Structuring An All Inclusive And Engaging Governance Model In Nigeria -By Ogechi Esimai

Filed under: Democracy & Governance |

Ogechi Esimai


In every nation where the ideals of democracy are upheld in its entirety, an inclusive government becomes the foundation of its functionality. An Inclusive government is one that lends credence to the voices of the people. Governance becomes engaging when it taps the strength of the masses in policy formulation, policy review and policy adoption. It does sound theoretical when we study the tenets of democracy but seeing that countries in the developed world such as USA, UK and Brazil have overtime practiced an engaging governance model with some degree of success, leaves the local, states and federal governments in sub-Saharan Africa a lot to ponder and adopt.  Based on the practicality of our government models, we are somewhat far from optimum citizenship engagement.

Nigeria is a sub-Saharan African country that has been tinkering policies, systems and governance approaches over the years inorder to develop a structure that will best engage its citizens in the governance process. But not only has this effort seem a myth, its actualization has been derailed in its little existence. The Nigerian democratic systems have clutched an acronym of an infantile system that draws mixed reactions from those getting the dividends and those who are not. It seems our elections are conducted to favour the few over the many. Political representation has become an opportunity to satisfy selfish aspirations and self aggrandizement instead of carrying the people’s voice to the forums where they affect laws and statutes in reality.

An all inclusive and engaging governance requires a greater degree of the people’s voice in politics and government of a nation. It is government based on the people’s opinion, driven by the people’s needs and geared towards the people’s welfare. Is this not what democracy is about? Inorder to defeat the illusion that hides behind terms, we will not call this governance model by its traditional name (democracy) but rather focus on its understanding and practical suggestions on how to get the voices of the masses into our government channels.

In what ways can Nigeria include its citizens in its day to day government business at the local, state and federal levels? How can the real dividends of democracy get to and tap from its real beneficiaries in Nigeria? The following recommendations are not the norm, seem a bit disruptive but will ensure a successful engagement of Nigerian citizens in their government.

A Switch from E-Government to E-Governance

As at February 2014, Wikipedia ranks Nigeria 7th in the list of countries of the world by number of mobile phones in use based on the phone numbers in a country. On that list, Nigeria is only topped by countries as China, India, US, Brazil, Russia and Indonesia, from 1st to 6th respectively. With a population of  177,155,754 in 2014, the number of mobile phones in use was numbered at 167,371,945 and this totals to about 94% penetration in the country . This is a good indices in respect to citizen engagement by the Nigerian government.  Smartphone penetration has been ranked 30% while in 2015, the Nigerian Communication Commission(NCC) revealed that 97.21 Million Nigerians are using the internet. This is a huge go for a country with a large population as Nigeria to tap into the opportunity created by Information and Communications Technology in running an all inclusive government.

Most federal parastatals and state governments have created and opened websites to inform the citizenry of what they do and the services they offer e.g the dot websites. But these are still at the domain of e-government which is far from promoting citizenship participation in government affairs. E-government involves the use of ICTs in public administration to improve public services, improve democratic systems and strengthen support to the public. The disadvantage of this is that it alienates the same people for whom policies are made from the whole policy engineering process because it has a one communication channel- from the government to the people. It is not enough to have state owned channels that inform the public of the services for them, it is imperative to tap into this ICT systems to have a two channel communication loop where the citizens have a great input in the policies that benefit them. This is where e-governance comes in.

E-governance on the contrary is a two-way communication between the governing and the governed. E-governance digs deeper to ensure that services from the government intended for the citizens gets to the end beneficiaries without inhibitions or interference from too many layers or “bureaucratic tables”. With E-governance, the masses opinion contributes to the same policies and services intended for them. The great benefit in this is that it forms a public-private decision making process that eradicates corruption, promotes transparency and accountability and makes the citizenry stakeholders in the government. This will involve recreating the e-government channels to have an interactive, all open platforms that accepts individual and collective views in each constituency, local government, state level and federal level. With very good statistical codes, these views will ensure that government good will get to the target groups or persons.  India is an example of a country that has operated a successful e-governance system. If Nigeria can set up an e-technology loop that engages the citizens at the federal, state and local level in the policy making process, its citizens will have a sense of inclusion in the governing process.

Tap into the Social Media as a Platform for Citizen Engagement

In Nigeria, Print journalism is facing a stiff-necked competition from Social media. Most Nigerians, especially the Millenials receive a major chunk of their news on social media platforms. They visit sites with interesting news but love their social tangle points such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc. Some Newspaper companies now link their news to social media where the news will reach intended citizens.  The government, its agencies and representative officials should have handles, pages, accounts and walls to receive feedback on prospective policies. Social media in this present era is a goldmine for accessing citizenship views on issues especially open national issues (It may not be ideal for national classified information). Presently, some Nigerian officials and government agencies use the social media to inform people of what they have done, post pictures of ongoing projects or completed projects or events that have been scheduled or occurred. What about using the social media to receive massive ideas or opinions on tentative projects? Examples of questions that could arise for the masses feedback include, How best should the recruitment of new officials in the Immigration be structured? Do you think that government intervention of a meal per day for primary school students will affect their studies positively? Should Nigerian unemployed graduates receive a welfare package from the government? Based on current cost of living in Nigeria, how much stipend do you think government should pay to unemployed adults to cover basic expense? How best can we capture the statistics of unemployed persons? The feedbacks should be structured responses of “Yes or No or Maybe Responses”, or could be open-ended answers.  This will draw in a pool of views that could lead to effective policy formulation and execution, sustainable development and targeted growth in affected sectors.

