Making Democracy Work for Rural Communities: Civic and Political Rights for Strategic Community Development in Post-Election Era

Written by Okechukwu Nwanguma . Posted in Resources

The ‘Democracy Clinic’ Organized by Citizens Centre for Integrated Development and Social Rights - CIDESSOR at Ogbaru Community, Anambra State

I have in this discussion proposed the following strategies of developing community capacity for democratic participation and development action. I have argued on the need for ‘community developers’ like CIDESSOR to do the following:

1.       sensitise the people to demand accountability from leaders and transparency in governance, to stimulate and mobilise local communities towards rights based approach to community development;

2.      Sensitise communities on basic democracy, human rights and development concepts and practices, including continuous voter education as opposed to the rather episodic and close-to-election manner of voter education in Nigeria;

3.      Promote popular democratic participation and accountability, the rule of law and good governance, particularly  at the local level;

4.      Raise community awareness of the fundamental human rights and civic duties and obligations and on global development trends;

5.      Meet the people at their town halls, at women’s annual August Meetings, at community development unions, Umuada Association (and transform them into veritable bulwark against obnoxious and harmful traditional practices that discriminate and subjugate women),   age grades, local churches, schools, traditional institution,

  1. Do publications and radio programs (work towards establishing an independent and pro-people community radio station),
  2. Collaborate with state agencies like Ministry of rural development, state orientation agencies;
  3. Combat gender based violations such as discrimination and violence; harmful traditional practices that violate the rights of the girl-child and women and subjugate them to inferior status.
  4. Empower the people to participate in governance by, for example, contributing to the effort in training budget monitors at local government levels (enlighten members of rural communities on the concept and importance of budgets (including budgeting processes and how to monitor them) to their community development aspirations and well-being).
  5. Provide a forum whereby community members would periodically interact with their leaders and call them to account
  6. Encourage them to device means of effective political sanction against corrupt and abusive (oppressive) leaders and public office holders.

 

Introduction

In today’s world, it is a basic human right to take part in the conduct of public affairs in ones country. This is a right that is universally proclaimed and guaranteed by international instruments such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights etc. These instruments proclaim the following as well as other International Human Rights.

a.      Everyone has a right to take part in the government of his country directly or through freely chosen representatives

b.      Everyone has the right to equal access to the public service of his country

c.       Every citizen has a right to take an active part in his country’s affairs by belonging to the government or by voting for politicians of his choice

d.      The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government. The people shall express this will in periodic and genuine election which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures

e.      The government shall be elected freely by all people. Elections shall be held regularly and everyone’s vote shall be equal.

f.        In a democratic society, your rights and freedoms shall be limited only in so far as necessary to protect the rights and freedom of others

g.      The African Charter on Human and People’s Rights which has been ratified by Nigeria and in fact, enacted as a local legislation as Act No 10 of the Laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1990 provides that everyone has the political right to choose government and the choice shall be made through some form of democratic process. The Charter frowns at governments formed as a result of military coup or other violent or undemocratic means. Any such government must therefore urgently relinquish power to an elected government.

h.      No one shall be deprived of nationality as a means of denying him or her his or her political rights

i.        The Charter also says there must be equal access to public services for everyone. The right is aimed at preventing corruption. It means that public servants are forbidden from showing favoritism to people because of their ethnic origin or other such reasons, or because they have received money or goods.

2. CIVIL AND POLITICAL RIGHTS

2.1 Everyone has a right to self determination

2.2 Every citizen shall have the right and opportunity to:

a. Take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives

b. To vote and be elected at genuine periodic election which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret ballot, guaranteeing the free expression of the will of the electors.

c. To have access to public service of his country

2.3 For the right to choose a government to be meaningful there must also be the enjoyment of a number of other internationally protected rights such as right to freedom of opinion, expression and association and the right to peaceful assembly and freedom from fear and intimidation.

2.4 The rights provided are to be enjoyed by all, without distinction of any kind such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or any other status.

