John Dewey, an influential American psychologist in the 19th Century said Democracy begins in conversation. In other words talking together is a radical act.
Democracy is participation and deliberation. It is about people learning to think together, talk about issues and take action. It is a process of constant conversation amongst stakeholders on matters affecting them.
The democratic conversation has always been a key element in a well-functioning democratic society. The democratic dialogue is based on equal opportunity to be involved, information, objectivity, mutual attention and interest. In the democratic conversation, it is important to listen to each other and to explore the best arguments for and against a given topic under discussion.
One key theory of democratic conversation asserts that conversation can sustain democratic politics without either expecting or demanding convergence of positions. It further states that reaching a modicum of consensus in democratic conversation may be worthwhile and desirable, but taking consensus as the telos of democratic engagement is liable to disfigure both democratic politics and its participants.
Democratic politics require a shared platform in which parties meet and discuss issues of concern. Participants need not share profound identities, substantive traditions or initial consensus upon either fundamental values or the ultimate aims of political discourse. However, there must be commitment of parties to and competence in using the conceptual and institutional resources of civil association.
Expanding the democratic conversation platform is essential to the deepening of democracy in the society. In this regard, Cross River State House of Assembly under the leadership of Rt. Hon. John Gaul Lebo has shown itself as a model by constantly seeking to create opportunities for citizen engagement and contribution in the legislative process.
In line with this, the Cross River State House of Assembly upon inauguration launched the Citizen Legislative Agenda Project, CLAP.
The Citizens Legislative Agenda Project is conceived to create a platform to promote a broad based citizens contribution in the democratic conversation in Cross River State especially as it has to do with achieving the objectives of the legislative arm of government in the state. This initiative is revolutionary in the drive to deepen democracy in Nigeria.
Expanding the platform for citizens’ participation in democratic conversation through the citizens’ legislative agenda is envisioned to promote participatory democracy in Cross River State and build trust and partnership between the governed and the government for conciliatory approach to governance and development.
It is important to note that in order to achieve this, democratic conversation must remain constructive. Central to any constructive conversation of self and society, of law and governance, is our awareness that these terms are tools to facilitate thought and communication about an evolving reality which those tools — and their improvements — help us to construct, year after year.
The end of these conversations must be the improvement of our state, the achievement of our individual and collective dreams and the betterment of the living standards of our people. All stakeholders; the executive, the legislature, the judiciary, the civil society, the organized private sector, the media and the general citizenry must thus make a commitment to this.
What we essentially seek is to provide standardized public dialogue platform and citizens conversation opportunities aimed at enhancing the quality of democratic conversations in Cross River State.
With the existence of these platform and commitment from stakeholders, we believe these democratic conversations will strengthen our democracy and engender development in the state.
The vision is to achieve a society where the citizenry is engaged by ongoing public conversation about public policy and issues that are important to their well being with a focus on mutuality, trust and co-creation among various stakeholders in the state.
Widespread conversational involvement of the citizenry leads to stability in the system. Stability is usually viewed as a desirable feature of political systems, especially when, as with the conversational model, it is not the product of coercion. Meaningful conversations can thus be seen as a means of strengthening democracy.
In a society that enjoys a high degree of democratic engagement, citizens participate in political activities, express political views, and foster political knowledge; governments build relationships, trust, shared responsibility, and participation opportunities with citizens; and democratic values are sustained by citizens, government, and civil society at all levels.
The citizens’ legislative agenda project will thus expand the platform for and improve the quality of the democratic conversations. It is expected to promote democratic conversations through citizens’ contribution in constituency forums, public hearings on bills and feedback channels established in constituency offices across the state.
The emergence of modern technology with particular reference to social media, has created greater opportunity for citizens’ participation in democratic conversation.
Social media applications such as facebook, twitter and Google plus have been used extensively to provide a platforms for democratic conversation.
I must also acknowledge the role online media organizations, such as CrossRiverWatch, have played in promoting this conversation. We say keep up the good work.
We encourage all stakeholders to be involved in these democratic conversations even as we promote constructive and intellectually stimulating conversation rather than destructive criticism. All these are to ensure we expand the democratic conversation platform for the citizens.
In the light of these, it has become lucid that Cross River State is a model in the development of democratic culture in Nigeria. We encourage other states to emulate this example and make commitment to the growth of democracy in the country.
For emphasis, permit me to repeat my earlier advise urging all stakeholders to show objectivity, make the discourse intelligent, keep it constructive and most importantly, have the good of the state always at the back of their mind.
Emmanuel Etim is a development consultant based in Nigeria (email@example.com)
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