The contemporary world in which we live is an ever-changing ever-dynamic globe. Things are happening at breathtaking pace, while social players try to adapt to these changes. In order to keep pace with developments, human beings have devised ways and methods by which to live and operate. The fundamentals of social existence suggests that every being is a social animal, and according to Charles Darwin’s theoretical framework, it is a matter of survival of the fittest and those without the strength and were withal to stay fit and alive naturally go into extinction. Modern societies operate on two models that may be classified into collectivism and individualism – concepts that were explicated by 18th century philosophers like Emile Durkheim and Herbert Spencer. At a basic level, individuals make up the society but they lack capacity to exist in isolation, which is where the collective capacity comes in.
From time immemorial, the ability to ensure that society keeps functioning is vested in various institutions, with a critical one being that of government. The government exists to organize the collective basis of our lives with a framework from which every member of society draws benefits and security for sustenance and prolonged existence. Governments in modern states have this in mind when that responsibility is bestowed upon them by whatever means deemed appropriate; either through democratic elections or through forceful takeovers. This institution is what empowers other lesser institutions to function in an efficient manner and the aggregation of these structures is what creates the overall social system. It is within this system that members find direction and support, while pursuing their individual goals and ideals. A functional social system fosters a sense of belonging in the minds of the members, which leads to a certain degree of trust on a long run.
Coming down to Africa, and bringing it closer home, we see the reflections of some of these aforementioned ideals. Having been under colonial rule and subsequent independence for well over half a century ago, it would take some real moment of hesitation to affirm that we have what can be called a functional social system in Nigeria. In every segment of our society, one is able to see the obvious gaps in efficiency and optimum operation of most institutions within this system. With over 200 million people- based on latest United Nations data (an equivalent of 2.64% of total world population) while over 60% are youths and a staggering unemployment rate of around 20%, there has never been a better time for drastic changes to take place than now.
A New Pandemic
The current global pandemic in form of COVID-19 has revealed a significant level of functionality or shortcoming in the capacity of different societies all over the world. In the history of pandemics, the Spanish flu of 1918 is described as one of the deadliest in the modern era, killing about 50 million people worldwide, with almost 500 million people infected. Its impact on Nigeria saw the death of about 500,000 citizens nationwide, with a national population of just 18 million at the time. As many may be unaware, the country also went through a lockdown in the manner we are witnessing now, while the disease was being contained.
The most developed countries with the best of systems have been worn out by this pandemic as seen so far. The situation in Nigeria is also testing the capability of our existing systems to confront this challenge. Before now, it is a consensus that ours is a society of weak systems. From politics, to economics, to health and infrastructure as well as other critical sectors, these have been characterized by inefficiencies over the years, which have often let down Nigerians at crucial times. Corruption is one malady that seeps through our social structures, while maladministration is a constant bane of these institutions. As at the time of writing, total number of recorded cases in Nigeria stands at just below 3000 according to NCDC figures, with the numbers expected to rise significantly in coming days, as Nigeria is yet to reach its own peak period, according to health experts.
Furthermore, nothing indicates a defective social structure more than the absence of a central national database for the country, as the Federal Government struggles to determine whom its poorest citizens are in its bid to provide palliatives during the desperate times like this. The absence of any kind of social security or welfare net further shows the failure of our core social systems overtime. In other countries, stimulus packages are being rolled out to support nationals and this is based on efficient and reliable database in the face of lockdowns and social (physical) distancing directives.
Distancing by Nigerians?
This then brings us to the matter of social distancing as a strategy for combating the virus. By nature, Nigerians are a very sociable people. A simple evidence of this is seen in the number of social gatherings that takes place especially on weekends across most cities in the country. Drawing from sociological theories of 19th century scholar, Emile Durkheim, one of the leading sociologists of that era, two forms of solidarity comes to mind, these are; Mechanical and Organic. These concepts help us to understand how society evolves from one stage to another and how it operates in terms of social relationships and interactions. This is especially in light of the current directive on social – more like physical – distancing.
The Mechanical solidarity describes the kind of interaction based on shared beliefs and values usually seen in traditional pre-industrial societies while the Organic type is found in more complex and advanced or industrialized societies. After a while, every society transforms into an Organic solidarity type as a result of industrialization, according to Durkheim. The concept of social distancing is a phenomenon that many Nigerians have to come to terms with for the sake of now. Traditionally, the Nigerian social structure is one based on mechanical type of solidarity, where kinship ties are strong with shared beliefs and values by all members of a society, in a structure that brings everyone including extended family members together at times.
It Takes Planning
The point being highlighted here so far is that there is a need on government’s part to create necessary social and welfare systems if success is to be achieved in enforcing measures such as social distancing and state lockdowns – a trend that has gained greater significance because of the widespread global pandemic of COVID19. When unforeseen (unfortunate) situations that pose serious threats to the survival and comfort of ordinary citizens arise, this system serves as a form of cushion and further serves as a foundation for the provision of necessary palliatives to members of the public. Unfortunately, the government of Nigeria at all levels – most depressingly, the Local Governments– have not recorded much success in this regard. In order to ensure a sustainable system in place, the first step is to have the right kind of leaders in positions of authority. These leaders must be set of people with the much-needed political will, to make tough, drastic decisions that will culminate in sweeping changes and benefit Nigerians on the long run.
The National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) has failed to achieve its primary objectives over the years, which is very worrisome. This is something that can be addressed with quality, visionary and purposeful leadership – an element that has eluded the country’s ruling class over the years. Now is the time to reflect and begin to plan because COVID-19 will surely pass but who knows when the next pandemic might be? Posterity will not forgive us if we fail to plan, we must avoid a repeat of the popular saying that “if you fail to plan, you will plan to fail”.