Some weeks ago, I asked a couple of friends about their knowledge and involvement in politics, governance and public policies that affect them as citizens. I was rather perplexed to discover the extent of political apathy and ignorance that is still widespread among many nationals. This is the doom of democracy and needs to be addressed to bring back the power of democracy in our nation.
Democracy is designed to be a government of the people, by the people and for the people. How then is it possible for the people to rule in a democratic state without adequate knowledge of the operations of the government? How can they hold those whom they chose to represent them in political positions accountable for their decisions and actions if they (the people) know a little or nothing, or express apathy towards the political institutions and structures?
First things first, why should we even care about the problem of political ignorance?
Some people say that even if the voters choose out of ignorance, that’s all right — they’re just exercising their individual freedom. However, John Stuart Mill refuted this sort of argument 150 years ago when he pointed out that the act of voting is “the exercise of power over others”, and exercising power comes with knowledge. Therefore, when we vote for people who will occupy political positions, we have a responsibility to be informed about the political candidates and their ideologies and policies towards an inclusive government.
In addition, for most of us, it is rational to devote very little time to learning about politics, and instead focus on other activities that are more interesting or more likely to be useful. As former British Prime Minister Tony Blair puts it, “the single hardest thing for a practising politician to understand is that most people, most of the time, don’t give politics a first thought all day long. Or if they do, it is with a sigh…. before going back to worrying about the kids, the parents, the mortgage, the boss, their friends, their weight, their health, sex and rock ‘n’ roll.”
It is conclusive to say, however, that although we as citizens are powerful to influence the affairs of government in a democratic state, it seems we have also given up our power to the few who rule over us through our ignorance and apathy towards politics. But there is always light at the end of the tunnel.
Regaining Our Political Power
It is without a doubt that the first step to regaining our political power as a people lies in our active involvement in the affairs of the government, which goes beyond exercising our civic duties as voters to ensuring that our voices are heard and appreciated by those whom we choose to represent us in government. This is particularly important to realize the nation we dream of; the nation we want for our future.
To this end, I shall discuss three factors to position you as a powerful citizen who can influence the government and public policies to represent the desires and goodwill of the masses.
Seek Civic Education
To gain power, it is principal that you must first gain knowledge, as knowledge is power. Civic education is the study of the theoretical, political and practical aspects of citizenship, as well as its rights and duties. However, and more practically, you must discard every untrue ideology, sentiment and myth surrounding the stories behind politics. While some of these stories might have happened, you are, however, on a purposeful mission to salvage your nation, and your armour is your knowledge of your rights, duties and operations of the institutions and structures of government.
Civic education also ensures that you are an informed citizen, therefore, your words and actions towards political affairs are not based on sentiments or hearsay or half-truths, rather, you are deeply informed of happenings in your community and your nation. This is the purpose upon which My Voice My Future NGO is built – to empower future African Leaders through political education and participation.
If you had an option to choose between being an ignorant citizen who has no knowledge of his/her duties and consequent rights and can’t optimally exercise those rights, or one who is knowledgeable of the power he/she wields to influence the ‘powerful’ politicians and still enjoy the rights that accrue to a citizen by being active in politics, which would you choose?
Join A Political Party
Political parties are not established only for political candidates or those in political positions. Rather, it is a platform that unites all who share similar political ideology and goal for the nation. Joining a political party ensures that you are part of the decision making processes for the selection of candidates within the political party and the formulation of public policies and ideologies that best represent your good interests.
Moreover, in sensitive matters that affect you and the general public, being a member of a political party also ensures that your voice is heard when you speak. You also enjoy the right to share your opinion and maintain your stance. So, rather than shouting at the top of your voice from the outside, where you might not be heard, your voice will be louder when you speak from the inside.
In addition, joining a political party is an opportunity to shape the future you want for Nigeria, your country, which is realizable when you make the right choice towards the right candidate or policy, and ensures that you speak up. You become the change catalyst for the nation when you participate actively in political activities.
Exercise Your Civic Duties
You would agree with me that knowledge without practice is useless. In the same way, being knowledgeable about politics and how you can individually contribute to the growth of the nation is a waste of potential power if you don’t exercise it. Power is not measured in words or speeches but in informed and well-planned actions.
So I ask again: would you rather be one who knows how to fix a problem and yet remains on that creaky chair, almost always sighing and with head bowed low or one who gets to the drawing board to plan how to fix the problem, and carry out that plan?
Exercising your civic duties are personal actions toward active participation and involvement in political affairs which includes joining a political party, casting out votes during elections, speaking up against unfavourable public policies, obeying the rules and regulations, and most importantly, seeking to also educate others who are ignorant politically. If you’re informed about the truth but others aren’t, bring them to the truth rather than allow them make speculations that spread like wildfire.
It is rational to justify the political ignorance and apathy as expressed by the majority due to the lack of trust and transparency of the government, coupled with the many challenges of life. But if we do not own our country and regain our power as united citizens who are well informed, our future will not be as bright as we dream. It’s time to wake up and bring our dream country to reality. It starts with YOU and me.