Nigerians are recently confronted with a barrage of new bills even as the pandemic hits hard at the economy. The government seems to be more involved with people’s daily and personal lives with its oft-needless regulations.
The Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA), for instance, is made to increasingly regulate not only profit-making corporate organizations but also religious bodies and non-governmental organizations. While the recently introduced water bill only seeks to concentrate water use and regulation in the hands of the federal government, it goes as far as determining whether private individuals can dig boreholes in their own homes.
More so, the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) is considering requiring women planning to get married to take a drug test. Last year saw a social media bill, border closure and bans on the importation of some items to name a few. It is also worth noting that some of these bills being introduced like the CAMA bill and the water bill have previously been rejected — yet, FG reintroduced them.
Over-regulation and over-criminalization are dangerous. They are inefficient and costly, as funds go into enforcing these rules and they lead to black markets and more corruption. For every new law that is passed, we give the government more rights and powers over our lives, more reason to prosecute people even though it may not be necessary.
Over-regulation also contributes more to systemic oppression. For example, the war on drugs in the US has proved that over-regulation and overcriminalization can engender institutional decay and corruption of law enforcement. This also shows in the war on cyber crime in Nigeria which for some reason is rarely fought online but on the streets where police officers harass young men under the guise of investigating cyber criminals.
For a government that has failed in its basic duty of protecting the lives and property of the people as evident in the myriad of crises beleaguering the country, it seems to have time and resources to dedicate to managing the lives of private organizations and citizens. The failure of the government in protecting the lives and properties of the citizens is proof that delegating more tasks to it is to ask for more of our institutions to fall into a rut.
We return to the same problem Nigeria has: Believing that the government is the solution to every problem. This singular approach prevents us from looking at other options that may be more efficient.
Everything doesn’t need a bill, neither is it the solution to every problem. We should begin looking at civil society solutions to our problems and before any new laws are passed, we must ask ourselves, “Is this really necessary? Are there already existing laws that cover the purpose stated? Is this worth giving more power to the government over my life or private affairs?”
A healthy dose of skepticism is very important in any society, even those with the best systems. We cannot assume that whatever powers we give to the government will always be used impartially and for the good of the citizens. Even if we have a perfect government, which we don’t, we are laying the foundation for a future tyrant to wipe away years of work that has been put into creating a democratic and free society however imperfect it currently is.
Over-regulation puts everyone at risk no matter how well-intended it may seem. It chips away our liberty little by little and it is our duty to protect it despite the incentive to trade it for security. As Benjamin Franklin said, “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”
Ogechukwu Egwuatu is a writing fellow at African Liberty, studying French and German at University of Nigeria, Nsukka.