A cool wind of change is currently blowing across media circles in Rivers State. Everybody directly or indirectly involved in the media is beginning to feel it, one way or another.
Specifically, though, it can easily be felt, but only by those who stand for determination, hard work and quality. And, contrary to what the people have been used to, the spread of the coolness is becoming voluntarily infectious.
Virtually everyone that has felt it is eager to be part of the experience. The feeling is no doubt out of the ordinary! Better still, even as the ghost of the past that unconsciously saturates one’s imagination with a nostalgic air of military commando style manner of passing on directive to the media keeps replaying itself, the more one listens, the more one wills to identify with the cool change.
The originator of this cool breeze is the Rivers State Governor, His Excellency, Nyesom Ezenwo Wike, CON, GSSR, POS Africa, who, by appointing the new Commissioner of Information and Communications, Pastor Paulinus Enyinda Nsirim, set the ball rolling for a new dawn in Public Communication practice in Rivers State. It is gradually becoming clear daily to be a dawn driven by an innate desire to bridge the gap between the Government and the governed through the media, for which the Commissioner wasted no time to path the way.
Shortly after being sworn-in and assigned the Information and Communications portfolio on December 30, 2019, Nsirim opened the doors wide spread to let the cool breeze in. He christened it a campaign for “creativity, innovation and productivity”, and, just about a week after, every word he has spoken has become enmeshed in the psyche of staff of all the media houses he visited.
As a prelude to his familiarisation cum media tour of all the Government-owned media organisations with a meeting with staff of the Ministry of Information and Communications, the mother of the four parastatals under the Ministry: Rivers State Newspaper Corporation, publishers of The Tide Newspaper; Rivers State Broadcasting Corporation (99.1 FM); and Garden City FM, as well as Government Printing Press, the official printing department of the State Government.
During his meeting with staff of the Ministry, the Commissioner’s key message circled around determination, creativity, innovation and productivity. According to him, journalists, represented by Information Officers in the Ministry, need to first be creative enough to think out of the box on the job of reporting from their beats in order to come up with creative ideas.
With such an idea, they would then need to have the determination to see the idea through to its logical conclusion, saying that “ideas rule the world”. Consequently, a lot will from henceforth be expected of them in the present dispensation.
“I will demand that Information Offices recreate themselves. One way to achieve that is through personal development…Those in the Local Government Areas (LGAs) need to be alive to their responsibilities because they would need to write more news from the LGAs and even their environs, because people want to know what is happening around them.
“We will rejig the system because we need productivity. I will respect everybody, but I will not take any form of indolence”, the Commissioner said.
When he visited Wish FM, in what he called his “first official assignment as a Commissioner”, he repeated the same message, but in different words: he called on the media in the State to be development-minded in their reportage, knowing that the Governor’s appointment of a seasoned Journalist in the State as a liaison with media is a call to duty.
“If he (Governor) appointed me as Permanent Secretary, and posted me to the Ministry of Information, it was a bold statement, saying that this is your own, this is where he should function.
“Having functioned there for the past two years, he has made me commissioner. This brings us to a new dawn in the media industry in Rivers State”, he said.
Nsirim, whose statements were guided by the fact that the Governor is the first to appoint a core Journalist of the State, who had grown through the ranks in the Ministry of Information and Communications to become a Commissioner, hinted that it is the Governor’s way of showing his love for Journalists in the State, hence the call for journalist to be developmental in their reportage.
“My appointment as Commissioner for Information, as I’ve repeatedly said, is a vote of confidence for the journalism profession and media industry in Rivers State.
“That is why the onus is on us to prove to His Excellency, Nyesom Wike, the architect of the NEW Rivers Vision, the man who has begun to build a legacy for prosperity, the man whose passion for the development of Rivers State is unparalleled in the history of the State.
“It’s time for those in the media to show him that having recognised their own, they will support his policies and programmes”, he said.
He explained that it is the development strides of the Governor that has created the enabling environment for private businesses such as Wish FM to thrive.
