Every so often, we, Nigerians blame successive administrations for all the lapses in the society, such that if governments were to be human beings, we would have flogged them to death for our collective failures. Yes, Governments have their faults. Similarly, We the People must share the greatest blame for the ills have that enveloped our political clime for so long. I am not defending any government in this piece. I am also not unnecessarily critical of the roles that all of us have played in bringing about our present predicament. Let us start with a few questions here: What role have you played in democratic dispensations and their emergence? Did your compromise in choosing your representatives in government on account of a miserable amount to lose your right to vote for your preferences? Do you believe in such mundane issues like religion, place of origin, nepotism and similar issues and tag along when you should take your fate in your own hands? Do you demand for accountability, transparency and good governance that are the key ingredients of development? Do you tell your representatives in government that: This is your time, enrich yourself and turn around to complain?
On the part of Governments, do they behave responsibly by adhering to the Rule of Law and commitments made during electioneering campaigns? Do our political parties respect the principles of internal party democracy and discipline that promote cohesion and understanding? Most people do not realize the fact that fighting social ills and all forms of crime are their joint responsibility with Government. It is always better to be proactive than reactive in mapping out strategies. Arguably, some of the obstacles to development in the developing world could be traced to the failure of the appropriate institutions to introduce legal and institutional reforms capable of advancing socio-economic and political development. For instance, any society that aims to turn problematic situations around must be able to ensure coherent implementation of policies for the enforcement of rules and regulations introduced for socio-economic and political transformation.
Nigeria is abundantly endowed with human and material resources that could sustain high and broad-based growth and development. More importantly, our country boasts of the highest pool of highly educated and trained manpower in Africa. This is in addition to our large population which offers the largest market for investors in Africa. Nigerias commitments to peaceful co-existence among the peoples of the world in terms of material and financial support have been quite massive. According to Nigerias former Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigerias economy constitutes 76 per cent of the economy of the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS. Nigeria also holds 30 per cent of the economy in sub-Saharan Africa, and 21 per cent of Africas economy. Nigeria is a middle income, mixed economy and emerging market, with expanding financial, service, communications technology, and entertainment sectors. It is ranked 26th in the world in terms of GDP, and is the largest economy in Africa (based on rebased figures announced in April 2014). It is also on track to become one of the 20 largest economies in the world by 2020.
We are always quick to draw comparisons about activities in developed nations, particularly the Asian Tigers who by due of hard work, diligence and sheer commitment, built societies we now envy today. The story of the development of Singapore, a then poor country that has been catapulted into the First world group is indeed revealing. The Peoples Republic of China, Malaysia, Korea, and Indonesia, among others have moved tremendously to transform their countries in the past two decades as a result of the application of the principle of visioning and long-range planning. The countries that had the same GNP as Nigeria in 1960, have since multiplied theirs several times. But all hope is not lost. Indeed, Governments and political actors at all levels have consistently realized the need for the introduction of workable measures that could develop the country. These include working positively to embrace best governance practices, mapping out coherent and purposeful policies geared towards development, as well as paying proper attention to visioning and long-range planning.
THE IMPORTANCE & MODE OF ENGAGING IN PARTNERSHIP
These plans, no matter how beautiful they could be, would not materialize unless they are properly implemented in addition to conforming to the common aspirations of the citizenry. Governments need the citizenry; and vice-versa. Therefore, there is the need to sensitize Nigerians to support Government and to inculcate in them the spirit of patriotism, that would eventually lead to their embracing the right attitudes and approaches to development. But leaders must show the way for advancements to be recorded, in a transformational manner. Like one-time American president, Harry Truman said: No community anywhere suffers from too much rule of law; but many do suffer from too little. Accordingly, a strong political will is required to implement reforms directed at development. It is very pertinent to say that all nations require the cooperation of their citizens to progress and develop. Therefore, said Truman, We have a responsibility not only to our contemporaries, but also to future generations – a responsibility to preserve resources that belong to them, as well as to us; and without which none of us can survive. Solidarity is both necessary and possible and it is necessary because without a measure of solidarity, no society can be truly stable, and no one’s prosperity truly secure.
It is easier to destroy than to build. While Governments are in place to manage societies on behalf of the general citizenry who must always hold their representatives in governments accountable, it is also incumbent on citizens to fulfil their obligations to the State. Part of the social responsibility expected of the citizenry is respect for the provisions of the constitution by being socially responsible and exhibiting behaviour that would promote national development and cohesion. It happens quite often that many citizens compare Nigeria with the developed world and lament that the nation is yet to develop appreciably, without necessarily bothering about certain indices. If social services work in the Western world, it is evidently because their people abide by regulations and the rule of law; while also supporting their nations to make facilities and infrastructure work.
