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Offline bamalli

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Five things Nigerian civil society needs to know
« on: August 18, 2007, 08:30:59 PM »
Five things Nigerian civil society needs to know

By Dr Doyin Abiola

Published: Sunday, 5 Aug 2007

"Nigeria has lost billions of dollars in oil revenue. We have lost the
ability to light our homes, our streets and our industries. We have bred
several generations of young people who believe that violence is the only
answer. We have earned the distinction of becoming a centre for terrorism.
All of these have happened because we did not see when we should have seen,
we did not hear when we should have listened and we did not speak out when
we should have spoken out." Prof. Bolaji Akinyemi's comments on the Niger
Delta Crisis.

The 'we' in the above quotation refers to the civil society, which
encompasses all and sundry (i.e. activists, the professionals, writers,
journalists, market women, artisans, homemakers, everybody outside/inside
government, students, parents et cetera). But our focus, for the thrust of
this article, will exclude those in government for clarity of purpose.

Often, members of the civil society do not appreciate the fact that they are
indeed part of the Nigerian problem with the logical sequence of being part
of the solution. But times are changing, especially with the youths who are
clamouring for change either by speaking out or 'doing something(s)' to
improve the Nigerian situation. Like their 'You Tube' counterparts in
developed countries, they are beginning to assert their will on the society,
and their parents, in particular.

An interesting encounter with a budding group, named 'Do Sumthing' reignited
faith in the potency of civil society, especially the youth segment that has
been projected demographically to become a dominant and vital group within
the next five years. So they do matter in the Nigerian scheme of things. The
'Do Sumthing' has already made a good start by canvassing the need for a
discerning youth involvement in societal development as a smart idea. It
propagates such involvement as a self-serving, win-win investment in the
future. This is a good start, but only a start. What should be a more
comprehensive and supplementary civil society larger commitment to good

Let's examine other ways through which the civil society could effectively
be engaged in the Nigerian Project. First, it should take a cue from the
youth's standpoint that getting involved is a smart idea and could be a
potent catalyst in the development curve. But to be effective, the civil
society must transform latent opposition to effective pressure for reform.
This is a difficult goal to achieve as pressure for public good is often
seen as 'everybody's business,' translating to 'nobody's business.' What is
more, civil society tends to allow procedural process disagreements to
divide and dissipate their reformist agenda. Such disagreements tend to give
government a weapon for the usual tactics of divide and rule.

A civil society procedural and standard charter can provide the basics that
all the civil society components can rally around without conceding
leadership to any group in particular. There is always strength in number as
shown by the amorphous groups picketing the G8 meetings and the annual
economic summit in Davos. They may be tear-gassed, but they cannot be
ignored. Civil society outcries have led to policy and regime changes in
developed economies. No government can ignore public protests in the IT age
with images of protest speedily beamed all over the world in a matter of

Second, civil society pressure at present is for things that just do not
matter very much to the general populace. Take for example the protest
against fuel price hikes which is a peripheral issue in the oil resource
management and budget transparency. What seems more relevant is pressure on
the need for simple guidelines, a kind of charter to be formulated and
adopted by all parties seeking to govern, on how to manage oil resource
revenues such as savings in the boom periods to accumulate financial assets
for future busts and generations. Once adopted, it will be politically
troublesome for any incoming government to abandon them without risking
exposure as having ulterior motives and seen as unfit to govern. Likewise,
the civil society must be in the vanguard of promoting democracy, not just a
periodic event of voting, but as a process of checks and balances.

This leads to the third step of civil society involvement in the evolution
and adherence to the rules of democratic checks and balances. In the last
election, one of the contesting Presidential candidates promised to write an
expose on how the outgoing government systematically undermine each check
and balance that restrained it; namely the legislature, the judiciary and
the media. The various levels of restraint reflected its view of the potency
of each segmental check and balance. From the would-be author, it is not
just fascinating to see a system of bad governance on display; it also tells
him what is really important in the fight against it. Where the outgoing
government put most restraint is probably where the civil society should be
most vigilant. In the media case, most restraint was put on the electronic
media for its immediacy and audio and video mixed reach. Interestingly, only
the BBC in Hausa mattered because of its international and strong band reach
to rural Nigeria. Newspapers came in third for various reasons, i.e. limited
circulation, diminishing authority as an effective medium of mass
communication, and dwindling revenues with attendant administrative

Beyond the media is the issue of campaign funding. In Nigeria, to get
elected into the legislative house costs millions of naira, not to mention
the presidency, and to raise such funds candidates either have to acquire
'god fathers' to bank roll the expenditures, sell their assets, borrow or
beg with inevitable repercussions. If they win, they only have four years to
recoup their investments. Little wonder there is so much corruption in
politics. The civil society must canvass for a more moderate and transparent
campaign funding system which should involve the deductive contributions of
workers to parties of their choice. This is not a very ambitious solution,
but it would set in motion the much needed campaign funding reform.

Fourth, the civil society must buy into the Freedom of Information Act, not
as a license for the 'suspect media' but as a necessary tool for
transparency in governance. All payments of oil revenue to the federal
government must be made accessible in the same spirit of Extractive
Industries Transparency and its precursor, the Publish What You Pay
campaign. Without such transparency in revenue transactional intakes, there
cannot be effective monitoring of revenue expenditures. In turn, there
should be publications of the revenue allocations to all levels of
government as initiated by the former finance minister, Dr. Ngozi
Okonjo-Iweala. This will encourage scrutiny from the bottom up to supplement
the peer review of NEPAD whereby African countries volunteer for self
evaluation by their NEPAD member peers.

And fifthly, reformers in government must be encouraged and supported for
making the efforts to reform policies and systems. They are civil society's
ally in government who should lend their expertise and knowledge to the
former for better understanding of the workings of government to be able to
make informed inputs to good governance. Most times, government, and rightly
so, dismisses the civil society as a bunch of self seekers lacking in
knowledge of issues they are agitating about. The civil society stands a
better chance of being listened to if perceived as more driven by logic than

Offline Janwuya

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Re: Five things Nigerian civil society needs to know
« Reply #1 on: August 19, 2007, 10:46:58 AM »
Sadly enough bamalli.....what Dr Doyin Abiola wrote is the truth. I would like to know what yan'uwa think.


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