Despite over 18 years of uninterrupted democratic dispensation (the longest in our history), we seem to operate a civilian regime instead of a democracy. While it is true that military dictatorial dispensation produced a dictatorial mindset in most citizens from 35 years and above, it is time we face the reality of the time. Democracy is here to stay.
It is time to focus less on blaming the military for destroying the development of our nation and focus more on the opportunities we have today to build our democracy to ensure we attract more dividends for our development.
This shift in mindset requires a desire to create a future that is better than our past and it starts with changing our approach to nation-building today. A critical area of change is our understanding of democracy and we can achieve this by ensuring more political education of a critical mass of citizens.
What are the key areas citizens need better political education?
Political Parties: Currently, most citizens look at political parties as organisations led by bloodthirsty men and women with the sole objective of positioning stooges in political offices where they can steal our commonwealth.
This may be true but it does not discount the fact that the vibrancy of our democracy and the increase in democratic dividends will only come when we have better run political parties with significant numbers of citizens active as members.
Citizens must become educated about the power of political parties to develop manifestos that will translate to government policies and programmes; hold the process that will select the candidates we vote for at the elections (party primaries); provide the citizens who will take key roles in government (like ministerial appointees), etc.
This education will ensure more citizens get involved in party politics.
Political Party Primaries: Citizens need to know that it is their involvement in the political parties, particularly as party delegates, that will ensure the party produces credible candidates at the primaries and a good choice option for Nigerians to vote for at the elections.
I believe one of the reasons for election apathy is because many citizens do not consider the line up of candidates to be good enough to warrant voting for.
Party primaries will improve significantly with our understanding of the attendant benefits.
Understanding Mandate: It is important to educate Nigerians on the fact that every citizen who is elected into office serves in that office through the mandate given to him or her at the election. This is true for members of the executive and more so for the legislature, which is why they are called our REPRESENTATIVES.
The executive sets her agenda for her tenure in office based on what they perceive our mandate to them desired and if we are not satisfied and cannot wait for the next elections, we direct our REPRESENTATIVES to impeach the executive. On the other hand, the legislature’s agenda should be set by us and where they fail to deliver, we can recall them instead of waiting for the next elections.
We are responsible for those we extend our mandate to for governance and they in turn are accountable to us. This understanding will cause a shift from slave to king mindset among citizens and king to servant mindset among elected citizens.
A lot will change when we understand that we hold and delegate mandate.
Voting at all Elections: It was interesting to note that in the 2015 general elections, more citizens voted in the Presidential elections but that number dropped for the gubernatorial and legislative elections.
We have to educate Nigerians on the benefit of voting at all elections at the federal, state and local government levels. We are now seeing the need to have better representatives at the state and federal legislature.
We must put a strong value on our vote to the point that if we don’t like the candidates presented by the leading parties, we can vote a credible candidate from a lesser known party. Our vote is our voice and it has to be heard.
Evaluating Performance: I reiterate that we are responsible for our elected citizens because they operate with our mandate and also, they are accountable to us. Therefore, we must demand accountability by closely monitoring their performance during their tenure using the manifestos they gave to us during the campaigns.
Citizens have to be educated on the need to attend town hall meetings, budget briefing by the executive, budget defence before legislative committees, legislative plenary sessions, etc. Our elected citizens will be less likely to act with impunity when citizens are actively demanding accountability through letters and in person.
We have to build our democracy to a point where 6-9 months to the next elections, we are properly updated on the performance of our elected citizens and the political party they belong to. That way, our voting will be influenced by facts, not speculations or lies.
Political education is most essential to ensure we harness the numerous democratic opportunities. These opportunities will enable better run political parties, better quality candidates at general elections, more accountability from political leaders, increased humility by our elected citizens, better programmes by government, efficient management of resources, increased transparency in government and most important of all, a societal culture that inculcates democratic principles instead of the dictatorial principles as is currently the case.
Only the involvement of a critical mass of citizens can make this a reality. Are you willing to get involved to actualise the expected gains by educating yourself and others?