2.5 Each citizen shall be entitled to explore legal redress if any of their rights is violated

2.6 The government must also put in place reasonable and responsible judicial and administrative bodies that will ensure that remedies are available in case of any violation

2.7 Every Nigerian citizen shall have freedom of opinion and expression and of peaceful assembly and association so as to enjoy his/her political rights.

2.8 Every Nigerian citizen shall have the same access to both elective and non elective public offices wherever he/she resides

2.9 All appointments to non elective career civil service shall be made on an objective and impartial basis

2.10 However, it shall not be considered discriminatory if:

a. There are reasonable requirements for the exercise of access to public office

b. Reasonable qualifications for appointment into public office as a result of the nature of the duties of the office

c. Reasonable measures are taken to protect certain class of people such as minorities.

3.0 RIGHT TO CHOOSE GOVERNMENT

In order to be able to choose government, a voter has rights to:

3.1 Have his franchise recognized through registration

3.2 Vote without being segregated into categories dividing the electorate and revoking the plea of popular sovereignty

3.3 Cast his/her ballot free from external hindrance and in secret

3.4 Decide how to vote without external pressure.

HUMAN RIGHTS

One of the definitions of human rights often cited is that which says that any true human rights must satisfy at least four requirements:

a.      Human rights must be possessed by all human beings and by human beings alone.

b.      These rights must be possessed equally by all human beings, without discrimination

c.       Human rights do not include rights and privileges that are enjoyed as a result of status, office etc

d.      Human rights are universal

The World Conference on Human Rights which took place in 1993 in Vienna reaffirmed the ideals of the universality of human rights as articulated in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The fact that civil and political rights are those that have received the widest attention does not diminish the essence and importance of other rights that are less frequently cited or mentioned.

Economic, Social and Cultural Rights followed civil and political rights on the agenda as necessary components that deserved equal attention of the International Community.

 

 

Right to Development

The right to development came into being through a resolution of the UN General Assembly in 1986 entitled ‘UN Declaration on the Rights to Development’.

The right to development seeks to enlarge the power of government to promote economic and social development.

It is not justiciable. That is, it is not actionable in a law court. Another unique feature of the declaration is that it identifies both individual and collective bodies as holders of this right.

Article 1 of the Declaration states:

‘the right to development is an inalienable human right, on the grounds of which every human being and all peoples are entitled to participate in, contribute to and enjoy economic, social, cultural and political development, within which all human and fundamental freedoms can be fully realised’.

Development: A Definition

The UN Declaration regards respect for human rights as a component of development. It however does not have a full definition of development. In the preamble to the Declaration, development is described as a multifaceted economic, social, cultural and political process directed towards improving the welfare of the entire people and all individuals on the basis of their active, free and effective participation in development and a fair distribution of its benefits. Another school of thought also believes that development must meet the basic needs of the people. It must promote access to minimum social services such as shelter, education, medical care and food; it must maximize employment, improve distribution of wealth and reduce poverty and unemployment.

DEVELOPMENT AND HUMAN RIGHTS

The United Nations statistics on global poverty show that ‘a fifth of the world’s population goes hungry every night, a quarter lacks access to even a basic necessity like water, and a third lives in a state of abject poverty- at such a margin  of human existence that words simply fail to describe it.’ (Nijzink, Ton (1993) Report of NOVIB Human Rights Conference, The Hague, Netherlands).

According to a UN report, well over one billion people live in extreme poverty, homelessness, hunger and malnutrition, illiteracy and ill-health. A staggering 1.5 billion people worldwide lack access to clean water and sanitation. Half of a billion children have no access to elementary schooling and over a billion adults are illiterate. This situation raises serious questions of not just development but also basic human rights.

The UN Secretary General in his 1992 report to the General Assembly asserted the linkage between development, democracy and human rights. In that speech, he contended that ‘…without development, long term enjoyment of human rights and democracy will prove illusory… Good governance, democracy, participation, an independent judiciary, the rule of law and civil peace create conditions necessary to economic progress.’

