It’s very easy as a citizen of a country like Nigeria, in fact, any country at all, to feel like one is insignificant and unimpactful in the scheme of things that are happening in the country. It is much easier to fall into this kind of thinking when you’re not a prominent person in the land or you’re not really at the helm of things like a top politician, a mover-and-shaker, or a top government official. The truth, however, is that it is ordinary citizens that keep any country going and their routine and seemingly ordinary activities are the heartbeat of the nation. That is, if the (majority of) citizens are doing what they ought to be doing.
Citizens, of different status, calibre, livelihood, backgrounds and persuasions, ought to know they play great roles in the building and sustenance of a nation simply by fulfilling a lot of duties and obligations that so many of them do without a second thought. It is important that they know that they make a difference – as citizens of Nigeria, we make a difference. What we do or choose not to do usually has far-reaching impact in the life of our polity. It could be negative or positive depending on what we do or don’t do. We must never belittle our contributions.
The politicians, public officers, public commentators, statesmen, business giants, entrepreneurs and other prominent figures may be the ones that are often seen and heard but without the masses of ‘ordinary’ citizens going about their lives in duty, honour, dignity, and resourcefulness, no country has anything to stand on.
Let’s remind ourselves of five simple ways that citizens make very significant contributions:
Keeping law and order
Enforcing law and order might be primarily the job of law enforcement agencies like the police but citizen are the ones who decide whether it’s going to easy to do or hard to do. Citizens keep law and order in societies by obeying the laws of the land, abiding by obligations and even undocumented expectations. It’s always easy to see how helpless law enforcement agents and agencies can become when a mass protest or riot breaks out in any part of the world. The people also get others to obey laws by social communication of such standards in groups and communities. The importance of community cooperation and community policing is becoming clearer than ever with instances of banditry, kidnapping, insurgency and vandalism that seem to be on the rise
Don’t underestimate the power of that person in the neighbourhood or community who pays attention to activities and personalities that are out of place in the normal scheme of things and is willing to share such information with the right authorities. Such persons have saved a lot of lives in different parts of the world
Helping government to be productive and accountable
Citizen voting, involvement in policy making and shaping by participating in discussions and dialogues, community organizing and activism, criticism and demanding for better representation that is done in responsible and thoughtful ways are some of the few ways that citizens help governments, politicians and public officials to stay accountable and improve in productivity that moves our society forward. We must never think that our voices do not matter.
Upholding the image of the country
A country is seen via the lenses of her leaders, prominent figures and most importantly, citizens so when we find ourselves in any part of the world, at any intercontinental or global melting pot of events, activities and interactions, we must be conscious that we are never just representing ourselves but also our people. That is how stereotypes are formed; people apply the assumptions and deductions they have made about certain people they’ve encountered to the rest of their group; in this case; to the rest of their fellow nationals.
Our performance, conduct and actions as individual Nigerians are not unimportant. Whether we intend them to be or not, they say something about the rest of us. We need to think about that more.
Making visitors and foreigners feel welcome and safe
When tourists come visiting our nation or foreigners come here to work or settle, their interface with institutions like the embassy and foreign ministry is limited. Their interface is mainly with the people of the land. We are the ones who can provide them with lasting impressions about the core values of our nation. If we make them feel welcome and appreciated, they will feel that way. If we are hostile and make them feel threatened, they have a right to go out in the world and say our country is unsafe.
This is why violence and aggression towards foreigners, like kidnapping, by unsavoury elements must continually be resisted and condemned as we have always done. This is not reflective of the jovial and accomodating Nigerian disposition to foreigners; no community in our nation should tolerate the presence of kidnapping dens in their areas. We should all join hands with our law-enforcement agencies to stamp out this terrible trend. It is in our best interest for our nation to remain a conducive place for travel and foreign investment.
Maintaining sanity and stability of the polity
Whether it’s our conduct on social media, in private and public interactions, everyone of us has a role to play in the stability of Nigeria. Fake news, hate speech, discrimination, verbal promotion of violence or anarchy in the land are just a few things we can avoid in order to stop creating tension in our country. Dialogue, organizing, and innovation are still best ways to move Nigeria forward
The word to every Nigerian is this; you have a say in what happens in the land and you have the power to make things better or worse. Please use this wisely to create a meaningful lasting legacy.