Promoting Active Citizenship and Participatory Policy Making in Nigeria

In any society or community of human beings, in which there is order, there always has to be some sort of organizational structure that guarantees this order by keeping the society together. Such an organizational structure in whatever size and capacity is referred to as government or performs the functions of a government. There exist different ways in which societies are organized and ways in which authority is derived by governments.

Broad classifications in this regard will call out totalitarian and egalitarian governments. A totalitarian government is organized in such a way that the people with power control everybody else without recourse to their opinions. In an egalitarian society such as a democracy however, all members of that society are considered to have equal rights and a say in which they are governed. A democracy is built on written and unwritten terms of an agreement between the leaders or the people in power and the followers or the masses. When these agreements, collectively referred to as a ‘social contract’ are respected, there is peace in the society and there is progress as a result.

However, as human beings, parties in a social contract or any agreement at all may tend to forget their duties and this often happens. However, when this happens, the other party must remind its counterpart about its duties and the terms upon which the agreement was made in the first place. Between government and the masses, this ‘reminder’ needs to be triggered often as the government is made up of authoritative individuals who are most times power-drunk, forgetful, and prone to the erring. Hence, the need for active citizenship participation. Leaders would afford to care less about the people because they are in a position of comfort having been cushioned with wages, allowances, and other innumerable benefits of office.

In Nigeria, there seems to be a near-total lack of interest in government and its activities among the masses. During elections, only a fraction of the population comes out to choose leaders. Those who stay away from voting include unregistered voters, constitutionally ineligible voters as well as registered voters who are lethargic about exercising their civic duty. The result of this is that only a small percentage of the population goes out to vote and an election with a low voter turnout or low voter interest is prone to manipulation because after all, nobody cares about the results. This is how Nigeria keeps ending up with bad leadership because the citizens do not care so much about improving their leadership. This, in turn, makes the elected leaders care little about the voters because they are few and can always be manipulated through gifts of cash. Why then would the ‘elected’ leaders not make selfish policies that take care of themselves only?

To achieve better leadership in Nigeria therefore, we must improve citizen participation in the political process and policymaking. First, civic duties such as voting should be made as mandatory as paying taxes. Why would one pay tax to fund a government and then he/she might never get to choose his/her leaders through the ballot? Voting should, therefore, be made compulsory for all citizens of 18 years and above. This would encourage wider interest in the activities of government and inspire positive policy-making.

All Nigerians should also be counted in a national census in which the records of each individual: their location, gender, employment status, civil status, level of income, level of education are all captured so that government has accurate records with which to make and implement policies for the betterment of the country. The government cannot effectively meet the needs of its citizens without knowing how many they are talking less of their specific needs. Unfortunately, this is the state of Nigeria at the moment.

In Nigeria, one cannot help but notice that there is a gap between the leadership and the mass of the citizens. Government policies made by government officials often do not reflect the needs of the people. In the same line, the government passes legislation that, instead of alleviating the situation of the masses, makes it worse. Political leaders arrogate to themselves huge pay packages with attendant allowances for undefined miscellaneous expenses. One handy example of a dissonant policy adopted by the government which is not in the interest of the people in the recent visa-on-arrival policy. Nigeria is already plagued with almost an unmanageable security situation but the only thing the government believes will benefit Nigerians at the moment is allowing millions of foreigners to stream into the country without proper checks. 

Mercenary fighters from the crisis in Libya, Boko Haram insurgents and Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) are all over the place in the Sahel and neighboring territories waiting for an opportunity to join forces with Boko Haram within Nigerian borders and probably secure territory and a base for their operations. It is the wrong time to ease travel into Nigeria for the sake of the security of the masses. And to think that the government of Nigeria did not secure the approval of the National Assembly which directly represents the people only confirms that this government policy is a unilateral and self-seeking thing. The Nigerian people are not being carried along and this is what leads to the breakdown of law and order in the society. If Nigerians were intimated about the consequences of this visa-on-arrival policy, they probably would have protected themselves by not allowing it. But now, the stage is set for a further worsening of the security situation in Nigeria and further loss of lives and property because unknown foreigners are coming in and we do not know what they might be coming with.

The need for active citizenship is for the collective betterment of society. All citizens have to participate in securing the country. This is our belief at The Young Leaders Council. We believe citizens must be included in the affairs of the state for people-oriented policies to be formulated and implemented for the good of all. At the same time, it is Nigerians first who must show interest in the governance of their country and take steps to collectively hold the government to account to the people. It is, therefore, a challenge for The Young Leaders Council to step up and push for inclusive leadership in Nigeria. It is the young people of today who hold the key to the next few decades because they were born in a period when the world is transitioning from traditional analog ways of doing things to digital governance via the internet and its accompanying technologies. This is why this appeal is to young people; because they have the skills needed to build the new Nigeria of our dreams. And what they have to do is specified: advocate for a true census of Nigerians, advocate for compulsory citizen participation in politics through compulsory voting for all eligible voters.

Lubem David Ayegh  is a Law student at the University of Ibadan. She has a strong interest in volunteer works (that deals with eliminating poverty and making education available to all) and leadership.

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