By Charles Dickson
Nigeria has a lot of issues, for instance, who do you blame for immigration officers wearing slippers or flip-flops with their uniforms at the airport, or Uber drivers accepting trips and proceeding to charge you higher than the app for an offline trip? For us to get the country we want, we have to change our mindset—Osi_Suave
In the country of Armenia, in 1988, Samuel and Danielle sent their young son, Armand, off to school. Samuel squatted before his son and looked him in the eye. “Have a good day at school, and remember, no matter what, I’ll always be there for you.” They hugged and the boy ran off to school.
Hours later, a powerful earthquake rocked the area. In the midst of the pandemonium, Samuel and Danielle tried to discover what happened to their son but they couldn’t get any information. The radio announced that there were thousands of casualties. Samuel then grabbed his coat and headed for the schoolyard. When he reached the area, what he saw brought tears to his eyes. Armand’s school was a pile of debris. Other parents were standing around crying.
Samuel found the place where Armand’s classroom used to be and began pulling a broken beam off the pile of rubble. He then grabbed a rock put it to the side, and then grabbed another one.
One of the parents looking on asked, “What are you doing?” “Digging for my son,” Samuel answered. The man then said, “You’re just going to make things worse! The building is unstable,” and tried to pull Samuel away from his work.
Samuel just kept working. As time wore on, one by one, the other parents left. Then a worker tried to pull Samuel away from the rubble. Samuel looked at him and said, “Won’t you help me?” The worker left and Samuel kept digging.
All through the night and into the next day, Samuel continued digging. Parents placed flowers and pictures of their children on the ruins. But Samuel just kept working. He picked up a beam and pushed it out of the way when he heard a faint cry. “Help! Help!” Samuel listened but didn’t hear anything again. Then he heard a muffled voice, “Papa?”
Samuel began to dig furiously. Finally, he could see his son. “Come on out, son!” he said with relief. “No,” Armand said. “Let the other kids come out first because I know you’ll get me.” Child after child emerged until, finally, little Armand appeared. Samuel took him in his arms and Armand said, “I told the other kids not to worry because you told me that you’d always be there for me!”
Fourteen children were saved that day because one father was faithful.
The story above is not a distraction but part of my drift, but first, let us go back to the immigration officer wearing slippers at the airport and the Uber driver engaging in dishonest practices, the fuel attendant who short-changes the customer, we are guilty of paying to get admission for our kids, we pay bribes and give bribes even when they are not solicited. We bribe even the deities that we worship, the reason why even our ancestors are requesting kola nuts and spirits from the other world.
They reflect broader challenges within Nigerian society. To understand these issues deeply, I am herein exploring the concept of “government” in the Nigerian context, the role of the people, and the need for a mindset shift.
In the Nigerian context, and for scholarly purposes we can say that government is of two forms, (a) Formal Government: a formal government structure consisting of elected officials, civil servants, and law enforcement agencies. This formal government is responsible for creating and enforcing laws, maintaining order, and providing essential services, and (b) an Informal Government: which includes various individuals and groups that exercise power and influence outside of official channels. This can range from community leaders to religious figures to criminal organizations.
I know that many of us will see the last phrase criminal organization one which I have intentionally used, or applied. I would explain, but first let me look at the role of the people, we call it Citizen Responsibility: In a democratic society (and don’t ask me about our democracy), citizens have a crucial role to play. They are not just passive recipients of government services; they are active participants in shaping the nation’s destiny.
One of the primary roles of citizens is holding government officials accountable for their actions. This includes reporting cases of misconduct or corruption, demanding transparency, and participating in elections.
I can further elaborate that People as Government is a concept that involves a Mindset Shift: there needs to be a collective mindset shift among the Nigerian people. Citizens must recognize that they are, in essence, the government. The formal government is made of people who in the scheme of things years before leadership roles are just everyday ordinary people, first, you are Nigerian, you are a citizen before you become a leader. You gravitate between formal and informal, every one of us is a leader of some sort, either as a husband, brother, son, wife, or daughter, we are leading some people or something.
We are in a way expected to be part of an Active Engagement: which means being informed about government activities, demanding accountability, and actively participating in the decision-making process. We must be able to through Community Empowerment: Build strong and responsible communities. Where citizens work together at the local level to address issues like security and service delivery, to create a more conducive environment for good governance.
These things cannot happen because we refuse to see ourselves as government, when former vice president Osinbajo said that the government needs to do this and do that, you wondered who is government, Nigerians require education and awareness campaigns that emphasize the importance of active citizenship, ethics, and civic responsibility driven by patriotism.
There must be a high dose and senseof Ethical Leadership not just within the government but in other spheres of influence. But like the immigration officer, leaders who model integrity must work to inspire positive change.
We must go back to Grassroots Initiatives: utilizing a Community-Led Development model that empowers communities to take charge of their development. When communities have a say in local projects and resources, it promotes a sense of ownership and responsibility. Governors beret the president, yet are guilty of the same when they deal with local government leadership, and then those dudes do the same to councilors. We operate some criminal organization where no one wants to be responsible.
What we call Youth Engagement is essentially building a replacement cartel where no one wants to be government but blames government. So, the current government doesn’t see the need to save the child, Armand, they don’t see the future of Nigeria and like Samuel, no one wants to go the extra mile to drive positive change through advocacy, innovation, and community initiatives.
We are all government, we are the Civil Society, andwe mustbe readyto play our role in advocating for good governance, transparency, and accountability. We must realize we are both formal and informal government actors.
We are in this era of citizen journalism expected to play the role ofa free and independent media as a crucial watchdog. Exposing corruption and misconduct, putting pressure on ourselves as authorities to act. We must like Samuel make sacrifices; we must move one stone after the other. We must act as a government!
For us to change anything, a holistic approach is needed, involving a mindset shift among citizens, active civic engagement, grassroots initiatives, and advocacy for transparency and accountability.
Ultimately, Nigerians themselves have the power to shape the government and country they want through collective action and responsible citizenship, and for that to happen we must start thinking of ourselves as government—May Nigeria win.
Prince Charles Dickson PhD is a Team Lead at The Tattaaunawa Roundtable Initiative (TRICentre).
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