At the Rivers State Television (RSTV), the Commissioner further extended the message to cover professionalism. He charged Journalists to be more professional, with the assurance that any one who stands out in this wise will attract a reward on the job.
“A television house is a platform for creativity. If any staff in RSTV is creative, you’ll be sought out. This is one profession where you have room to make sure that you distinguish yourself. The media house is a place where you can stir up your potentials and distinguish yourself, if you are creative.
“The time now calls for personal development. I want to see competition between reporters in news and current affairs and those in programmes over who would be more creative, who will develop things that we’ve not seen in RSTV before. I’ll be ready to partner with your management to honour such persons. Television is glamour: right from the dressing of newscasters to diction.
“I’m demanding professional competence from RSTV. I can’t be Commissioner for Information and when people tune to RSTV they see unprofessional conducts. These are the little things that make the difference”, he said.
But, even in the heat of this passion, the Commissioner identified with the challenges of the workers.
“The welfare of workers will be given priority, but, I want us to please demonstrate, beginning from tomorrow, that there are core professionals here. So, I’m looking forward to an exciting time from tomorrow in terms of programming and content.
“His Excellency wants Rivers State to be a pride of all of us. He has demonstrated that with his style of governance. Your role is to use RSTV to key into that development agenda. In keying into that development agenda, we must be professional, dedicated, we need to do a lot of re-orientation, and we need to do a lot of personal development. If we do that collectively, we’ll make a mark”, the Commissioner stated.
The Commissioner’s message focused on productivity on the part of workers when he got to the Rivers State Newspaper Corporation (RSNC). He expressed confidence that everyone has the potential to be productive, and that it only requires a change of mind-set to activate such potential.
“Everyone has the potential to recreate this organisation. The idea that this is a government parastatal, so, people can come to work any time they like has to stop.
“It is time for productivity. It’s only someone that doesn’t want to make progress that will keep doing something the same way repeatedly and expect a different result”, he said.
“We are going to work collectively to show the world that this is a government-owned newspaper house where we can excel, be productive, and make profit.
“His Excellency is desirous to make Rivers State the destination of choice in this country, and he is not paying lip service to it. He is rather building the right environment, providing health care, education, agriculture, improving human capital development, etc.
“I’m challenging both management and staff to think outside the box, be creative and innovative. Let’s demonstrate to the world that we have men and women in this organisation that have the potentials to turn things around. We are demanding from you greater productivity and efficiency”, the Commissioner concluded.
At RSBC and Garden City FM, it was a reminder of the Governor’s developmental intention for the State, towards which the media is required to up their game in order to contribute their quota.
“He (Wike) is a man, who has come to reshape our destiny, make Rivers State a destination of choice. So, we must collectively use our various media organs to support the ‘NEW Rivers Vision’ of His Excellency.
“What I have come to do is to get us have a change of mind-set, re-orientation to tell ourselves that in the present circumstance, we can still make ourselves relevant.
“The ultimate goal is for us to reposition Rivers State Broadcasting Corporation, in the face of challenges of equipment and transmitter.
“My charge to all the state media houses is that within the limit of what we have, we need to demonstrate to the people of Rivers State that we have the potential to deliver.
“Throughout my working career, I have found out that if you put in your best, reward comes. Sometimes it might not come from the angle you expect it. If you don’t give, you will not get, and it translates to work. If you don’t put in your best, divinity will not smile at you”, the Commissioner concluded.
In all, the coolness of the wind of change currently blowing across the media in the State can be felt more in the charismatic manner in which the Commissioner presents it. The subtlety in his mannerism, which only portrays an in-depth knowledge and acceptance of the prevailing circumstance, but with a determination to develop, is one of the key qualities that have placed Pastor Paulinus Enyinda Nsirim as one who knows his onions in public communication. It also makes it clear enough that in this dispensation, only those who are ready to flow with the coolness of the breeze stand a chance to truly feel it.
