FEATURE ARTICLE

Michael I. OguMonday, April 4, 2011
senatorclue@yahoo.com
Ilishan-Remo, Ogun State, Nigeria

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THE ROLE OF CIVIL SOCIETY IN THE NIGERIA'S 2011 GENERAL ELECTIONS

BACKGROUND

he process of electing representatives of the people (electorate) into public offices is one that has become all the more challenging in many states of the world, especially in the developing countries like Nigeria. The aftermath of periodic election in these countries are characterised with election tribunal verdicts, nullifying and re-conducting election, investigating electoral malpractices and various other election misconducts. This is emphasizing the fact that electoral perfection has not been reached, and as such, all stakeholders in the state are to mobilize resources - human and material - in pursuit of a viable and reliable electoral process and representative election results.


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The role of the civil society in achieving credible election in the Nigerian April 2011 general elections is what this paper attempts to investigate. An assessment will be done on the involvement of the civil society groups in the pursuance of credible election and how influential these groups are in the electoral process in Nigeria. This has been done qualitatively, relying solely on secondary available data and resources.

Recommendations are also made on how civil society groups can move their influence towards credible election in Nigeria a step further, so as to achieve in the long run, credible free and fair election in Nigeria.

CONCEPTUAL CLARIFICATIONS

Before delving into the main concern of this paper, it is important to give meaning to certain terminologies as they will be adopted for use in this paper. This is necessary so as to afford the readers adequate knowledge of these concepts and their usage.

- CIVIL SOCIETY

In the words of Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia, a civil society"is composed of the totality of voluntary civic and social organisation and institutions that form the basis of a functioning society, as distinct from the fore-backed structures of a state (regardless of that state's political system) and commercial institutions of the market".

The London school of economics centre for civil society defines civil society more illustratively as referring to

"the arena of uncoerced collective actions around shared interests, purposes and values. In theory, its institutional forms are distinct from those of the state, family and market, though in practise, the boundaries between state, civil society, family and market and offer complex, blurred and negotiated. Civil society commonly embraces a diversity of spaces, actors and institutional forms, varying in their degree of formality, autonomy and power. Civil societies are often populated by organisations such as registered charities, development non-governmental organisations, community groups, women's organisations, faith-based organisations, professional associations, trade unions, self-help groups, social movements, business associations, coalitions and advocacy groups".

Civil society is also defined by the London school of economies (according to Uche; 2006) as "the space between the family, state and market".

Deducing from the definition above, a civil society can simply be defined as stake holding non-governmental agencies, institutions and groups within a state, having the ability to influence certain decision, policies and activities of either government or other groups within the state.

- ELECTION

Simply put, election is the process of reaching a consensus on the representative of the citizen of a particular state in public offices.

Several erudite scholars of political science has written and defined extensively the concept of election. Some of these definitions are considered below.

The international encyclopaedia of social science, vol. 5 defines election as one procedure of aggregating preferences of a particular kind. Two key words (procedure and preferences) emerge from this definition; procedure refers to statuesque - a prescribed specific way of doing things whole preferences simple devotes choice among alternatives.

Ujo (2000) defined election as "a procedure that allows member, of an organisation or community to choice representative who will hold position of authority within it".

The subject of election is essentially one that assists a group of varied individuals to reach a consensus on one representative among alternatives.

IMPORTANCE OF THE CIVIL SOCIETY

In the words of Moru (2005); "the intellectual political and economic order has been impacted by the rise in civil society organizing... The civil society has become a social force that seeks to put people before profit, food on the table before boosting national reserves. This force of change questions the rational for poor people dying of easily preventable diseases, and does not understand why poor people cannot afford life saving treated mosquito nets".

The relevance of the civil society cuts across all the facts of nation and state life - from economic, political, health, social, and environmental developments - as they play vital roles to ensure sustainable development in all aspects of state life. Dr Ngeri Benebo; Director- General, National Environmental Standards and Regulations enforcement agency (NESREA), in The Nation, on January 2011 when affirming this, she said;

"as governments, private sectors, NGOs, civil societies, individuals and the general public, we all have responsibilities in protecting the environment and ensuring sustainable development. The government cannot tackle these problems alone. Every one of us, irrespective of our gender, class or age, is a stakeholder in our national development".
I want to believe that this statement goes beyond mere commitment to environmental development, to include efforts towards political, economic, social and other forms of development within the state and even beyond. She goes further to say that "the civil society organisation could meaningfully contribute to environmental governance by focusing attention on issues which could inform and alert citizens on environmental crimes, thereby increasing the quality of public compliance to environmental policies and regulations". Noting that, "at state, federal and local levels of government, civil society organisations had played key roles in the protection of the environment and in the promotion of sustainable development". I beg to add that civil society organisation have also been very instrumental in the protection of government in Nigeria in addition to all said above.