Most people share the wisdom in that linkage. It is generally argued that ‘respect for human rights creates the condition necessary for development’. Development is seen as consisting of realizing human rights. Civil, political and socio-economic and cultural rights are inextricably linked and, therefore said to be mutually dependent. Unless priority is accorded to these rights, proper democracy cannot thrive.

Democracy

This is about enabling people to freely participate in decision making processes, including their right to form political parties, choose and elect their representatives and decide on issues that affect them. All politics is about the people and how they organize their instruments of governance. At the centre of democracy is the people and sovereignty resides in the people.

Features of Democracy

Some of the features of democracy are

a.      A Government elected by universal suffrage in a free and fair election- i.e. all adults of voting age.

b.      Separation of powers (e.g. between executive, judiciary and legislature).

c.       Rule of law.

d.      Multiple-party system

e.      Guarantee of fundamental human rights

f.        Probity and Accountability including Economic and Minority rights

g.      Popular participation in society’s economic life and equitable distribution of wealth especially amongst those who produce it.

Democracy involves creating the necessary conditions for the enthronement of civil, political, economic, cultural and social rights. Civil and political rights have their origin in the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man. While civil rights aim primarily at guaranteeing individual liberty, political rights tend to ensure that its beneficiaries are active participants in a country’s political life.

Democracy makes sense only when it allows for a broad participation of the populace. Democracy is necessary for sustainable development and the protection of human rights.

The majority of Nigerian citizens reside in rural communities. The levels of poverty, ignorance, diseases and lack of development are highest at the rural communities. This means that majority of Nigerians do not benefit from democratic or good governance. Yet democracy is ‘the government of the people for the people and by the people'.

Politically, the electorate is still denied, in practice, the power to choose those that should govern them at all levels, given the entrenched phenomenon of election rigging. The people thus continue to be disempowered, too weak to hold public officials and private sector actors to account.

All these make it imperative that human rights groups, patriots and all lovers of freedom continue to crusade for human rights, democracy and good governance and validate their time-tested perspectives and strategies.

The methods that we adopt in our fight against human rights abuses include, but not restricted to:       

-          Monitoring and Documentation

-          Litigation

-          Education

-          Media/Public Advocacy

-          Social/Community Mobilization (specific approaches here include peaceful rallies, processions, demonstrations, picketing and other forms of lawful mass protest.)

We must continue to expand the scope of these strategies for fighting human rights violations. This need has become all the more imperative given that contrary to widespread expectations, human rights abuses are yet to abate despite 12 years of civil rule. Instead, human rights violations have remained institutionalized and systemic as exemplified by the routine and daily occurrence of extra judicial killings, torture, unlawful detention, prison congestion, slow dispensation of justice and prohibitive cost of court processes. This state of affairs derives directly from the lack of institutional reforms, with the result that the current civilian order is still resting on the oppressive institutions inherited from the military era. This absence of institutional reforms has been compounded by the lack of any changes in the policy direction of the government from the military dictatorship.

How then do we entrench democratic values and practices in our communities? How do we ensure popular participation, root out corruption, ensure that people freely exercise their political rights to elect their genuine representatives and are able to hold them accountable? In short, how do we promote community development through entrenching democracy?

Quite often African governments ratify treaties and sign up action plans whilst continuing to sanction violations of human rights on a daily basis. At the forefront in exposing human rights violations are the activists, development workers, women leaders, journalists, lawyers, students and others- human rights defenders- who put their lives on the line to document and publicize cases.

The role of local human rights monitors and community activists is therefore crucial in the protection of human rights in Africa for they are at the very beginning of the process of documenting and reporting on human rights violations in their respective areas