Little wonder that serious minded Journalists in the State, both in the public and private sector, have consistently shown their readiness to be partner in the new development project of Rivers State.
Many have, in fact, expressed the belief that it is more in the manner of his delivery as a Commissioner than actually what he said, that seem to be making the difference. The only plausible explanation decipherable is the fact that having gone through the rank and file of media practice in the State, Pastor Nsirim, no doubt, knows the terrain and what it takes to make a difference.
Max-Alalibo is Special Assistant on Media to Rivers State Commissioner for Information & Communications.
Soot: Can N’Delta Escape Doomsday?
A popular saying in Nigeria’s ‘Pidgin’ English states: ‘Monkey dey work, baboon dey chop’. It simply means that while the monkey (which is usually smaller in size than the baboon) is working very hard to eke out a living for itself, the baboon uses its larger figure to intimidate the monkey and survive from the proceeds of the monkey’s efforts. This, in a nutshell, explains the plight of the oil-rich Niger Delta region of Nigeria.
The import of this popular saying in the context of this discourse is that while the Niger Delta Region produces the crude oil, which has been the mainstay of the country for over sixty years, and also bears the brunt of oil exploration and exploitation activities, the northern part of the country, which views leadership of the country as its birthright, enjoys more from the proceeds of crude oil.
Much have been said and written by different people, including scholars, about the plight of the people of the Niger Delta in Nigeria, such that at some point, one may easily feel saturated, and possibly irritated, out of a feeling of over-information that now sounds hackneyed.
But the truth is that, from the point at which crude oil was first found in commercial quantity at Oloibiri, in present-day Bayelsa State, in Nigeria, till today, the life of the people in the Niger Delta region has never been the same. Rather than be a source of development to the people in all spheres as it is with the advanced climes, some of which do not have the quality of crude oil the region has, it has been a source of clear dehumanisation of the people.
The apparent euphoria that greeted the discovery of crude oil in the Niger Delta region of the country in anticipation of its implication in terms of what the people stand to benefit as host communities, at inception, soon gave way to nostalgic chronic acrimonious feelings as the days turned to weeks, months, years and now decades.
Perhaps what would amount to an inkling of what is now the fate of the people of the region today was the February 23, 1966 declaration of the Niger Delta Republic in what has become known as The Twelve-Day Revolution’ by the late Major Isaac Jasper Adaka Boro, nicknamed Boro.
Boro’s grouse was the exploitation of oil and gas resources in the Niger Delta areas which benefited mainly the Federal Government of Nigeria and, at the time, the Eastern Region with capital in Enugu, while nothing was given to the Niger Delta people. He believed that the people of the Niger Delta deserved a larger share of proceeds from the oil wealth.
Consequently, he formed the Niger Delta Volunteer Force (NDVF), an armed militia with members consisting mainly of his fellow Ijaw ethnic group. They declared the Niger Delta Republic on that day and fought with Federal forces for twelve days before being defeated. Boro and his comrades were jailed for treason.
They were, however, granted amnesty by the Federal regime of General Yakubu Gowon on the eve of the Nigerian Civil War in May 1967 on the condition that they fight for the Federal Government against the Biafrans. Boro, and some of his comrades, most prominently Owunaro, his second in command in the NDVF, subsequently enlisted in the Nigerian Army.
Boro was commissioned as a Major in the Nigerian Army. He fought on the side of the Federal Government, but was killed under mysterious circumstances in active service in 1968 at Ogu (Okrika) in Rivers State.
But the struggle Boro started has taken different dimensions in the Niger Delta ever since, with seemingly less impact as far as the Federal Government’s response to the demands of the region is concerned. It’s such that after over sixty years of oil exploration and exploitation in the region, all the people have to show is what amounts to deliberate and planned, but gradual destruction of their sources of livelihood, leading to a life of penury, underdevelopment, and currently a possible end to their lives through endemic illnesses such as cancer and like ailments warranted by their exposure to the ravaging soot in the region.
