In the maze of the crisis of governance that afflicts our nation, there are fundamental issues that the majority of Nigerians have neither given a deep thought nor followed through. These are issues of patriotism, ethics and civic responsibility. The first is that as citizens, we are responsible for instituting government and we are also in a position to demand accountability from the government. Essentially, governments and government institutions have a duty to be accountable to citizens and must strive to be responsive to citizens’ demand for accountability. The second is that citizens should be patriotic and should live up to their civic duties, including paying their taxes regularly so they can stand on a solid ground in demanding accountability. The third is that citizens should be active participants in the governance process by engaging governments and demanding transparency and accountability, using all available legal and constitutional frameworks and mechanisms. The fourth is that citizens have a duty to facilitate law enforcement including sharing information and intelligence with security agencies in order to enhance our common interest in security.
This discourse will start from the second issue of patriotism and civic obligations which is founded on an ethical philosophy. Section 23 of the Constitution declares that the national ethics shall be discipline, integrity, dignity of labour, social justice, religious tolerance, self-reliance and patriotism. All these qualities especially discipline, social justice and patriotism are in very short supply in Nigeria. It is indiscipline that promotes all kinds of misdeeds, from bribery and corruption to speeding and other traffic offences, down to the practice of urinating and defecating in unauthorised places. The Boko Haram insurgency is clearly an instance of religious intolerance; a group of persons cannot understand that other Nigerians have a right to worship God in a way and manner not within their idea of the worship of God. And those that are sponsoring them are also guilty of the same intolerance.
To begin a discussion on social justice in Nigeria is the subject of another day because on all parametres of social justice and equity, Nigeria will be poorly ranked.
Do we really love our country beyond the craze for the green white green during football matches? There is the chicken and egg argument that our country should first show us love and interest before we reciprocate. The second leg is that we first show commitment before demanding responsive and accountable governance. The proposition here is that we should lead the change that we want to see in our country. The civic duties that are incumbent on us as Nigerians include those spelt out in Chapter II of the Constitution being the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy. It is usually convenient for most Nigerians to remember the constitutional bill of rights in Chapter IV titled, Fundamental Rights and to forget that for every right, there is a correlating duty. For every right a person claims, there is a duty incumbent on another to take steps to fulfil that right. Thus, rights and duties are two sides of the same coin. We can therefore not claim rights in isolation of fulfilling duties.
The constitution in Section 24 lists the duties to include honest declaration of income and payment of taxes; render assistance to appropriate and lawful agencies in the maintenance of law and order; and make positive contributions to the advancement, progress and well-being of the community where he resides. Other duties include respecting the dignity, rights and legitimate interests of others and to live in unity and harmony in the spirit of brotherhood and sisterhood; help to enhance the power, prestige and good name of Nigeria, defend Nigeria and render such national service as may be required; and to abide by the constitution, respect its ideals and institutions, the national flag, anthem, pledge and legitimate authorities. It is a fact that most Nigerians do not honestly declare their income for the purpose of taxation especially those who are self-employed or in business. Some do not even pay tax at all. It is only those in paid employment especially in the public sector that pay tax, not because they elect to pay but due to compulsory deduction before their income is remitted to them. If citizens do not pay tax, where is the government expected to get funds to run the administration and provide the necessities of life? Yes, we can all shout about our oil resources which we know are being mismanaged. But how can you claim citizenship rights and demand accountability and transparency from your government when you do not pay a kobo or under pay what is your tax obligation? It is the contention of this discourse that what qualifies a person as a citizen beyond the accident of the geography of birth is the fulfillment of duties. Indeed, it should be, in legal terms, the standing to sue for any claim of rights from the state.
The first proposition which is that as citizens, we are responsible for instituting government and we are also in a position to demand accountability from the government, is inextricably connected to the third which is that citizens should be active participants in the governance process by engaging governments and demanding transparency and accountability, using all available legal and constitutional frameworks and mechanisms. It is posited that there is a citizen duty to register as a voter, vote at elections in accordance with conscience and convictions not based on ethnicity, religion and other primordial sentiments. The vote should also not be influenced by money. Since we are supposed to be practising democracy, our obligations do not end after the votes have been counted and a winner emerges. We are obliged to make the system to work and to continuously improve. This can be done through becoming an active citizen. Citizens can follow through a bill in the legislature and make contributions at public hearings; make informed contributions for policy approval, implementation or review and attend rallies demanding government to change from an unpopular course. Nigerians can make donations to fund charities engaged in civil society work on issues of interest to all. We cannot pretend that we care when in actual fact we have lifted no finger to change the system. The courts, Freedom of Information procedures, the National Human Rights Commission and the Public Complaints Commission are all mechanisms that can be used to ventilate our rights when we feel they are violated.
Collaborating with law enforcement agencies and providing them necessary information are duties expected of every citizen. Although, many citizens have unpalatable experiences working with law enforcement agents, this should not deter collaboration. It should rather provide the opportunity for us to increase our demands for accountability for the men and women who bear arms on our behalf. Finally, the fact that the state is failing in its obligations to citizens is not a justification for the citizens to refuse to perform their civic obligations. It is rather an opportunity for a flurry of citizens’ demands to right the wrongs. “Siddon look” or “allowing them to do their thing” is not an option.