THE GOVERNMENT & THE GOVERNED
The extant constitution of the Federal Republic states expressly in Section 24 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) that the duties of the citizenry are as follows:
It shall be the duty of every citizen to – (a) abide by this Constitution, respect its ideals and its institutions, the National Flag, the National Anthem, the National Pledge, and legitimate authorities;
help to enhance the power, prestige and good name of Nigeria, defend Nigeria and render such national service as may be required;
respect the dignity of other citizens and the rights and legitimate interests of others and live in unity and harmony and in the spirit of common brotherhood;
make positive and useful contribution to the advancement, progress and well-being of the community where he resides;
render assistance to appropriate and lawful agencies in the maintenance of law and order; and
Declare his/her income honestly to appropriate and lawful agencies and pay his/her tax promptly.
But the pertinent question remains: How many Nigerians are aware, or have been properly educated about these important roles and OBLIGATIONS OF GOVERNMENT?
S. 14 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria affirms that The Federal Republic of Nigeria shall be a State based on the principles of democracy and social justice, and goes further to state that Sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria from whom government through this Constitution derives all its powers and authority; the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government: and the participation by the people in their government shall be ensured in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution.
What could be termed part of the responsibilities of Government is the provision of welfare and security as recorded in S.16:
Harness the resources of the nation and promote national prosperity and an efficient, dynamic and self-reliant economy;
Control the national economy in such manner as to secure the maximum welfare, freedom and happiness of every citizen on the basis of social justice and equality of status and opportunity;
Without prejudice to its right to operate or participate in areas of the economy, other than the major sectors of the economy, manage and operate the major sectors of the economy;
Without prejudice to the right of any person to participate in areas of the economy within the major sector of the economy, protect the right of every citizen to engage in any economic activities outside the major sectors of the economy.
The constitution goes further to state in S.16. (2) that The State shall direct its policy towards ensuring:
The promotion of a planned and balanced economic development;
Ensure that the material resources of the nation are harnessed and distributed as best as possible to serve the common good;
That the economic system is not operated in such a manner as to permit the concentration of wealth or the means of production and exchange in the hands of few individuals or of a group; and
That suitable and adequate shelter, suitable and adequate food, reasonable national minimum living wage, old age care and pensions, and unemployment, sick benefits and welfare of the disabled are provided for all citizens.
It is to be noted that the most plausible way of advancing in an increasingly competitive world is for political leaders generally to stand committed to building a society that upholds and defends the principles and practice of democracy and good governance. In doing this, government must carry the populace along and direct its efforts at providing for the welfare and security of the masses. Governments must lead the way and guide the citizenry to adopt the best global practices. Governments must return to the drawing table to jettison all practices that appear to hinder good governance and erode the confidence of the people in activities of governments. It would assist Government, if political office holders demonstrate, by conducts and precepts, that they are out to serve, by being sensitive to the plight of the masses. Public office holders must view themselves as servants rather that bosses.
Let us connect with the grassroots and those we are elected or appointed to serve. I once visited a government department and saw one young man walking in the midst of two people in tow – a protocol officer in front, and the security officer following. I reasoned: Why this? Who is going to arrest the big man within the precincts of the agency of government? Similarly, I have seen, in legislative arms of governments, Law enforcement officers going around with their respected principals/bosses, to visit their colleagues in the precincts of the Legislature and wondered why? I have had cause to visit a governors office in the foremost democracy in the world. I was surprised that I met only two policemen standing sentry outside; who waved me on; and only one policeman at the entrance to the governors office who waved me on after screening me! It is possible you argue that there are closed circuit cameras all over. Dedication is not a gift; it is a choice.
I went back to reflect on the lecture titled: We the People delivered by an eminent and erudite scholar, Prof. Akin Mabogunje; in which he asserted that: In governance terms, democracy is not just about how representatives are chosen which we have done in Nigeria. More importantly, it is about how the citizens are regarded in the decision-making process – whether they are believed to be individually the equal of those making decisions and have the freedom to accept or reject any decisions made on their behalf; or whether they are inferior beings on whom any decisions can be imposed. Accountability of elected representatives to those who elected them at each level of government and not to any other body however highly placed is thus central to the operations of a democratic system.
Prof. Mabogunje submitted that: The infrastructural level of a democratizing society relates to the organization of its economy, its system of production, distribution and consumption of material goods and services. In other words, a democratizing society is one that encourages and provides the enabling environment for a robust, free market economy in which citizens are encouraged to grow the economy within a competitive framework in which no one person or a small group can hold members of the society to ransom by various forms of collusion or monopolistic arrangements. Thinking along this line, our next piece will be an expose on how we could jointly assist in building a more virile polity by utilizing Made-in-Nigeria products and services. Nigeria will certainly be great again, as promised by the Lord. (To be continued)