In search of the ‘people’ component of democracy
As Nigeria navigates to another important date on her calendar, which commemorates her avowed commitment to democracy, it is important to reflect on her journey so far, with a view to determining whether it has been retrogressive, cyclic or progressive. As a developing democracy, it is expected that such a day should mark another milestone on her roadmap rather than a mere holiday on the national calendar. It is common knowledge that the soul of democracy is the people, and as such, all activities therein should positively reflect and advance that people-connection. The measure of progress of a democracy, ipso facto, becomes the level of integration of public systems and institutions with the people. This should shape government actions and public behaviours.
Government actions entail managing and regulating all activities and interests in the polity for overall public good. Politics, economics, leadership, governance, technology, etc, must therefore be harmonised to serve this ultimate purpose, for a nation to thrive – or even assume democratic properties. This demands conformity to democratic rules and principles as political leaders manage the people’s mandate and resources.
The welfare of Nigerians must be accorded utmost priority during leadership considerations such that, for instance: while political leaders fly those jets, citizens should also ply good roads, railways and airways; as they (leaders) ride in those guarded vehicles and live in state fortresses, every street is manned against crime and terror in protection of lives/property of citizens; as political leaders embark on medical tourism abroad, their citizens should also have access to quality and affordable (if not free) medical care back home; while they enroll their wards in Ivy League colleges abroad, public (and private) schools are built or developed in Nigeria to matching standards; while fountains are mounted on street roundabouts, water taps are running clean at homes; while street lights are lit overhead, there is steady supply of electricity at every power point in town; etc. The same spirit and force that drive taxation should also drive the provision of services to Nigerian citizens.
The sanctity of human life should form part of national values in order to guarantee its safety. It is ripe time to wonder who will lay the wreath, at least, for Nigerian victims of insurgency, terrorism, herdsmen menace, kidnapping, armed robbery, etc, or the pensioner/worker who gave up the ghost in vain wait for their elusive pay or entitlements, or the women who died of inefficiency while trying to give birth in hospital – both representing numerous similar cases of neglect. Only demonstrable commitment to protection of lives and property of citizens can drastically minimise such occurrences. Government and citizens alike must genuinely grimace at such incidents and rise up against them. Manchester stands out at the moment, as an example of such commitment and solidarity, in the wake of a recent terror attack.
This national reflection should also examine the standing of democratic freedoms in Nigeria – of expression/speech, of the press, and of peaceable assembly. Public voices must not be stifled as they are raised in favour/defence of rule of law, restructuring of the polity, fiscal federalism, self-determination, resource control/ownership, the girl-child, youth education/empowerment, etc. They should rather be heard and addressed, lest they form a bedlam and destabilise or disintegrate the polity. There should be no no-go areas of national discourse. If Nigeria’s independence was achieved in pursuit/defence of freedom, then the principles that enthroned it must be internalised. A nation that condones internal ‘wars’ and crises would readily fall prey to mischievous machinations of subversive elements within or without.
Nigeria’s electoral system must be sustainably developed not only to guarantee fair play in electoral activities but also to incorporate a robust national orientation programme that, among others: educates citizens on their civil duties, rights and obligations; equips them with the essential knowledge-base for objectively making right political choices and decisions; lays bare the national history and the lessons therein; and warns them of the danger of ethnicism, corruption, nepotism, religious bigotry/intolerance, crimes and other socio-political and economic vices. Has ethnicism not failed the nation because natives think ‘us’ but not ‘all’? Has sectionalism not failed her because regions think ‘share’ but not ‘optimize’? Has the politics of zoning, which is creeping into Nigeria’s unwritten ‘constitution’ via partisan channels, not relegated competence and merit which would have guaranteed sufficient delivery of dividends of democracy? Eyebrows must be raised in situations where a few individuals decide the fate of the entire citizenry and the polity, as opposed to public will.
It is not far-fetched that leadership choices make or mar the progress of any nation. Public behaviours must be rightly influenced and guided to achieve positive results in this regard. Only leadership that puts the people at the forefront of state affairs, while optimising other resources, can engineer a constant progress towards the development of its democracy for optimal dividends. The people must assume ownership of the system by asserting themselves as leaders! In the words of Bill Moyers, “democracy works when people claim it as their own.”
As Nigerians mark Democracy Day, may they find their rightful place in the architecture of Nigeria’s democratic system.
Happy Democracy Day, fellow Nigerians!
This article was sent before the Democracy Day of May 29.