Popular (People’s) participation in government and equal say in decisions that affect their lives is the founding principle of democracy. The participation of the people in policy making, implementation and evaluation, among others is sin-qua-non to enhancing sustainable development in Democratic regimes. It also strengthens the political culture as it is anti-thetical to political apathy. This topic (popular participation) looks at the meaning of popular participation of citizens in politics, reasons why some people do not participate in politics and how popular political organizations are formed which form basic platforms for people to participate actively in the political process.
Meaning of Popular Participation
Popular participation is the involvement of all citizens in the decision-making process of a country since they are potentially affected by or interested in a decision. It is a political principle and practice which recognizes the right of the citizens to participate in the decision-making process; or put appropriately, political process. The term ‘popular participation’ has been used interchangeably with the concept or practice of stakeholders engagement or public participation.
Public participation implies that the public contribution will influence the decisions affecting their lives. Popular participation may be regarded as a method of empowerment, which is a vital component of democratic governance.
Democracy follows directly from the ideal of political equality interpreted in terms as equal intrinsic worth of individuals. Political equality is a central ideal in all conceptions of democracy. This brings about inclusiveness of the citizenry and equal opportunity to influence political agenda and decision making. The Democratic system can only be sustained and nurtured by collective intelligence and inclusiveness, shaped by the participation of the whole community or society.
The idea of popular participation of the citizens in politics can be said to be part of “people centered” or “human centric” principles or advanced as part of a “people first” paradigm shift. The role of public participation in political, economic and human development in general was enshrined in the 1990 African charter for popular participation in development and transformation in all democratic systems. Since then, public participation has become a central principle of public policy making, as all levels of government strive to build citizens and stakeholders into their policy-making processes. This is viewed as a toll intended to measure attainable objectives, evaluate government and identity lessons for future practices. Apart from participating in voting, public opinion and performing their civic rights, citizens now involve in budgeting and environmental planning and governance.
Notable Reasons Why People do not Participate in Politics
Popular participation is the direct opposite of political apathy. By implication, the reasons why people do not participate in politics is the same with the reason for political apathy. All these have been discussed in Political Apathy, but for the sake of clarity of the meaning of popular participation, we shall highlight the points as follows:
i. Many people do not participate in politics because of the corrupt nature of politics and politicians who indulge in money laundering, bribery, and corruption, fraud etc. Those who want to protect their integrity tend to avoid participating in politics.
ii. Lack of political awareness of the people due to the high level of illiteracy may also be a major factor which do not encourage people to participate in politics.
iii. The insensitive of some political office holders to the plights of the masses and their failure to fulfill their political promises made during their electioneering campaigns discourage people from participating in politics.
iv. The rigging of elections and results of elections which do not reflect the choice and opinions of the people is another important reason for apathy.
v. The leadership problem in recent years which have led to decayed infrastructures, bad economy and lack of political will to plan for sustainable development by the government have also discouraged the people from participating in politics.
How Popular Organizations are Formed
Popular organizations are organisations of the people that strengthens the democratic process. They include:
1. Political Parties: A political party is an organization of people who have the same principle and ideology coming together for the purpose of seeking the mandate of the people to form a government. They bring together people of like minds for the purpose of participating in the political process. Political parties is the only platform through which a citizen can contest an election in a Democratic system except for countries where independent candidacy is allowed. They are formed by the people of like minds, who are vying for leadership positions in national, state, zonal and local government levels. The branches recruit members into the party.
When forming a political party, the following are prerequisites for registration by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) of Nigeria.
i. Party name
ii. Party logo
iii. Part leadership structure
iv. Party Secretariat
v. Party ideology
vi. Party policy and programmes
vii. Party membership.
2. Pressure Groups: Pressure groups are organization of people of like for the benefit of their members. Examples are Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) etc. Pressure groups are formed by people from the same profession, ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds. They pursue specific interests of members by influencing government policies and decisions to their favour. In some cases, they check the excesses of government by criticizing their actions. Just like political parties, they also serve as a medium of mass mobilization and enlightenment. All pressure groups are registered with the government to be fully recognized by the government.
3. Civil Society Groups: Civil Society groups are non-governmental organizations formed by the people to pursue specific issues like fundamental human rights of the citizens, democracy, social justice, among others. They also check excesses of government.
All the organizations discussed above are various platforms through which the people can effectively participate in the decision-making process of the country. The organizations serve as platforms for interest articulation, interest aggregation and medium for mass mobilization enlightenment. They also serve as the voice of the people. The check the excesses of government and protect the rights and freedoms of the citizens.