity,

skills, be responsible to ourselves, our families and to our nation. We can have wealth, good positions, and

opportunity, but based on the theory of justice and fairness propounded by

Rawls, it will not make any sense to want to have wealth, good positions and

opportunity at the expense of those who are the primary owners of the wealth we

are trying to share.

What is presently going on at

that National conference concerning revenue cannot be seen as fair. The

delegates are just trying to make the rest of Nigeria happy at the expense of a

minority. Instead of delegates to put

their heads together to use funds accruing to us from oil to develop critical

areas of our economy like agriculture, our industries, education and how we can

shore up our security, they are there bickering over monies nobody has earned. They

have recommended only 18% for derivation, (where it should have been at least

30%) and 5% for the development of solid minerals (where it should have been at

least 20%).

This writer believes, and as a matter of fact,

that there is symbiotic link between the agitations for states creation and the

bickering over an aberration known as revenue sharing formula. We all know that

a lot of the states in Nigeria today are hardly viable. A state first of all should be self-sustaining

and should be able to contribute something to the centre for it to be known as

a state. Therefore, we suggest that we should first and foremost be thinking of

using the proceeds from oil for the benefit of all Nigerians before we start

fighting over how we would be sharing revenue from oil. Nobody at the

conference has given a thought that recently, our biggest oil consumer and

customer, the United States has stopped buying our oil, and that this is a warning

that Nigeria should look for a plan B.

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