Political Science and Sustainance of Human Dignity in the 21st Century
Oladayo Ogunbowale with Prof Yemi Osinbajo, Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria at Aso Rock, Presidential Vila, earlier in 2018
Political science is the systematic study of governance by the application of empirical and generally scientific methods of analysis. Political philosophy is concerned primarily with political ideas and values, such as rights, justice, freedom, and political obligation.
One sentence in the preamble of both, the international Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), reads as follows: “Recognizing that these rights derive from the inherent dignity of the human person”. Parting from this, one could say that dignity precedes any right that a human might have or that in order to attain dignity all human rights most be respected and fulfilled.
Nigeria and her plural complexities constitute a real theatre for political analysis. We will begin to solve them when political science pedagogy articulates a new direction for research that interacts with policies and those who make them.
Remember: every time a political aide announces salaries in their usual arrogant tone, devoid of humility and with no apologies and you feel good about it - that is your human dignity in a casket. (Prof Pius Adesanmi, Dec, 2017).
This paper attempts to postulate a nexus between Political Science and the sustenance of human dignity in the 21st Century with special reference to the adapted science of Politics Governance, Media and Active citizenship in the Nigerian context.
Political science is the systematic study of governance by the application of empirical and generally scientific methods of analysis. As traditionally defined and studied, political science examines the state and its organs and institutions. The contemporary discipline, however, is considerably broader than this, encompassing studies of all the societal, cultural, and psychological factors that mutually influence the operation of government and the body politic.
Although political science borrows heavily from the other social sciences, it is distinguished from them by its focus on power—defined as the ability of one political actor to get another actor to do what it wants—at the international, national, and local levels. Political science is generally used in the singular, but in French and Spanish the plural (sciences politiques and ciencias políticas, respectively) is used, perhaps a reflection of the discipline’s eclectic nature. Although political science overlaps considerably with political philosophy, the two fields are distinct. Political philosophy is concerned primarily with political ideas and values, such as rights, justice, freedom, and political obligation (whether people should or should not obey political authority); it is normative in its approach (i.e., it is concerned with what ought to be rather than with what is) and rationalistic in its method. In contrast, political science studies institutions and behaviour, favours the descriptive over the normative, and develops theories or draws conclusions based on empirical observations, which are expressed in quantitative terms where possible.
Although political science, like all modern sciences, involves empirical investigation, it generally does not produce precise measurements and predictions. This has led some scholars to question whether the discipline can be accurately described as a science. However, if the term science applies to any body of systematically organized knowledge based on facts ascertained by empirical methods and described by as much measurement as the material allows, then political science is a science, like the other social disciplines. In the 1960s the American historian of science Thomas S. Kuhn argued that political science was “pre-paradigmatic,” not yet having developed basic research paradigms, such as the periodic table that defines chemistry. It is likely that political science never will develop a single, universal paradigm or theory, and attempts to do so have seldom lasted more than a generation, making political science a discipline of many trends but few classics.
Here what Dr Nnamdi Azikwe has to say at the event of Nigeria’s Celebrating becoming a republic in 1963... "The fact that British political institutions have influenced the course of our national history, made us in Nigeria to adopt the parliamentary system of government. In effect, it means a recognition of the existence of ministerial responsibility with an active head of Government, who remains in office, so long as he retains the confidence of the majority of the representatives of the electorate. Hence there is a bifurcation in the exercise of power between the Governor-General, as the erstwhile Head of Government in a colonial regime, and the Prime Minister.
The changes have had an impact also on the nationality of the persons who assume this high office. The Imperial Conference of 1926 and 1930 agreed that in view of the changes envisaged, the appointment of a Governor-General should be a matter lying solely between the Crown and the particular Commonwealth country concerned. In this connection, the principle was established that it is for each State in the Commonwealth to decide whether or not to appoint distinguished citizens from the United Kingdom or from within its territorial limits or from elsewhere.
