Citizen Participation: Nigeria's Greatest Need

June 12th, a day true democrats celebrate as Nigeria’s Democracy Day. This is because Nigeria’s freest and fairest presidential elections took place on this day 19 years ago (1993) and MKO Abiola is widely acclaimed to be the winner. It had other ingredients as well which includes very little electoral violence, little electoral fraud, a moslem/moslem party ticket with a high Southern Christians votes and an excellent voting system (option A4) which enabled transparency in voting results. It was the clearest statement from the people for the military dictator & his comrades to vacate the scene.

Juen 12th was a turning point in our democratic history because it provides us with hope of what can be of our democracy if we the citizen participate actively. The event of that day became what it is in our minds today because of the enormous sacrifices of numerous Nigerians (before and after the day) and they range from the celebrated (like MKO Abiola, Rewane, Shehu Yar’Adua) to civil society activists (like Chuma Ubani) to media houses (like Radio Kudirat) to students from tertiary institutions and many others.

Their efforts were not in vain because the democracy we’ve had for the last 13 years has been the fruit of their labour. It is about time we realise that nothing happens in our individual or national lives without us first stepping out in faith and with courage to initiate & insist on it. Therefore, if we want to see the true dividends of this hard fought democracy, we the people must participate actively in our national development. Just like it took numerous people to deliver this democracy, it will take more than a ‘Messiah’ in Aso Rock for Nigeria to become transformed into a developed nation. Besides, it is through citizen participation that a credible occupant of Aso Rock will emerged and be supported.

So what is citizen participation?

Citizen participation is essentially nation-building through the thoughts, words and actions of a critical mass of Nigerians. This is a process where citizens take responsibility for the current state and future outcome of the nation and then with courage, step out to participate in activities that will lead to her development.

It is a mind-set that says the building and sustenance of a developed Nigeria requires the active participation of most Nigerians, not just the political class. As a result, it can be deducted that when a nation is underdeveloped and suffers high levels of corruption, insecurity and poverty, it is because of the people’s apathy.

No nation has ever developed without the active participation of a critical mass of citizens and Nigeria’s case would not be different.

Why is citizen participation critical?

Citizen participation is not child’s play but a commitment that demands a huge part of our time, resources and for some, their own lives. Therefore, we must understand why our participation is critical to ensure we are not just motivated but deeply committed (or sold out to the vision of a developed Nigeria) to withstand the expected opposition.

So, why is our participation critical?

The nation belongs to us and it is ours to build: This nation does not belong only to people like Gen. Obasanjo, Gen. Babangida, Gen. Buhari (3 Nigerians that have influenced our military and democratic dispensation than any other), Tinubu, Jerry Gana, Tony Anenih, Femi Otedola but to every Nigerian. It belongs to those from the North, the South, the East and the West and that means it is our responsibility to build her.

Building a nation is not limited to the political scene but involves all spheres of life but none of these areas will receive the desire attention and attain their expected heights without the citizens taking ownership for their nation and dedicating their lives to participate in building her.

Better nation for our children: There is no doubt most of us love our children dearly and we want a better & safer nation for them to live in. But no amount of assets (money in the bank, houses, cars, investments, etc.) will guarantee a better tomorrow than a nation that is being developed. When we participate in nation-building, our efforts (no matter how little) contribute towards making Nigeria a developed and secured society for our children.

Protect our lives: Every time a citizen participates in nation-building, they protect themselves in the short, medium and long term. For example, when we come together to provide better healthcare facilities and at an affordable rate, we save the lives of people who will include our friends (or friend of a friend), our relatives and even ourselves. We can’t afford to sit down and complain about government’s greed and selfishness whilst we die from poor medical care, armed robbery wounds, road accidents injuries, poor medical care and negligence of our unenlightened & uneducated population.

Take back our nation (from greedy & incompetent people): For me the greatest motive (or why) for citizen participation in nation-building, is to take back the destiny of our nation from the cabal who’ve held us captive for too long. It is not surprising that a few people dictate to us because most of us are not involved as these few and the only way to reduce their influence is to witness a surge in Nigerians participating in all facets of our society.

Democracy provides the platform for the people not only to participate in choosing their leader but also to participate in the development of all sectors of our nation and when we understand the ‘why’, we will be able to rise up with courage to implement the ‘how’.

How we do implement it?

The first step in implementing citizen participation is for us to study what is required of us. The study process involves we accepting responsibility for the nation first (thereby changing mind-set from self-focused to nation-focused), then review why we need to participate (we must understand fully why we are getting involved to prepare us for the work & fierce opposition) & the values we must live by, identify what specific problem concerns us most (as we differ in passion, our areas of greatest pain in our society differs too) and then draw up a plan of action that will enable not only our participation but the implementation of the solutions we have identified.

The second step is to get involved solely or with like minds to implement the plan of action. For example, if you’re most concerned about our primary educational system, you can on a part-time or fulltime basis take up teaching of students from a public primary school. Your plan of action may be to do this as an individual or as an organisation with several other Nigerians with similar passion. As we passionately and consistently give of our time and resources to that area of pain, this will create a model for many others to join in and/or support us with the needed resources.

When we are actively participating we must also mobilise many others to join our efforts or to undertake theirs by our teaching them how we began ours. This is the third step. We must change from a people who talk with no action to a people we talk as a result of our actions and people are easily persuaded to participate when they see what we are doing.

The fourth step is a natural outcome of our consistent participation and that is we become an inspiration or role model to many other Nigerians of this & future generations. Nigerians like the late Gani Fawehinmi inspired so many other Nigerians (most of whom never met him in person) to participate in nation-building.

There are so many Nigerians passionate about politics and must stop calling politics a dirty game but get involved in a political party or set up a new one. There are Nigerians passionate about our healthcare system, they must launch initiatives to ensure more lives are saved (our mortality is one of the highest in the world).

Some will be passionate about our educational system and must then get involved in initiatives to develop this sector. We all love sports (especially football) but there are Nigerians passionate about using this sector as a tool to build great citizens, better economy and rebrand our image, let them get involved. There are those passionate about human rights, let them get involved in fighting for the poor, enlightening the citizens about the rights, etc.

There are those passionate about using our religious organisations as a platform for social engineering & care, let them go ahead and get involved. Others are passionate about agriculture, arts, science, manufacturing, software development, malaria/polio/measles eradication, alternative energy, affordable housing and many other passions.

As God is not limited, we His creation have unlimited passions. True development is not only political but occurs when the various passions are developed and sustained.

In the history of the world, it is rare to find a person or people seeking to introduce positive change who didn’t get fiercely opposed. The fact that we dedicate our lives to participating in our national development does not mean we wouldn’t face opposition but we must persevere, remembering always why we are participating in nation-building.

It is usually the coming generations that celebrate the sacrifices made in the past, just like we celebrate MKO Abiola & other heroes for standing firm against a military dictator and today, you and I have a democratic dispensation. We must bear this in mind as we launch out with courage to participation in our area of passion that will lead to the development of our nation and with this mind-set, we will be able to harness the great opportunities democracy offers.

Therefore, fellow Nigerians, the call today is for you and I rise up and participate actively in the building of our nation. We are here for such as time as this. My last word will be to thank the small group of Nigerians already actively participating through various initiatives despite the challenges. You make this country and our God proud.

Bobby Udoh is a nation-building evangelist, passionate blogger, impact public speaker and trainer. His book ‘Nation-building: How to build and sustain a developed Nigeria’ is highly recommended for every Nigerian who desires a developed Nigeria. Order the book at http://bobbyudoh.com/buy-the-book/



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