Soot is a mixture of very fine black or brown particles created by the product of incomplete combustion. It is primarily made up of carbon, but it can also contain trace amounts of metals, dust, and chemicals. It is different from charcoal and other by-products of combustion because it is so fine. These tiny particles may be under 2.5 micrometers in diameter which is smaller than dust, mold, and dirt particles.
Beyond artisanal refining, possible causes of the soot also include emissions from asphalt factories, indiscriminate burning of mixed waste, burning of tyres and vehicular emissions, according to a Report by a technical team set up by the Rivers State Government in 2019, to generate preliminary air quality data in Port Harcourt. However, none of these has so infested the region’s cloud with soot as illegal oil bunkering.
Experts say that the small size of soot is what makes it so dangerous for humans and pets, because it can easily be breathed deep into the small passageways of the lungs, which is why repeated exposure to soot is linked to respiratory illnesses, heart disease, and cancer. Soot is, therefore, more than just an unsightly nuisance. It is a danger that cannot be left in the home or environment.
In 2017, a reporter, Yomi Kazeem, wrote, “Across Nigeria’s oil-producing Niger-Delta region, environmental pollution has long been a part of daily lives. But while residents have become used to multiple oil spills which have damaged livelihoods and farmlands, they currently face a new kind of danger: rising black soot particles in the air. Since November, residents of oil industry hub city, Port Harcourt, are complaining about increased soot residue on surfaces in and out of their homes”.
Back then, Nigeria’s Ministry of Environment declared an air pollution emergency in the affected areas. The Ministry claimed that preliminary test samples of the soot indicated it was caused by incomplete combustion of hydrocarbons as well as asphalt processing and illegal artisanal refinery operations.
In a bid to curb the pollution, Kazeem stated, the Ministry shut down an asphalt processing plant operating in the area. The State Government has also sealed off a Chinese company in the city for what it tagged ‘aggravated air pollution, and breach of environmental laws’.
On their part, residents petitioned the United Nations Environment Programme to intervene by investigating the problem while they subtly protested the increased pollution on social media, through the “#StopTheSoothashtag”.
Since then, the best that has been heard about addressing the issue of soot in the Niger Delta had been what can be easily dismissed as subtle complaints on social media by few concerned individuals and organisations involved in environmental health pursuits. Thus, the quantity of particles forming soot that is emitted into the air on a daily basis has increased almost unabated.
For the Federal and State Governments, their efforts so far had been at best mere media hypes in a make-belief establishment of modular refineries in the Niger Delta, which the Federal Government also wants established in the north that does not produce oil, like it did in building refinery in Kaduna State, an act widely viewed as misplacement of priority as far as establishment of modular refineries as a solution to soot is concerned.
In 2013, scientists found out that dirty air caused more premature deaths than unsafe water, unsafe sanitation, and malnutrition in Africa. The obvious implication is that if the Niger Delta is increasingly infested with soot and genuine necessary steps are not taken to check it, the region will most likely go extinct in years to come. The form this will take, and how soon it will manifest are the questions that currently prop up in critical analyses.
During one of such analyses, an environmental toxicologist with the Department of Animal and Environmental Biology, University of Port Harcourt, Nigeria, Dr. Emmanuel Oriakpona, hinted that the most likely consequence of unchecked increase in soot infestation in the Niger Delta is loss of the region’s ecosystem and human health.
“We shall experience loss of our ecosystem and loss of our health. This is the summary of what will happen to us: major loss in our ecosystem. If you go to the mangroves and see the devastation by crude oil, and you also go and see what the people actually carrying out the refining process are going through, you’ll appreciate this better,” he said.
According to Dr. Oriakpona, the situation is worsened by the fact that there is an obvious collaboration between those involved in artisanal refining of crude oil and authorities vested with the responsibility of stopping it. The reason is that such authorities are rewarded with huge financial benefits accruable from the business. This is further buttressed by some key players in the illegal oil refining business whose locally made boats and products were at some points burnt by security agents who felt that their exploitation of the people involved in the illegal trade was challenged.
