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Citizens’ Participation In A Democratic Government (II)

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This article was first published on Monday, August 15, 2016.
As was hinted at above,
the citizens’ struggle to bend the state to their will was often violent. The elements of the bourgeoisie who wrestled the state from the monarch, may have been liberals who reclaimed their freedoms from the ruling houses. But they were not democrats by definition who desired to create the conditions under which the generality of the people would determine their representatives in the state apparatuses and therefore, how the state would serve them. For, just as the monarchs were reluctant to part with power, so were the bourgeoisie unprepared to accommodate the unwashed masses. Power, it is said, is never voluntarily given to the people; they have to fight for, and to grab it. To understand what happened in this instance, we need to look beyond the political space to understand the nature of the movement that turned democratic.
The logic of capital whose bearers the bourgeoisie had become, obliged them to gradually dismantle the barriers against all freedoms: movement, belief and confession. Movement is not just one of the laws of nature which would impel the citizens to seek wider political participation. But what is natural was given a purely intellectual interpretation and it became embodied in that most obvious crystallization of matter – capital. Here, it seems, science and the economy found mutual support; both helped propel the political push for democratisation sometimes against the short-term interests of the new ruling class. Without the freedom of movement, the factors of production could not be shifted to the most critical points of need at anyone time. Thought, speech and information had to be unfettered otherwise science and its associated inventions which are absolutely necessary for production would not flourish. This, it will be recalled, was the era of the industrial revolution.
The imperative of these freedoms was also what propelled the people, over time, to demand political participation. By the same token, it provided also the push factor that made the bourgeoisie bow to the persistent demands from below. In the long run, these tendencies yielded the state’s gradual recognition of the rights of the people and the welfare state. The people had triumphed, had they? Historical experience would show that real power was in the economy and that what the people won was the power of the relatively inferior power of the ballot. It is not to be overlooked on this account, but neither should be exaggerated.
What had appeared to be the steady march of the power of the people began to suddenly unravel in the last decades of the 20th century. Hitherto the economy, not minding some hiccups, had been growing reasonably well until the 1970s. Signs of decline first manifested in the periphery where declining state revenue forced the push for balanced budgets. Quickly withdrawn were the critical social support for health and education which the wretched of the earth needed. The negative impact on growth and development was obvious, hence the 1980s were rightly described as a lost decade for Africa. The forces of freedom and independence weakened as capital, shielded by the state, easserted itself with imposition of austerity regimes by International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Under these conditions the rights to health and education which the people thought they could take for granted simply fizzled into the thin air. That was only in the first phase of what was to become a global phenomenon. A decade later in the second phase, profits declined further in the advanced regions of capitalism where democracy had won the people cover under the social security network, the demand of capital won over those of the people. The state was rolled back and as in the periphery, if with less devastating result, as it opted to balance budgets by either removing, reducing or freezing welfare programmes, depending on the strength of social and forces it encountered. Since then the state has always responded against the people and in the interest of capital any moment a choice has had to be made. The last stark example was the struggle the Greek government waged with the European Union in the bid to help Greece and Spain manage their economic crisis. On each count the people lost and capital won.
This harsh state of affairs actually helps us to better understand the nature of contemporary democracy. It can be logically argued that what we witness now is the true nature of democracy. It has always seemed to be about all the people but it has usually always been about some of the people. And because it claims to be about the people, the people have ever been struggling to force it live up to that beautiful claim. The ideology of democracy presents the state as the agent and instrument of the people but the stark reality of democratic life shows that the state always attempts to hoist itself above the people. Thus, at best the political space is filled with tension as the state seeks to maintain its position and the people insist on bending it to their will. It is in the context of this nature of the democratic political space that one can meaningfully discuss our topic today.
Citizen participation in a Democracy:
If our interpretation of history and theory of democracy presented here is meaningful, it can then be concluded that democracy is not just about the existence of political parties, periodic, free and fair elections with an independent umpire, rule of law, existence of virile media, observation of human and civil rights, etc, all of which may have been encoded in constitutions that appear to accord sovereignty to the people. These are merely the structures of the system. In and of themselves they can easily constitute clutters in the political space and can even be impediments to democracy. Because they are not unimportant, however, we may term them the “hardware”, to be digitally correct. More important than those are elements of the “software” without which the hardware is of little use: this software is the culture of sustained political consciousness and behavior with which the people, as citizens, interact in and with these structures to give them life and expression, so to speak. In the United States of America, Germany, the United Kingdom or Nigeria, Ghana, and Rwanda, all have political structures are in place alright. But regardless of this, democracy works differently in each of these countries because the levels of consciousness and culture or how these find expression, differ. It is the process of participation that gives expression to that software of democracy.
Participation is a many-sided concept. It includes voting and or being voted for, attending political meetings, expressing political views and opinions, membership of political parties and pressure groups (including civil society associations); being regularly updated about political developments; monitoring how the state performs and demanding responsiveness, transparency and accountability from its officials. There is an ethical component to the concept of participation and it demands that exchanges must be based on mutual respect, tolerance and civility. All these are obvious enough and have been much discussed. It is difficult to know what to add to these. The challenge as I see it has to do with how we work them in the context of the tension of the democratic space. How do we participate so that we hold democracy to be about the majority of the people and not just for minority of the people; how do we ensure that the state more or less reflects the citizens’ will?
Perhaps only one qualification should be made to all this, namely, that citizen participation must be active, sustained and critical. But this implies an important assumption, namely, that the people have already become citizens. Democracy is possible only with citizens, otherwise the leaders deceive themselves and the people. I mentioned earlier that the transformation from being subjects to being citizens had taken place in the older democracies; it was in fact critical for taking the first tentative steps away from feudal rule and its ideology of the divine right of kings. A subject in a state is politically inactive or gets involved only sporadically; she believes she is incapable of making any political difference. Thus he lacks self-confidence. A citizen on the hand is politically active and wants to make an impact through some input at any point in the political process. Unless people in a democracy are in a sustained “citizen mode”, dictatorship will thrive under its cloak.