CIVIL SOCIETY ORGANISATIONS (CSOs) IN NIGERIA

Like in other developing countries, and even in most developed nations, Nigeria has a several civil society groups that tend to put both the government and their policies in check, assist in achieving some of those objections that would have seemed impossible for the government to achieve on her own.

Although these organisations vary in composition, mission statement, vision statement, and core values - NGOs, PVOs, etc - they all have in common an ideology of promoting equity and justice in the polity and bringing about development that can be sustained for many generations to come. Considering the fact that these organisations contribute tremendously to the activities of government, they can considerably influence government policies and programs positively to the benefit of the citizens in the state.

The Save Nigeria Group (SNG), one of the most recent civil society groups in Nigeria, founded in January 2010 - in the wake of constitutional conflicts in regards to political offices and holders and amidst preparation for the 2011 election - by Pastor Tunde Bakare. Speaking about organisation, Pastor Bakare said;

"the SNG is a non-profit society organisation committed to creating a political environment that guarantees only the best, brightest, fittest and most competent Nigerians are democratically elected into public offices, bound by a credible constitution that promotes and protects the rights of every Nigerian. SNG believes that the time has come for purposeful and visionary leadership in our nation rather than the current situation where the worst of us continue to rule over the rest of us. Thus, we are galvanizing a critical mass of Nigerians in the days and weeks ahead to challenge the status quo and say ENOUGH IS ENOUGH as we join hands to demand a Nigeria that benefits Nigerians".

The Transition Monitory Group (TMG) is the foremost election observer condition in Nigeria. Founded in 1998, it began by observing the 1999 elections and is currently made up of 170 member groups. The group has a mission of "promoting the development and practise of democratic values and to monitor democratic Institutions and the electoral process".

Several other civil society groups that exist in Nigeria include:

  • Women Awareness Organisation (WAO).

  • Gender Development Initiative.

  • International Committee for Rescue in Africa.

  • Society for Human Development (SHD).

  • Centre for Gender Education (CGE).

  • Justice, Development and Peace Commission.

  • Youth Patriot Foundation.

  • Agency for Grass root Development.

  • Lawyers Alert.

ROLE OF CIVIL SOCIETY IN 2011 ELECTION

Individuals and groups, both on the national and international scene, demand that civil society organisations do their best to ensure credible elections in 2011. The responsibility of a credible, free and fair election no longer to be solely that of the Independent National Electoral Commission, as the tide has shifted to include civil society organisation.

Prof. Pat Utomi, speaking at a 'policy dialogue with presidential candidates' organised by Murtala Mohammed Foundation, accused president Goodluck Jonathan campaign committee of spending #100 million of tax payers money daily on presidential campaign, going further to say that civil society organisations in the country have failed in their duty by keeping quiet over such spending.

Speaking on the achievement of a credible, free and fair election, Mr Salihu Lukman, CEO of the Good Governance Group affirmed in an interview with the Open Society Foundations that "the international community must actively engage with the electoral commission - INEC- as well as with civil society organisations and, of course, the Nigerian government to ensure fair election".

Louis Brown Ogbeifun has described the conduct of a free and fair election in April 2011, as an acid test for civil society organisation and not for the INEC. Also, the INEC Boss, Prof. Attahiru Jega, recently at a workshop organised for civil societies in Abuja has tasked civil societies to be more vigilant in the monitory of political activities in the build up of the April election. In his words,

"in almost all democracies, civil society as the conscience of the society though the various instrument of advocacy, the pride of social change, public accountability and good governance. In fact, it is impossible to anticipate accountability, transparency and good governance is any electoral process without the active collaboration of civil societies".

Having established the paramount importance of civil society organisation in the electoral process and the sustenance of democracy and governance, it is imperative to also identify some important roles of civil society organisations in the wake of current political transition in Nigeria. These roles basically include, but are not limited to;

  • Voter education

  • Monitoring of election process

In educating the voters, civil society groups organisations are to assist in ensuring that all eligible citizens in the country are made to realize the importance of registering to voting and actually coming out to vote on the election day. Illiteracy levels in the rural areas have largely affected the assurance of the rural citizens on voting and election, and as such these citizens need to understand the importance and power of their votes. For instance, the SNG launched

Another equally important role of the civil society organisation is the monitoring of the entire electoral process - from the issuance of notice of election to the swearing-in of elected candidates - to ensure that all the tenets of electoral procedures as stated in the electoral act and strictly adhered to in order to achieve fair and free election.

Scholars have opined that most civil society organisations have roles that are defined or determined by the environmental factors under which they were created. Emime (2000), attempted specific enumerations of civil society roles, some of these were included:

  • They serve as watchdog to check the excesses of government and expose, curtail violations of human rights, abuse of the constitution. They thus exercise over democratic political institutions.

