Cultivating the culture of people power – Punch

A new wave of protests has been sweeping through nations as citizens increasingly come to the realisation that only eternal vigilance, not docility, can force a government, whether democratic or autocratic, to serve the interest of its citizenry. Whether in Honduras or Czech Republic, Algeria or Sudan, Hong Kong or Georgia, the phenomenon of people rising in unison to remind those in government that they are only holding power in trust for the people has been overwhelmingly on trend.

In many societies, there are several levels where people and groups can engage the government. Interestingly, in some countries, the people have been having their way, despite strong and hostile resistance by security forces. Many of the protesters have had to pay with their lives, but it has not in any way deterred them. Indeed, these are not the best of times for governments that continue to take the interest of their citizens for granted, except, perhaps in Nigeria where the government has been riding roughshod over the people because they are so indifferent to the way they are governed.

It is therefore not surprising that Nigeria has the largest number of extremely poor people in the world, despite being resource-rich and experiencing 20 years of democratic rule. It appears as if the longer they are under democratic rule, the worse their lot. That is also why Nigerian politicians rank among the highest paid in the world, according to The Economist of London, in a country where poverty is endemic and worsening by the day.

While, in Algeria, the protesters forced an ailing long-time president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, to shelve his fifth term ambition, in Sudan, Omar al-Bashir, after 30 years in the saddle, has been ignominiously toppled by the power of the people. The dictator and fugitive from justice, declared wanted by the International Criminal Court, is now in detention, facing corruption trial in his country. More importantly, the people are still not satisfied with their “little” victories and are pressing for more.

Beyond Africa, in the biggest protests since the fall of Communism in their country, the Czech people have trooped out in their hundreds of thousands, calling for the resignation of their Prime Minister, Andrej Babis. The controversial billionaire tycoon, dubbed the Czech Trump, is facing accusation of fraud relating to European Union subsidies, which involved his company; and his accusers see the protests as steps taken to protect democracy.

The same reason of advancing the cause of democracy has been adduced for the mass protests in Hong Kong, where the people believe that a new law proposed by the authorities was part of efforts to chip away at their fiercely-guarded freedom and democratic tradition. An unprecedented crowd, estimated at close to two million people, trooped out last week to protest against the proposed extradition bill, forcing the territory’s Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, to not only suspend the piece of legislation, but to apologise for ever contemplating its introduction in the first place.

Although a part of China, Hong Kong enjoys what is referred to as “one country, two systems”, where the laws allow freedoms that are lacking in the mainland. Unfortunately, the proposed legislation was meant to allow the extradition of people to mainland China where the legal system is perceived to be neither transparent nor just. Significantly, most of the protesters are students who believe they have to fight for their freedom. As a people who are well aware of the power at their disposal and the need to make their democracy work for them, the Hong Kongers have asked Lam to resign, while the law on extradition should be withdrawn completely, instead of being suspended, as is currently the case.

This is the power of the people at work and there are lessons to be imbibed in Nigeria about what is happening across the globe. Despite putting up a gallant fight during the June 12 struggle, although only in select places, Nigeria has over the years evolved into a country where the people are so docile and comfortable with bad governance at all levels. This has led to drastic deterioration in values and quality of living. Yet, Nigerians expect to enjoy the “dividends of democracy,” forgetting that nothing, not even the freedom of expression, comes without a fight.

In Georgia last week, the Speaker, Irakli Kobakhidze, resigned in line with the demands of protesters. They were angered that a Russian lawmaker was allowed to address the parliament, sitting on the Speaker’s seat, something considered to be sacrilegious. The resignation was forced because the people showed interest in what happened at their parliament.

Unfortunately, Nigerians prefer to turn a blind eye while the lawmakers in the country have a field day. That is why Nigeria’s renowned playwright, Wole Soyinka, quoted in his book, The Man Died, the famous line, “The man dies in all who keep silent in the face of tyranny.” Nigerians have shown little or no concern as a group of Nigerians in the name of lawmaking usurp the job of the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission by fixing their allowances beyond the country’s economic realities. They watch in silence as the budgets are being padded and personal interests are allowed to take precedence over national interest.

Nigerians have remained docile as health and educational facilities continue to decay. They fail to understand that they are the actual custodians of power. They forget Thomas Jefferson’s words, “Those who desire to give up freedom in order to gain security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.” While students in Hong Kong decide to take their fate into their own hands, Nigerians still wait for the likes of Soyinka, at over 80 years old, to lead protests for them. Sadly, things will continue to get worse until the people decide to take their destiny in their own hands.

Countries that value democracy are increasingly and even ferociously protecting it and telling their rulers that power belongs to the people and are held in trust by those in government.

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