In my various articles under the Understanding Democracy Series, I have repeatedly highlighted the lack of a critical mass of citizens participating in our democracy as the main reason why we have continuously deprived ourselves of the true dividends of democracy – freedom, human and infrastructural development.
The objective of the ‘Understanding Democracy’ Series is to identify the various inhibitors to our participation, how we can eliminate such and then witness a surge in citizen participation. One key inhibitor is our understanding of who a politician is.
In Nigeria, we define a politician as someone who goes into government to steal money, kills his or her opponent, shares government assets among friends and associates, lives an opulent lifestyle, gets involved in occultism, doesn’t care about Nigeria and Nigerians, lies about everything, etc. In summary, we call politics a dirty game and that means her participants are dirty people.
With such a fixed and negative mindset about politics, it has become nearly impossible to witness an increase in more credible citizens participating in our democracy and that includes limited involvement like writing to our representative in the legislature, supporting credible citizens getting involved with our resources and attending rallies.
There is therefore an urgent need to redefine who a politician is, to ensure we break the current mindset which will then lead to more citizens becoming politicians. Politics is all about governance and to achieve effective governance, we must see it as a game of destiny rather than it being a dirty game.
Let’s look at some of the qualities of a politician:
A citizen: To participate in the politics of the US, UK, China, Ghana and any other nation, you must be a citizen of that nation. Therefore, only citizens of Nigeria are entitled to participate in the Nigerian politics.
This means, all Nigerian adults are qualified to be called politicians. Of course, the constitution demands that we attain a certain age to stand for an office but it does not exclude any Nigerian adult from becoming a politician. It is critical information that will break our current mindset that seems to suggest that our politicians come from outer space.
Cares about the country and her people: Though our current mindset about who is a politician can hinder our understanding of this, it still must be said that many citizens who get into politics do so because they care about the country and feel deeply pained by the sufferings of her people.
While it is true that many go into politics with a focus on self, it is the lack of participation by most citizens that allow these people to dominate our politics. It is this dominance that hinders the effort of those who go into politics because they care.
Again, we must look at it from the viewpoint of what it should be and not what it is. So, those citizens who deeply care about Nigeria and her people must accept that they are politicians.
Willing to serve: Politicians are citizens who take initiative to address the needs they see in the nation. Part of that initiative may be to contest for our elective office so they can use the resources of government to address a need.
They also participate in community development, influence government policies and implementation (through lobby, petition, proposal, articles, etc.), support candidates who can deliver on their objectives, participate in party politics, fight against incorruptible acts, etc.
Any citizen that commits their resources (time, money and expertise) to meet a need is a politician.
Regular Study: Politicians study regularly to understand the problems facing their communities, to generate solutions and to enable effective implementation. They can undertake degree programmes in a tertiary institution, short courses at key institutions such as the Kennedy School of Government in the US, online programmes, training (conferences, workshops, seminars, webinars, etc.) and regular reading of books.
It will surprise a lot of Nigerians to find out that many of our politicians undertake regular studies but again, the political system is dominated by those who don’t study regularly. So, we need an increase in citizens who study regularly in search of solutions to accept that they are politicians and then cause a shift in our politics.
A Leader: Leaders are not just the citizens who hold an office in government but the citizens of influence in the home, community and workplace. Such citizens are not just leaders but politicians.
These citizens effect change wherever they find themselves through their thoughts, words and actions. As we seek positive changes for our development, we are in serious need of citizens with positive influence and these are the politicians we are looking for.
To exploit the numerous opportunities made available by our democracy, we must redefine who a politician is so that we can identify with it and then participate fully in it. It has to be said again, without the participation of citizens who care about Nigeria; who seek and lead change; who research the solutions to our problems and are willing to serve; we leave our politics in the hand of those who have held us captive for this long.
It is time to convert all these years of debating political issues in various forums into concrete activities in our political sector. You are a Politician.