Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Citizens’ role in good governance

Oftentimes, we blame our country’s underdevelopment on bad leadership. We point accusing fingers at the political elite, particularly the elected public office holders, blaming them for the country’s woes. In the development work that I have been involved for close to two decades, the buzz words after the elections are on citizens’ engagement to hold government to account. We always mount pressure on elected representatives at both the legislative and executive arms of government to deliver on their campaign promises. We classify such pledges made during the electioneering period as social contract between the government and the citizens which must be fulfilled. I duly and truly subscribe to the mobilisation of the citizens to demand and indeed fight for their rights and even privileges. However, the citizenry, I dare say, cannot solely be on the demand side of good governance. They have to also be on the supply side. How do I mean?
For me, while it is a good and noble thing to demand dividends of democracy from our elected and even appointed leaders, we as citizens also have a role to play to bring about these dividends. It is true that liberal democracy provides for civil liberties and that good governance is hinged on security and welfare of the citizens. However, government, by this I mean, political heads of government institutions alone cannot by themselves, without the cooperation of the rest of the society, get the job done. Let me drum this home with some examples.
Many a time, we pontificate about corrupt politicians. However, some of us are culpable and vicariously responsible for the creation of these corrupt crops of politicians. Our notion of a successful politician is that he or she is rich and must therefore be our Automatic Teller Machines that must always cough up money on request. I have heard many politicians complain about the huge number of their constituents who daily besiege their homes and offices requesting financial favours. These people many of whom are party members go to the political leaders for their children’s school fees, settlement of hospital bills, funds for social events such as weddings, naming, funerals, feeding allowances and many more.
These people who constitute themselves as parasites on politicians care less whether the funds being used to meet these endless requests are stolen or worked for. The immediate past Ekiti State Governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, thought he was doing the right thing when he focused on infrastructural development of the state rather than sharing the resources of the state to some political vermin. How wrong he was. The Ekiti people acknowledged and appreciated the solid, physical infrastructural development but asked also for “stomach infrastructure”. We saw how he lost the June 21, 2014 election solely on account of his unwillingness to share out the state resources to the greedy and needy constituents.
We all want good things of life but a large chunk of Nigerians do not want to pay tax. I dare say that only those who work in the formal sector are compelled to pay tax by virtue of the fact that such taxes are deducted from source under the Pay As You Earn system. With the exception of the government workers and those in the organised private sector, the rest of us will rather dodge paying tax. Voluntary compliance with tax obligation is rare in Nigeria. Many of us who even claim to pay tax pay far less than we ordinarily should pay. This is made possible by hiring rogue tax consultants who help to do the dirty job.
As with the payment of Personal Income Tax, so it is with the compliance with every other forms of taxes, levies, duties and tolls. Many companies are not paying the right company tax. Many goods importers under-declare in order to reduce their import duties. Some even engage in outright smuggling in order to evade payment of customs and excise duties altogether. Many motorists try to evade paying tolls in those days when we had toll gates. Even part of the reasons for the stoppage of collection of tolls on our federal highways was due to corruption by those manning the gates who went to print their own tickets and sell more of theirs than those of the government.
Yes, it is desirable to have good governance but how realisable will that be when some of the citizens engage in all manner of criminal activities such as kidnapping for ransom, banditry, vandalism, copyright piracy, oil theft, scamming and cultism? There is no gainsaying the fact that but for the sabotage activities of gas pipeline vandals, electricity generation would have improved tremendously in the country.
Even the inability of the Nigerian government to successfully prosecute the campaign against the activities of the insurgents was largely because of the fifth columnists in government and communities in the areas where these terrorists operate. These saboteurs leak vital information to these enemies of the country and thereby foil the well-orchestrated plans of the Nigerian troops.
Many motorists do not observe traffic rules. To them, traffic lights are for decorations not to be obeyed. A similar attitude is shown to pedestrian bridges as they are largely ignored by citizens who rather prefer to take a dangerous dash across the highways than take the painful but lifesaving walk across the bridge. Needless to say many have lost their limbs and indeed lives as a result of this act of disobedience. Some of my compatriots are in the habit of building on water plains while many more have the bad habit of emptying their trash cans in the waterways. These have caused avoidable flooding during rainy seasons.
When we exploit other people for our personal advantage such as importing fake, sub-standard or expired products for people’s consumption, under-dispense fuel as petrol attendants, sell with inaccurate measurements or scales, make false financial claims, we should learn to put the blame where it should be, which is on ourselves and not at the doorsteps of government. The point being made is that accountability should be a two-way thing rather than being seen as uni-linear which is from government to the people. People indeed also owe it a responsibility to be accountable to government. Everybody and everyone are needed for the attainment of good governance. The leader and the led owe the country a duty to work robustly together in the national interest.