By Babatunde Jose
“O ye who believe! Obey Allah, and obey the Apostle, and those charged with authority among you. If ye differ in anything among yourselves, refer it to Allah and His Apostle, if ye do believe in Allah and the Last day: That is best, and most suitable for final determination.”(Quran 4:59)
Islam makes no sharp division between sacred and secular affairs; it expects governments to be imbued with righteousness. Likewise Islam expects Muslims to respect the authority of such government for otherwise there can be no order or discipline. This however, is the bane of religious precepts in a secular environment. It is not in consonant with participatory democracy and the qualities desired from followers in modern democratic society. This is the origin of the proverbial docility, acquiescence and unquestioning acceptance of leadership and the ‘rankadede’ syndrome; an unquestioning obeisance of leaders. The above verse of the Quran is based on the assumption of a theocratic state.
Modern nation states demand a different set of qualities from followers among which are; willingness to assume responsibilities, competence and self-management, efficiency, political engagement, readiness to be mobilized and lending a voice to protest bad leadership and of course, demand for accountability. Unfortunately, most of these qualities are wanting in the followership in our society.
As followers we are too timid and complacent. Starting from the issue of social services such as water and electricity, we do not make forceful demands on our rulers. We acquiesce and resort to self help. We make little or no demands on our leaders for accountability and limit our complaints to rancorous discussions at the beer parlor or at social events over plates of jollof rice and Coca Cola.
In the words of Prof Wole Soyinka: “Let us begin with some collective introspection. I have become increasingly convinced that, between leadership and the led, there is only a very thin dividing line, often nearly indistinguishable. There is no question in my mind that, most often, the so-called led are their own worst enemies, even to the point of self-betrayal and treachery to their own existence. . . . .” Wole Soyinka: ‘Handshake Across History’.
Political participation includes any activity that shapes, affects or involves the political field. Civic and political participation of the people is important in order to keep a functioning government and society. If the people ignore their civic responsibilities and don’t help make important decisions, then just a couple individuals are left to choose who merits government positions.
Public participation therefore, as a political principle or practice, and may also be recognized as a right. … It implies that the public’s contribution will influence the decision. Public participation may also be regarded as a way of empowerment and as vital part of democratic governance. The key role of citizens in a democracy is to participate in public life.
In other climes they protest and riot over increase in the price of bread or rice, fuel and other issues that impinge on the welfare of the people. Here we are content to accept all that they throw at us with equanimity. What have we done about the fantabulous take home pay of our legislators? Nothing! We do not protest the potholes on our streets or the delay in refuse disposal. We make little or no demands on our leaders and do not hold them responsible for our degradation.
Political apathy can be categorized as the indifference of an individual and a lack of interest in participating in political activities. Political apathy can lead to low voter turnout and stagnation in government.
In a parochial political culture, citizens are mostly uninformed and unaware of their government and take little interest in the political process. … we are as gullible as they come. A case in point is the issue of restructuring. Leaders are posturing and making fantastic claims and promises to restructure as if restructuring is in the purview of the Executive. What are our Reps and Senators doing about it? As followers, have we given them marching orders to initiate restructuring and if they fail, what are the consequences for their positions. The Executive arm of government can do very little on restructuring based on the nature of our constitution. It is the legislature that can make it happen. We simply need a National Assembly of people that understand the issues in Nigeria, people that are willing to make sacrifices and are committed to taking this country to a higher level. The executive can only recommend to the legislature it cannot on its own cause restructuring to happen through executive fiat. It is left to us to extract promises and commitments on this issue from our political leaders before giving them our vote. This is a duty we must not shirk.
In the words of Wole Soyinka: “The ball has been kicked back to the people’s court. You have a responsibility – if you believe in the necessity to withhold your votes from those who say ‘No’ to re-configuring. It is a duty to yourselves and to posterity. But, considering all that has gone before, and threatens to kill the future of this nation, you have a responsibility to go further and say, ‘Enough’ of unchangeable casts of mind whose possessors only re-cycle themselves either directly or by surrogation. It is time to disarm the entire political scene and re-arm the visionaries. The nation needs new players, new minds. It is time that a united opposition seize the bull by the horns and make a determined effort towards total transformation.”
It has been argued that religion; in particular Islam is a contributing factor to the situation of political docility and lethargy of its adherents. Obedience is a divine command from al-Qur’an and Hadith likewise Islamic history records many instances as far as obedience is concern.
On the authority of Ibn ‘Umar, The Holy Prophet (s.a.w) said: It is obligatory upon a Muslim that he should listen (to the ruler appointed over him) and obey him whether he likes it or not, except that he is ordered to do a sinful thing. If he is ordered to do a sinful act, a Muslim should neither listen to him nor should he obey his orders (Sahih Muslim, Book 20, Hadith 4533).
This perhaps account for the proverbial acceptance of some of our brothers in the faith for the misrule of their leaders and why they have remained a-political.
This thesis is however faulted in the light of the ‘Arab Spring’ and other uprisings and protests in patently Islamic climes. It is therefore not Islam or Christianity that makes a citizen apathetic, irresponsible to his political duties and obligations; rather it is the political culture of lethargy and de-participation.
Despite the suffering and challenges we face, we lack the culture of protest and rejection of bad governance. People are not prepared to make sacrifice on the barricades and as such resign their lives to fate.
There are however instances in the stories of the Prophet and the Caliphs of the importance of followers asking questions and making demands on their leaders.
A person cannot be a functioning member of his community if he or she lacks knowledge and wisdom. Equally a follower is expected to be courageous. According to Mohamed “courage is a quality of the soul, it’s heart’s strength against shock and composure when experiencing fear.” (Mohamed, Y. (2006); The Path to Virtue: The ethical Philosophy of AlRaghib Al-Işfahani: International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilization, p 275)
The earliest followers in Islam were credible, honest and courageous. Therefore, they established themselves as independent, critical thinkers whose knowledge and wisdom are dependable. Bashir bin Sa‘ad (r.a) was a courageous follower during ‘Omar’s (r.a) regime. He was bold enough to tell Caliph ‘Omar that they will straighten him as they do with their arrows if he fails to properly perform his duties as a leader.
Caliph Omar said, “It is the duty of the leader and followers to listen to each other and to voice out their concern.” He added, “When followers do not participate and provide input, they are not contributing something useful. And we are not useful if we do not consent to their contributions.” (Ali, A.J. (2005), Islamic Perspectives on Management and Organization. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar. P 135)
Barka Juma’at and a happy weekend