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The role of dedicated followership in participatory democracy – Part 3

By Sylvester Odion Akhaine
13 October 2022   |   2:41 am
Continued from yesterday Beyond the reflections of The Guardian, other Nigerians have also preoccupied themselves with the Nigerian condition while affirming the leadership problem; they have equally indicted the followership in the Nigerian governance quagmire. Rotimi Fawole (2019), jotted by the allegation of the complicity of the leaders and the followers in the reproduction of the…

Nigeria’s flag (Photo by Kola Sulaimon / AFP)

Continued from yesterday

Beyond the reflections of The Guardian, other Nigerians have also preoccupied themselves with the Nigerian condition while affirming the leadership problem; they have equally indicted the followership in the Nigerian governance quagmire.

Rotimi Fawole (2019), jotted by the allegation of the complicity of the leaders and the followers in the reproduction of the Nigerian problems, argues that the followers must take an equal share as the leaders in the problem that has bedevilled the country.

According to him, “The dearth of leaders of quality is often and correctly said to be the problem with Nigeria. But if we will be honest, we will acknowledge that we have a considerable followership problem as well, perhaps underscoring another truism – that leaders emerge from the general populace and not from some utopian leadership factory. In other words, the people produce their leaders and leaders are perhaps a reflection of their followers.

In a prescriptive tone, he notes that “ It almost seems unfair to demand more from people most of whom live in multidimensional poverty, but if the theses of leaders emerging from amongst the people and all of society thinking alike are true, then it must mean that if we want better leaders, we have to be better people.”

Omagbitse Barrow (2017) who claims to have interacted with the leaders and the led, comes up with some propositions, namely, “leaders do not drop down from heaven, they emerge from the people; therefore 2) If the ordinary people do not understand the role they play in creating future leaders then they too must be blamed for the pervasive rot that our society faces, and 3) We should be concerned about the attitude and mindset of the ‘led” or what others will describe as the “followers’ even more than we are concerned about the leaders – since it is the led that create the leaders that we have.”

Barrow goes further to encode his prescription as CODE where C stands for courage, O for oneness, D for discipline and E for empathy. The blame game could endure forever. But are the followers to be blamed? I shall explain in what follows.

In the foregoing, there is a dominant strain of blame but misapplied. To put the blame of the problems of Nigeria on the followers is to equate them with causality. The followers, in my opinion, are in a Rousseauan dilemma.

The people have willed into existence the general will and still wish to retain their will once there is a mission creep on the part of the state. That was solved by the constitutional provision of recall in liberal democracy. This has been impossible in Nigeria because of the coup against the people. The state has become roguish without respect for the rule of law.

The charges against the followers are the objective manifestations of the struggle against the strictures imposed by the rogue state. Need we remind ourselves that the dominant culture of every society is the culture of the ruling class? The regime type we have is not liberal democracy, even though it was the choice made by the Nigerian ruling elite in 1999. Liberal democracy is characterised by a cluster of freedoms that allows the masses to play the conventional role in politics, namely, vote, and be voted for. It is in this respect that participatory democracy, another marker of democracy, becomes relevant and simultaneously an aspiration.

Claude Ake (1992) charts the democratic course and underlines liberal perversion. He goes further to examine its essential factors that must be factored into the democratic equation for democracy to take root in Africa which are the social context, experience and the fulfilment of the social needs of the people. Therefore, participatory democracy allows for political freedom that enables the people to participate in the decision-making process and ultimately meet their social needs.

To state differently, it allows citizens space for the actualisation of their aspirations and well-being. It transcends the limitation of liberal democracy that inheres in the contradictory dynamics of the capitalist system that underpins it, and “its repudiation of the essence of democracy which is popular power” (Ake, 1992, p. 2).

Under participatory democracy, the Rousseauan ‘general will’ becomes active, and followership attains dialectical unity with leadership as it does the will of the people. To achieve this, followers must have to be nudged by the most advanced element in their fold to reclaim their sovereignty.

As Ake (1992, p. 9) has warned, “Democracy cannot be got by bribing the people; it is not given through aid or whatever means; it is taken, and defended daily by struggle. Struggle-hard and unrelenting—is the very essence of its instantiation and sustainability.”

The long and short of my arguments in this paper is that the followers are being wrongly blamed for the ills of the country; they are not to be blamed. Their docility and lethargy to reclaim their destiny in dramatic ways is a function of their repression by the ruling elite. But the unity of the subjective and objective factors will lead to the restoration of popular power and fulfilment of the social needs of society under a democracy that is truly participatory.

Concluded

Prof. Akhaine delivered this paper at the 46th annual conference of the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators of Nigeria, at the Muson Centre, Lagos, recently.