NOA AS CATALYST FOR GOOD GOVERNANCE
History has shown that the human factor is central to the attainment of any development agenda, both as the target beneficiary and as the driving force. This fact of history presupposes that there must be deliberate steps taken to establish an inextricable link between target beneficiaries and government policies, programmes and activities at all times and at all levels. Any development agenda therefore, no matter how well conceived and laudable, can only succeed when the target beneficiaries adequately understand it, appreciate the benefits accruable to them and most importantly, take ownership of such an agenda.
History is also replete with instances where, otherwise great policies were undermined and in some cases, stoutly resisted and killed even before they had seen the light of day. This, more often than not, resulted from the failure of government to acknowledge in deed and action, the primacy of developing effective communication strategies that would generate public understanding and mass participation in the development process. The fact should therefore not be lost on Nigerians, as it is clearly not lost on the National Orientation Agency (NOA), that the sure path to good governance is developing a strategic communication template that ensures active and sustained citizens’ participation in the development process right from conception through the implementation stages.
This understanding informed the recent convergence of about fifty stakeholders ranging from communication experts to a broad spectrum of interests at the instance of NOA to brainstorm and develop effective strategies for communicating government policies, programmes and intents to Nigerians. The brainstorming session which was organized in collaboration with the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation and the Niger State Government can best be described as a giant stride that does not only inspire a deeper public understanding of government policies and programmes, but also ensures that citizens buy in and actively support such government efforts.
According to the Director General of NOA, Mr. Mike Omeri, “This initiative was borne out of the Agency’s conviction that the social contract that exists between government and the people dictates that citizens are constantly kept abreast of government’s thinking, stewardship and responsiveness to their expectations, hopes and aspirations. The absence of this vital nexus often creates avoidable gaps, commonly exploited by skeptics and detractors whose past time is to misinform citizens and discredit government. In the course of our interaction, which in itself is a lesson learning opportunity, it may not be out of place to reflect on developments of the recent past, particularly issues arising from the removal of fuel subsidy and their implications from for the polity, with a view to forestalling a reoccurrence of similar but avoidable scenarios in the future”.
Agreeing with this position, Governor of Niger State, Muazu Babangida Aliyu in his keynote address at the opening ceremony of the event said “There is no doubt that the fuel subsidy removal crises presented us with the opportunity to check realities against assumptions in respect of public policy conceptualization and implementation. However, we need to appreciate the concept of good governance in a developing democracy like ours to fully understand the different socio-political undercurrents that manifested in the crises that followed fuel subsidy removal by the Federal Government. It is possible that some of the negative reactions to the policy in some parts of the country may have been as a result of ignorance of the policy thrust rather than the resentment of government, which makes a forum like this highly desirable”.
Some elements of good governance identified by Governor Aliyu as antidote to popular rejection of government’s good intentioned efforts include participation (of target beneficiaries in government policy formulation and implementation), rule of law, accountability, transparency, responsiveness, consensus building, equity, government effectiveness and efficiency, strategic vision, political stability and absence of violence, control of corruption, protection of human rights, sustainable economic opportunities, and human development, among others. These elements, he said, are inter-related with democratic principles and are all geared towards improving the economic and social prospects of the people.
In its discussion of the role of social (new) media in mass mobilization, the forum observed that new media have become very formidable tools for information sharing and mobilization as exemplified by the Orange Revolution of 2004 in Ukraine, the Arab Spring which began in December of 2010 and the Occupy Nigeria fuel subsidy removal protests of January 2012. With about 45 million internet users in Nigeria, the highest in Africa, Egypt ranking 2nd with about 21.7 million users and Tunisia coming 10th with about 3.9 million users, Nigeria’s government cannot afford incognizance to the potency of new media drawing instruction from the experience of the other two countries. With over 4 million registered Facebook users in Nigeria and over 1.6 million Nigerian Tweets daily, participants were of the opinion that the fuel subsidy protest was the only protest based on access to information since the anti-SAP riots of the late 80s which was initiated by leaflets of information passed around across Nigeria. As telecoms companies keep expanding and reducing access rates in Nigeria, the number of people using new media keeps on increasing every day. Government must therefore articulate and execute a social media strategy to intimate Nigerians of its plans and accomplishments just as it must seek out ways to build relationships with the citizens using social media, the bulk of who are the youth.
However, beyond government – people communication, the strong and obvious need for both inter-governmental and intra-governmental communication for the effective implementation of laudable policies cannot be over emphasized. There is no gainsaying the fact that good governance will remain elusive if government does not communicate well with itself as this would definitely impact negatively on its communication with the governed. A post mortem of the subsidy removal crises shows clearly the discordant tunes amongst government officials which led to confusion and fuelled suspicion that the government was not sincere about the policy. The lack of coordination between agencies of the Federal Executive, between the Executive and the Legislature, and between the Federal and State governments was ultimately to the undoing of the policy. The Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, for instance, could have acted as the clearing house for the policy formulation, dialogue and implementation to avoid such undesirable outcomes.
Having therefore noted the exigency of effective communication at all levels in the interest of good governance, the NOA, whose mandate it is to interpret government programmes and policies for enhanced understanding and acceptance by the populace as well as provision of timely feedback to government, is leaving no stone unturned to ensure its success at the task. In addition to developing an ICT platform for e-polling and instant, real-time feedback to government, the Agency has also strengthened its community theatre platform to reach the grassroots and is organizing a Citizens Responsibility Volunteer Scheme (CRVS) aimed at engaging unemployed professionals, artisans, school leavers, fresh graduates, skilled and semi-skilled Nigerians to participate in community and neighborhood volunteer services that add communication value among other values to their various communities under an organized setting.
It is perhaps in a bid to assist the NOA to better discharge its mandate of enhancing government–people relations for better governance that the communiqué issued at the end of the brainstorming session had participants recommending that the NOA should: be accorded the status of a commission; be relocated to the Presidency as against being subsumed under any ministry; be accorded an observer status in the Federal Executive Council; and ensure that the Transformation Agenda of the present administration is mass produced in various Nigerian languages for better understanding and people ownership, among other recommendations.
This seminar surely is yet another manifestation of NOA’s resolve to re-invent and reposition itself for greater results. It is also obvious, as participants keenly observed that massive support for the NOA to succeed in its role is inevitable for a peaceful, virile and prosperous socio-political existence that Nigerians crave. As a catalyst for good governance and national development, NOA is working assiduously and it will not be long before the huge gains of its recent efforts begin to be felt. All Nigerians must therefore heed the call by NOA to join it in doing the right thing to transform Nigeria.