“One of the most potent behaviours for driving change is influencing people to speak up about a previously emotionally or politically risky issue” Grenny, Patterson, Maxfield, McMillan and Sitzler
As I read the above quote in the book ‘Influencer: The Science of leading Change’ by Grenny, Patterson, Maxfield, McMillan and Sitzler, I got to ponder again about the potential we have for nation-building if we harness the democratic opportunities we have. One of such opportunities is the freedom to speak up.
In my last article, titled ‘Are we in a Democracy or Civilian Rule?’, I stated that we must accept responsibility, participate in governance, become liberated and be courageous, in order for us to transform our current civilian rule into a full-fledge democracy.
These four elements (responsibility, citizen participation, liberated minds and courage) are the foundation for raising a critical mass of citizens who will sacrifice their time and even their lives to speak up against what is wrong.
But because most Nigerians have spent most of their lives under a military regime who didn’t tolerate feedback from the people, we are yet to exploit the current opportunities to provide feedback to government through speaking up. This must change.
What are the ways of speaking up?
Public Complaint: We must become a people who publicly complain when we see people doing the wrong thing. For example, if you are in a queue at the bank or on the road, we should speak out against those who jump the queue. Less people will find the courage to be lawless if most people on a queue complain publicly.
Petition against an injustice: We must develop the culture of writing letters to the relevant authorities supported with sufficient facts highlighting an injustice we or someone else faced, demanding justice. It could also include a notice that could lead to a legal court case. The more letters the authorities receive the more attention they will give to the issue.
Protest letter against a bad policy or process: The focus here is on highlighting to the relevant authorities why we are against a policy, law or process. Again, we must do so with facts and we should also make recommendations.
Demanding transparency: Sometimes, we need to speak up through letters demanding transparency in government expenditures, budget allocations, voting in the legislative houses, police investigations, etc.
Protest march or Strike action: On several occasions, we would have to do more than speaking up through letters by participating in a protest march or strike action. The Occupy Movement was good but in our current crisis, we have way too few protest marches and strike actions.
It is important to commence with speaking up through letters so that our position is well researched and articulated. Then, we step up the pressure with our marches and strike actions, and what we stated in letters will be the focus of the action.
What are the channels?
The Legislature – through our representatives
Government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs)
Religious Organisations – Churches, Mosques
International Organisations – United Nations (UN), International Court of Justice (ICJ), Amnesty International
With the internet becoming central to our daily living, we can utilise its force as a critical tool for building mass support and to gain wider coverage. It is an easier option to get more people to speak up. Mass support and wider coverage are both strong threats to any government and as such, will capture their attention and cause them to act.
There is immense people power manifested in a critical mass of citizens speaking up through the democratic process. It has been known to bring down several governments across the globe and has also led to significant positive change for national development.
We too can use our voice to lead change in our nation and ensure the vibrancy of our democracy, but it will require the commitment of time to research; do the administrative & organisational work; and the creation of a timetable of action that will ensure a long term approach.
So, will you speak up now or forever remain silent?