By Ndidi Uwechue
In the face of all that is ailing Nigeria,
It is so much easier to just sit and watch, and do nothing.
It is so much easier to just sit and complain, and do nothing.
It is so much easier to just sit and dream, and do nothing.
It is so much easier to just sit, kneel or prostrate in prayer, and do nothing.
HOWEVER it is citizen participation (or lack of), that shapes the current state and the future of any nation, including Nigeria. Clearly Nigeria has reached crisis point. What we, the people do now, or do not do now, will determine the kind of future we will have, and that our children and grandchildren will have. Even though we are from different backgrounds, have different educational standards, have different economic statuses, one major thing connects us all, and that is that we are Nigerians and, therefore, the state of the nation will affect us all one way or another.
Citizen participation means that every one of us, even our children, can get involved in doing something that will make the living conditions better for all of us. In a democracy the power to change things is actually more with the people, and less with the politicians. However, most Nigerians do not know this! We think the power is with politicians because we have not been taking citizen participation seriously. But we can change that.
Citizen participation gives every individual an opportunity to influence and change political, social, economic and public decisions and allows us to be an important part of the democratic decision-making in Nigeria. By citizen participation the people become part of the governance structure and can through the strength of people power actually direct governance!
Nigeria’s democracy is still relatively young and still developing. We now need to add citizen participation into our lives, and this will make us use our power and our responsibility as citizens.
There are many ways to effect citizen participation and it involves using some of your time in a cause that will benefit you, your family, your community and your country. Everything needs to be improved so we have a lot of citizen participation to do so that our children and their children can inherit a better country, and have a better quality of life.
Our citizen participation does not end at voting for public officers but is an ongoing activity. After elections we then help in the governance of our country by things such as pushing for new laws that will improve our lives and our society, by forming pressure groups, by recalling lawmakers who are inept, by campaigning for policies and services that will make our future better, safer and more secure.
We can look around us at our environment and public services to apply our citizen participation for the improvement of our country. We can use social media, communication media eg. WhatsApp, our phone videos and camera, newspapers, magazines, newsletters, the internet, town hall meetings, mass gatherings, etc to assist us in our citizen participation activities.
In Nigeria our young democracy was hijacked early on by people who were unpatriotic, who had no concern for the people, but whose aim was to steal public money and spend it on themselves, their families and their friends. Although Nigeria has now become severely disabled by these corrupt leaders (politicians and civil servants) we still have the means to reverse the damage that was done to our people and our nation. However it will take our collective and determined effort through citizen participation.
“…Ensuring that government actually works for the public good requires informed, organized, active and peaceful citizen participation. Citizens must, therefore, understand ideas about citizenship, politics and government. They need knowledge to make decisions about policy choices and the proper use of authority, along with the skills to voice their concerns, act collectively and hold public officials (i.e., elected representatives, civil servants, and appointed leaders) accountable. ..” (National Democratic Institute, Washington DC)
It has become the norm in Nigeria to talk about the three arms of government. These are the Executive (the Cabinet), the Legislative (the National Assembly), and the Judiciary (the Courts).
However, in a properly functioning democracy there should be a fourth arm, and that is the people power through citizen participation activities. In order to fix Nigeria, this fourth arm of governance needs to bring itself out and become properly effective.
Elections come around every four years and if the leader is bad too much damage will be done in that time, so voting power is just not powerful enough.
This is why citizen participation which is an ongoing people power is essential for creating a pleasant country. Thus, every Nigerian (starting from secondary school age) should regularly contemplate these questions:
- What is purpose of the government?
- How important are my and others’ human rights?
- How satisfied am I with the way the government is working?
Every Nigerian (starting from secondary school age) should know at least in principle Clause 14 of the Constitution which states:
(1) The Federal Republic of Nigeria shall be a State based on the principles of democracy and social justice.
(2) It is hereby, accordingly, declared that:
(a) Sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria from whom government through this Constitution derives all its powers and authority;
(b) The security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government; and
(c) The participation by the people in their government shall be ensured in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution.
Citizen participation is a pillar of democracy and is necessary for a sustainable democracy. It means citizens performing their social responsibility of participation in governance as part of their civic duties.
Citizen participation is both a duty and an honour. Nigeria is at crisis point, and our people are now ready for action through citizen participation.
- Uwechue, a retired London Police Officer and a pro-social advocate, wrote from Ogwashi-Uku, Delta State