By: Soibi Max-Alalibo
News Reporting In Covid-19 Era
The request to give a talk on Reporting in Covid-19 Era serves as a form of uniting with my friends and colleagues after a long absence from the scene, to reminisce about newsroom experience and fun. Newsroom is a mad place that used to be stuffy with the acrid stench of tobacco, with no permanent seat for reporters. Sit wherever there is space and knock out your story.
Personally, I love being called a Reporter than an Editor. It is more dignifying to be addressed as Reporter because it is the foundation of journalism. Reporting is a craft; it is an art not easily acquired by many journalists. It is easier to write essays than reporting, where one uses the: who, when, where, what, and how to form an inverted pyramid.
There are other types of reporting that are different from newspapering. Formal and informal reports which are familiar with bureaucratic red tapism. Formal reports are schematic in layout: terms of reference, findings, conclusion, and recommendation.
Formal report takes the form of memo. News reporting is segmented, in other words, there are beats such as crime, court, assembly, sports, entertainment, airport, labour, seaport, and such like. They are specialized. These beats have their own languages, which the reporter is expected to master and speak effectively. Specialization leads to efficiency and greater output, but it also leads to boredom. Therefore, a good reporter is one who is versatile. He is a factotum because he can function in any beat. As a result, the chances of being bored in repeating one particular thing is minimal. There will be job enlargement and enrichment.
After having a cursory glance at reporting, let me also look at Covid-19. It is a family of viruses that can cause respiratory illness in human. On December 31, 2019, World Health Organization (WHO) was informed of cases of pneumonia of unknown cause in Wuhan City, China. A novel Coronavirus was identified as the cause by Chinese authorities on January 7, 2020 and was temporarily named “2019-ncov”.
We are all living witnesses to the devastating effects of the pandemic. It swept like wild -fire across the globe, and decimated the population. Economic activities were paralyzed. No sector was spared. Movements were halted, and people were forced into self-imprisonment. It was a period of improvised fasting without sufficient prayers due to scarcity of food. Covid-19 was a plague that defiled all known orthodox medications.
In order to check further ravages of the pandemic, certain measures were put in place such as social distancing, wearing of face mask, washing of hands regularly with soap, application of sanitizer, maintaining good hygiene, subjecting people to tests, isolating those who tested positive in camps, and quarantining travellers from other countries for a number of days.
There was hue and cry about the claim of China that the cause of the menacing pneumonia was not known. Donald Trump believed that it was a mischievous act for economic reason. The rivalry between U.S and China to dominate the economy of the world is awful. Fingers are pointing at Bill Gates for having conspirational relationship with China to cause the disaster so that he could come up with his antivirus to enrich himself. When eventually China manufactured drugs to combat the dreaded Covid-19, America cried foul!
Something is fishy. Coronavirus started in Wuhan yet there is no adverse effect in nearby Beijing and Shanghai, while countries in Europe and America are seriously affected.
The United States is not blaming China for fun, because not a single leader in China has tested positive. Shanghai, the city that runs China’s economy did not experience lockdown. While the world’s major economic and political centres are closed, Beijing and Shanghai are open. This gives the picture that the Coronavirus is a biochemical weapon.
I have laboured to say what reporting is all about, as well as Covid-19. Let me now look at reporting in Covid-19 Era. How can reporters stay safe while reporting about the plague? They have to obey the rules spelt out by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), coupled with the grace of God. It became imperative for newsrooms to make pandemic coverage a priority to inform and educate the public during these uncertain times.
The Covid-19 pandemic strongly impacted the journalism industry and affected the work of journalists. Many local newspapers have been severely affected by losses in advertising revenues. You know that if a paper is doing well, it is not only the rich editorial contents. It is mostly the number of pages sold, that makes the paper solvent. The editorial contents can sell all the copies printed, yet it is not enough to settle the bills. The cost of production per copy is more than the cost at the news stand. It is adverts that yield the revenue for its sustenance. Apart from the loss of revenues, journalists have been laid off, and some publications have folded.
