Nigeria at 50: A Re-Examination of Duties and Obligations of Citizenship
Paul I. Adujie, a Nigerian who lives in New York City, is Lawyer, Writer, Pubic Policy Analyst, News & Current Affairs Commentator, Essayist and Radio Show Host. He considers himself a global citizen. He is passionate about public policy formulation and implementation. Public Policies have far reaching ramifications. A good public policy is a great opportunity to have a meaningful impact on the lives of multitudes of people.
He believes that Nigeria is destined for development, advancement and greatness. He discusses Nigeria with fervor, vigor and a vibrant sense of patriotism. An unflinching believer in one indivisible, strong and united Nigeria where all citizens are equal regardless of region of origin or religious affiliation, Adujie talks about Nigeria in very strong terms. He worships as his religion Nigeria, Africa and people of descent.
All governments at all levels do have duties and responsibilities to her citizens. The mark and exemplifier of a good government, is in the fulfillment of basic duties and responsibilities of such government in Nigeria and worldwide. But, these duties and responsibilities on the part of governments is not a one way street. There are two sides or even multiplicities of sides to the story of good citizenship and good governance-good government worldwide.
We Nigerians seem to only understand our rights as citizens, if even that! We seem always, in our pronouncements, in our actions and inactions, to be clearly and splendidly unaware of what our duties, responsibilities and obligations are, as citizens. The state of affairs and human condition, in our nation and our entire continent are, in the main, attributable in major part, to the absentee citizenship as a factor. And by absentee, I pointedly mean participation through ownership, and not physical absence.
There is a pervasive and permeating attitude and tendency among Nigerians, nay Africans, to conceptualize our country and continent, as entities, owned, managed and for the benefit, exclusively, political leadership, past, present and future. This attitude informs the apathy and disenchantment between citizenry and public servants, public property and even public advocacy. Too many citizens' initiative are hampered and hindered by this persisting mindset. Citizens seem to feel, assume and accept limitations to their thinking, pronouncements and actions, based on the perception of self as outsiders. The political leaders are seen as the "owners" and the insiders and controllers of public policy.
Public policy as such, is not conceptualized in the context of public policy for national or continental benefits. But instead, governments are seen as self-interested cabal and mafia with impunity, impervious to reproach, criticisms and even condemnations. Military "governance" made this perception of citizens' powerlessness even worse, as logic and reason during military regimes and dictatorial governments were not synonymous with freedom of thought, public debate and free press.
Over and extended period of time, Nigerian and other African citizens were "socialized" to be docile, unquestioning and public uncritical of government policies. It was either quiet obeisance or there was a cost, a price and penalty to pay or to be exacted at the expense of those who may exhibit the temerity
Nigeria is one hundred and fifty million citizens strong, and yet, Nigerian citizens seem to think that citizens are powerless. And so, 150 million citizens endure this assumed powerlessness in the face daily assaults by those at the helms of our nation's affairs. Nigerian citizens feel too stumped down.
Citizens can actually confront poor leadership by organizing and articulating citizens' power to harness leadership, quality leadership. The concern which I have about our citizenship these days is that too many Nigerians appear to have ceded Nigeria to aberrant leaders. Good citizenship requires more.
Nigeria is analogous to a corporation, and our current leaders should be seen as ineffective inefficient managing director and board members. Nigeria is a corporation into which Nigerian citizens are heavily invested. Nigeria should be seen as a corporation which currently has poor return on our investment or no dividends at all. The prudent thing for any smart investor, shareholder to do, in order to earn dividends, profits and return on investment, is to oust the errant managing director and board members. But instead, most Nigerians engage in advertising the corporation to which they are heavily invested, as the worst company in the world. Nigerians publicly excoriate Nigeria, as a corporation which makes the worst products in the world, and then, we all wonder why no one would buy products made by this same is not attracting customers interested in products and hence a lack of profits, dividends and return on investment.
The average Nigerian now excels at portraying Nigeria as the worst country on earth. The popular and yet error-laden belief often spouted, to the effect that Nigeria is irredeemably bad and only "God" can help us. But we know how "God" is? he only helps those who are willing to help themselves! Nigerians therefore must be willing to do all we must do, to undertake the rescue of our wonderful corporation from the vice grips of our deranged managing director and members of the board who are running our corporation to the ground, willy-nilly. Even as we engage in these daring rescues, we must simultaneous refrain from ascribing all evils as products of our beloved corporation!
