By Olufemi Adeagbo
“Instead of using the occasion to tell Nigerians what his administration would do to uplift the training institution and many of its likes across the country, the president chose to berate imaginary enemies who are bent on embarrassing his administration, and also questioned how Channels Television managed to film the rot in the college.
“Mr. President, those comments were totally unnecessary, and they put a damper on what would have been a great moment for you. A surprise presidential visit is always a good strategy for leaders to see things in their real state, without the usual window-dressing that heralds scheduled visits.
“But it must be properly managed to achieve the maximum effect. Failure to make the best of that moment is akin to snatching defeat from the jaws of victory”
Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN)
The above extract, reportedly from the Action Congress of Nigeria’s provides a backdrop to the type of discussions that can evolve from an ICT-oriented intervention. Information and communications technologies are now established as effective tools in compelling government to come face to face with the realities of the environment and the obligations of their offices.
As we have seen in other climes, the same tools can be used by citizen – in the face of clear macro issues – to galvanize action that makes it clear to government what exactly the position of the populace is.
The decay exposed through the Channels TV programme as laudable as the efforts of channels and the courage of the Police authorities are - is not exclusive to the Police. Educational institutions, healthcare facilities, and many other places that ought to be properly rendered environments, exist in almost sub-human conditions.
Over time, the Nigerian psyche has been battered into accepting low standards and poor quality in many respects. As many products of this state of ‘unawareness’ find their way into various positions in society, often through unfair means, we run the real risk of becoming a nation state of ‘Zombies’, unable to discern - talk less of demand - globally acceptable standards of quality.
This will impact everything especially governance, justice delivery, service delivery, law and order, education, and healthcare. Many will argue that we are already at this pass and the erosion of standards and expectations are already there to see, to the extent that any little improvement becomes celebrated.
The expose on the police college was a triumph of information and communications technology, leveraging conventional media with extensive propagation on social media and other internet platforms. It demonstrates the power that ICT holds in compelling reaction from their leaders, if proactiveness is an unattainable goal.
President Jonathans visit demonstrates that leaders, when confronted with evidence, can be compelled to react. It also demonstrates that true leaders can use their population as a potent feedback and knowledge base to remove the presidential bubble, which overzealous and often self-serving officials strive to place them into – especially in presidential systems such as ours where presidents are almost deified and become removed from the realities of their environment.
Mobile phones, their increasingly advanced cameras and video recorders, data networks and voice communication platforms represent the most pervasive framework that can be used to capture images that depict absence of governance, or point to obvious diversion of resources. The application scope is almost limitless. From capturing the erring driver on camera and forwarding to FRSC, to capturing decayed buildings that have been appropriated for, the citizens can now use the interconnection and global reporting opportunities offered by ICT to organise themselves into formidable pressure groups that will not only effectively demand governance but also pressurise action.
To ensure this collated content is useful, more online portals must be created to support the exposition of these situations, and they must be credible and serious with people taking responsibility for content published on them. That is the only way the information will be credible, trusted and effective.
Many say that government should be ignored and that real change must start with the citizen. Good point. However, in Nigeria, leadership is the quickest way to effect critical mass behavioral conduct. Nigerians – believe it or not – follow. But they must first observe the body language and actions of leadership – at any level – to establish where the intent is serious or just mere words.
Furthermore, we are the government- we pay their salaries and fund their lifestyles from our commonwealth. Government, as elected by the electorate ( at least in principle), is there to serve, since we can’t all fit into the different state houses. They are our servants and should report to us. ICT tools and platforms must be introduced to communicate and entrench this mindset in a citizenry that treats often undeserving officials like demi Gods.
Finally, the next elections must proceed with a well-debated and well-considered ICT ecosystem that will be supported by the law. And that process needs to start now, not a few months to the elections. By now we should have a full report on the strengths and weaknesses of the last deployed systems and processes and what we need to do to rectify the many gaps. And this should be subjected to public input.
Web portal technology presents an effective way for sifting through various ideas and suggestions and ensuring inclusion in the process. It also establishes broad based ownership of any system that emerges.
Of course many will say that images and exposes have always manages to drift into oblivion. We have seen images of Okija skulls, Aluu killings, Lawan subsidy saga and much more. There was talk, uproar, then silence. And nothing happened or changed.
Taking the foot off the pedal is part of the crises containment strategy that ICT must confront and break down leveraging platforms like twitter to keep the pressure alive on burning issues.
Finally, leaders must depoliticise issues when the realities point to a failure on the part of government, otherwise the same ICT platforms that exposed the problem will propagate their reluctance to take responsibility, and effectively turn that advantage into disadvantage.
I hope the President has been misquoted in a number of respects, especially those alleging he was concerned about how bad the Police College situation makes his administration look, and how the documentary was filmed in the first place. The world is changing, and ICT is propelling that change by allowing citizens to capture, generate, create and share quickly and with critical mass. Government must come to terms with this new reality and use it to support development, rather than maintain the laws, structures and attitudes that seek to reduce the potency of the outputs of ICTs.
Olufemi writes from Abuja