It is a common practice amongst social scientists and political philosophers that occupy themselves with the thought of how best to manage or improve their countries and world to seek and study model places that they could use as examples to embody their ideas, and to convince those that should care about what to aspire, to become. Nowhere is perfect, hence, models are hard to find. Thinkers are therefore, forced to find their models in three ways: mostly by digging into the past, sometimes by cutting and pasting pieces from various states or even by inventing their own imaginary states.
History and political literature is full of such examples. Three of my favourites come from Niccolo Machiavelli, Jean- Jacques Rousseau and Thomas More. Whilst Machiavelli is known mostly for his short digest “The Prince”, most scholars agree that his most scientific and significant work is actually “Discourses on Livy” in which he used the ancient Rome as an example of what a republic should be. Rousseau in his classic, “The Social Contract”, used Geneva as a model city where men were free. Sir More invented his own Utopia to illustrate a perfect society.
As we look at the problems facing Nigeria and try to find best international practices and ideal types of solutions to offer to those in charge of affairs, one of the recurrent comments most touted is “this is Nigeria, that idea cannot work here!” Those who make such comments base it on two main elements: their knowledge of Nigeria because they live there (or their being on ground as they say in the Nigerian parlance) and the so-called peculiarity of Nigeria. It is a clear sense that people do not know where to start. Well, let us start from little things because little things matter and we can start from Osogbo.
A judgement recently passed in an Osogbo Magistrate’s Court by Mr. Olusola Aluko has earned him and those involved in that case a place in Nigerian legal history, and it should be used as a reference point for individuals in their daily dealings. The case, for those that missed it, saw as defendant Mr. SB, a tailor, brought to court for taking money and failing to sew a suit as agreed, that is, he breached a contract. Now, a lot of us would have seen that happen to us many times. The builder that does not show up, the plumber that delays, the house painter that spends more time than agreed and the clearing agent that disappears only to come up with reasons and explanations.
In all these cases, we just accept as a fact of life or as “the Nigerian factor” and we deal with such incidents with perseverance, patience but with no consequence. I have in many occasions argued against such behaviours. Luckily for us, Mr. Adebiyi Fasoro, the client from whom Mr. SB, the tailor took money does not think breaching a contract is just a Nigerian factor. After giving the tailor N7, 000 out of the agreed N13, 000 and not seeing his suit on the agreed day and place, he took up the matter, reported it to the police and went to court where the tailor was found guilty and sentenced to three months imprisonment for obtaining money under false pretence.
One might wonder and ask if this is not too harsh on a poor tailor, in a land wherein business tycoons in collusion with politicians, auditors and other inspectors are stealing and squandering billions of naira. No. It is a matter of principle and little things matter on principle. It may very well be true that we need a revolution in Nigeria to put the big things right, but before and beyond that we need to get these little things right.
Two of the essential elements of the modern state, with its development and progress, we terribly need are certainty and consequence. For us to see prosperity and peace we must be able to count on everyone respecting his/her promises and diligently doing his/her duties. Being certain that individuals, businesses and the government will play their part and being clear of what consequences that will follow if they don’t is not a political factor. It comes from private law and in particular contract law, but it goes beyond that; it is a philosophy and a way of life that makes it needless for us to seek a big lucky or charismatic lone hero.
All we need is merely a country where there is the certainty that everybody will do his/her little bits. As agreed, let teachers teach, cleaners clean, coaches coach, the press report, the police protect, auditors audit and hospitals treat the sick. All we need is merely a country where everyone knows there will be some consequences for his/her actions or inactions: You can’t beg, bribe or brag your way out of anything.
With the Osogbo case as a model of behavior, it is a matter of time for us all to fall in line. Today it is the tailor; tomorrow might be the turn of the politicians and their contractor friends.