Nigerians should be aware, that we cannot and should not advertise to the world that we have monopoly over the manufacture and production of evils, and then turn around to wonder why anyone might ascribe evil to us! It is quite common these days for non-Nigerian individuals and entities to find refuge in the arguments of fellow Nigerians who portray Nigeria in the worst lights.
There are surely different approaches which are available to us in efforts to tackle the myriad challenges facing our nation. Public shaming, scolding and ridiculing have, over the years, changed nothing. Instead, quite to the contrary, those who are shamed have become bizarrely shameless, those scolded now act with more impunity, and those ridiculed have become impervious to our collective contempt. What to do? A change of tact!
Nigerians should resolve that we are Nigerians. Nigerians must first and foremost reconcile ourselves to this immutable and incontrovertible fact that we are Nigerians and belong to Nigeria. Nigerians should believe that Nigeria is sacrosanct. This is the metaphorical crossing of the Rubicon. This will be the major paradigm shift in our national attitude. This will be removal of a major obstacle from our national psyche, and then, our psyche will heal and such healing will be followed by the crucial attitudinal adjustments, from which clear thinking and proactive actions will ensue. Challenges which our nation faced are insignificantly infinitesimal when compared with the repertoire of intellects and robust energy and resilience which abounds in Nigeria's 150 million human capitals.
Apart from human capital, there abound in Nigeria as well, bountiful resources, quantifiable materials, and unquantifiable minerals, both tangible and intangible resources. And in view of our indefatigable human capital, it is almost trite to announce that Nigerians ought to and should and must harness all these, for the betterment of the human condition in Nigeria for the common good. Nigerians have so far, not achieved or accomplished this, through unity of articulation of purpose and focused pursuit of such purpose.
Nigerians at home and abroad should refrain from hyperbole in describing our national condition. Nigerians should become more engaged in actions, conscientious actions and pronouncements which will and must lead Nigeria to the promised-land which we the citizenry envision.
America's vaunted democracy, even after of hundreds of years, is still work in progress, and America remains imperfect. Nigerian citizens have a great deal to learn from American citizens. American citizens are the movers and shakers of American democracy through engagement and participation, not without some who are apathetic apolitical. Americans have all sorts of support groups of citizens' actions, regarding politics, economy, culture and much more. Americans have plethora of non-governmental organizations. There are citizens' support groups for stray cats and dogs. Americans have support groups for the recently divorced or recently bereaved. There are all types of volunteer groups in America. There are all types of support groups for house-warming for new home owners. And support groups for new neighbors and support groups for everything above and under the sun! Americans do many things which improve, and enhance how life is lived in America and without government role and intervention. American society is a bottom up approach. Citizens' action invariably drives government policies.
Nigerians can certainly learn democracy from Americans. Nigerians can also learn volunteerism and the creation of citizens' actions from the Americans. Nigerians can use support groups in similar ways in which American citizens deploy the phenomenon for national progress. Nigerians can, through Labor movements, civil right movements, need organizers and organizers are citizens. History is replete with examples of how citizens movements facilitate good government, good governance through good leadership. Currently however, too many Nigerians only expect a top-down approach, in which political leaders must be angels who are unlike the elements which the citizenry is comprised. Too many Nigerians therefore expect political leaders to be holier than the citizens and consequently provide the proverbial "enabling" environment which will in turn lead to progress, development and greatness of our nation and continent. But perhaps it is time to re-examine this mindset closely. We may find that it is quite possible for the "quality" of leadership to actually be as a result of the "quality" of citizens or followership.
Nigerians are too often liable to see governance and government as owned by the political leaders. There is a symbiotic relationship between good citizenship and good governance-good government. It is a sort of horse and carriage, love and marriage, a push and pull sorts arrangements, none goes without the other! And there is so much truisms in the assertion that democracy is not a spectator sports! Democracy, perfect or imperfect, requires active, robust and even vigorous participation by citizens!