Strengthening the Electoral Thinking of the Masses

Electoral thinking is the totality of people’s mindset towards election and their part in it. Some Nigerians view elections as an opportunity to revenge on the incumbent government, or destroy the opposition or boycott voting due to their subjective feelings towards present or past governments. Voting is not a voluntary right in a democratic nation, it is a fundamental right. And so an exercise as important as electing a policy maker capable of influencing the citizen’s lives negatively or positively should transcend personal feelings. An inclusive governance model would need the mind of the electorates to think “I must vote!” One of the most important duties of an electoral body such as the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in a democratic nation is not to only ensure a free and a fair election, it is to educate the electorates on the power of their vote. To encourage them to go beyond personal feelings and help elect credible officials who will carry their voice.   If only Nigerian Electorates will know that our vote is our power. If only we know that every vote counts in steering the progress of this nation. If only we can shun tribal and religious divides and uphold the national health and interest with our votes. If only we can ask “what” each candidate represents, not “where” the candidate is from. Only then can we begin to see us engage fully in the governing process of our country. If every Nigerian citizen can use our franchise without concerning ourselves with how unfair the elections would be(Election freeness and fairness is important but secondary to the exercise of each citizen’s right of vote), then an inclusive administration becomes possible.

Re-Orientating the Citizens to Think People, Systems and Institutions, Not Individuals

One major onus on every democratic government is to gear the minds of its citizens to always uphold the nation and place the national interest higher than the government of the day. What this means is that Nigerians love and uphold Nigeria, defend it all times and “serve Nigeria with all their strength indeed”. This is different from upholding presidents-past and present- of Nigeria such as Presidents Muhammadu Buhari or Goodluck Jonathan or Olusegun Obasanjo etc. Civil servants should indeed be neutral and non-partisan so that their total allegiance is to the nation, not to the “Minister” in charge. This also calls on administrations to avoid degrading and killing noble projects that would benefit the nation because it was from a past government, an opposition or in the bid to show they have a better idea. Governments should nurture sustainable ideas and projects capable of leading to growth and development of the country regardless of the source. When people think institutions, not individuals, they would build the nation with all they have. Singapore is a good example of such nation where citizens worked and engaged fully to develop the country and promote the ultimate good of the nation over individual self.

Using Educational Institutions to Inculcate Pragmatic Involvement in Community Affairs and Governance

There is a strong link between education acculturation and citizenship engagement. Most citizens of every country go through their educational institutions at one time or the other. Does it not support the fact that this very important institution could be employed as a tool in instilling values for national consciousness? Civics and Patriotism should not be taught as a class-based course or built into theoretical curriculum, they should be hands on, put-your-hand-to-the-plough, get-involved courses. Infact, Nigeria as a growing democracy should have a programme called Government –to-Schools Interchange where Ministries and Parastatals of governments designate persons to enlighten schools- at the university, secondary or primary level(depending on the ages and fields of study most concerned with the services)- on their services, the processes and operation, their beneficiaries and possibly the students role or place in the actualization of the body’s aims. NGOs with focus areas on development and governance should be compelled by the government to do same(even before they are given the mandate of operation) in Nigeria. It would be very important to award certificates that declare students as “worthy in Character and learning” to only students who have volunteered their services to government agencies/ministries or the educative institution itself or an NGO with national interest or the State government or local government offices.  The sole aim of this selfless UNPAID service should be to use that little exercise to show them how citizenship engagement, no matter how little, builds a nation. This would also be used to show that collective efforts of the masses are the bedrock of a successful democracy. At the tertiary level, groups and clubs of national democratic or development causes should be created and all students should be made to join whichever one that best appeals to them. Civics education should be practical and not class based. At the primary level, the history of Nigerian past heroes should be taught with a rich pictorial aid and also visits to national museums or Centers that promote our rich heritage should not be optional.

Activities as hoisting the national flag and strict hygiene of all classes and school environment should involve these pupils. All national events should be discussed and the significance totally understood by these young ones. When national consciousness gets imbibed in the fabrics of our youth, engagement becomes a norm.

Choosing Representatives Based on Community Service Track Records

Persons who seek public offices at the local, state or federal level should have body of works that show their commitment to serving the people over a period of time. Their previous records should point towards public good and championing democracy. Have they worked for free and fair elections? Have they enlightened the people to vote during previous elections? Have they participated in causes that better people’s lives? Have they called for community sanitation? Have they promoted intra- and  inter-communal peace where it is required? Have they given their voices unequivocally to a major issue of national concern? Have they volunteered vigorously for nation-building purposes? Do they have informative write-ups that work for democracy? If we can task our politicians and those willing to work for the government to show the proof of their aspirations from their past work, then we have a great engagement pedestal for would-be office holders. This would also eradicate the class of corrupt politicians whose main goal is to occupy offices for selfish gains. This record scrutiny should include those who wish to fill the offices of Councilors, Local Government chairmen, Members of State and National Legislatures, Governors, Presidents .

Neutral Periodic Feedback from Interest Groups

Recently, Some Nigerian public office holders started engaging in town hall meetings to inform citizens of policies and also receive feedback on adopted policies. This is a good initiative; it could be better. We advocate a targeted group feedback from the final beneficiaries of each project or policy. Professional bodies, Education institutions, NGOS, Youth bodies, Business groups which forms the bulk of pressure groups and public opinion in reality could be brought into the communication loop of Nigerian governance. Each group’s feedback on pertinent issues that concern them would help the government to function effectively. Policies should not be dumped on people. These groups should be active stakeholders on laws, statutes and government orders that touch on their operation and existence. This will give a great voice to a lot of individuals guided through the groups where they belong.

Ogechi Esimai(MPIA)
Programme Director, TAW Graduate School

Creative Education Specialist, TAW Innovation Synergy

[email protected]