Recently, in a profound moment of introspection, I found myself grappling with feelings of fraudulence, realising that my confident demeanour, charisma, and eloquence may have masked the occasional absence of substance in my decade-long journey of holding the government accountable.
As I reflect on my experiences of constant ideation and innovation around social development, speaking truth to power, and engaging communities, I am compelled to urge a critical reevaluation of civil society's role in the context of the now Nigeria.
With the assumption of the Tinubu government and its first policy direction on the removal of the Fuel Subsidy, I found myself in a profound moment of introspection, I couldn't help but become critical of my work in Nigeria’s social development space, as if I had been speaking nonsense masked with confidence, charisma, and elegant poise, as most of us do in the space when we take over the responsibilities of community in the guise of amplifying their voice, only to be feeding our personal ambitions to become 'celebrities' I had to go back over my work from nearly a decade of holding the government accountable, developing and implementing projects, speaking truth to power, teaching, and engaging various communities to do the same.
The "organised" civil society needs a critical rethink. The fuel subsidy protest of 2012 needs to be reviewed, with lessons to be learned on how civil society in itself can become a stumbling block in the wheels of community progress. The shouts, protests, and 'erudite articulation' filled the air as we all demonised a process we didn't fully comprehend. Unfortunately, the weak government of then-President Jonathan wasn't even a solution in and of itself, as it couldn't help salvage the challenges it was facing at the time, despite the goodwill it received less than a year ago. The same civil society became a support base to help Buhari coast 'freely' to power, only to lose their voice completely. We witnessed the loss of “civil society's" voice in the last 8 years, save for the vituperations we hear on Channels and Arise TV. We created an excuse for that, we call it a fancy name too - ‘Shrinking of the Civic Space’, by the same government that was heavily supported into power by the "organised" civil society.
The "organised" civil society lost the plot when they supported Buhari to power, and this was pretty obvious. More terrible things happened under Buhari’s government than under the previous one, but everyone scurried to Channels and Arise TV to speak English and vibrate like spoilt sex toys; none could take even a quarter of the action taken under GEJ, save for the "unorganised" civil society, ordinary everyday citizens, who demanded an end to police brutality in 2020.
Buhari roamed free, removing the same subsidy about twice within his regime with absolute silence from the same civil society, only for us to be back at the same point in this administration.
I have argued that civil society's role should be that of a community catalyst, fostering effective citizen-government engagement without having to always be the mouthpiece of the people. The core of community engagement strategies should be to drive the people to take responsibility through laid-out processes for them to speak for themselves, not the ‘super-star’ civil society organisations we have these days that are filled with vibes and inshallah.
My solace lies in those few organisations that are steadying the course with minimal distractions. My comfort also comes from some communities I've had the privilege of engaging and stimulating to begin holding their own governments accountable at the grassroots level on the continent. Those who have come to understand their true powers as CITIZENS and primary stakeholders in the quest for good governance and development. They are now actively shaping the agenda for growth and development in their localities, collaboratively creating co-creating solutions, and holding their representatives to account.
To pave the way for a genuine civil society that truly represents the people, we must allow communities to take charge and guide their own path, free from our unsolicited programs and half-baked interventions that leave them sometimes worse off than when we met them. Our responsibility lies in being transparent about the challenges the communities face and providing them with the RIGHT support to become more resilient instead of dependent.
Community engagement must be focused on strengthening communities' ability to hold their own governments accountable instead of positioning civil society as the sole spokespersons for these communities. It is time to relinquish our inflated sense of importance and overblown egos simply because we have access to donor funding, which even needs to be audited independently.
While the other political parties still slug it out in the courts, everyday Nigerians must wake up to their responsibilities and begin to speak for themselves. There is no hero coming to save anyone, and there may also not be anything ‘dramatic’ happening to fix the mess we are in as a people. While the government has proven to be irresponsible, the media has been of no good, the unions have fed fat with only slogans and designer clothes, and organised civil society has been cowed by its own greed and self-serving moves. The ordinary Nigerian must realise that he/she must become their own voice, mouthpiece, and HERO.
Illustration by Mustapha Bulama
Bulama, M. (2023, May 28). CHRONICLES OF THE GREEN CAR- A full Cycle. Daily Trust. https://bit.ly/3P1YGwE