My Country People Have Followership Deficit

Some enlightened people in our country today who hold very

strong opinions about government hold those opinions because of the

strong position taken by Jean Jacques Rousseau. This thinker of the 18th

Century successfully sold his idea of political participation via an

arrangement known as the ‘Social Contract’. In that contract, citizens

surrendered their individual freedoms, rights, privileges and welfare and

invested them in one individual known as a benevolent dictator. This benevolent

dictator took these freedoms and rights and held them in trust for everyone,

and with the belief and understanding that he would harness these freedoms and

rights and privileges for the benefit of everyone else. Therefore, if this benevolent dictator were to

renege on the contract to guarantee the expression and execution of these

rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, the people were supposed

to recall the mandate they willingly surrendered to the benevolent dictator.

This was where the idea of the rule of law sprang from it is often argued.

But that idea of the social contract today is so out of date

and has proved to be so inconsistent, so primordial and so very antediluvian to

the dynamism of political participation of the millennium. That contract today

has come to form an equinox between political participation and the posturing

of the post-Rousseau elite. Participation in politics in a democracy does not

mean that once elections are near we file out and cast our votes. Filing out to

cast our votes is just one aspect of how we can participate in running our

country. Participation by filing out to cast to cast our votes is one thing,

but the controlling of what goes on in our country is another. What happens in

most cases is that after our people cast their votes and deposit their rights

and liberties in one or two of the men who make up the apparatus of government,

they go home, get comfy on the couch and wait for the benevolent dictator to deliver the ‘dividends of democracy’. And

from that couch, if there’s no water running from the taps or no electricity,

we fly into tantrums and hurl invectives at the people that we are supposed to

have voted for. In fact, nothing best

captures our relationship with our government than that phrase, ‘dividends of

democracy’. Anytime I hear my fellow

countrymen use that phrase, what immediately comes to mind is the picture of an

investor in a public liability company who has invested money in an enterprise,

and then off to sleep he goes. When most investors go to sleep on their

investments, the companies that they

have invested go down with investors’ funds if there are no mechanisms to

monitor what goes on in that company, ninety-percent

of the time.

So how then do we participate, and control what goes on in

the government at the same time? First, the participation – we participate by

doing the needful and going to cast our votes at the polling centre and going

home afterwards after a winner has been declared. Then the control – we can

control our government from one or several of the following methods. One, we

must know the name and antecedents of the person we have voted into office. The

usual practice here in Nigeria, and which is supported by the Constitution, is

that the individual matters only when he or she is representing the ideas and

manifestoes of a political party and not that the individual represents his own

ideas and dreams under the banner of a party. Therefore, when we begin to

question, analyze and scrutinize the antecedents of the people who want to govern

us and take custody of our civil liberties and rights, we immediately begin to

block the lacuna in the Constitution that does not let us investigate the

antecedents of the political party that has put him forth as representative of

their ideas and ideals. You would recall that there have been many times in

this country when we suddenly woke up to find that the people with whom we have

entered a social contract have inadvertently reneged on that contract not

because they have not been able to discharge of their responsibilities to us

but from the fact that something or some happenstance in their personal lives

have mitigated against their ability to meet the very high standards we expect

of them.

The next thing we must do is get actively involved. Getting

actively involved cannot be taken to mean to be involved in spending public

money recklessly with the people who are doing so. The pervading dogma today is

that if you cannot beat them, you should join them. That wouldn’t do – and

thanks to my teachers who often told me that if I cannot beat them I shouldn’t

join them, but that I should fight until

I die if it meant that fighting would lead to my death. They told me that it is often very noble to

die like a tree standing than live like a shrub crawling under the trees. Getting

involved in controlling our country is also not confined to holding rallies and

making demands on and insulting government. Fighting for what accrues to you in

a democracy is part of the control I am talking about – it is not a means to an

end in itself but an end to a means as well. In a book I read recently, Democracy and Participation (1976), the

author, J.R. Lucas was adamant that people

learn less by listening than by doing exercises by themselves, and that we

participate more by actively arguing than merely attending a debate and be

passive listeners. I want to explain

what I understand what I think Lucas is saying here via personal anecdote. I

live in a place where there was a perennial shortage of power supply. The

shortage of supply was not tallying with the government’s claim of generating

and supplying nearly 5,000 megawatts of power to Nigerians. So I got up to

investigate. Before I wrote a letter to the Electricity Regulatory Commission,

I gathered my neighbours together and explained the situation to them and that

I needed them to append their signatures to the letter I was going to send to

the electricity commission. Most of them denounced and called me all sorts of

names (some said I should go away with my activism) and therefore refused to

append their signatures to my letter. But I sent the letter anyway, and the

commission got in touch with me. They swung into action and discovered that

there was a clique somewhere circumventing the power supplied to our

residential area. When they began work

on the power supply, they asked if I wanted the supply of power only to my

compound until they rectified the fault. I told them I wanted power supply for

the whole area and they did so. Today, if there’s no light in the whole of

Nigeria, I always have power and if I don’t, I recognize that there must be a

major problem somewhere. In another instance in my work place, I discovered

that there was always power only at night but none by day. From the experience

I had in my residence, I took time off work to investigate. What I found out

shocked me. Owners of the premises in the hospitality business used to collude

with PHCN officials so as to guarantee steady power supply. With the breaking

down of PHCN power house into DISCOS and GENCOs, I found out that the new chaps

in the DISCOs were allegedly unwilling to collect the ‘paltry’ sums the owners of

the premises were paying, that is, apart from their regular bills for power

supply. Both the owner of the premises and the power officials came to common

ground at my expense: there was to be power by night and none by day – power by

night for the guests of the hospitality entrepreneurs and none for me a tenant

on the same premises by day. It wasn’t making sense and after I visited the

Regulatory Commission again with a complaint, I started getting regular power

supply as a tenant on that premise that we use as our office.

Recall that in both situations, I did not begin to quote

Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Social Contract, and pontificate from a couch, on radio

and television that the government is clueless, useless and inefficient. I

stood up and demanded a restoration of my rights, liberty and privileges as a

Nigerian citizen. I wrote a simple letter. And that is what this discussion is about. If

there’s no power, no water, no health and sewage disposal facilities, stand up from

your couch and take action and take control. Taking action would mean that you

would have to get others to join you. They may not all agree with you but you

must take action. In most cases, you just would find out that the facilities or

the monies for the facilities have been budgeted but OUR people, people like

you and I, are the ones circumventing or sabotaging the effort of the people in

charge.

Written by
MajiriOghene Bob Etemiku
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