Social Justice in Nigeria

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The fundamental crisis of social justice is rooted in leadership, management and persistent self-center.

When the interests of some groups and cliques benefit from certain leaders and are served instead of those of a whole community or society, lust prevails over granting people the love and care they deserve. Social justice is at stake.

But what is social justice? According to Augustus Kakanowski and Marijus Narusevich, “social justice is a society in which justice is achieved in every aspect of society, rather than merely the administration of law”.

It is generally both the promoter and the outcome of a world in which individuals and groups receive fair treatment and an impartial share and equal distribution of the benefits and goods within a society. In conditions of social justice, people are “not to be discriminated against, nor their welfare and well-being constrained or prejudiced on the basis of gender, sexuality, religion, political affiliations, age, race, belief, disability, location, social class, socioeconomic circumstances, or other characteristics of background or group membership”.

The idea of social justice continues to be far-reaching especially in a country like Nigeria. where we still grapple with fair treatment and advocating for equality seems to be daunting. There are components of social injustice at every level in the country.

With the staggering rate of high unemployment in the country.

The roads are dotted with street sellers, trying to sell anything they can from groundnuts to crossword books for children. Okada bikers and Keke drivers recklessly put themselves at risk while facing the brutality of the roads in order to earn a living for themselves and their families. Then, there are the saleswomen who wake up early to sell their merchandise in the markets persistently negotiating prices with their customers in order to provide money to feed their children. One may wonder where justice is in such a broken system. A system that benefits the rich and consistently puts the poor at a disadvantage.

It may appear impossible a task to achieve here in Nigeria with all the chaos taking place, the hundreds if not thousands of people in the towns of Lagos who have now been rendered jobless due to the ban of Keke and Okada bikes– a strong avenue for crime and other atrocities to thrive if you ask me. With actions like this, one may wonder if Nigeria can boldly speak of Social Justice for all.

According to an article written by the UN, ‘Social Justice is an underlying principle for peaceful and prosperous coexistence within and among nations.’ The truth is, in order to truly achieve this ‘peaceful’ and ‘prosperous coexistence’ in the country, much more than empty government promises, citizens need to prioritize more than selfish interests.

There must be a complete and utter revamping of a system that has consistently been broken, alongside the reprogramming of a mindset that can ensure people begin to trust the leaders.

Social Justice Day advocates for poverty eradication and fair treatment in employment and support for social integration. This is a goal that we should thrive to achieve, however, with the statistics showing that one in five workers still live in moderate or extreme poverty coupled with stagnant wages and gender inequality, socio-economic growth is hindered greatly.

Despite the disorder which is currently taking place and how uncertain things may look, Social Justice can be achieved if tackled with a sense of urgency and a determination to completely transform the status quo. One of the main ways to achieve this is ensuring citizens are able to access basic human facilities such as clean potable water, decent healthcare facilities, good quality education for all, well-paid jobs made available amongst many others.

Corruption from the top being state governments not using the full funds that they were received to fulfil the needs of its citizens, corruption of policemen and army officials waving their guns around at drivers whilst coarsely asking for money, and may God help the unfortunate soul who refuses to pull out a few hundred Naira’– all must be frowned against and tackled.

We will truly be able to advance Social Justice once all barriers, including tribalism, ethnicity and religious discriminations are obliterated, promoting a wholesome society where everyone has an equal opportunity and an equal right to succeed.

Civil society can help to reach social justice through advocacy, by demonstrating how and why the resources and other endowments of any community/society under unselfish leadership should strive for the good of its people and not its own gains.

In fact, civil society can and should advocate for good leadership – one that puts the interest of the community/society as a whole before those of any specific group and aims at transparency, inclusiveness, accountability and responsiveness. Civil society needs to engender a leader with strong political will, a sharp vision and a clear goal; one that can confront the challenges of sustainable development and fight for social justice.

CSOs are a key element to put both the government and their policies in check, assist in achieving some of those objectives and making sure social justice comes to action and not words alone.

Unending political, religious, economic, social, educational, and electoral problems such as ineffective governance, corruption or poor service delivery have bedeviled Nigeria over the past few years. But such societal ills can be abated with an organized and active civil society.

CSOs already existed in pre-colonial traditional states in Nigeria as associational forms that enabled participation, communication, information flow and influence between the citizens and the state, as well as a mean of social-economic assistance.

CSOs emerged as a platform to mobilize mass protests and strikes to resist state abuses, excesses, mix-governance and structural adjustment conditionality. Civil society became a system of dynamic safety nets, providing welfare and survival options to the poor, vulnerable, excluded, marginalized, disadvantaged and weak.

Currently, civil society is actively involved in reaching social justice with very different initiatives. For example, holding credible, free and fair elections is no longer the responsibility of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) solely; the tide has shifted to include CSOs, which have become an essential tool to promote voter’s education and participation and monitoring of election processes.

In educating the voters, CSOs assist in ensuring that all eligible citizens in the country are aware of the importance and process of voter registration and of actually exercising their right on Election Day, especially in rural areas where illiteracy rates are higher and citizens may need further support.

But despite the highlighted efforts, certain challenges limit effectiveness: a disconnection from rural organizations, lack of unity, inadequate funding, government patronage, lack of internal democracy, amongst others.

We must bear in mind, that achieving social justice requires more than an official recognition of the poor’s needs. It has to include civil society and strengthen an accountable people’s movement that is able to renegotiate the relationship between society and the state.

By Amb. Gabriel Danjuma.

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