Civil action and democracy
Sir: One of the cardinal problems that hamper the development of democracy in Nigeria is the inability of her citizens to effectively express their opinion and grievances to relevant authorities, with a view to achieve redress on issues that affect them. One can easily observe that such democratic tools for expression as mass protest, strike action among others have not only faced stiff resistance by govern
ment authorities. No matter the resistance that impedes this current of civil action at leadership, they cannot diminish the importance of those expressions.
Most times, government and its officials tend to qualify their decisions, actions and stance with the finality of the law. Under such circumstance, they fail to realise or accept that, they can be challenged if they are not in congruence with established laws, principles and agreements; civil protest becomes legitimate to the extent that it is popular, peaceful and operates within the ambit of the law. Civil actions or protests are not basically intended to challenge or contest government authority but are tools for ensuring equity, balance and stability in a democratic system.
Indeed, tear-gas and ammunitions may disperse a protest but cannot dismiss the problem or issue. Contrary to the use of force, there are legal and mediation routes available to authorities for resolving conflicts with the people and vice-versa. With the emergence and thriving of the concept of alternative dispute resolution, consensus is facilitated. The polity may not be visibly boiling but could be super-heating in the silence of those who are gagged or cowed from speaking out – an unfortunate situation that precedes the quiet demise of democracy to tyranny. Silence and calm, in other words, might signal an impending doom, hence the importance of constant stakeholder engagement and communication.
This is the understanding that must guide people in positions of authority to factor the people-element in governance while making and executing laws and policies, and issuing directives. This understanding will help them embrace openness, camaraderie and dialogue when faced with popular demands and grievances. This is also the conviction that must inspire and strengthen citizens and civil groups to against all odds, pursue to fruition their good and that of the system, using all forms of expression that democracy and the law allows.
Democracy is strengthened across the world because of people like Nelson Mandela, Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jr., Gani Fawehinmi, Wole Soyinka, Odinkalu among others who consistently challenge inconsistencies and anomalies in government.
One of the key attributes of good leadership is the willingness to listen to the grievances of the people. Therefore, to succeed, leaders must navigate all parties through the path of dialogue, respect and reason to the ultimate common goal of public good.
• Emmanuel Ikechukwu Igbo wrote from Lagos.