Before President Muhammadu Buhari revoked plans to set up herdsmen settlements across states of the federation, countless voices – from ordinary citizens to even the ruling party, APC’s state Governors – clamoured against it. Many decried the brazen, rude, and thoughtless and avaricious manner it was being implemented.
That the overwhelming opposition to the plan forced the government to back down is a victory for democracy and for governance. A reverse from the norm where the voice of the people amounted to nothing other than mere groans from the subjugated.
Whether President Buhari realises it or not, the suspension of the programme is a boost to his ratings. Furthermore, it re-validates the social contact between the people and the governed, a rare incident in the two decades since Nigeria returned to democracy.
During the years of military rule the call of the people for democracy, for representative governance accountable to the people was incessant. Once the soldiers returned to the barracks and democratic governance was restored, Nigerians felt the battle had been won and abandoned the struggle. But as Nigeria’s journey in democratic governance has shown, good governance and accountability are hard to come by even in democracies and to ensure those, the citizens must continually and unceasingly demand for it. As the saying goes, “the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.”
What the Ruga saga shows is that Nigerians have a voice. Not the voluble type heard in beer parlours, hair salons, sitting rooms, viewing centres, social media platforms and newspaper vendor stands that hardly resound beyond these confines. Not a voice cowed either due to frustration –“we can shout from here till tomorrow nothing will happen,”—or tribal, religious or monetary selfish interests. Repeated failure to exercise a united voice to demand our due as citizens, to demand that politicians keep their campaign promises has portrayed us as lily-livered and docile lots. This has to change!
Elsewhere in Hong Kong and Sudan citizens are making themselves heard, refusing all attempts by the government and military to shut them out or up. Their governments and even the military are fast realising that state security apparatuses and weapons are no match for the collective voice of the people.
There can be no democracy when the people are not able to express themselves freely and get their voices heard. There can be no democracy when the people see the government as all powerful and ‘we the people’ as mere helpless victims of the actions and policies of government. The people cannot, for instance, continue to only murmur and complain when stuck in five hours traffic gridlock as a result of poor or dilapidated road network. They cannot continue to murmur when politicians make promises during campaigns and disown those promises when they get to power and escape without consequences, winning future elections to boot. They must learn to constantly demand good governance and most importantly, accountability from those they elect to represent them in government.
The goal, ultimately, is to reach a situation where everyone- both the people and elected representatives – come to the realisation that elected representatives are servants of the people and must be guided in all their actions by the will of the people; for in a democracy the people are supreme not in theory but in practice.