Journalists across the globe faced unpredicted challenges to report the Coronavirus outbreak accurately and safely. These challenges led to the spread of misinformation, having cognizance of the physical and mental health of reporters fomented by social distancing. There was a revolution in online reporting.
Reporters need to look into the heart of the matter without fear or favour. They have the inalienable duty to inform and educate members of the public correctly without compromising their dignity.
The reporter is the newsmaker. People treat him the way he carries himself. He does not need to be arrogant, but confident of himself. He does not need to be over ornamented, but decent and smart, to earn respect.
He should seek the truth and reflect on his own power. Are we sure that the information being fed the public by NCDC is correct? How many laboratories do they have? How many positive cases have they confirmed? How many people are dead? There is the need for reporters to verify the authenticity of claims made by government officials. Unfortunately such verification was not possible because of lockdown. The reporter had to be contented with whatever information sifted out. There were elements of fraud by some countries who inflated the figures of confirmed cases in order to get more reliefs from WHO. It is a known fact that people were recruited to stay in isolation camps, giving wrong picture to the world, while enriching themselves through reliefs from the world body.
Nigerians received a rude shocker one fine morning when a minister alleged that billions of naira had been disbursed to them within seventy-two hours as relief package for Covid-19. It was the height of thievery. Uptil now, heaven has not fallen, while the money is resting coolly in individual pockets, to the detriment of hapless and helpless Nigerians.
As if that was not enough, what of people representing us in the National Assembly who allowed consignments meant for alleviation of the burden of the common man to crawl into their warehouse? While the people who elected them into power were famishing, and growing lean, they were eating like kings and developing robust cheeks.
Such fraudulent activities were condemned, but the condemnation was transient. The tempo should be sustained. Constant repetition of a thing will make it automatic. Those crooks should be tormented with follow-up stories. Reporters should summon the courage to seek accountability from leaders of Covid-19 relief fund or package. Now that the lockdown has been relaxed and the death figures remarkably reduced, reporters should heave a sigh of relief and make a departure from the seamy side to the lofty angle of Covid-19. It gave birth to the rise of online learning. The pandemic led to the closure of schools across the globe, and children resorted to learning online instead of classroom. It checked the activities of randy husbands who were forced to be at home. For fear of the contagious pandemic both men and women kept their distance. The level of promiscuity was drastically reduced. Children enjoyed the company of their fathers who were scarcely at home prior to the advent of the epidemic. Because of the lockdown which confined people, the major recreational activity was the act of procreation. Many wives were blessed with fruit of the womb.
Reporting has gone into coma in Covid-19 Era. It has to gain consciousness. Reporters should be resourceful. What game is WHO playing by trying to monopolize the discovery of the vaccine to combat the epidemic? Is the claim made by Madagascar that it has an answer to the menace of Covid-19 authentic? Reporters cannot afford to fold their hands and allow social media to misinform them.
There is the allegation that the vaccine government is coercing or cajoling people to take is not the panacea, because some people who obeyed the plea to take died as a result of its effect. Others claimed that the portion of their body where the vaccine was administered has become magnetic to metals.
According to the 2021 World Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders, at the moment journalism is totally blocked or seriously impeded in 73 nations. Some governments have punished journalists for reporting pandemic figures that are contrary to the official figures as authorities try to cover up the true situation on the ground.
In other instances, governments have totally banned media from reporting on the pandemic and jailed others for exposing scandals related to theft of Covid-19 supplies.
Yet now, more than ever, the public has the right to factual, credible and timely information, and journalism, in the words of the Press Freedom Index, is the vaccine against disinformation…
Gentlemen of the Press, I urge you to seek the truth and report the Coronavirus outbreak accurately and safely.
Albert-Briggs is a veteran journalist in Port Harcourt.