In practice many Commonwealth countries have opted to appoint their own nationals as Governors-General. Since 5th April, 1937, the Crown on the recommendation of the Prime Minister of South Africa, has always appointed a South African national as Governor-General. In January 1947, the Crown approved the appointment of Sir William John Mckell, G.C.M.G., Premier of Western Australia, as Governor-General of Australia. On 15th August, 1947, the Crown approved the appointment of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, leader of the Muslim League, as the first Governor-General of Pakistan.
After the departure of Lord Mountbatten, the first native Governor-General of India was Chakravarti Rajagopalachari, former General Secretary of Indian National Congress. When India became a Republic, the office of President was made analogous to that of Governor-General and Dr. Rajendra Prasad, former Minister of Food and President of the Indian Constituent Assembly, was elected. The present Governor-General of Ceylon, since 1954, is Sir Oliver Goonetilleke, who is a former Leader of the Senate and Minister of Finance. It will be noted that all the individuals mentioned above as native Governors-General were active politicians before they assumed their high office.
I have gone to the length of giving this historical background because of the nature of oaths I have taken today and because of my honest belief that the existence of a stable and constitutional government in Nigeria can become a motive power for the revival of the stature of man in Africa and an impelling force for the restoration of the dignity of man in the world. Before the Honourable Chief Justice of the Federation of Nigeria, I have subscribed to two oaths according to law: the Oath of Allegiance and the Oath of Office."
- Dr Nnamdi Azikwe, Nov, 1960
What is dignity?
If one reads at once, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), one will find a constant element. Neither of these documents determine what human dignity is. Needless to say that in all of their preambles dignity is the cornerstone of the rights later described by them. To find out what dignity is, three questions will be discussed: Can dignity be understood as the fulfillment of all the rights established in these instruments? Could it be that to achieve dignity only certain rights should be fulfilled? And, is dignity now the same as what was dignity in the time of the elaboration of these documents? To answer these questions, the three human rights instruments will be examined in addition to some other documents adopted or published by the United Nations in regard to this topic.
One sentence in the preamble of both, the ICCPR and the ICESCR, reads as follows: “Recognizing that these rights derive from the inherent dignity of the human person”. Parting from this, one could say that dignity precedes any right that a human might have or that in order to attain dignity all human rights most be respected and fulfilled. It all depends on how one wants to understand this sentence. If the first interpretation is correct, dignity is the one that determines and is used to elaborate human rights. However, there is one observation to this affirmation and it is that we do not have an agreement of what dignity specifically is. It the second interpretation is correct, then human rights would be the building blocks for human dignity. The unfortunate side of this interpretation is that if taken as the truth, then this would result in the need of fulfilling more than ninety rights in order to have dignity. Perhaps this could impose a large burden in State Parties because,at the moment, there is not a universal fulfillment of all the rights depicted in these instruments.
It can be agreed that if the second interpretation would be taken as the truth then the State parties to both covenants would be faced with a vast amount of challenges in trying to fulfill all of the rights, in spite of the progressiveness that is stated in the ICESCR. For this reason, dignity should precede human rights in the sense that dignity should be considered the goal as well as the road towards human rights. Even though there is not a clear meaning of the word dignity or any indicators by which we can measure this concept, it is easier for States to elaborate rights based on what each one of them considers dignity to be. Although it is not expected that the different definitions of dignity coincide amongst each other, it could be presumed that the definitions would not be far from each other. All of them should fall into a common place that could hold at least some rights as the basic source of dignity. In this regard, one could say that not all rights are essential to achieve human dignity.
Body as in the beginning of the development of these documents, dignity remains to be defined by international documents. Currently, there are some indicators that are used refer to it but don’t specifically define it as a whole. What they do is objectivize certain situations that should be prioritized for instance, what can be considered as adequate housing? The indicators look for a possibility to quantify or provide a degree of how dignity could be evaluated and achieved through the measure of housing. More often than not, these indicators focus only on the numbers but not on the quality of what they are measuring. In this regard, it is not the same to say that five people have a roof to live than to say that that three people have a house with access to basic services. Details like these are the ones that are in the way of fully having a definition of dignity.
