About two weeks ago, August 17-20 to be precise, the Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice (ANEEJ) organized an interactive session with the gubernatorial candidates of the various political parties. The motive was to get all 19 political parties to sell their programmes and policies to Edo people. Hitherto, there had been a gulf between the governorship candidates and the people they seek to govern. This contributed to poor delivery of infrastructure from their side despite the significant amount of resources at their disposal. Having been in government for so long, politicians have uninterruptedly controlled the political space and controlled the economy as well owing to the absence of a robust engagement and advocacy by the people who should ask for transparency and efficiency in policy implementation.
The highly participatory interactive session created room for the participants to know who these candidates are, ask them questions and get necessary responses on how they want to close-mark and tackle the socio-economic challenges at the fore. In a normal political climate and in Nigeria, politicians often draw their breathe from moneybags rather than from the people they seek to serve. But apart from this norm, most of the candidates from the relatively unknown political parties had no political god-fathers with moneybags to canvas for votes, campaign entourage, or political structure to boast of. One of the candidates came to the interactive session with his wife, whom he described as very beautiful and his talisman against the influence of the sharp-looking women lurking around politicians. He said as well, when asked where his campaign funds come from, that he funds his campaign from his pocket and from his life’s savings.
But that was not just it. Some of the not-too–popular candidates were able to stimulate ideas such as gender equality, encouragement of youths of 30 as commissioners, good housing policy, adequate security,building of new hospitals, and restructuring of old ones with good medical facilities, encouragement of mechanized farming and functional primary healthcare centre’ in the state. This is a good example of an ideal political politicking where equal and unbiased opportunity is given to small and so called ‘big political parties’ to share their campaign manifesto and how they intend to fulfill them.
ANEEJ played a strong role in promoting civil governance and political empowerment, in building the confidence of candidates who funded themselves to pursue their governorship ambition, in providing the platform for ‘smaller’ and relatively unknown governorship candidates to ventilate their ideas to the people. The platform helped in discovering upcoming politicians who ordinarily may not have been able to fund their political ambition to contest and campaign for the forthcoming governorship election in Edo state. That they showed strong commitment and ideas which can provide lasting solution to the plight of the people is to the credit of the organizers as well. What this translated to is that voters had the opportunity to assess their options beyond that which has been presented to them beyond that that they have seen and heard from the bigger candidates.
Prior to the interactive session between the governorship aspirants and civil society, the polity was charged up along social, religious, ethnic, regional, and political divides. But I must insist that certain interests that negate the entrenchment of true-democracy, people friendly policies, must be jettisoned and not be used to short-change Edo people. Therefore, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as an electoral umpire should join ANEEJ and other CSOs in Edo state, to carry out massive voters’ sensitization exercise that will enlighten citizens with a view to complement the effort to enlighten voters on the dangers of casting their votes along ethnic and religious sentiments. The candidates should be judged by the electorates based on their track records and capacity to deliver good governance to Edo people.
What the interactive session organized by ANEEJ and Civil Society proves is that it is possible to present your ideas without impugning on the character of a political opponent. So far in Edo State, we are happy that there has been no resort to violent, and shedding of human blood. I want to recommend to other states in Nigeria to copy the ANEEJ initiative of interactive sessions in their various states, to engender a social contract which binds the people and their leaders in trust, performance rating and transparency in governance, and a lasting solution of government accountability to the people so that we can all achieve the needed economic deliverables that will move Nigeria forward.
Let this kind of interactive session be a signal to politicians. People are no longer as simple as they once were. For politicians who want to remain in the corridors of power, they should be ready to implement people friendly policies, workable public utilities, strong institutions and other deliverables. They must be accessible by the people they wish to govern and there must be a common ground where they must meet to agree on how they want to be governed as a people. Stakeholders such as the judiciary, traditional rulers, security agencies, religious leaders and electoral umpires, must play their patriotic role to frustrate indiscipline, apply the rule of law in fairness and justice, and adequate sensitization of voters, exploring available means to discard electoral malpractice. Anti-corruption organizations should emulate the standard set by ANEEJ to play key roles during elections.