Values of Civic Engagement in Political Process

Values of Civic Engagement in Political Process

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Political Campaign Stage

By Rev. Fr. Dr. Stephen A. Okeke

Unfortunately, what we have witnessed in the last few years is a polarized government where the Congress and the Presidency often engage in policy and political ‘fist fights” that linger for months and years. Most of the time, the legislative is divided along Party lines and they walk on parallel road that leads to no place.

Often times, people misconstrue politics to be the game of a few and tend to shy away from active participation. It is a misnomer and uncivil for qualified citizens to distance themselves from political participation in all ramifications. Politics has to do with the governance of an area, city or country. Man by nature, is a political being {zoon politico} This was the definition the highly celebrated ancient Greek Philosopher, a polymath and father of political science, Aristotle gave man. So, as rational beings by nature all men are called to be political participants and this can be done in various ways such as: voting, protest, public consultation, writing letters to public officials, signing petitions, blogging about political issues, campaign volunteering etc.

Bishop Matthew Kukah succinctly summarized the state of things in Nigeria when he said: “The Nigerian educational system has surprising outcomes. The smartest students pass with First Class and get admitted to Medical and Engineering schools. The Second Class students get MBAs and LLBs, to manage the First Class students. The Third Class students enter politics and rule both the First and Second Class students. The Failures enter the Underworld of crime and control politicians and businesses. The best of all who did not attend school become prophets and imams and we follow them”. Does this not call for some sober reflections and real introspection?

In a broad sense, democracy is government of the people and by the people and for the people. One wonders how everybody would be involved in governance in a large population. Box (2014), in his etymological description of democracy maintained that it is a coinage of two Greek words and that “many people therefore see democracy as meaning “people power”, with government resting on the consent of the governed”.

Pure democracy deals with government by the elected officials who represent the people by making decisions for them. It is like a replication of what is obtained in General Will in the Social Contract. The majority voice rules and the minorities are unprotected. There is no restrain of the majority in this type of government.

Nigeria like so many other countries practice presidential system of Government where the elected president is the head of the state and leads the executive that is distinct from the legislative and judicial branches. It is a democratic and republican system of government.

In Presidential system as practiced in the United States of America, there is separation between the executive and the legislative, this is conceived as a way of effective checks and balances of power. Unfortunately, what we have witnessed in the last few years is a polarized government where the Congress and the Presidency often engage in policy and political ‘fist fights” that linger for months and years. Most of the time, the legislative is divided along Party lines and they walk on parallel road that leads to no place.

The American democratic process has the power vested on the people who elect their choice candidates in their various constituencies based on their chosen policy agendas. It is usually agenda driven elections and the Congress maintains what is termed: “two constituencies, the one in Capital Hill and the one at Home Constituency. To be re-elected the candidate must have fulfilled his or her promises to her constituencies or has promised to fulfill priority policies for the constituency in case of a new entrée.

Citizens get involve by volunteering for campaign for the candidate of their choice and they donate to the cause as much as they can afford. After a successful election, the voters follow their Congressmen and women on their official public blog and write letters to them and sign petitions. They get involve in Town Hall Meetings where issues of interests are discussed and interactive sessions encouraged for grass root engagement. In this process, social capital is indispensible and it is the glue that holds civil society together. It consists of the trust and relationships that bring and keep community members together, which enables them to achieve their common goals more effectively. Civic engagement means working to make a difference in the civic life of our communities and developing the combination of knowledge, skills, values and motivation to make that difference. It means promoting the equality of life in a community, through both political and non-political processes”, according to Thomas Ehrlich.

Without civic engagement, true democracy is virtually impossible so also true civic participation is impossible without social capital, (Cropf, 2008). For Banyan and Margaret, “through the process of engagement, individuals see themselves as integral part of a community where civil judgment is enhanced. It is a means to achieve democratic values of equality and responsiveness in policy making.” This is not the place to exchange votes and values with money and lose the audacity of holding our public officials accountable and responsible.

Opinion