A case for citizen participation -By Adeyemi Onafuye

Filed under: National Issues |
Adeyemi Onafuye

Adeyemi Onafuye


Recently, President Muhammadu Buhari, the newly elected Head of State, at a forum with State House correspondents, expressed fears of citizens marching on him in impatience (he referred specifically to the culture of assessing the administration’s first 100 days in office) at what they might consider sluggishness on the part of his administration to deliver on the “change” it loudly promised during the election campaigns and on which basis he won the election. After all, basically everyone was agreed on the fact that the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) which had ruled Nigeria since the start of the new, sustained democratic dispensation in 1999, had failed the nation in every sense of the word. It had failed to provide quality education to Nigeria’s young people who, as it turns out, make up the majority of the population (and as such PDP was going to fail to prepare Nigeria for the future).

The failings extended to the power sector with Nigeria still far behind in providing her electrical power needs. Despite the apparent need to diversify the nation’s economy and dismantle the overt reliance on crude oil sales, the PDP lip-sang its efforts in this regard. Under the PDP, Nigeria continued to import most of the petroleum products she consumed while local crude oil refineries alternated between producing below capacity and not producing at all. The flagship of its failings, and arguably a casual factor for the others, was the high level of corruption in government.

Buhari promised to ‘change’ the course of events. He promised to fight corruption. He promised to reform the manner in which Nigeria’s oil wealth is managed, and a lot more. The bedrock of his campaign was a “change” from the PDP style, which was narrated as bad, and it can be said that Buhari won the election because Nigerians “marched” on former President Goodluck Jonathan.

In expressing his concern that Nigerians should not march on him but give him time to sort through the diverse challenges, perhaps Buhari fears that what goes around might just come around. Nigerians, after all, have a peculiar way of participating in their own governance: Sitting at the grandstands and criticising the actions of the government. This is not simply because Nigerians are mean people who like to give their government a hard time, but because over time Nigerians have been conditioned to this warped form of participation.

Not a majority of Nigerians have access to quality education and for those who do have, not enough part of the curriculum is dedicated to the idea of being “Nigerian.” The result is that several years of schooling in Nigeria do not help instil patriotism or promote any idea of a collective Nigerian vision towards which every Nigerian should participate, so Nigerians are largely conditioned to simply complain about the government. Politicians have also contributed to this warped form of citizens’ participation by taking advantage of the poverty and ignorance of a large majority of Nigerians and limiting their participation to mere recipients of small bags of staple foods during election campaigns. Here is what the average Nigerian politician tells his constituents: Your role is to receive my gifts, sing my praise, vote for me and keep quiet about my malpractices; or your role is to vote for me so I can stop the other man whose mission is to have his ethnic group prevail over ours or his religion to supersede ours. So between an education system that barely informs and manipulative politicians, Nigerians are largely an apathetic body of people who wait to either “boo” or “woo” and who could care less about the details of the process required in bringing them from where they are to where they want to be.

This non-cooperative stance has played a role in bad governance in Nigeria. Citizens’ participation is after all, a major feature of good governance. Therefore, when citizens do not participate or do not participate correctly, governance suffers.

The International Association for Public Participation defines public participation as “to involve those who are affected by a decision in the decision-making process.” It adds that public participation “promotes sustainable decisions by providing participants with the information they need to be involved in a meaningful way, and it communicates to participants how their inputs affects the decision.”

As Nigeria looks towards a change from bad governance it will be important to not only demand more from the government and political office holders but from citizens as well. The change we desire cannot be one-sided. If government is to be more accountable, citizens have to be on hand to hold it to account. If the government is to be more transparent citizens are to demand transparency. If the government is to be more responsive, citizens are to properly articulate their needs. In economic terms, it’s a demand and supply relationship. For long the focus has been on poor performance of the government and particular government officials. Now, in the atmosphere of change, we should reconsider and bring the extent and nature of citizens’ participation under the spotlight.

What should change? First, there have to be a shift in our perception of governance from being “their responsibility” to “our responsibility.” This will mainly be a mental shift across the nation, perhaps through well-crafted public awareness programmes informing every one of the state of the nation and the collective steps to be taken towards achieving our objectives. To be effective, this will have to be encouraged across all levels of government: Local, state and federal. Buhari has a huge role to play in effecting change in this regard by rejecting the idea of himself as a Messiah and instead projecting the truth: He is a leader who is to work with his followers to bring everyone to a better place and this will take time and require collective effort.

The President will also have to tackle the institutional obstacles that stand in the way of effective citizens’ participation in our country. A good example is the reluctance of the average Nigerian to assist the police and other security forces when they can due to mistrust and a fear of getting into trouble by doing so. This, like many other structural obstacles can only be addressed through deliberate and sincere reforms by the government. The President should move to identify as many institutional hindrances to citizens’ participation and work to remove them. This will be a significant and far-reaching achievement for his administration and Nigeria.

The responsibility of the Nigerian people will be a lot more open-minded to work with the new administration and to engage only in informed policy critique guided by facts. There are tough decisions ahead and only a collective resolve will see us through. It is not in the interest of the nation to march on the administration unduly. It will always be true, no matter how: the cliché that united we stand and divided we fall. We must identify with our government and stand by it even as we demand accountability and good performance.

The call is still the President’s to articulate a programme for his Administration and drive its implementation with complete transparency, accountability and citizen engagement. People engage better when they are being fed the truth, and government finds it easier to be transparent when it has nothing to hide. Nigeria is ours.

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One Response to A case for citizen participation -By Adeyemi Onafuye

  1. Getting disillusion about the change already. Seems we been scamed. All this in fighting. Saraki, dogara, Femi, lawan.

    Moses ehinlaro
    November 12, 2015 at 3:05 pm