Accountability and anti-corruption approaches

  • To initiate a high level engagement of the rural communities through meeting the rural people through town hall meetings, August Meetings, Civic Associations etc.
  • To engage in civic and political education to inculcate human rights and democratic concepts and accountability.
  • To build linkages, alliances and coordination with various social groups, integrating the churches, market women’s organisations, Okada operators, civic associations, schools, traditional institutions and leaders, youth associations, and the media to check corruption and excesses of public office holders.
  • To engage in early, massive and continuous electoral education and voter registration as opposed to episodic pattern whereby voter registration is embarked upon only when elections are approaching. voter education
  • To sensitise the people to resist oppression and device means of sanctioning electoral/political misbehaviour.
  • To link the people with Constitutional and Electoral reform processes (including reform of election oversight bodies-INEC should be reconstituted to reflect the reality of multi-partisan interest).
  • To initiate and work with churches and schools on programs for value reorientation for the people.
  • To teach the people to encourage and support credible people who have interest in politics to participate in seeking electoral mandates. Communities may decide to sponsor qualified and credible candidates who may not have the financial means to compete with criminal moneybags.
  • To campaign for the reform of the judiciary to make it right sensitive and accessible to the common people. Need for a proactive judiciary in which only courageous and upright judges can emerge.
  • To work towards building up the phenomenon of credible and genuine opposition as a counter to the use of money and to ensure free and fair elections.
  • To link the people with the national movement for rights and democracy.

 

ACTIVITIES

1.       Monitor the voter registration exercise to ensure that voters’ cards are not bought up.

2.       Organise the people at the village, ward and local levels in their various central areas preferably, town halls so as to be able to aggregate and articulate their basic needs and interest that require political action on the part of elected politicians to address on clear, precise and unambiguous manner.

3.       Invite contenders for offices at various levels to attend these forums and spell out in clear, unambiguous and unequivocal terms how they would address those issues if voted into office. Once the various contestants have taken their stands on the various issues of concern, they would be held accountable on those issues.

4.       Enlighten members of the communities on the link between the political decisions they take through their vote and their destiny and the consequential need to cast their ballot on the basis of their consciences and their assessment of the potential of each candidate to deliver promises.

5.       Sensitise members of the communities to ensure that elections actually take place in their location and that votes are a true reflection of the results announced at the polling centres.

6.       Encourage members of the various communities not to leave after casting their votes but to follow up to the collation centres. Once they observe a variation between the results announced at the collation centres and the original results recorded at the polling stations, they should immediately raise alarm for which community action to restore the true position would be taken.

7.       Ultimately, encourage various communities to apply social sanctions on their own interest to the community. If a large number of citizens in the region indicate a strong inclination to reject the offer of political appointments and patronage by those who engage in, abet and in any way encourage the distortion of the people’s expressed mandate, the incidence of electoral fraud and manipulation will be reduced to some extent.

8.       A systematic program of reorientation of INEC officials, the Security agencies, etc to appreciate the fact that theft of an electoral mandate or manipulation of elections is as grievous a crime as, or worse than, armed robbery.

 

Conclusion.

The current government in Nigeria is a disappointment and a total failure. Under this present government human rights have suffered the worst assault ever. The judiciary, which ought to be the last line of defence for the poor, has tragically proved to be a willing tool in the ongoing national debauchery. What with the despicable role played by some elements within the judiciary in Anambra show of shame in which the former president Obasanjo was implicated. The challenge therefore is to intensify the struggle for the enthronement of genuine democracy. It is only genuine democracy that can ensure good governance and guarantee respect for human rights and the rule of law. Our focus must be to ensure popular participation and empowerment. Democracy should always be practiced in such a way that the largest numbers of people are able to participate in the political process. Where there is lack of education, the people of course will not understand their rights and may not be sufficiently empowered to participate in the political life of the country. Poverty and disease are also debilitating factors in the practice of democracy. A spirited promotion of education in the arts and the sciences and the rapid development of technology and human skills will make possible the advancement of the productive capabilities of the society. Marginalized groups such as women and youth must be empowered to the extent that they can become formidable forces in political participation.

When men and women are sufficiently developed as productive forces of society they will prove to be masters over nature and can no longer be manipulated by anti-democratic forces. The people will thus see themselves as co-owners of the national enterprise instead of chattels to be manipulated at every turn by the powers-that-be. Democracy should be geared towards making the people to be independent. A free people will always champion their rights in the polity.

Thank you for your attention.

 

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