Change: The Responsibility Of The People Or The Government?

By Urenna Ukiwe and Happiness Nleweoha |   22 July 2018   |   11:00 am  

“I’m starting with the man in the mirror
I’m asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer
If you want to make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself, and then make a change”

As pop star and music legend Michael Jackson sang, the change we clamour for or want can only start with each individual. As humans, it often seems easier to push blames unto someone else rather than take responsibility for our actions.

A protester shouts slogans on the second day of a protest against a removal of fuel subsidies in Lagos January 10, 2012. Tens of thousands of Nigerians took to the streets for a second day on Tuesday and many more stayed off work nationwide to try to force President Goodluck Jonathan to rescind a removal of subsidies that has doubled the price of petrol. Photo: REUTERS/Akintunde Akinleye

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Nigerians are wont to blame the government for lack of infrastructure and amenities, poor maintenance, poor economy, spiking crime rates and other sundry social, economic and political issues. At the same time, many who point fingers at the government, in their private lives, encourage all that is wrong with the society.

Nigeria boasts of the highest population in Africa with an estimated population of 180 million people, according to the National Population Commision.

Sadly, however, the strength of this huge human capital more often than not is left unutilised, leaving the country’s big brother usurped by ‘lesser’ countries.

While the Government is largely responsible for the direction of a country, the prevailing cultivated and shared values of people have a way of impacting the attitudes of the individuals that make up the society. Invariably, the values shared and transmitted by individuals can also condition and shape the success of the country.

More important is the fact that, while smaller African countries march towards progress and posterity, the proverbial Big Brother recedes into the bowels of poverty. This manifested in the recent Brooking Institution projection which put Nigeria as the poorest country in the world ahead of India, with about 87 million Nigerians deemed to be living below the poverty line.

Can we as a people expect our government to be totally different from the values we share as individual members of the society, granted that not every one of us has a warped sense of what is right and wrong?

President Buhari. Photo: More Branches

Values mean nothing and good morals do not matter as we often attribute success to being wealthy and owning physical assets and as such, celebrating ill-gotten wealth faster and better, therefore, ignoring the means through which it was gotten. It would seem as though people would rather identify with a wealthy thief than an honest and hard working middle-class fellow.

Even parents push their children into inconceivable things by comparing them to peers who have ‘made it’, although not a justification for fraudulent actions. This leads some young people to engage in illegal activities.

Yes, the government deserves a lot of knocks for its failures, but what about a tax evader, the man that thinks littering streets is his right or the woman who reduces measures in the market? How about the boy who sells fake iPhones to you or the political footsoldier who shares money at polling booth?

Bad electoral process, good leaders?

Citizen participation in the electoral process is one of the ways of guaranteeing a better future for themselves. In sane climes, it provides them with real power to alter the course of history with a voting pattern that may go against popular expectations.

However, citizen participation in the electoral process has always been fraught with massive irregularities, such that the ordinary person becomes culpable in the creation of messy political situations.

The recent governorship election in Ekiti State is an example of how ordinary citizens have allowed themselves to become a worrisome part of how not to build a society.

Nigerians at a voting centre. Photo: International Republican Institute

Our electoral process is steeped in corruption, vote buying, brigandage and outright violence. Of course, the political class can easily be blamed for our dirty politics. After all, they have impoverished the populace willfully so they can easily have their way with them. That’s the popular sentiment.

But will the political class thrive in its dirty politics without willing foot soldiers whose sense of appropriateness can easily be swayed by a few thousands of naira? Will they succeed if the electorate take a more active and positive roles on election days?

According to Parker Palmer the founder of the centre for Courage and Renewal, being politically civil is not about being polite to one another. “It is about reclaiming the power of “we the people” to come together, debate the common good and call democracy back to its highest values amid our differences.”

Is it not possible to rise above the lure of pecuniary gains and place the prospect in common good on a higher pedestal?

Essentially, our electoral process and the various governments they produce will continue to be dictated by the whims of selfish politicians until we rise above inordinate ephemeral gains.

No. of Registered Voters 67,422,005 Percentage of Registered Voters
No. of Accredited Voters 31,746,490 47.08%
No. of Votes cast 29,432,083 43.65%
No. of Valid Votes 28,587,564 42.40%
No. of Rejected Votes 844,519 1.25%
Source: inec.gov.ng

Nigerian casting a vote. Photo: Voanews

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Divided we stand?

While Palmer alluded to the ‘rising above our difference’ as the way of becoming more powerful as a people and be deciders of the fate of the collective, we as a people are more invested in divisive rhetorics. We harp on the denominators that set apart all the ethnic nationalities in the country, and at the same hope that we are united by the same commonwealth.

Tribal sentiments and religious biases reign supreme in our minds. In fact, some of us are blindly loyal to certain ethnic and religious dogmas. This makes it difficult for us to receive new ideas, peoples and culture into our world.

Unfortunately, such stereotyping and biases sometimes manifest themselves in volatile scenarios that have claimed lives and properties.

Casting a vote during Nigerian elections. Photo The Guardian

Cybercrime

In 2017, the Nigerian Communications Commission said Nigeria has ranked third on the global cybercrime index behind the United States and the United Kingdom.

Umar Danbatta, the NCC boss put the loss by Nigerian cyber criminals at N127 billion. This translates to about 0.08 of the country’s GDP as reported by Nigeria Minister of Communications Bar Adebayo Shittu.

Unemployment and social pressure are usually blamed for crime. But what about greed and aggrandisement?

With the unemployment rate climbing up from 14.2% to 18.8% in 2017 as reported by The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), more youths are left jobless and some out of sheer laziness resort to engaging in crime just for the sake of living an extravagant life. These few bad eggs have made it difficult for regular citizens to go about with their normal activities without the fear of being harassed by SARS officials.

Some Nigerian youth do not see any need to engage in meaningful employment when they can simply make millions with a mere tap of their computer keyboards.

Cybercrime. Photo: KOKO TV

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When this dirty money is gotten, they are celebrated and conferred chieftaincy titles to the chagrin of the honest ones.

Because of the cybercrime scourge, the SARS unit of the Nigerian police has harassed and arrested many young people in a bid to catch the culprits.

Again, our sense of morality plays a significant role in the festering of corruption.

Early in the year, media entrepreneur and social media influencer Noble Igwe was called a ‘snitch’ and was thoroughly lambasted by more than a few Nigerians. Igwe’s sin was that he asked Nigerians to look in the mirror. He tweeted:

“People steal and then turn around to blame the government for making them criminals. Anyone that defends a criminal is a criminal and, while we have a list of people for advocating rape culture, we should have one for such people. An armed robber is an armed robber. You are a thief with a computer.”

That Igwe was insulted for stating the obvious speaks volumes about our values as a people.

More importantly, it speaks to how we can sink to defend obvious criminality in spite of its negative effects on the Nigerian society.

Mob: Photo Thenationonline

Way forward…

Truth be told, not all of us are bad. In fact, some with statistics have argued that only a negligible percentage of Nigerians have negative traits.

It is indisputable, however, that the activities of this small band of people have defined the way we are by outsiders and how we sometimes see one another.

We can continue to point accusing fingers at a recalcitrant government whose sins are well documented. Little change will be witnessed if we continue to exhibit less than sterling qualities.

The change we want to see in the government does not start with it. It begins with us!

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