Democratic System of Government was reestablished in Nigeria in the Year 1999, after more than fifteen years of Military rule. The new democratic order, guaranteed a democratically elected Local government system in the new constitution that came into force as the civilians took over power. Calabar Municipality is one of the two oldest cities in Nigeria where elections for legislative council were first held by the colonialist before independence.
Despite the existence of democratic governance across all levels in Nigeria, citizens hardly have any platform to engage their elected representatives. There is no regular avenue for citizens to meet from time to time with those that represent them in all levels of government, the outcome is that there is lack of accountability and transparency in governance and an almost non existent(low) participation of ordinary Citizens in public policy and(or) legislation. The few opportunity exist at the state and national levels as legislative public hearings on bills is distrusted by most citizens and those who somehow participate are often selected by the elected representatives and not by the civil society.
The initiative was designed to address: citizens apathy to engagement on local governance; the poor desire of elected representatives to engage with ordinary citizens regularly so as to ensure accountability, transparency and citizens participation in governance; the mutual distrust that exist among Constituents(citizens) and their representatives; the inadequate skills of potential facilitators/moderators of Constituency meetings to organize and manage a successful constituency meetings within their political wards.
The Constituency Stakeholders Dialogue achieved many results, some of which include:
Successful Inauguration and monthly holding of the constituency meetings in the pilot ward of Calabar Municipality; successful capacity building workshop for ten constituents(ordinary citizens of the ward),two local facilitators and twelve elected representatives of the municipality; successful Advocacy/Orientation visit to the ten wards of Calabar municipality where the good governance and human right group members met with more than one hundred citizens and more than ten elected representatives of the municipality and they got commitment from the stakeholders to support the initiative; the group used mass orientation/mobilization tools like the radio, television, internet social media, mobile phone sms, mobile phone call to successfully reach more than fifty thousand indirect beneficiaries of the initiative based in Calabar Municipality and other parts of Cross River State, Nigeria; the group successful motivated constituents in the model ward to use constituency meeting participation score card to assess for reward or vote of no confidence, elected representatives based on the regular participation in the meetings.
Partnership was crucial to the successful implementation of the initiative, civil society networks, traditional institutions, government agencies, international NGOs, local government council etc were targeted for partnership and some pledged to support the Groups effort and eventually gave the support promised. Some of the partners helped to raise funds from International donor agencies; others offered their technical skills to build the capacity of the beneficiaries, some supported with making access to community facilities for meetings to be less cumbersome. African Civil Society Network represented by the chair lead and coordinated the formulation and implementation of the initiative. The chair also took the lead in reporting and sending of reports to partners and other stakeholders.
Effective orientation, mobilization and capacity building of citizens will motivate them to engage with their elected representatives and demand accountability, transparency and participation in public sector management despite the initial distrust and apathy.
1) Vesting the responsibility for convening and facilitation of model constituency meetings on an unbiased and well trained local facilitators, male and female, will create acceptance of the initiative as locally driven by the stakeholders and creating a conducive atmosphere for free expression/meaningful interaction during the meetings.
2) Consistent, cordial and persuasive dialogue with elected representatives on the importance of regular constituency meetings in strengthening democracy will eventually result in the support and acceptance of the initiative by most of them.
3) Using constituency meetings participation scorecard as an assessment tool to publish commitment to democratic values and good governance will often result in greater commitment of the elected representatives to participate in constituency and engage citizens in public sector management
4) Partnership with relevant institutions reduces the cost of implementation of projects and creates broad based support, mutual responsibility for the success of governance initiatives. The involvement of locally based facilitators in the implementation of the initiative and the use community facilities ensured sustainability of the initiative beyond the time for intervention by the group.
5) The personal data of indirect/direct beneficiaries collated during the field trips for the implementation of the initiative was vital in keeping stakeholders update on the activities, progress, challenges etc of the initiative.
6) The time line for the implementation of the initiative being six months was rather too short considering the numerous activities of the initiative that could not be executed within a short space of time, inadequate resources and late release of counterpart funds from the financial partners of the initiative.
Benedict Usang, Nigeria
Chairman, African Civil Society Network (ACSN)
Project Coordinator, Good Governance and Human Rights Group, Cross River State, Nigeria