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BUILDING A VIRILE POLITY;  THE ROLE OF THE CIVIL SOCIETY & THE PRESS

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There is an urgent and critical need for the civil society and pressure groups to address the disturbing trend of ‘’cash and carry’’ democracy that is fast becoming the trend in our society. It is very distressing, especially considering the norm of precedents that usually form the basis of human actions. A few analogies would be useful here. Prof. Ibrahim Gambari, Nigeria’s former Minister of External Affairs; later United Nations Under Secretary-General for Political Affairs in a speech in his active UN days, while calling for an attitudinal change on the part of Africa’s leaders stated that ‘’the perpetrators of vices such as poor governance, corruption, impunity, and lack of transparency would not easily give up the privileges accruing to their practices. ‘’What needs to be done, therefore, is for innocent people of poor governance culture to demand for peaceful changes and the termination of politics of exclusion that lead to acute crises and conflicts.’’

An examination of the role of the civil populace would regrettably reveal that all Africans have been integral parts of the problems of lack-luster performances in governance. The story of the political development of the continent is a mixed grill of paradox – hardship and ease, regrets, sadness and joy. A greater percentage of Africans are docile when it comes to fighting for their rights. The most plausible reasons for this development are lack of awareness, poverty, low level of education, and the absence of enough active groups on the political space to engineer the electorate and the citizenry on their rights and how to demand for them. Regrettably, the elites have constantly taken advantage of the situations highlighted above to weaken the morale of the civil populace who should ideally call their representatives in government to order. It is regrettable that some actions of the government and the governed have led to dislocation of the agenda of the polity on many occasions. For instance, electoral contests have torn nations apart and have resulted into civil wars in several African nations.

If the truth must be told, we have indeed gotten to a crossroads in the arena of political transition with the relative ease by which all political parties now perfect the art of rigging or winning elections at all costs. Values, principles and goals of the electorate are now different from those that have historically shaped electoral decision making from the ward to local government, up the strata to the topmost level of government.  All participants are daily looking for ways and means to influence the hungry and poor electorate through what is now sadly known as ‘’vote buying and selling’’ Nothing seems to matter to the electorate any longer. They are very eager to part with their inalienable right to elect their preferences if given miserable amounts by politicians. It is such a pity because it might take a long time for us to get out of this messy state because the growing generation of Nigerians have experienced only military rule and politics of deceit, violence, decamping, encamping, impeachments, etc We will require more than an ordinary reorientation to change attitudes from selfishness to selflessness. Nobody bothers about manifestos of ideologies any longer. It is such a worrisome development such that year 2009 assessments by erudite scholars are still applicable for the

For instance, Prof. Tunde Adeniran, Nigeria’s one-time Minister of Education; later Ambassador to the Federal Republic of Germany, in his Preface to by book on Governance stated that: ‘’Nigerians need to care more about democracy, raise fundamental questions about it, re-assess our performance from time to time and strive to leave a worthy legacy. ‘’The book is being published at a time the polity is characterized by serious challenges of development, a damning display of astonishing wealth of few, and the misery of the many, as the system continues to be fettered by the diminishing patriotism, declining productivity, selfishness and greed. ‘’The corrosive forces of primitive patronage, compulsive compromise and complex corruption are being compounded by the gross deficit in internal party democracy to pose serious challenges to the consolidation of democracy and good governance.’’  At about the same time, a respected scholar, Prof. Akin Oyebode blamed the elites for the country’s inability to develop a viable political culture; stating that “those people who can call the nation to order now are very few; they don’t have the gut, and they lack the courage. Even, when they have the intellect, they are afraid to talk. ‘’We claim to be operating democracy, but we are operating it without democrats. ‘’This is the real problem”.

Ethnic and tribal prejudices have been promoted by elites who should ordinarily encourage national unity. Additionally, elites in some nations have been accused of sponsoring military coups on account of their losing electoral contests. All these factors have prematurely terminated the lives of democratic regimes. The conducts of the political actors also call for concern. A review of the electoral process to correct these anomalies for democratic culture is to be entrenched has been compiled. There have been strident calls for unbiased conduct on the part of electoral bodies established in accordance with the constitution. One of the committees headed by no less a personality than the Hon. Justice Lawal Muhammadu Uwais, (CJN retd) identified wrong mindsets of Nigerians as one of the causes of electoral malpractices. He, therefore, recommended the creation of an Electoral Offences Commission to handle electoral malpractices and to ensure that stiff and proper penalties and sanctions that would serve as deterrents. This issue will be treated further in the latter part of this compilation.

DEMOCRATIC INSTITUTIONS

CIVIL SOCIETY ORGANIZATIONS
Civil society is composed of autonomous associations which develop a thick, diverse and multicultural network. Basically, civil society organizations are described as non-governmental organizations floated for different reasons. ‘’As it develops, civil society will consist of a range of local groups, specialized organizations and linkages between them to amplify the corrective voices of civil society as a partner in governance and the market.” (Connor, 1999) According to Dr. Aisha Ghaus-Pasha, in a paper titled: ‘Civil Society Organizations in Governance’ delivered at the 6th Global Forum on Reinventing Government Towards Participatory and Transparent Governance held in May, 2005, in Seoul, Republic of Korea, Civil society can further good governance, first, by policy analysis and advocacy; second, by regulation and monitoring of state performance and the action and behaviour of public officials; third, by building social capital and enabling citizens to identify and articulate their values, beliefs, civic norms and democratic practices; fourth, by mobilizing particular constituencies, particularly the vulnerable and marginalized sections of masses, to participate more fully in politics and public affairs; and fifth, by development work to improve the wellbeing of their own and other communities.

