- Interpreting the social contract in an existential crises
BY KANMI ADEMILUYI
DURING times of existential threats, the issue of persuasion as opposed to compulsion comes up particularly in societies still in transition to operating a proper democracy. The battles of governments against the rampaging COVID-19 pandemic illustrates this dilemma very well. Even an old established democracy like the United States has been forced to use both carrot and stick with some state governments offering freebies to citizens willing to be vaccinated. All this is necessary because the vaccination campaign will only make sense if seventy per cent are vaccinated in order to achieve herd immunity.
Even within a functioning democracy with all the paraphernalia of the rule of law, demonstrably strong independent the institutions of the state and a vibrant civil society, compulsion sometimes has to be used and justified as part of the social contract. During a war to use an example, there is mass mobilisation including conscription. It means that the rights of the consciousness objector to dissent in a democracy is put on hold in a conflict situation which poses a threat to the nation. Same goes for compulsory voting in countries such as Australia, Argentina, Brazil and The Seychelles. In those countries, there is a democratic agreement that taxation and voting constitute key elements of the social contract binding participants in the state. Dissenters such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses have to abide with this or risk punitive fines, even a jail sentence. In Nigeria in the second republic, the government of Lateef Kayode Jakande in Lagos State demanded evidence of voters registration in order to gain access to certain education and health facilities. No one to my recollection challenged this admirable way of enforcing civic responsibility as part of the social contract in court. Jakande was right, for you cannot have rights without obligations.
Under Jakande, both compliance with tax obligations and voter registration went up exponentially which is important in cementing the social contract which should be the bedrock of a democratic society.
COVID is real and it poses an existential threat, the governments response is based on scientific evidence and it should be enforced in the overall interest of public safety. Data evidence from the United States and elsewhere shows clearly that with mutating variants the crises is turning into “the pandemic of the unvaccinated” as President Joe Biden has often stated. All means must now be deployed to achieve herd immunity.
Governments at every level, however, must do more in terms of civic engagement in order to achieve enhanced engagement. A stumbling block is the anti – democratic surbodination of civil society in relationship with political society. This must stop. All the organs of civil society such as the religious groups, trade and market unions, student movements and the informal sector must now be at the fulcrum as the decisive mobilising trajectory for enlightenment. This is how democracy at its most vigorous should work and is the most effective way of achieving public acceptability and effectiveness. After this, in the face of a looming disaster that we do not have the public health facilities to cope with and which poses a clear threat to an already hard pressed fiscal landscape, governments have no alternative than to ensure rigorous enforcement of the injunction to be vaccinated, any other course will be in dereliction of duty.