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Published On: Wed, Jan 15th, 2020

Rights and responsibilities of citizens in a democracy

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By Jumai Ahmadu

According to Aberjhani, “Democracy is not simply a license to indulge individual whims and proclivities. It is also holding oneself accountable to some reasonable degree for the conditions of peace and chaos that impact the lives of those who inhabit one’s beloved extended community.’
In his letter to Edward Carrington, Thomas Jefferson admonished, “Cherish therefore the spirit of our people and keep alive their attention. If once they become inattentive to the public affairs, you and I, the assemblies and the governors shall become wolfs. It seems to be the law of our general nature. A good constitution is the greatest blessings which a society can bequeath to generations unborn. Need I infer that it is the duty of every citizen to use his best and most unrelenting endeavours for preserving the purity of the constitution for the wellbeing of all? Let no one therefore harbour for a moment the nasty idea, that he is and can be of no value to his country. Let the contrary impression animate our souls as a people.
Everyone can contribute positively to the growth of the society and render useful services based on our individual abilities.
The successes of the Nigerian state as a political structure has been a consequence of the voluntary participation of the citizens in public affairs-enlisting in the army in times of war, serving in school boards, petitioning legislatures, supporting the president in times of crisis, and in a hundred other ways, or small assuming responsibilities for the common good.
The Nigeria constitution has to a reasonable extent performed well, most of the times because conscientious men and women have given it flesh. Governments is the peoples creation and not their masters, thus if the people are sovereign, it is the peoples’ responsibilities to take upon their shoulders the tasks of seeing that order, justice and freedom are maintained.
The assumptions of the framers of our constitutions was that Nigerians citizens would take upon themselves responsibilities of the ordinary functioning of the civil social order and that local communities would manage their own affairs under their localities, the role of the various levels of government would be minimal and would not unnecessarily intrude into the day to day lives of the people. Thus freedom results from Nigerians voluntary assumption of responsibilities in matters of public concern.
A democratic republic cannot long endure unless a great number of its citizens stand ready and willing to brighten the corner where they are and so sacrifice much for the nation if the need arises. Until the citizens constantly meditate on the popular saying of JF Kennedy ‘Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country,” we will keep going in circle, blaming those in position of authority and excusing ourselves from our current state of underdevelopment.
The responsibility of citizens in any civilised society include but not limited to the following; Respect and obey federal, state, and local laws; Respect the rights, beliefs, and opinions of others; Pay income and other taxes honestly and on time, to federal, state, and local authorities and to Defend the country if the need should arise. Nevertheless, what do we have in our own society today? In Nigeria for instance, we have citizens who have not performed 20 percent of the above responsibilities but expect government to fulfill its part to them forgetting that going by the definition of democracy which we have been practicing in the past 20 years, it is a government of the people by the people and for the people.
This definition gives every citizen the power to have a say on the way and manner the affairs of the state is being handled. We all as citizens have our role to play in the positive development of our country and it can be as little as ensuring that one properly secure his garbage for the cleaning contractor to come and evacuate it. How many of us can honestly say we pay all our utility bills to government for developmental purposes as at when due? We often give flimsy excuse of mismanagement of resources by those saddled with the responsibility of administering these funds forgetting that we as citizens can ask questions on how our commonwealth is being spent and name and shame officials found wanting.
Over the years, the level of poverty resulting from bad leadership has made the citizens to worship those who put them in their poverty state and instead of asking basic questions on the reasons why basic amenities are not being provided as proposed and approved by the relevant arms of government, they sing praises of those who have looted their commonwealth and give them crumbs while the lords live in affluence.
Part of your right as a responsible citizen is to demand answers from those in position of authority from your local representatives to state and national. They are all accountable to you because the power to elect them is vested in the VOTERS CARD you are holding. Nearly all of us are quick to claim some benefits, constantly waiting for what the system can do for us, but not everyone is eager to fulfill his or her own responsibilities to the system.
Remember, it ought to be a two-way traffic which is absence because we have become a nation obsessed with rights while deliberately developing amnesia to responsibilities as a people. It is high time deliberate efforts are made by all Nigerians to take up responsibilities for the failure of all our institutions that could have built the spirit of patriotism in us as seen in other developed societies.

Jumai Ahmadu is a Public Affairs Analyst.

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