Largely, many of these organizations are in place for the emancipation of the masses and draw their funding from philanthropy, grants, aids and other forms of assistance, mainly from organizations outside the country.  A publication by the United Nations Global Compact programmes states that ‘’ Since the Global Compact was launched in 2000, the business community has increasingly shown leadership and willingness to join the United Nations in our work – with a growing number of companies taking steps to respect human rights, ensure safe and decent workplace conditions, protect the environment and implement good corporate governance. In addition to internalizing these principles in business operations, Global Compact companies are asked to undertake more outward-oriented actions to increase their positive impacts on society, thereby supporting broader UN goals and issues, for example in the areas of poverty, health, education, food security, peace, migration and humanitarian assistance. Civil society organizations have been an integral part of the Global Compact since its creation. Their perspectives, expertise and partnership-building capabilities are indispensable in the evolution and impact of the Global Compact.’’

DEVELOPING A VIABLE DEMOCRATIC CULTURE
Elections are now a fight to finish affair. The psyche of the people has been tremendously negatively impacted. Nobody accepts defeat at the polls. A viable political culture must take to account, the people, and the need to carry them along in the scheme of things in recognition of the fact that government draws its legitimacy from the people. Political developments of the past few decades indicate that people have become very aware of the role they play as the key components of governance. People must be able to take their representatives in government to task. The right to hold government accountable for its actions or inactions is bestowed on the people. Additionally, it is to be noted that Africans need to be re-orientated to be highly assertive in demanding for good governance as sovereignty belongs to the people.  People must be prepared to take the political class to task and make them accountable to the people at all times. What follows therefore is the need for the political class to ensure that the wishes of the majority are respected and enforced as this continues to disrupt the political stability of the continent.

Contention occurs in every political setting trait. However, we need to contend with ourselves cautiously. The ideal situation therefore calls for honesty, dedication, probity and commitment on the part of political actors, who must necessarily be constantly established with the people and identify with their hopes and aspirations.  This will not only aid politicians to serve effectively but will also aid the path of their reintegration when they finally quit the stage. A culture of genuine and selfless service needs to be embraced. Leaders must realize that governments are held in trust for the citizenry and the ideal situation therefore calls for honesty, dedication, probity and commitment on the part of political actors.  Africans, must, of course recognize the fact that the people themselves perhaps form the strongest point that would make globalization work by contributing individually and collectively to the fulfillment of those ideals that could transform the region. A culture of genuine and selfless service emphasizing cooperation with the developed world needs to be embraced, without surrendering the sovereignty of African nations.

For a meaningful growth of good governance and democracy, there is evidently the need to develop and strengthen the institutions of democracy; including the legislature, executive, judiciary, political parties, security agencies and the press. What needs to be done at the moment in preparation for future electoral contests is for the government and the political class to embark on massive education of voters in a manner that will make the electorate aware of the importance of using their votes to elect their preferences. It is necessary for the government and the political class to jointly promote those measures that would promote fool-proof elections and the installation of credible governments and structures. Freedom of speech and association are also part of the ingredients of democracy. Civil society organizations must take the credit for moderating political and legal developments over the years and for seizing the initiative of ensuring that Africa did not totally slip into a perpetual state of anarchy, especially during the long period of apartheid and military rule.

THE PRESS AS A VIABLE AGENT OF CHANGE
These organizations, in spite of being harassed and hounded everywhere and everyday succeeded in monitoring government activities and educating the citizenry about their rights, civil and political, as well as the need to claim and defend these as much as practicable. These rights also include fundamental ones like the right to life, human dignity and well-being, freedom from discrimination; freedom from torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment; freedom from slavery and involuntary servitude, and freedom of religion and to associate. There are other conventions of the United Nations and the African Union to African nations subscribe, as members of these two bodies. It is evident that civil society organizations have become very aware of their role of keeping governments on the continent on their toes, through various activities and mass protests. Had they not existed especially in the 1970s and more or less throughout the 1990s, who knows, South Africa and the frontline states might still be under chains, with several of them still under military rule, with the attendant consequences of these institutions curtailing citizens’ rights.

To deepen democracy in Africa, the people and institutions have to engage in robust discussions and engagement with the media in a manner that is restricted only by law. Dating back to 1787 in England, the press has been recognized as the ‘Fourth Estate of the Realm.’ So critical are the functions of the media in a free society that Thomas Jefferson, America’s third president once said, ‘’Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without government, I should not hesitate for a moment to prefer the latter.’’ Part of the social responsibility of the press is its role of assisting the nation to pay greater attention to the needs of the people and also promote national interests as obtains in foreign media. It is important to state that this initiative would, in the final analysis, benefit collectively, plural societies.

Muzzling of the media has no place in a democratic society as it is regarded as the ‘Fourth Estate of the Realm’ that assists the society in keeping governments under check. The media in Africa, and indeed others in the developing world need to brace up to the challenges posed by modernization. It goes without saying that the media, of which Information and Communications Technology is now part, must be up to the task of contributing to efforts at promoting good governance. From this point of view, it is clear that all societies need focused leaders that would be committed to the agenda of constructing viable political culture on a sustainable basis, by salvaging parts that have been ruined in the past, particularly with regard to economic planning and development.

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