Perhaps it is too difficult to develop a comprehensive definition of what dignity is. Maybe it is better for this term to be left undefined and open to interpretation by all of the State Parties of these human rights instruments. However, this could leave room for arbitrary consideration of when a right is essential and when it is not. There is also the possibility that some states regard a situation abroad as not worthy of being considered as dignifying or the other way around. These ambiguity leaves one, not only states, wondering about what they meant when they talked about it in the preamble of the three documents that establish a milestone in the human rights field.
"Human dignity" figures prominently in international human rights documents; for example, the International Human Rights Covenants proclaim that human rights "derive from the inherent dignity of the human person" (1966).
Human dignity became a central concept in contemporary constitutionalism following World War II and subsequent to its inclusion in the preambles to the United Nations Charter (1945) and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948). Only five countries used the term in their constitutions before 1945. At the close of 2012, there were 162 countries that did so. This is a striking number, comprising 84%of the worlds 193 sovereign countries that are members of the United Nations (UN). Furthermore, human dignity became widely and increasingly used and examined in various fields of study, including legal psychology, legal studies, political science, policy studies, bioethics, human rights and international law.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), set up in 1998, is the electoral body which was set up to oversee elections in Nigeria.
The origin of the INEC goes back to the period before Independence when the Electoral Commission of Nigeria was established to conduct 1959 elections. The Federal Electoral Commission (FEDECO), established in 1960 conducted the immediate post-independence federal and regional elections of 1964 and 1965. The electoral body was dissolved after the military coup of 1966. In 1978, the Federal Electoral Commission was constituted by the regime of General Olusegun Obasanjo, organizing the elections of 1979 which ushered in the Nigerian Second Republic under the leadership of Alhaji Shehu Shagari. It also conducted the general elections of 1983.
In December 1995, the military government of General Sani Abacha established the National Electoral Commission of Nigeria which conducted another set of elections. These elected institutions were not inaugurated before the sudden death of General Abacha on June 1998 aborted the process. In 1998 General Abdulsalam Abubakar’s Administration dissolved NECON and established the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). INEC organized the transitional elections that ushered in the Nigerian Fourth Republic on May 29, 1999.
In January 2015, the "#BringBackOurGirls group has raised the alarm over plans by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to exclude Chibok and some communities currently under the control of the Boko Haram from getting the permanent voter cards (PVCs) for the February elections."
It is safe to submit (considering the plethora of facts and data available on the different elections that have held in times past in Nigeria), that INEC as Nigeria’s EMB has not only been saddled with the responsibility of organising elections but also much more to ensure that people vote and that their votes count.
The Public Communication Framework for INEC identifies the media as a key stakeholder that INEC will need to communicate with in a targeted manner:
Elections and the Media
Since return to democratic rule on 29th May 1999, Nigeria has held general elections in 2003, 2007, 2011 and 2015, with two successful transitions at the presidential level, and different measures of change in the 36 states and the National Assembly.
By 2019, Nigeria would have had more than 30 cumulative years of civilian rule and 20 uninterrupted years of democratic rule, and no excuse will be tenable for any repeat of the teething problems associated with our electoral processes in the past. 2019 will be the year to show leadership by example especially on the African continent where many countries are still struggling with the concept and practice of democracy.
It will be time to consolidate on the baby steps taken over the last 5 elections and stop awarding imaginary Nobel Peace Prize to politicians for conceding defeat when they lose.
The successful conduct of the 2015 elections revolved mainly around the integrity and steadfastness of the immediate past INEC Chairman, Professor Attahiru Jega, and he deserves all the praise and accolades for getting the job done. But as the man himself has admitted, it could have been better.
Jega came in after the 2007 elections, often described as one of the most fraudulent in Nigeria’s political history, and swiftly introduced a number of reforms, including the biometric voters’ register, Permanent Voters Card and use of Card Readers for voters’ accreditation. These elements went a long way in ensuring a moderately free and fair 2015 election, but also posed challenges we were clearly not equipped enough to handle.
A total of 67,422,005 people registered to vote in the 2015 elections, but less than 50% of those (31,746,490) were accredited for the March 28 presidential election. And the turnout for the gubernatorial elections held two weeks later was even lower.
