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Doctrines & Morals
 
 
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ON THE VOCATION OF THE CATHOLIC LAWYER 4

THE THIRD PRINCIPLE IS solidarity, that is, "a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good, that is to say, to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all" (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 38). It is solidarity that ensures that no one seeks his or her fulfillment at the expense of others, and that no one actualizes his or her own potentials by hindering others from actualizing theirs.  It is also solidarity that ensures that we assist one another to actualize our potentials.  It takes a solid commitment to the common good to overcome the mindset of rugged individualism that makes victims of others.  As Pope St John Paul II puts it, "The exercise of solidarity within each society is valid when its members recognize one another as persons….Solidarity helps us to see the "other'-whether a person, people or nation-not just as some kind of instrument, with a work capacity and physical strength to be exploited at low cost and then discarded when no longer useful, but as our "neighbor," a "helper" to be made a sharer, on a par with ourselves, in the banquet of life to which all are equally invited by God" (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 39).

But solidarity goes together with subsidiarity, that is, the fourth principle.  Subsidiarity is the principle which states that "A community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to coordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good (John Paul II, Centesimus Annus, On the Hundredth Anniversary of Rerum Novarum, 48; Pius XI, Quadragesimo Anno. On the Reconstruction of the Social Order, 184-186).

This fourth principle, the principle of subsidiarity, concretely applies to the Nigerian situation in a special way.  It should guide the relationship between the government and the citizen, it should guide the relationship between the citizen and his or her fellow citizen, and it should guide the relationship between the different tiers of government in Nigeria-federal, state and local. 

In practical terms, especially in terms of relationship between various levels of government, the issue of true federalism in Nigeria is the issue of respect for the principle of subsidiarity.  By virtue of this principle, the federal government ought not to take over functions that state governments can and must assume.  And, by extension, state governments should not take over the functions of local governments.  If, for example, university education is on the concurrent legislative list in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, should one commission oversee the establishment of every university in Nigeria and regulate all the faculties, departments and programmes in all universities in a country as vast and as diverse as Nigeria?  When the federal government in a country of such size and diversity disregards or is ignorant of the principle of subsidiarity what you have is not a federation but an empire dressed in the stolen robes of a federation.

In terms of the relationship between government and the citizen, the former should not take over functions which the latter can perform.  The alternative will be an activist government which becomes big, corrupt, and inefficient. We have seen this in the history of Nigeria.  The criminal seizure of government by soldiers inaugurated an era of illusion when government took over the functions of individuals and voluntary organizations in the education sector.  It marked the beginning of the end of good education, the collapse of education at all levels in Nigeria. The violation of the principle of subsidiarity is symptom of a government that has become more powerful than the citizen. And that is the kind of government we have in Nigeria today.  A government that is more powerful than the people is irresponsible, that is, incapable and/or unwilling to be accountable to the people.  It will rig elections, its functionaries will steal, and its agents in uniform will intimidate and brutalize the people they are paid to protect as our experience in recent memory teaches us, its security agencies will not protect the people.  In fact, such agencies will be either unable or unwilling to protect the citizen, either violate the rights of the citizen or turn a blind eye while their rights are being violated, which is what we are experiencing in Nigeria at this point in time.  Such a government, if at all it can be called government, is a huge obstacle on the path to authentic development.

As Nigeria approaches another election year, it will be the vocation of Catholic lawyers to identify laws that violate human dignity and are thus inimical to the common good, to solidarity and subsidiarity.  We have been witnessing the violation of the principle that an accused person is innocent until proven guilty.  Our war against corruption needs to respect the right of the accused to fair trial.  We are also witnessing the use of institutions of state to intimidate and persecute opponents of government.  We witness how fellow citizens violate each other's rights.  It is disheartening to note that, in some of these cases, some Catholic lawyers take sides with the violator.  It is a matter to be discussed in the Catholic Lawyers' Forum.

In the light of what has been said, I would make a concrete suggestion: that the Catholic Lawyers' Forum in the Archdiocese of Ibadan, and indeed the Catholic Lawyers' Forum in the whole of Nigeria, initiate and undertake a programme of revising and or repealing laws that violate the four principles of Catholic social doctrine in Nigeria.  This country is in dire need of good laws.  Among you are eminent experts of the law who are capable of doing this.  Take a look at the provisions of the 1999 Constitution.  There are many provisions in that Constitution that are inimical to true federalism simply because they are at variance with the principle of subsidiarity.  But where subsidiarity is jeopardized, solidarity is affected, where solidarity is affected, the common good and human dignity are in danger.  The Constitution itself has set up Nigeria in such a way that the state is more powerful than the citizen.  In a true democracy it is otherwise.

Finally, the Catholic lawyer, like every Christian, is an apostle, that is, one sent to the whole world, to proclaim the Gospel of justice.  Make justice present in the palace of justice.  For when justice is absent from the palace of justice, it becomes a hideout of bandits.  And when the palace of justice becomes a robbers' den, peace and prosperity eludes the society.

"You are the light of the world," says Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount.

Catholic lawyers are called to be the light of the world, lights in the courts of justice.

                                              Concluded.

 


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