Evolution of civic consciousness by Seun Kolade

I have deliberately refrained from the use of the phrase ‘political consciousness’ for two main reasons. One, because politics is associated, especially in country like Nigeria, with corruption and reckless looting of the commonwealth, attended by impunity and callous abuse of power. As such, people who wish to be associated with higher virtue, often spurred by false piety, do not want to be associated with such things, which has come to define our politics by and large. Two, because civic engagement incorporates, but by no means limited to, political activity, partisan or otherwise.

Now it is useful for us to begin by quickly identifying 4 levels of consciousness with regard to citizen engagement with the process of development and governance in a democracy. The first level is what I call the basic awareness stage, where citizens possess mental knowledge of very basic information relating to governance. The basic information often consist of knowing about prominent persons in national government, as well immediate local players. It also include knowledge of existence of main political parties. The second stage is the interest stage, during which citizens are motivated, perhaps by means of major events, to deliberately seek more information about, not just persons and parties, but underlying principles and policies, as well as knowledge of their basic rights as citizens. At this stage the knowledge is more detailed and more specific about manifestos and policies, as well as about persons and performance.

Close to this 2nd stage is the evaluation stage, during which the citizens take more critical and practical approach to assess actual performance of political and civic leaders, and makes value judgements based on careful considerations of the facts. The judgements usually end up with choices with regard to direction of support for candidates and parties, or causes, for that matter. The 4th level is the level of active participation, which may well be broken into a few sub-stages, including volunteering with various grass root organisations on developmental projects, citizens making their voices heard at the ballot box, protecting their votes, and continuous monitoring of office holders, elective and appointed, to ensure they follow through on their promises

Our purpose here, hence, is to facilitate the transition across these levels of consciousness, using various means of engaging with citizens to unlock and unleash the enormous latent energy for revolutionary change. Some will respond quicker than others; others will require special means of engagement. In all cases multiple approach may be required, but the key here is that there are actual measures by which we can access the movement from one level to the other. Many people in the city, especially those with some secondary education, are already in the first stage, including, rather bizarrely, many graduates as well, whose consciousness is still at the level of basic information about persons and parties. It also happens that many rural dwellers, as well as quite a number, especially of illiterate people, in the cities, are not even in the first stage yet.

What then are some of the strategies that can be employed to facilitate movements from one level of consciousness to higher ones, and ultimately to the final point?

1. Take careful account of specific issues that may hinder citizens’ positive and active engagements, including learned cynicism and helplessness acquired over years of neglect and political abuse;  lack of information about what to do or how to do it (like voting centres’); the temptation of little bribes;  indifference arising, for example, from illusion of self-contained security, economic, and political, especially with regard to the middle class.

2. Generate resources specifically targeted to address the issues identified

3. Put resources in different formats for effectiveness of communication, like leaflets, brochures, comics, dvds, online resources, etc.

4. Arrange different means of transmitting these resources, like leaflet distribution by email or post, small-group discussions (over meals, for example); mobile communications by text or phone calls, etc.

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