By Victoria Ibezim-Ohaeri
A casual glance at the Facebook walls and pages of most public figures in Nigeria reveals motionless, inactive, and disused accounts bereft of any form of human or interactive activity. Just about a year ago, especially in the build-up to the 2011 elections, the same walls and pages across diverse social media sites fanatically inundated online users with campaign promises and brightly-coloured pictures of partially-existing and non-existent roads, schools, boreholes and other “development” projects. Politicians regaled citizens with unsubstantiated stories and claims of achievements in their public and private lives. In the weeks and months preceding the Ondo governorship election, Segun Mimiko and Rotimi Akeredolu’s Facebook and Twitter accounts were busy day and night with tons of hourly posts containing promises, goodwill messages and action plans. All these fizzled away soon after Mimiko was reelected.
Mesmerised or “touched” by these theatrical spectacles, a teeming audience of undiscerning online users, especially the youth population, freely gave their support, just as some assumed “minister for defence” roles for their favoured candidates. Riding roughshod on undeserved public support into government houses and the hallowed legislative chambers of the state and federal legislative houses, it was time to bid farewell to the gullible followers and voters. It is that ‘farewell treatment” that emboldens a Rochas Okorocha, (Imo State Governor) for instance, not to see any need to communicate his policies and programmes to his over 50,000 followers on Facebook. As with most Nigerian public officials who have gained notoriety for maintaining an unduly over-bloated, overpaid, but unproductive cabinet, Rochas has an embarrassingly large crowd of special advisers, special assistants, senior special assistants, commissioners, including a retinue of domestic staff numbering over 300! Out of that multitude, not even one of them is found fit to manage his accounts on the social media.
Rochas is not alone in this game of meting out “farewell treatment” to citizens. For instance, take a look at the sedentary Facebook pages of Lagos Governor, Babatunde Raji Fashola who has 177,834 “likes”/followers; Rivers State Governor, Rotimi Amaechi: 1195 subscribers and 24,027 followers; Aminu Tambuwal: 2655 Likes…to mention but a few. Just a single post by any of these public officials regarding government interventions and issues of implementation will potentially reach no less than 200,000 people directly. With the help of the “share”, “retweet” and “broadcast” features embedded on many social media sites, such posts hold stronger prospects of reaching thrice that number within minutes. Yet, officials continuously refrain to seize these cost-effective opportunities to engage and interact with citizens – the supposed beneficiaries of their representative actions and programmes. The begging question then is: why are Nigerian public officials afraid of engagement?
Despite his declining goodwill, President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan seems to be the most consistent public figure dutifully using the social media to communicate his plans, programmes and policies, no matter how unpopular they are. While this may not be sufficient to pass the good governance test, it is particularly indicative of an instinctive willingness to reach out and gauge public opinion directly from people impacted by his decisions and actions. And this is quite commendable. While some of the president’s ministers such as Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Stella Oduah are struggling to imbibe this practice, the observed trend is that their occasional posts are totally shorn of any corresponding intent to engage followers and respondents on the issues raised.
It is not only public officials that show brazen disdain for citizen engagement and feedback accretion. Except the Dr. Sam Amadi-led National Electricity Regulatory Commission, the Lagos State government-owned Lagos State Traffic Management Authority and the Federal Road Safety Commission, resource allocations to the communication departments in nearly all state and federal government agencies ought to be either reallocated to more important official programmes, or be totally expunged from state and national budgets. Only NERC, LASTMA and FRSC maintain a strong online presence and are effectively using the social media to increase their competitive contexts as well as the quality of their statutory operations.
A cursory look at some of the websites of some state and federal agencies shows that they were last updated between 2006 and 2010. In most cases, the quality of diction used on many of these sites is in dire need of editorial surgery. Despite having federal information and communication ministers, 36 state commissioners for information, and countless information officers scattered across 774 local government areas, Nigeria still ranks low on the index of nations using effective communication and engagement processes to bolster development and good governance. The inability of both state and Federal Government agencies to communicate what they are doing or what they want to do has continued to fuel suspicion, mistrust and widen the gap between the government and the governed. Consequently, citizens are left to feed on speculations, or to propound conjectured explanations for public actions that directly bear on their welfare.
Thankfully, 2015 will soon be here. The intrigues, horse-trading, political alignments and realignments have already begun. Very soon, disappeared public figures will reappear on the social media with fervent vigour, promising to build bridges even where there is no river. The bitter fangs of the post-2011 election “farewell treatment” will replay on the collective consciousness and memories of online users and voters, and that will spur them to “retaliate”. Come 2015, young Nigerians in particular will refuse to be treated as foot mats only to be used to realise the selfish ambitions of politicians that will disappear soon after the elections are over. That time, the new mantra will change from ‘vote for me’ to “If you good governance me, I will 2015 you”!
•Victoria Ibezim-Ohaeri is the Executive Director of Spaces for Change, a non-profit organization. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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