Too many Nigerians on the average are aloof, detached and disenchanted as citizens of our republic. Too many Nigerians seem to think good government, good governance and a good country is the job of someone else. Nigerian citizens are liable to look the other way, when drainage is being blocked and same Nigerians would be quick to complain loudly when the rains come and there is flooding and damage. Nigerian citizens are liable to look the other way when a NEPA PHCN is being stolen or vandalized, but, same Nigerian citizens would engage in hyperbolic stridency directed at blackouts or power interruptions, while ignoring the direct relationship between transformer thefts and vandalism and power failures. Nigerian citizens may encourage the undermining of NEPA PHCN efficiency because they have a stake and profits from the importation of electric generators, and then, the same Nigerians seem not to see the linkage between these sorts of acts and the failure of NEPA PHCN, noise pollution, and death and damage from the prevalent use of generators.
A Nigerian working for the NNPC and or major oil multinational corporation, allows himself to be splendidly disinterested in actions which are inconsistent with corporate best practices, same Nigerian then wonders why Nigeria is not getting the best deals, the best shake and best benefits from oil exploration which has gone on for so long. The examples are endless, but perhaps reader probably gets the point by now? The point, being the natural relations, correlations between our attitude of aloofness, detachment and disenchantment regarding Nigeria national interests and what obtains in Nigeria. There are natural consequences between our actions and outcomes. There is a clear linkage between what manner or quality of citizenship a country has and the manner and quality of leadership. A citizen who is accustomed to looking the other way, on becoming a political leader, remains that same person accustomed to looking the other way. There is no magic pill, which transforms a bad citizen into a transcendental transformational leader, suddenly, upon becoming a leader. The unpatriotic, worse than useless, greed-infested aloof, detached and disenchanted citizen remains just that! And what is worse? These sorts of warped-twisted citizens now suddenly have a higher podium, pedestal and platform at local government, state and national level from which to inflict their unsavory attributes upon all of us.
Social progress is often engineered through citizen activism. Citizen activism moves the world economically, politically and culturally, even in the face of tremendously enormous obstacles of highest magnitudes. Historical examples abound in the life stories of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. a citizen activist who mobilized America and the world against racism and poverty. When he was killed, the American government did not automatically create a national holiday to celebrate Dr. King, citizen activists ensured that and it was certainly not a shoo-in, there were resistances in many of the fifty states of the United States. But now, Dr. King birth is observed in all the fifty states of the United States a matter of federal law. Thanks to citizens activists!
Everyone have heard the resilience and persistence of Ghandi and Mandela protests or citizen activism against illegal governments by way of colonial imposition in the one case and Apartheid horrors and brutalities on the other, again, there monumental obstacles, which were overcome, through citizen activism with which these great individuals infected the world and corralled efforts to end oppression and usurpation in India and South Africa respectively. Nigerians have in the past opposed colonial governments, military dictatorships and imperfect democracy and Nigerians must continue to engage in citizen activism and participatory democracy. Nigeria deserves nothing less. Nigerians should stop seeking refuge in the "comforts" of aloofness, cynicism, pessimism, fatalism and flights to state of anomie. Nigerians should instead, think of our challenges in terms of what would Nelson Mandela do? What would Ghandi, Malcom X, Idiagbon, Murtala, and Gani Fawehinmi etc do in the circumstances of the challenges we may face? The heroes refer to above chose to confront evil and as a result enshrined their names in gold. They chose not bribe, corruption and pillaging or self-gratification. They chose not aloofness, passivity and fatalism. Nigerians should recognize that there are no monuments or national holidays which celebrate fatalists, pessimists and the extremely cynical.
Might we start the creation of progress, development and greatness for Nigeria by becoming good citizens who are actively engaged in participatory democracy? Nigerians should be unwilling to rig elections, unwilling to allow smugglers of guns and dangerous goods into Nigeria because we can be bribed. Might Nigerians first become decent citizens, brothers and sisters keeper, and reject injustice, oppression by whomever and at whatever parts of Nigeria! The loyalty of Nigeria should henceforth be to the Nigerian nation and not to our ethnic, state, region or religions. Might we reject aberrant and criminal behaviors, perpetrated by a member of our families and our friends! May we on very individual level, reject and refuse election rigging, bribery and corruption, and pillaging. In effect, the change we want in Nigeria begins with our individual selves. Our change at individual levels about all these things, will lead to Nigeria's development, progress and greatness.