By Nick Dazang
The relations between civil society and democratic political society have their roots in early classical liberal writings like those of Alexis de Tocqueville. Also 20th Century theorists such as Gabriel Almond and Sydney Verba have argued that civil society organisations facilitate better awareness and a more informed citizenry, who make better voting choices, participate in politics and hold governments more accountable as a result.Robert D. Putnam has argued that civil society organisations are vital for democracy because “they build social capital, trust and shared values which are transferred into the political sphere and help to hold society together, facilitating an understanding of the interconnectedness of society and interest within it”.
Just like their peers across the globe, civil society organisations/non-governmental organisations in Nigeria have played crucial roles in advocating for a better society, crusading against official graft, lack of transparency and fighting against social ills. We recall the bold and swashbuckling role the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO) played in exposing prison congestion in Nigeria through its treatise, Behind the Wall and the prison reforms that followed in the wake of its expose.
It is against this backdrop that I intend to underline the connection and nexus between the Media and Civil Society. Liberal democratic societies recognize the Media’s place as the Fourth Estate of the Realm, keeping the rear after the Executive, Legislature and the Judiciary. The Nigerian Constitution additionally mandates the Media to hold the government accountable to the people. Similarly, society recognizes the place of civil society organisations in holding government accountable to the people. In doing this, the Media have found recourse in their reporting and investigative skills and most recently the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act. Civil Society Organisations have also resorted to the FOI Act and are asking pertinent questions about government policies, budgets and expenditures.
Even as the Media set agenda for discussion by highlighting major issues of the day in their bulletins and in the manner they cast their headlines, members of Civil Society take advantage of the agenda and occupy its upper reaches: Witness the daily interactive/discussion programmes on radio and television. Not a few of them are dominated by speakers/analysts from Civil Society who make reasoned and cogent contributions. The Media and Civil Society as we have seen above were forged on the anvil of liberal democracy.
Apart from the aforementioned, the Media and Civil Society set great store by the conduct of credible elections in Nigeria. Both recognize that there is a correlation between credible elections and good governance. Both recognise that it is only when we get our elections right that we could earn the respect of the international community, begin to insist that other aspects of our national life should be conducted properly and Nigeria can develop and take its rightful place in the comity of nations.
This realisation has compelled Civil Society to partner and work with the Media on the one hand and to work with the Election Management Body, namely, INEC, on the other. In this regard, both the Media and Civil Society have shown increased interest in the elections being conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). We expect this interest and collaboration to increase as the Commission prepares to conduct the 2015 General Elections. This is because the two also appreciate that: (i) the 2015 General Elections hold the prospect of stabilizing our democracy; (ii) they hold the possibility of deepening our democracy; and (iii) the nation cannot afford to suffer reverses in the electoral front – instead it must make incremental and steady gains over the improvement recorded in 2011.
This realisation has strengthened the resolve of the Media and Civil Society to continue to engage and to be on the same page. It has spurred them to continue to show more than casual interest in the electoral process and to continue to educate millions of Nigerians about the process.
Beyond this resolve to continue to engage, the Media, in collaboration with Civil Society should set for themselves as an agenda, for at least the next ten years, the enthronement of credible elections. This kind of collaboration is not new when we recall that it was the Media’s steadfast determination to crusade against military dictatorship that gave birth to our return to democratic rule. As it did so, the Media correctly gave visibility to the exertions of pro-democracy activists. The Media and Civil Society can re-enact this scenario for credible elections by beaming their searchlights on critical stakeholders in the electoral process and galvanizing them to play their parts with fidelity and in concert with best practices.
Thankfully the Commission, under Professor AttahiruJega’s watch has demonstrated an irrevocable commitment to the conduct of free, fair and credible elections. It has also recognized the need to continue to engage with critical stakeholders and to carry them along. The Media and Civil Society should engage with the Commission to ensure that it delivers on its pledge. They should also make sure that the political class play by the rules and set their sights firmly on good governance. Concluded
Nick Dazang is Deputy Director, Voter Education and Publicity at INEC, Abuja