By: Fitz Albert-Briggs
Failure Of Political Leadership In Nigeria
At the end of the Cold War, African civil society movements striving for more democratic governance began to challenge authoritarian regimes on the continent. Declining living conditions within African countries and the failure of authoritarian African leaders to deliver the promises of economic prosperity they made to encourage the acceptance of development aid fueled the push for change. International donors’ insistence on democratic reform as a precondition for aid gave impetus for Nigerian civil society to push for domestic accountability. Thus, domestic pressure for political pluralism and external pressure for representative governance have both played a role in the calls for democratic reform in Nigeria.
But despite some successes, corruption and socio-economic disparities within Nigerian democracy continue to run rampant. Since 1999, the democratic space has been dominated by political elites who consistently violate fundamental principles associated with a liberal democratic system, such as competitive elections, the rule of law, political freedom, and respect for human rights. The outcome of the 2019 Presidential Election further eroded public trust in the ability of the Independent national Electoral Commission (INEC) to organise competitive elections unfettered by the authoritarian influences of the ruling class. This challenge is an indicator of the systemic failure in Nigeria’s governance system. A continuation of the current system will only accelerate the erosion of public trust and democratic institutions. In contrast with the current system in which votes are attained through empty promises, bribery, voter intimidation, and violence, Nigeria needs a governance system that will enhance the education of its voters and the capability of its leaders.
Statistically, Nigeria has consistently ranked low in the world, areas such as government’s effectiveness, political stability and the presence of violence and terrorism, rule of law, and control of corruption. Nigeria was perceived in 2020 as a highly corrupt country with a score of 25/100 while its corruption ranking increased from 146 in 2019 to 149 in 2020 out of 180 countries surveyed. While President Muhammadu Buhari won the 2015 election on his promise to fight insecurity and corruption, his promises went unfulfilled; Boko Haram continues to unleash unspeakable violence on civilians while the fight against corruption is counterproductive.
At the core of Nigeria’s systemic failure is the crisis of governance which manifests in the declining capacity of the state to cope with a range of internal political and social upheavals. There is an expectation for political leaders to recognise systemic risks such as terrorist attacks, herder-farmer conflict and police brutality and put in place the necessary infrastructure to gather relevant data for problem solving. But the insufficiency of political savvy required to navigate the challenges that Nigeria faces has unleashed unrest across the nation and exacerbated existing tensions. The #EndSARS Protests against police brutality in 2020 is one of the manifestations of bad governance.
The spiral of violence in northern Nigeria in which armed bandits engage in deadly planned attacks on communities, leading to widespread population displacement, has become another grave security challenge that has sharpened regional polarisation. Because some public servants are usually unaware of the insecurities faced by ordinary Nigerians, they lack the frame of reference to make laws that address the priorities of citizens. The crisis of governance is accentuated by a democratic culture that accords less importance to the knowledge and competence that political leaders can bring to public office. These systemic challenges have bred an atmosphere of cynicism and mistrust between citizens and political leaders at all levels of government.
Political elites in Nigeria also exploit poverty and illiteracy to mobilise voters with food items such as rice, seasoning and money. The rice is usually packaged strategically with the image of political candidates and the parties they represent. The assumption is that people are more likely to vote for a politician who influences them with food than one who only brings messages of hope. The practice of using food to mobilise voters is commonly described as “stomach infrastructure” politics. The term stomach infrastructure arose from the 2015 election in Ekiti State when gubernatorial candidate Ayodele Fayose mobilised voters with food items and defeated his opponent, Dr Kayode Fayemi. It is undeniable that the Nigerian political culture rewards incompetent leaders over reform-minded leaders who demonstrate the intellectualism and problem-solving capabilities needed to adequately address systemic issues of poverty and inequality.