 

Eme Ekekwe

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Ex-APC National Chairman Tasks Party On Responsive Leadership

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Chief John Odigie-oyegun, former National Chairman, All Progressives Congress APC), has charged the party’s leaders to be more progressive and responsive to the people.
He said this at the public presentation of a book”APC’S Litmus Test, Nigerian Democracy and Politics of Change”, written by Dr Salihu Lukman, Director-General, Progressives Congress Forum (PGF) in Abuja, yesterday.
“We are in charge today, a progressive government, a progressive regime, and I think it is proper that we show to the nation that when the people want some degree of change, “we should be responsive to it, we should address it, compromises have to be made, there’s no question about that,” Odigie-Oyegun said.
He added that the APC document on true federalism was still being worked upon before its release.
Odigie-Oyegun said the ideas of people from different parts of the country would be different up to the extent that they would want to go with the proposals in the document.
He said it was however, necessary, vital and mandatory in the interest of the survival of the country that issues regarding federalism were addressed.
“We cannot continue to allow the subject to become something that threatens our nation at any turn.
“So, the earlier we address it, the earlier we show that as a party we are responsive to the feelings of the people, the desires of the people and the wants of the people.
“It becomes easier then, to diffuse the kind of stresses that the nation is passing through today,”Odigie-Oyegun said.
He added that for those at the formation of the APC, the uniqueness of its Constitution and its manifesto promised change was meant by all members with their hearts and beings.
He said unfortunately, the forces of economics had made things not quite the way it was planned.
The APC former national chairman said there was need for the party members to do everything possible to keep it not just alive but very virile.
He added that in spite of general belief, the APC was one party that had put together things that meant hope for the country.
He said the fact that things were bad and people were angry and hungry was not questionable, saying that these were worldwide phenomenon.
Odigie-Oyegun decried the current security challenge in the country.
“It is my hope that we will begin to get control of the security of this nation,” he said.

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PDP Rep Harps On Justice, Dialogue To Secure Nigeria

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The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), House of Representatives member has enjoined Nigerian leaders to tow the path of justice, equity, dialogue, and rule of law in the country.
Rep. Toby Okechukwu, the Deputy Minority Leader of the House, said this in a statement issued on Saturday in Abuja to commemorate the Democracy Day
He added that such path would help to arrest worsening insecurity and arrest separatist agitations across the country.
Okechukwu said that opportunities still abound in preserving the nation’s democracy and reconstruct the union to a more workable piece.
He said that June 12 was designated Democracy Day in honour of a symbol of the nation’s democratic struggles, the late Chief MKO Abiola.
He added that Abiola was unjustly denied the opportunity to exercise an overwhelmingly popular mandate handed him by the Nigerian people on June 12 1993, but only to be celebrated at death.
“The greatest debt the governments and leaders of Nigeria owe every part of this country and every Nigerian is a sense of justice and equity according to the letters and spirit of our constitution.
“The golden rule of justice is to do unto others as you would have them to unto you,” he said.
 He called on the Federal Government to take conscious steps to do things that would promote national unity and earn it loyalty.
He also called on leaders to be proactive in creating a clement environment for peace to reign to arrest the present security challenges in the country.
Okechukwu commended the leaders of the South East and the Federal Government for the June 11, dialogue in Enugu to deescalate tension in the region.
He stated that it was a right step that should be sustained and replicated nationwide, while wishing Nigerians a happy Democracy Day.

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Democracy Day: PDP Lawmakers Wants Observance Of Rule Of Law

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The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) caucus in the House of Representatives has called for strict observance of the rule of law to improve democratic practice in the country.
The caucus made the call  in a statement by its Leader, Rep. Kingsley Chinda (PDP-Rivers) last Saturday in Abuja.
Chinda called for an environment that would guarantee freedom of speech and standard operations for the fourth estate of the realm.
The lawmaker  stressed the need to place greater value on Nigerian lives and for decisive and pragmatic steps to end the avoidable deaths in the country.
He called on the government to restrain the Police and other security agencies from further unleashing violence on unarmed youths and other peaceful protesters.
“They choose to go out and exercise their rights in commemoration of  Democracy Day.
“June 12 is a symbol of democratic freedom and supremacy of the people’s power and should be respected by ensuring that all the tenets of democracy are adhered to in all ramifications.
“June 12 is not only about introspection, it is about renewing the commitments of all to the growth of democracy in our dear county.
“It is about ensuring that our country is never again enveloped by darkness, hemmed to the abyss by the sinister forces that threaten our collective rights and freedoms,” he said.
Chinda urged all Nigerians to hold on to democratic principles in spite of the challenges facing the country saying that “good will triumph over evil.”

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