Participation in politics by voting or peaceful protests helps democracy thrive. Apart from being an initiative ensuring the government adequately fulfils its duties, diverse forms of political participation also give ordinary people an opportunity to impact their community.
Activities like voting in elections, petitioning, donating money to a candidate or cause or protesting are types of political participation that influence public policy directly or indirectly by affecting the selection process of those who make the policies. The different forms of political participation help citizens determine their fate in how they are governed or led.
Nigeria is at the cusp of a general election integral for the continuation of its democracy, and the voting process remains a mere formality when citizens don't participate in politics.
What is political participation?
Political participation broadly covers a wide range of activities such as voting, running for office, joining a political party, holding a political position and donating to and participating in campaigns. All of which the public engages in to actualise their interests.
Political participation has changed drastically over the years. Before the advent of social media, people relied on traditional media and door-to-door campaigns to mobilise and inform.
Nowadays, citizens can call the attention of their representatives or mobilize to influence how the government forms policies with just a click of a button.
Social media has undoubtedly amplified political participation's potential to profoundly impact society. A relatable example is #EndSARS, a protest against police brutality that was mobilised online.
The protests led the government to disband SARS and give orders to establish a judicial panel of enquiry and restitution across the country. The effectiveness of these policies has been minimal, as police brutality still exists. Still, the protests made progress in influencing policy changes.
Prior to Nigeria gaining independence, suffrage was limited, and the British colonialists conditioned the right to vote on earning above a certain income. Upon independence, however, people across all social classes could vote once they met the age requirements. But political participation isn’t limited to voting.
But, before we expand on other forms of political participation, let's see what the Nigerian constitution says about political participation.
What does the Nigerian Constitution say about political participation?
The right to political participation is globally recognised as an inalienable right for citizens of a particular country.
People are encouraged to take advantage of these rights, enabling them to influence and control political and economic development in their climes.
That's why the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended, recognizes and outlines the right to political participation in different forms. Such as:
1. The right to vote and right to contest for public office.
SECTION 7 SUB-SECTION 4 OF THE 1999 CONSTITUTION provides that:
“The Government of a State shall ensure that every person who is entitled to vote or be voted for at an election to the House of Assembly shall have the right to vote or be voted for at an election to a local government council”.
“This constitutional provision ensures the participation of every citizen in political activities which includes right to vote and right to contest for public office at the Chairmanship and Councillorship elections at every Local Government in Nigeria”.
2. The right to take part freely in choosing people up for election.
SECTION 14 SUB-SECTION 2 and PARAGRAPH (C) OF THE 1999 CONSTITUTION further provides:
“The participation by the people in their government shall be ensured in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution”.
“The use of the word “shall” in this section implies an obligation which must be fulfilled by the government. A country like Nigeria being a democratic state must recognize her citizen’s right to participate freely in choosing people that will represent her in power”.
3. The right to belong to a political party.
SECTION 40 OF THE 1999 CONSTITUTION specifies that:
“Every person shall be entitled to assemble freely and associate with other persons, and in particular he may form or belong to any political party, trade union or any other association for the protection of his interests”.
“This constitutional provision emphasizes the existence of the citizen's right to belong to a political party to participate in the political affairs of the country.”
4. The right to be registered as a voter to vote for president, members of senate, house of representatives, governor of a state and house of assembly of each state.
SECTION 77 SUB-SECTION 2 OF THE 1999 CONSTITUTION states that:
“Every citizen of Nigeria, who has attained the age of eighteen years residing in Nigeria at the time of the registration of voters for purposes of election to a legislative house, shall be entitled to be registered as a voter for that election”.
“This constitutional provision ensures the participation of citizens of Nigeria in the election of members of the Senate and the House of Representatives”.
Section 117 SUB-SECTION 2 OF THE 1999 CONSTITUTION states that:
“Every citizen of Nigeria, who has attained the age of eighteen years residing in Nigeria at the time of the registration of voters for purposes of election to any legislative house, shall be entitled to be registered as a voter for that election”.
“This constitutional provision ensures the participation of citizens of Nigeria in the election of any House of Assembly of each state in Nigeria”.
SECTION 132 SUB-SECTION 5 OF THE 1999 CONSTITUTION provides thus:
Every person who is registered to vote at an election of a member of a legislative house shall be entitled to vote at an election to the office of President.
“This constitutional provision makes it clear that any citizen of Nigeria who is qualified to exercise his right to vote during the election of any legislative house; National Assembly and any House of assembly of state would be allowed to participate as a way of exercising his right to vote in the election to the office of the president”.
SECTION 178 SUB-SECTION 5 OF THE 1999 CONSTITUTION provides that:
“Every person who is registered to vote at an election of a member of a legislative house shall be entitled to vote at an election to the office of Governor of a State”.
“Also, this constitutional provision allows every citizen of Nigeria who has been registered by the Independent National Electoral Commission as voters to participate in elections into any legislative house in the country and should be given a chance to exercise his right to vote in the Governorship election of any state in Nigeria”.
Having captured what the Nigerian constitution says about political participation. We go ahead to explain the forms of political participation.
Forms of political participation
There are two major types of political participation: Conventional and Unconventional political participation.
Conventional political participation
This refers to traditional and constitutional guaranteed activities essential for the continuation of the democratic process.
In a democracy, these forms of political participation include voting, running for office, joining political parties, holding a political position and donating to and participating in campaigns.
Unconventional political participation
This is often perceived as controversial, inappropriate or offensive because people typically take part in them to register their displeasure about issues.
They include: civil disobedience, protests, marches, demonstrations, boycotts and sit-ins.
Despite differences in method, conventional and unconventional political participation both present an outlet for passionate citizens to engage in and influence the political process.
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