Jason Brennan describes the practice of incentivising people to be irrational and ignorant with their votes as the unintended consequence of democracy. Brennan believes specific expertise is required to tackle socio-economic issues, so political power should be apportioned based on expert knowledge. As Brennan suggests, Nigeria lacks a system of governance in which leadership is based on capability. Rather, the political system in Nigeria is dominated by individuals who gain power through nepotism rather than competence, influence voters with food rather than vision, and consolidate power through intimidation or by incentivising constituents with material gifts which they frame as ”empowerment” to keep them subservient and loyal political followers. By implication, the failure of governance in Nigeria is arguably the result of incompetent leadership.
Nigeria needs a new model of governance in which political leadership is based on the knowledge and competence of both political leaders and the electorate. One solution is to establish what Brennan refers to as ‘epistocracy’, which is a system of governance in which the votes of politically informed citizens should count more than the less informed. For Justin Klocksiem, epistocracy represents a political system in which political power rests exclusively on highly educated citizens. This idea drew its philosophical influence from John Stuart Mill, who believed that the eligibility to vote should be accorded to individuals who satisfy certain educational criteria. The notion that educational attainment should be the prerequisite for the electorate to choose their leaders as proposed by Brennan, Klocksiem and Mill is an important proposition that should be taken seriously.
However, one cannot ignore that such thinking originates from societies where civic education is high and the electorate can make informed choices about leadership. In Nigeria, the majority of citizens are uneducated on political issues. Simultaneously, those who are highly educated are increasingly becoming indifferent to political participation; they have lost faith in the power of their votes and the integrity of the political system. For an epistocratic system to work in Nigeria there must be significant improvements in literacy levels so that citizens are educated about the issues and can use their knowledge to make informed decisions about Nigeria’s political future.
It is important to mention that Nigeria’s political elites have exploited illiteracy to reinforce ethnic, religious, and political divisions between groups that impede democratic ideals. Since the resultant effect of epistocracy is to instill knowledge, raise consciousness and self-awareness within a polity anchored on the failed system of democracy, decisions that promote the education of uninformed voters are the rationale for an epistocratic system of governance. The Constitution must ensure that only citizens who can formulate policies and make informed decisions in the public’s best interest can run for public office. When the Constitution dictates the standard of epistocratic governance, informed citizens will be better equipped to champion political leadership or determine the qualifications of their leaders. Epistocratic governance will be the alternative to Nigeria’s current dysfunctional democratic system while retaining the aspects of liberal democracy that maintain checks and balances.
We are not, however, oblivious that implementing such an epistocratic system of governance in Nigeria potentially contributes to more inequality given its highly undemocratic and exclusive nature. Our argument takes into consideration the contextual realities of poverty and illiteracy and the realisation that poor and illiterate constituents have less power to evaluate the credibility of public servants or hold them accountable. The benefits of electing epistocratic leaders are that many citizens would desire to be educated in preparation for leadership. The more educated the population the more likely it is that political leaders will be held accountable. However, the kind of education that is needed to significantly transform the governance landscape in Nigeria is civic education.
We propose three policies to promote epistocratic governance in Nigeria. First, aspiring leaders must demonstrate the intellectual pedigree to translate knowledge into effective, transparent, and accountable governance that leads to national prosperity. As Rotimi Fawole notes, the bar should be higher for those aspiring to executive or legislative office “to improve the ideas that are put forward and the intellectual rigor applied to the discussions that underpin our statehood.”
Second, the government must increase access to education through government-sponsored initiatives that integrate civic education into school curriculums. Currently, little opportunity exists for young Nigerians, particularly those in underfunded public education systems, to learn about their civic roles at the local, state, national, and international levels, including how to emerge as participating citizens through academics.
However, I think 2023 will be interesting for the future of the country, if the government should engage the support of local NGOs to promote civic education across Nigeria in culturally appropriate ways. The NGOs should be empowered to define the legal concept of citizenship and summarise specific civil rights enshrined in the Constitution into a Charter of Rights and Responsibilities modelled after the Canadian Charter. The Charter should include value positions essential to an effective democracy, such as the rights of citizens, social justice, good governance and rule of law. It can then be commissioned as a resource for civics education in Nigeria.
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