By Victoria Ibezim-Ohaeri
A casual glance at the Facebook walls and pages of most public figures in Nigeria reveals motionless and inactive 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 were very busy, fanatically inundating online users with campaign promises and brightly-colored pictures of partially-existing and non-existent roads, schools, boreholes and other “development” projects. Citizens were regaled with unsubstantiated stories and claims of achievements in their public and private lives.
Mesmerized or “touched” by these theatrical spectacles, a teeming audience of undiscerning online users freely gave their support, just as some assumed “minister for defense” roles for their favoured candidates. Riding roughshod on undeserved public support into government houses and the hallowed chambers of 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 programs 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 enough to manage his accounts on the social media.
Rochas is not alone in this game of meting “farewell treatment” on citizens. The muted Facebook pages of Lagos Governor, Babatunde Raji Fashola has 177,834 “likes”/followers; Rivers State Governor, Rotimi Amaechi: 1195 subscribers; 24,027; David Mark: 327 friends; Aminu Tambuwal: 2655 Likes...to mention but a few, compellingly attest to the growing official disregard for citizen-leader interactions. Just a single post by any of these public officials 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 programs. The begging question then is: why are Nigerian public officials afraid of engagement?
As the Ondo guber election draws close, Segun Mimiko and Rotimi Akeredolu’s Facebook and Twitter accounts have been extremely busy with trailer loads of hourly posts containing promises, goodwill messages and action plans. All these will fizzle away soon after they find their way into the government house.
Despite his declining goodwill, President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan (GEJ) seems to be the most consistent public figure dutifully using the social media to communicate his plans, programs 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 not matched with 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 ElectricityRegulatory Commission (NERC) and the Lagos State government-owned Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) resource allocations to the communication desks in nearly all state and federal government agencies ought to be either reallocated to more important official programs, or be totally expunged from state and national budgets. Only NERC and LASTMA 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.
The websites of most of state and federal agencies were last updated between 2006 and 2010. In most cases, the diction and grammatical expressions on many of these sites desperately scream for surgical editorial interventions. Despite having 2 federal information and communication ministers (substantive minister and the minister for state), 36 state commissioners of 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 have 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 vigor, 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 for realizing 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”!
While the vengeful wait for 2015 lingers, voters are keeping busy by “shining their eyes”.
Yes, you, shine your eyes!