Understanding the Role of Citizen’s in Good Governance


There is no better time than now for citizens to take interest in how they are governed. This is because the decision or indecision of government will determine whether we go out of this conundrum either depressed or greater. Towards this end, we need to first appreciate the legal frameworks upon which citizens should understand our role in ensuring good governance. More so, because just like the Christians have the Bible and the Muslims have the Quran; the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is our holy book (even though there is demand for a new one).

To understand our role it will be apt to quote the Constitution especially Section 14, which states that: (1) The Federal Republic of Nigeria shall be a State based on the principles of democracy and social justice. Furthermore, sub-section (2) states, it is hereby, accordingly, declared that: (a) sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria from whom government through this Constitution derives all its powers and authority; (b) the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government: and (c) the participation by the people in their government shall be ensured in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution.

The above section is among the most important in the constitution because it outlines the basis for the government and where the real power lies. Key phrases are: sovereignty belongs to the people (a); primary purpose of government (b) and the participation by the people (c). This shows that our role as a people goes beyond voting leaders into office and criticizing them for four years, and then repeat the vicious circle again.

No wonder, the popular definition of democracy states that it is a government of the people, by the people (take note of this) and for the people. ‘By the people’ here it means we have active roles to play in the day to day running of government, which is governance.

As citizens we are always quick to claim and amplify that we have rights, but we deliberately forget or ignore that we also have roles, responsibilities and duties. We must know that our rights can only be activated if we perform our roles, duties and responsibilities. The question is how does performing our roles, responsibilities and duties contribute to good governance?

Using simple analogy of demand and supply, in this case the citizens are the demand side (mandate givers) while public servant servants (elected and appointed government officials) are the supply side. It means to a large extend that the quality of our demand will always determine the quality of supply we get. This is subject to debate, but if one refers back to the Section 14 (2a) quoted above, which says sovereignty belongs to the people, you and I, that means those in government are only holding the power in trust, as public servants not masters.

Does a master allow his or her servant to determine how to use his property and wealth? The answer is obvious. This means that your role as a citizens should not be that of a master that resigns to criticism and playing victim, while the servant is appropriating and expending his/her property and wealth. Many do not know that each time we insult our leaders we indict ourselves.

From the illustration of the master and servant, it shows that the master has the responsibility of taking decisions and directing the servant on what to do and where to go. Therefore, it means that our role in ensuring good governance is hinged on the QUALITY of our PARTICIPATION. The words in capital letters have the power to change our destiny as a nation within the shortest possible time.

Before going further, just for clarity, rather than give a definition of good governance, the characteristics will be outlined. They are: rule of law; transparency; accountability; responsiveness; participation; effectiveness and efficiency; consensus oriented; and equity and inclusiveness. These are the major yardstick for defining and measuring good governance.

However, these will not happen on there own, until we citizens play our role. It is only appropriate to say that our role as citizens with the backing of the Constitution are: vote credible, competent and compassionate leaders at all levels; participate in decision-making processes be it the development plans, policies, budgets and service delivery; demand for transparency.

Other roles include: holding the government accountable for the decisions taken and implemented; create public awareness on governance processes and amplify the voices of the voiceless; mobilize and organized stakeholders and like-minds to advocate and put pressure on the Government to respond to our needs; defend the rule of law and human rights; and pay tax and other obligations to the State

Doing this will go a long way in ensuring that our leaders are accountable and serve us base on the mandate given to them. We all must become active citizens if this country will ever work. Remember: the quality of our participation and engagement will determine the quality of governance we get. Lets engage, ask the right questions and hold the government accountable.

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