  • They support the role of political parties in stimulating political participation, increasing political efficiency and skills and promoting appreciation of the obligations of democratic citizens. In democratic settings, the more important role of political parties stimulating political participation will be much visible if such roles are complemented by the various civil society groups that we have in the society. In the case of Nigeria, it has been observed that an average Nigerian is sceptical about the various political parties and profess membership of it because of selfish interest (Achebe 2001). He emphasizes further the roles of civil society in the polity.

  • They provide a crucial arena for the development of such democratic attributes as tolerance, willingness to compromise and respect for opposing viewpoints.

  • They are an important channel of information dissemination and thus help citizens to collectively pursue and defend their interest and values.

  • When engaged in election monitoring, civil society organisations enhance voters' confidence and affirms credibility by exposing electoral fraud and other undemocratic activities.

    Jega (2006) also asserts that a democratically included civil society group has roles as:

  • Promotion and defence of the constitution and rule of law

  • The enhancement of the integrity and efficiency of the democratic institution and processes.

  • The development of a viable democratic culture in the polity.

It is obvious from the above, that civil society organisations should definitely not be isolated in the efforts towards the attainment of a viable and sustainable democracy. However, a synergy should be grossly encouraged between civil society organisations and other international and government institutions and parastatals in the pursuit of sustainable democracy, even in the electoral process.

CHALLENGES OF CIVIL SOCIETY ORGANISATIONS IN NIGERIA

It is no doubt that civil society organisations in Nigeria have had considerable influence on democracy and electoral practises in Nigeria. However, certain issues militate against the effective operation of civil society organisations in Nigeria, one of which according to Boadi (1995) in the issue of insufficient funds. Most civil society organisations rely on government funding for their various operations, which is not a healthy phenomena as it breeds loyalty of civil society organisation to government.

Osaghae (1998), also opines that "the poor economic conditions of the Nigerian state has also led to the emergence of civil society that are state inclined because members of such groups believe strongly that by showing loyalty to the incumbent government, material resources are assured".

The appointment of civil society leaders into political offices has also affected the character and ideology of such societies. In the words of Boadi (1995), "many of Nigeria's new democracy civil associations turned out to be nothing more than political actions committees and proto parties that have more in common with political than civil society". This may soon be the case for the Save Nigeria Group in few years if the Buhari/Bakare campaign organization wins the Presidency at the 2011 general election.

Jega (2006) has identified another limitation to civil society roles, which he tagged, "lack of sensitivity to the plural nature of Nigeria". The heterogeneous nation of the Nigerian state has to a large extent strained civil society organisations.

CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATION

Despite these factors identified above as militating against the effective functionality of civil society organisation, we still cannot isolate the role of the civil society organisations in Nigeria in ensuring a credible, free and fair election, come April 2011.

Chukwuma (1992), attested to this by saying "civil society has made it possible for a lot of persons to be abreast with the political happenings in their society".

Jega (2006) has listed seven (7) recommendations to secure the independence of the civil society organisations in Nigeria. These recommendations according to assessment are background to a democratic and independent civil society. These recommendations include:

  • Acquisition of basic facilities and equipments which are necessary for organisational efficiency, effectiveness and measurable output.

  • Promotion of increased and focused network among civil society groups

  • Training of cadres of grass root mobilization and advocacy

  • Training of cadres for acquisition of leadership and good governance skills

  • Promotion of collaborative joint programmes of advocacy and mobilization.

  • Diversification of sources of funding through creative revenue generation activities.

  • The need to coordinate and control the NGO phenomena in order to reduce reliance on foreign grants.

In addition to these recommendation, it is also important that civil society organisation, having completed the voters registration exercise take decisive measures in monitoring the April 2011 election. Some of these measures could include, but not limited to;

  • Aggressive informing educating the registered voters on the importance of exercising their voting powers through the media and other means of publicity.

  • Putting physical modalities in place for monitoring elections at the polling centres.

  • Helping voters ensure that their votes count by insisting on a live media coverage of the counting of votes.

These are few ways credibility can be further enhanced in the April 2011 general election in Nigeria.

REFERENCES

  • A. A. Ujo (2000); Understanding Election. Anyaotu Enterprises and publishers (Nigeria).

  • Boadi G. (1995); Civil Society in Africa "Journal of Democracy", Vol. XVI No. 3.

  • Emime, F. (2000); "The Role of Civil Society Groups in Nigeria". Journal of Democracy Vol. XI No. 2.

  • Jega A. (2006); Democratization in Nigeria: Problems and Prospects, from www.nigerianmasses.com/politicaldetails Abuja, on 27/3/2009.

  • John Moru (2005); Civil Society and Social Changes in Nigeria Online article at www.danodu.com [July 19, 2005]

  • Osaghae E. (1998); Structural Adjustment, Civil Society and National Cohesion in Africa. Aries APPS point source.

  • www.savenigeriagroup.com

  • The Nation; January 28, 2011.

  • www.tmgnigeria.org/aboutus.html

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