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Nigeria’s democracy: Where are the citizens?

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President Buhari

As we mark 19 years of uninterrupted democratic governance in Nigeria, we are compelled to interrogate ourselves and ask the rhetorical question: where are the citizens in our democratic experiment?

This question arises from the apparent pathetic docility and unfathomable detachment of the citizens from the currents and undercurrents of our polity.

Whereas elsewhere, the power of the people has been expressed through the ballot box, in Nigeria, the people seem to have given up their rights.

They have become mere spectators in events and policies that invariably shape their lives.

Citizens appear to have become so gullible and have been bought over by politicians for the proverbial mess of pottage.

They simplify social malady as ‘stomach infrastructure.’

They celebrate corrupt officials who have made good through the coffers of the state.

They even aspire to ill-gotten wealth like their leaders.

This, to say the least, is a terrible tragedy for the Nigerian people.

The saying that the people get the type of leadership that they deserve has found fulfillment in our land.

What is worse, there are some citizens who believe that the ballot box changes nothing.

Such men and women are skeptical of politicians, denouncing all who seek office in politics to be bad men.

They believe that whatever the people do, despicable men who seek power will always subvert the peoples’ will.

Mark Twain cynically captures this when he opined: “If voting made any difference they wouldn’t let us do it.’

But Abraham Lincoln somewhat counters this when he asserted: “Elections belong to the people. It’s their decision.

If they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will sit on their blisters.”

Nigerian citizens should not burn their behinds by abdicating their role in elections. 

That is what defines the majesty of democracy and refines the sovereignty that the constitution ascribes to the citizens.      

If democracy is indeed a government of the people, by the people and for the people, where does the average Nigerian stand in the scheme of things? How do the people perceive themselves?

What are their obligations? Does the tiny one per cent ruling elite reckon with the true sovereignty of democracy, the people?

How assertive or participatory have the people been in the electoral process?

Have they really been involved in choosing their representatives?

Have they held their representatives to give account of their stewardship? Do the citizens recognise and appreciate their rights?

Where are the citizens who are expected to hold the sacred and time-tested ethical values of the land?

What happened to the famed principled men of conscience who were reputed to stand by communal values and morality?

Why, in spite of the prevalence of religious fervor in the country have Nigerians become so cheap that they can be bought with little sums of money?  

Democracy is predicated both in principle and in practice on mass participation.

Historically, democracy seized power from the unelected sovereign who ruled over the people by the Doctrine of Divine Rights of Kings.

The revolutions of the 19th century put an end to that obnoxious doctrine in Europe.

It transferred power to the people all around the world with the exception of a few countries.

The tyranny of a minority is thus an anachronism.

One of the beauties of democracy is the power of the people to express their wish during elections, by casting their ballot.

It is an act of affirmation. The act of voting according to one’s conscience is almost a sacred responsibility. It is also a social obligation.

It confers the power of choice on the electorate.

Those who elect not to vote thereby abdicating their responsibility make it possible for undesirable elements to take the reins of power.

This is a tragic mistake for the people and a danger to the future of the Republic. 

Democracy commands the supremacy of the people. Primarily, the leaders are elected for the sake of the people.

Leaders are mandated to pursue the development of an egalitarian society, which promotes the common good.

Democracy also insists that the peoples’ will must not be subverted either by design or by default.

Indeed the people have the obligation to defend their votes within the prescribed norms of the law.

The rule of law therefore is an anchor which the people must take lightly only to their own peril.

Considering the fact that power is an intoxicant democratic ideals stress the separation of powers.

The Executive Arm, the Legislature and the Judiciary have a duty to defend the rights of the people.

The Fourth Estate of the Realm also fits into this nexus.

The Judiciary, the Legislature and the media are veritable tools in the hands of the people in protecting and securing the power of the ballot box.

But the media must not abdicate its primary role of monitoring governance and holding the three other arms of government to account to the people.

The social media genre, the self-styled citizen journalism arm of the Office of the Citizen should not continue with incipient recklessness including ‘hate speeches’ and ‘fake news’ impurities the world has noticed.

The people must secure their liberty. Civil liberties, protests, recalling delinquent officials, access to information through the ubiquitous power of the social media, the right to free association as enshrined in the constitution are all tools in the hands of the people.

It is not for the fun of it that the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria starts with the expression ‘We the people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria…’  

Under the right conditions in a democracy the people should not be afraid of their government.

Instead the government should be afraid of the power of the people because of their power on Election Day.   

Note this significant factor: Education is crucial to understanding rights.

It is the ignorant ones who trade their votes for a few naira and remain in perpetual bondage.

Interest groups, the mosques and churches should embark on intense education on voter rights.

The tiny minority who have seized power and turned the national patrimony into their private treasury are an insult on the collective spirit of the people.

As they dance naked on the national stage or even in the states, the people should not stand askance.

Their voices of protest should be heard. If the pretenders who call themselves democrats are aware that the people will resist their excesses they would tread carefully.

But sadly, the citizens have never succeeded in recalling erring elected persons who failed them in their assignments, notably in the legislature in spite of the fact that the Constitution gives the people the power to do so.  

Therefore, the citizens should redeem and liberate themselves.

God will not come down to save man from the evil he has unleashed on himself. Citizen power is real. Let us harness it.

The citizens should rise to the onerous assignment, which the constitution has placed on them.

No more bribes for votes. Compromising one’s conscience because of filthy lucre will enchain the country forever.

They should shun politicians who do not fulfill their pledges.

Citizens should also join the different political parties and demand their rights.

They should ask the important and correct questions.

They also have the right to protest when they perceive that their rights have been violated by the men and women to whom they have entrusted power. They should shun apathy. 

In the political game in the land, citizens should not be mere spectators.

They should be vibrant participants in the process of electing persons to lead the nation at different levels.

We need no sage to tell us that the nation has so far been shepherded by men of great incompetence or extreme selfishness and self-aggrandizement.

Let us remember as so poetically captured by John Stuart Mill: “All that is required for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.’’

So, citizens, arise today and be of good courage to asset your political and economic rights.

Yes sovereignty belongs to you according to Section 14 (2) of the 1999 Constitution, which provides that: ‘sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria from whom government through this Constitution derives its powers and authority.’

        


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