Millions of Nigerians were disenfranchised due to logistical failure in the PVC distribution process, while the fear of violence at polling stations, premeditated by the heated polity leading up to the elections, kept many others at home.
The collation and announcement of the results took over 48 hours, as absence of electronic collation equipment meant figures were added manually, a painfully slow and nerve wrecking process.
Jega has since taken a hero’s exit from INEC, leaving behind a foundation that needs to be built on over the next few years to ensure elections are not just freer and fairer, but also quicker, less costly and more inclusive. With governorship elections scheduled to hold in Bayelsa, Edo, Kogi and Ondo next year, Anambra in 2017, and Osun in 2018, the commission is challenged to go into sprint mode and provide answers today to questions from the future.
Some of the factors that will shape 2019 election include increased use of technology, increased relevance of media, especially social media, independent candidacy, an expansion in the population of eligible voters, diaspora voting, and higher voters’ turnout due to increased political awareness.
The Probable Nexus
Why is political science important? This question seems superfluous given our definition of what political scientists do. Yet its significance derives from the fact that political science has also been boxed into a siege mentality in a modern world given the pre-eminence of science and technology and the other STEM disciplines. Political scientists have been forced everywhere to defend the relevance of their disciplines. And that is in spite of its appellation of being scientific! But this is only one side of the story, especially in Nigeria. The other side is that most political scientists in Nigeria have been forced into exile by the very political processes they are supposed to analyse and understand.
According to Dr. Tunji Olaopa, (2003), Nigeria and her plural complexities constitute a real theatre for political analysis. It should, by that fact alone, generate serious pedagogical programmes that bring government policies and personalities live into the classrooms for methodological interrogations and interactions. The Boko Haram insurgency is a terrible challenge to the Nigerian Political Science Association and the multiplicities of our methodologies. We have become too academic in the face of serious politics! And the greatest problems of Nigeria will not be solved in sterile conferences and dusty journals; we will begin to solve them when political science pedagogy articulates a new direction for research that interacts with policies and those who make them. We must not only bring Nigeria actively into the average political science classroom, but we also actively apply our methodologies and ideas to Nigeria by a vigorous invasion of her public spheres where we confront policies and policy makers in sincere battles for the soul of our Fatherland. And political science possesses a larger responsibility: It can chart a path for political responsibility that can become a template for other social science disciplines. Isn’t that what the NPSA welcome note intends on its website?
If we can manage all these, then maybe the early avatars of the discipline that had fought a good fight would no longer resent their retirement. And then just maybe, we can all settle down to more enlightening answers to the ancient question of who gets what, when and how."
The recent revival of the Nigerian Political Science Association is a good omen as it is happening at a time in which significant effort is required to rebuild the State that has been diminished by over six decades of miss-rule. There is glaring evidence that for a long time, Nigeria had not been governed and the traditional task of running the State had not been a priority concern for successive governing classes whose principal work had been engagement in is mega looting. We know that Section 15(5) of our Constitution stipulates that: “the State shall abolish all corrupt practices and abuse of power.” What does this mean in a context in which those who have been in control of state power had been the ones who used State power to organise corruption.
Yes, indeed, the state of the Nigerian State is serious. The community of political science has a duty at this time to work on a cure for the sickness of the State before we are all consumed by its breakdown, which Thomas Hobbes had assured us will make or life “nasty, brutish and short”. That rescue must take the form of a new approach based on good governance in which there is effective, transparent and accountable use of public resources to provide public goods for citizens. If those who exercise State power cannot use it to improve the lives and livelihoods of citizens, then they would have to be replaced. This has finally happened and the most corrupt regime in our history has been replaced by another one with commitment to fighting corruption, providing jobs and rebuilding the nation. This however is no easy time for any government and President Buhari and his team need all the help they can get to transform their promises to the Nigerian people into reality.
Our world is what we make it.
Doron Shultziner & Guy E. Carmi: "Human Dignity in National Constitutions: Functions, Promises and Dangers"
Howard-Hassmann, Rhoda E. and Donnelly, Jack, "Human Dignity, Human Rights, and Political Regimes" (1986). Political Science Faculty Publications. 19.