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Public Opinion Is Essential In A Democracy!



Once again, I choose to write on democracy. Democracy is grossly misunderstood even by those who ought to know better. It is the system of government we supposedly practice, so it is necessary that we all know its basics! Democracy is a system of government described most popularly as government of the people for the people and by the people!

It is commonly practised by proxy and delegation. Since everybody cannot march off to Abuja or the state capitals, the people elect one of themselves to represent them in the actual portals and offices of government. This is why periodic elections are a necessity in a democracy. All elected persons are supposedly representing the will and opinions of those whom they represent!

The periodic elections are instruments with which the citizens affirm or withdraw their mandate. Those who do well are re-elected and mandate is withdrawn from those who have not faithfully represented their electors! Without respect of public opinion by those who are elected, there is no democracy! Public opinion is so necessary in democracy that elected representatives ought to go to great lengths to ascertain the opinion of the citizenry. In the advanced democracies, public opinion polling is an important tool of democracy.

Here in our country, regular consultation is the main instrument that office holders use to ascertain public opinion. This is the reason why you have all those constituency offices that enable a regular continuous interaction between the elected and the electors! Also, the media play a major intervening role in the communication of both information and public opinion to the otherwise busy office holder.

But to contrive to rule a people without consideration of their opinion or thoughts is certainly a deviation from the ideal of democracy. This deviation appears to be the norm in this current republic. For instance, how could governors rule without paying wages? Does owing salaries conform to public opinion? How can state governments punish the people with multiple taxation? Would they do that if they knew or expect that their re-election will hinge on their performance? How can legislators represent a people they hardly go home to visit? How can a state raise school fees knowing fully well that it is owing wages? What does the public say to such actions and policies of governments?

Public opinion is central to democracy. To ignore public opinion is to slide or deteriorate into dictatorship and impunity. American media spend humongous resources tracking public opinion which they report as scores for or against the government in power. When German Chancellor, Angela Merkel ignored German public opinion on immigration, her party, the Christian Democratic Union of Germany, suffered major upsets and losses in subsequent elections. Nobody told her to return to policies and actions acceptable to the majority of Germans!

Many politicians in Nigeria simply ignore the opinions and the leaning of the populace and that is the reason for the perpetual tension in the polity! An office holder is a representative of the electorate and he or she owes the public a duty of explanation at all times. Given the fierce public debate on ranching or open grazing, one would expect a public debate of sorts from which public opinion will be articulated and policies will then be designed in line with opinions so garnered. I remember the days of former military president, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida when he subjected Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) to public debate. That debate served to educate everyone and reduce the tension around the subject of SAP at that time.

It is important to note that no matter how good a public policy is, without the consent and support of the people, it will invariably fail. And this has been the cause of the failure of most government policies in the past, be it at the state or at the federal level. Once the government is seen to be out of step with the people, tension and hostility to government emerges.

At that point, all government activities are resisted by the people, no matter how good such policies may indeed be. We should note that every office in the land is a public office, held at the pleasure of the people. This is the reason why public officers have media units and departments. The duties of such departments are essentially to explain to the people what the office holders in government are doing to bring about public good and public welfare.

To turn such offices to abuse departments is certainly not good enough in a democracy. Such abuses tend to alienate the citizenry even more, as well as earn counter abuse and opprobrium for the office holder. Office holders should learn to work with public opinion; they should learn to court the public, only then can they influence the public to support their policies. Failure to do so will always result in public antagonism and animosity!

Last Word: This matter of fuel scarcity should be addressed conclusively because the loss of productive man-hours to fuel queues is incalculable. If you begin to put together the number of productive hours lost to fuel queues, it is, indeed, alarming!

Aluta Continua!





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