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Lekan Sote
Now that the 2023 general elections, which include the destiny shaping presidential election, are approaching, Nigerians must be warming up to their duties as responsible citizens, with voting being the most foundational.
The presidential, governorship and legislative candidates that emerged from the recently concluded political party primaries must be anxiously looking forward to knowing their fate through the forthcoming elections.
The question in their minds and their supporters must be in line with the question, “To be, or not to be?” that William Shakespeare asked in his eponymous tragedy, “Hamlet.”
The French political philosopher, Montesquieu, said, “Election by lot is the nature of democracy. The lot is a form of election that injures no one, but leaves to each citizen a reasonable hope of serving his country.”

That election injures no one may not be exactly true. The ego of Boris Johnson, British Prime Minister, forcibly routed out of office by an unstated vote of no confidence, cannot but be frayed.
Also, Nigerian politicians who lost elections and went to court to seek redress most certainly felt a sense of injury. If not, they would have gone back home calmly accepting their fate.
Democracy is hinged on universal adult suffrage, or right to vote and be voted for upon attaining the age of 18. The right also comes with certainty and regularity of elections.

The Rwandan President, Paul Kagame, stated that elections are about people making choices, although he said that in the deceitful context of seeking re-election to rule Rwanda for another 20 years after being President for 22 years.
Section 24 of the 1999 Constitution enumerates a slew of obligations of Nigerian citizens; meaning that Nigerian citizens do not only have expectations from their country, the government and compatriots. They also have responsibilities.
The first set of obligations listed in the 1999 Constitution, mostly intangible, but symbolic, are: Abide by and respect the 1999 Constitution, its ideals, institutions, National Flag, National Anthem, National Pledge and legitimate authorities; enhance and defend the power, prestige of Nigeria; and render national service.
Other obligations, mostly actions that have to be performed, are: Respect the dignity, rights and interests of other citizens and legitimate interests; live in brotherhood with others; contribute positively to the community; assist appropriate and lawful government agencies; and honestly declare one’s income and pay tax to appropriate and lawful government agencies.
While the first set of citizens’ obligations are not quite justiciable, and it may not be too easy to prosecute an offender for noncompliance, except on the unlikely grounds of sedition, the guilt of negligence can be easily established in a court of law for other obligations.
Maybe to encourage Nigerian citizens to own and accept the authority of the government of the state Section 14(2)(a) of the 1999 Constitution declares that “sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria, from whom the government, through this Constitution, derives its powers and authority.”
The 1999 Constitution promises to promote “good government and welfare of all persons (in Nigeria) on the principles of freedom, equality and justice, and for the purpose of consolidating the unity of our people.”

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The reality of Nigeria may be looking like the opposite as the state appears to have been hijacked and held hostage by politicians, felons, whose only quest seems to be to gain exclusive access to Nigeria’s commonwealth.
Maybe to reciprocate the obligations of the citizens to the state, Section 14(2)(b) of the 1999 Constitution declares that “the security and welfare of the people (of Nigeria) shall be the primary purpose of government.”
And maybe also to be sure of those who qualify to be Nigerians, the citizens who will discharge those obligations and receive protection and provisions from the state, Section 25(1) of the 1999 Constitution defines the following as Nigerian citizens:
“(A) Every person born in Nigeria before the date of Independence (which is the 1st day of October 1960), either of whose parents or any of whose grandparents belong or belonged to a community indigenous to Nigeria;

“(B) Every person born in Nigeria after the date of Independence, either of whose parents or any of whose grandparents is a citizen of Nigeria; and (C) Every person born outside Nigeria either of whose parent is a citizen of Nigeria.”
In addition, sections 26 and 27 respectively confer the citizenship of Nigeria on aliens by registration or naturalisation provided the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria thinks they will be good citizens; a rather loose criteria.
But who can be regarded as a citizen? Oxford University Dictionary defines a citizen as “a member of a state… a freeman,” who belongs to a society that confers “rights and duties (on) a citizen.”

Another French political philosopher, Jean Jacques-Rousseau, who suggested the concept of separation of state powers into executive, legislative and the judiciary, defines citizens as those born free, not slaves or foreigners who may be excluded from certain privileges like voting and being voted for.
They participate in the sovereign authority of the state, and have equal rights. By the way, the Greeks never extended citizenship or the rights of voting to slaves, most of whom were non-Greeks.
Citizens also have obligations to obey laws proposed by legislators even if they oppose the laws. For example, no one asks for your permission before the police force was established, but you cannot refuse to be arrested by police officers.
Now that placeholders are giving way to substantive running mates of presidential candidates, it’s time for Nigerian citizens to don their thinking caps, to determine who they desire to rule them.
Nigerian citizens must articulate their needs and form interest groups to negotiate the terms and conditions of their support for political parties and their candidates. They should interrogate the manifestos of political parties and their candidates.
When you remember the cynical definition of political parties as platforms used to advance private interests but presented as public agenda, you will understand why citizens must pay judicious attention to the caution, “caveat emptor,” or beware.
The American President, Dwight Eisenhower, puts it this way: “If a political party does not have its foundation in the determination to advance a cause that is right and moral, then it is not a political party; it is merely a conspiracy to seize power.”

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Nigerian citizens must adopt healthy scepticism that has served journalists who are trained, and expected, to always ask for confirmation of all claims without being cynical. Citizens must always be sure why they prefer one party, candidate and manifesto over others.
It is critical for Nigerian citizens to exercise the fundamental human right granted to them in Section 40 of the 1999 Constitution, viz, to “assemble freely and associate with other persons…form or belong to any political party… for the protection of their interests.”
This means that Nigerian citizens must strive to form or join political parties, and actively participate in the activities of the parties from ward level up.
That is how the best can form a critical mass to positively influence the emergence of competent candidates from party primaries.
One must however, commend the recent surge by Nigerian citizens, old and young, to take back the state and make it address their issues.
But above all, Nigerian citizens must insist on credible vote collation.
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