By: Adefunke Onafuye
“There never is a good time for tough decisions. There will always be an election or something else. You have to pick courage and do it. Governance is about taking tough, even unpopular, decisions.” – Jairam Ramesh
With only two years until the general elections, the biggest question is “What next?” a.k.a ‘the How’ in the last blogpost. It may come as news that the Ghana general elections held a week ago in what has been aptly described as “the most boring election” event to Nigerians who have a different experience. Despite the pandemic, the country recorded a significant increase in voter participation- 79% of registered voters, 50% of whom are aged 18 – 35 and whose primary concerns include unemployment, infrastructure, education and health.
In a statement to Al Jazeera, President Nana Akufo-Addo referred to Ghana as a beacon of democracy, peace and stability, looked up to by the rest of the world. Can the Nigerian President make this boastful statement about our democracy?
Since democratisation in 1999, the electoral focus has skewed heavily towards the executive; with citizens focusing more on presidential and gubernatorial elections, even though two of the three arms of government, Executive and Legislative, are led by elected persons. This is as a result of a misunderstanding of the concept of separation of powers that leads many to believe that everyone answers to the President or to Governors. The constant reference to the grassroots explains the imbalance: the ignorance around the mandate of the arms of government favours the perpetrators of bad governance. This is our starting point!
Understanding KPIs and defining expectations…
The executive arm of government is led by the President and supported by other elected officials such as Governors and Local Government Chairpersons, who also govern. The Legislative arm makes laws. The first phase of voter education should be sensitisation on the expectations from occupants of every office. This means asking aspiring lawmakers (Senators and Honorables), “which law una go make wey go benefit our community?” and rebutting promises of road construction and provision of clean water. It means understanding that the President appoints Ministers, heads of parastatals etc., but they have to be vetted and approved by representatives who must only do what serves in the best interest of the public. Most importantly, it means understanding the power of the electorate.
“Knowledge is power.”
An integral part of voter education is registration. The importance of this was evident in the voter turnout during the Lagos-East senatorial bye elections that again favoured one party. It is not enough to have will, there must also be ability. In November 2020, INEC announced its plans to commence registration in the first quarter of 2021. All hands must be on deck to encourage every Nigerian 18 and older to register and collect their Permanent Voter’s Card (PVC) in due time.
In the words of Saul Alinsky, “People cannot be free unless they are willing to sacrifice some of their interests to guarantee the freedom of others. The price of democracy is the ongoing pursuit of the common good by all of the people.”
Of all the factors that influence and inform the choices of the electorate, the most important is common good. To uphold the principles of democracy, governance must benefit the majority. The line of communication, therefore, must change, with the electorate making clear demands and aspirants demonstrating knowledge and expertise. In line with this, we at ElectHER are contributing our quota to inclusion and policy-making that rightly impacts the majority. Read here.
“People are always on the move, and they are consuming their media in many places and in many contexts. During the days of broadcast media, you could put an ad on TV and be pretty sure that most people would see it. Now, you have to do a very multilayered approach that makes sure that not only are you reaching each voter you care about, but you are reaching them in multiple ways.” – Michael Podhorzer
The last piece of the puzzle is media and the only channel within our control is social media. There are fewer than five million active users on Twitter in Nigeria, but in the two weeks of the #EndSARS protests, the Nigerian government communicated primarily via Twitter and information spread like wildfire within hours. Social media is a hub, a repository, a passage and solace. It creates snowball effects that make media blackouts near impossible; all we need is that one tweet.
The Nigerian Bar Association election is a prime example of how social media can drive inclusion and participation. This does not discount the impact of footwalk in countering misinformation campaigns and the manipulation of the media. In 2019, we saw attempts to challenge the minds of political aspirants, primarily those in the race for President. A replication and extension to other seats would do a lot of good in 2023. Placing information where it matters: before the electorate.
Reforms will take longer than 2 years and require more than words on a website. Realistically, we are not ready to unseat the powers that be and maybe we don’t have to. Like Hon Fuad Atanda Lawal said, “Join a political party and leverage on a system that is already working.” The secret to victory is inclusion and participation and for as long as we hide behind the facade that politics is not worth it, the status quo will remain. Adopt our 4E to Engage, Encourage, Equip and Enable.