By Augusta Nnadi
What is Public Opinion?
THE first week of January, I picked up my laptop to write an article on public opinion. I was pondering on the amount of “Anu’ofia”, “Olodo”, “Foolish man” etc. comments usually found in the comment section of any Government-related social media account. Usually, I find these insults amusing. But for some reason, early this year, my thoughts were on how detrimental this level of engagement was to the citizens.
As someone within the realm of public service, I see the impact of this surface-level engagement. Whenever the State puts out a piece of information or a policy statement, there are people mandated to track the reception of those messages. These people are to go through the comment sections, speak to people, and try to peek into how the people receive such information. As expected, one of the easiest ways to do this is to go through comment sections under the relevant posts on X, Instagram, Facebook, etc.
But what do you think happens when the majority of the comments are outright insults? One would think this implies a pure dissatisfaction with said post, right?
Unfortunately, such surface-level discontent is often dismissed as mere noise. The report will say “the people are dissatisfied”, the reason will be left blank because all that was displayed was how creative we can be in calling out elected leaders.
How then do you define Public Opinion?
My friend would argue that public opinion does not exist. He would say that what is today considered public opinion is actually the “foolishness of a bold few because the thinking population is usually circumspect”. He would argue that “stupidity is so often loud to divert attention from its lack of depth”. Unfortunately, the loudest voice is now considered the wisest, and the opinion of the majority. And of course, in our dear democracy, the majority carries the vote.
Now do you see the problem when the opinion of the majority in a country with over 200 million people can only engage the government by making obscene statements via Twitter?
Every time the State puts out a message using any platform, traditional or digital, it presents an opportunity to gain insight into the activities of those who hold considerable power over you. At that point, it benefits you greatly to resist the urge to become an entertaining character that can only type ‘Thieves’ and instead, probe the content put out. But this statement presupposes that we are now willing to take on the responsibility of becoming politically enlightened.
Once in four years, we exercise our rights as citizens and take to the polls to exchange a part of our authority as humans for the protection of our right to live, right to shelter, right to work, right to education, etc. After that exchange is done, for the next four years, the one weapon we have to ensure our demands are not ignored is a continuous engagement with the people we entrusted our very lives to.
What the majority of us fail to grasp, is the fact that we actually wield in our hands and tongues the power to influence policies to a considerable extent. Regardless of how unresponsive a government appears to be, its policies and politics are heavily focused on retaining political power. It might not consider the citizens, but every action and inaction of the political leaders is geared toward winning elections.
But when you leave this power in the hands of ‘good governance advocates, activists,’ and people who have won validation not on the quality of their thoughts but from the number of followers they have amassed by jumping on every bandwagon, you end up with a rusted sword that can barely cut onions.
Public Opinion is such a powerful weapon that King David had to flee for his life when he lost the battle of wits to his son Absalom. A king personally appointed by God, a person who killed Goliath with a stone and sling, a mighty man of battle feared by many had to flee in the night from his “beautiful son” who had no experience in warfare.
Could Absalom have won a battle of strength against David? Of course not, but he won the hearts of the people, and that is something armoured tanks cannot compete with, at least in a sane world.
This is the weapon now bastardized in the hands of modern-day ‘politically enlightened’ people. We now listen to people who approach governance wearing their stereotype-tinted glasses, using arguments like “Why can’t the government command the sun to shine less so people would stop having skin cancer?”, as a basis to attract emotional people into believing that the government is there to make them happy and solve all their human desires.
Our limited understanding of governance has now blinded us into believing that the State is solely responsible for everything that goes on in our lives.
But, imagine if the actual majority could probe governance with keen insights.
It becomes harder, and almost impossible, to have a bad government.
When politicians understand that political power is contingent on an intelligent crowd with a standard that must be met, they are compelled to adhere to that standard to retain power.
The government, it is often said, reflects the hearts of the people. If the majority is corrupt, we get a corrupt government; if the majority is loud, we get a loud government; and if the majority is heavily invested in PR, we have a media-savvy government. Politicians act in accordance with the set standard to retain political power.
In simple terms, until we introspectively understand that our thoughts, actions, and inactions reflect our understanding of governance and intentionally improve our grasp of these concepts, we will remain at our current level. We always get the government we deserve, so to change the government, we must change the majority.
Nigeria stands proudly as the country with the youngest population, with approximately 65% of our 200 million people aged between 15 and 65. We must recognize the profound implications of this demographic reality on the systems that govern us. In acknowledging our role, we confront a stark truth: we are all contributors to both the challenges and solutions. Maybe it is time to embrace the “we are the change we seek” mantra. Change, they say, begins with us. You are undeniably part of the majority and a catalyst for the positive transformation we all hope for.
-JANUARY 31, 2024 @ 11:42 GMT|Tags: Augusta Nnadi