Governance accountability through citizen’s engagement
Peter Adeyeye, Lagos Community Manager
Lagos, 12 February 2016
Citizens’ participation is one of the ideals for a good governance framework. For many residents of Lagos, the idea of governance accountability and inclusiveness are still novel. This can be mainly explained by the political experience of Nigeria, having undergone a long period of military rule characterized by abuses of human rights, media clamp-downs, high levels of corruption, impunity and repression of the citizenry. This history has left an imprint that government is distant, unresponsive, and unaccountable, and these ideas have continued even after the country returned to democracy in 1999. This type of government, however, negates the fundamentals of democracy.
In an effort to promote public accountability and ensure political participation, the Lagos government and other actors have been organizing various programs, such as stakeholders’ engagement, social media chats, public visits to communities and town hall meetings, to bring government closer to the people. This is not just a prerogative of the executive of the state but also the legislators. For instance, Senator Oluremi Tinubu has a reputation of organizing periodic town hall meetings since assuming office in 2011. She uses these to brief her constituency about activities and initiatives going on in her area with the aim of getting feedback. This platform also serves as a medium for promoting public sensitization about the roles of the various arms of government in order to know who to hold accountable for specific duties. Perhaps, one of the greatest achievement of the state judiciary is the creation of its website, where they provide residents with updates on their activities, with a provision for anyone to get familiar with the representative of their constituency.
The governor elect, Akinwumi Ambode, during his manifesto months before the election in March 2015 promised to “pursue increased community cohesion and civic identity through participation in social, political and cultural spheres,” which he has been living up to since his taking office. At his second quarterly town hall meeting in January, he provided an update on the progress made and the general direction of his administration. There are other non-state actors that have been involved in ensuring government transparency, accountability, and inclusiveness. The annual Social Media Week, which is on this month, has a session on “Let’s talk governance! Building bridges between citizens and government,” which will be anchored by important political personalities.
The series of dialogues and stakeholders engagement are imperative for strengthening democratic institutions and processes in the city. It will remove the disconnect between government and the people and restore public confidence. While the actions of the state actors have been commendable, it is still a work in progress. For instance, it would be good to have periodic social media chats with elected officers. Questions about openness of offices of elected officials and consultation of the citizens before major projects are done should also exist. Surprisingly, most of the initiatives towards inclusiveness and accountability described have been led by state actors, which may not be sustainable over time. The role of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), media and other important stakeholders cannot be undermined in ensuring a more accountable and inclusive system of governance in Lagos.