by Ikemesit Effiong
I was minding my business on Twitter (if that’s possible) one sweltering Abuja evening when I got a very confrontational ‘mention’.
Essentially, Aku Igono asked me if I aspired to join the growing body of writers who use the pen (or is it now the cursor?) as a platform to attain public adulation and possibly, political aggrandizement. That started an exchange which would lead to him sharing one of the more profound thoughts on social advocacy I have heard.
He simply said, “How we go about it (social activism) is simply to ‘physicalize’ our collective disgust and rant on Twitter.”
That got me thinking, what are possible practical steps a well-meaning Nigerian can take in fostering social change around him/her and by extension, the country? How can we make the transition from online advocacy to offline activism?
The reality of a lot of Nigerians ‘with a brain and an internet connection’, is usually to occupy the political space – in cyberspace – with their pro-change, pro-democracy and anti-establishment views, some of which is original and progressive, a lot of which is frankly hot air escaping from a fuming, frustrated mind, and negates the ‘actual’ practice of social advocacy.
We need to occupy both worlds.
We need to continue the ongoing dialogue in our chat rooms and social platforms – on Facebook, Twitter and the other numerous online platforms springing up for the purpose of energizing the political symbiosis necessary for a healthy democracy. We also need to take the reformist mantra to the street and then do ‘something’ about what we complain about.
Of course, we cannot build good roads and sturdy water installations and better airports. We cannot on our own, wipe out corruption at a go or engineer a sustainable educational system. But I believe we can force the arm of established authority. We can demand accountability from government not just on the pages of newspapers or through ‘well written blogs’ to use Godwin Amaize’s words, but by taking some simple practical steps.
I will suggest a few things we can do. On the surface they may sound naïve, but you can find what works for you and what doesn’t and get going. Let us now activate the activist.
Become Politically Conscious
It is time to abandon the time worn and wretched opinion that politics is ‘not just my thing’. It’s got to be if we want to see real change on the issues that concern all of us.
Admittedly, we will all have varying degrees of interest and participation in politics but cultivate an interest in how you are governed, how your resources are being utilized, how your taxes are being expended, and how much you may be paying for fuel in the future. Get politically intelligent. I’ve tackled that issue before. You can check those pieces for yourself.
A kind note of warning may suffice at this point. If you are interested in getting rich, forget about politics – go into finance or real estate management or music or just do something else, not aspiring to be in the Governor’s Mansion or to occupy the Rock.
Identify with a political movement or at least show a real commitment to political development.
This bit will probably be easier for those who have a background in unionism or activism or hold strong political convictions.
However, it will do well for your budding political development if you identify with a concrete social movement that has political ends. I use the word concrete because aligning yourself with an abstract concept that revels in making noise on social media platforms will distort rather than aid your transition into political consciousness.
If you feel a strong direction to join a political party or be affiliated to one, by all means join one. Just be careful about your choice and make sure you can defend that choice.
Another note of caution is appropriate here. If you say that you joined a party because they are the most powerful or influential, you have not made a proper defence. I’m just saying.
Find your niche and revel in it.
Forget the naysayers that say that if you’re not a card carrying member of a party, you’re not serious about politics. Abandon to the backwaters of ignorance and witlessness those who tell you that the ‘dirty game’ is all about consultations, rallies and bags of rice.
Politics is a multi-dimensional, multi-faceted, interdisciplinary phenomenon. Discover what interests you and shine in it. If what you fancy is social commentary (which may now be suffering from over-crowding), or volunteerism (working for an NGO with socio-political objectives), party politics or even lobbyism of the acceptable variety – a vastly underdeveloped aspect of our political practice (in the U.S. for example, there are almost 200 lobbyists for every member of Congress), dive in by all means. Get involved.
Activate the Social Contract
I have said this before and I will say it again. One of the easiest things you can do to participate somewhat in the political process is to write to your elected representatives in the National Assembly.
Let me tell you a story. We all know how outrageously charitable and inspirational and courageous Oprah Winfrey is. Well, she has a little known (at least internationally) feather in her cap. She co-sponsored a bill, naturally called Oprah’s Bill, which was eventually passed into law in 1993 by then U.S. President Bill Clinton as the National Child Protection Act.
This law mandated that a national database of all indictments and convictions on child abuse and sex offense charges, violent crimes, arson, and felony drug charges be created. It eventually empowered Clinton to award grants of $50 million to 74 American cities to increase the number of police officers to ensure its implementation. All that talk is impressive but how did it start?
From a guest’s presentation on her talk show which compelled her to write to her reps in Congress. She also encouraged her viewers to do same and almost a million letters inundated lawmakers within a six month period. Oprah took a personal story, that of her sexual abuse and its emotional toll and turned it into a force for societal good. Today, a successful background check in that database for every potential employee is mandatory in the United States.
We can do that too. We can convert the rage we express on this platform and many others into direct engagement with the hierarchy. For all it’s worth, you’ll at least give your representative something to read. Legislative bills can be boring stuff as evidenced by the famed pictures of dozing and nodding lawmakers we get to see every once in a while on television. Keep them awake will you?
Attend Constituency Meetings
Can I laugh in Pidgin? Hehehe! It may sound funny but nothing will stun you more than what you’ll get to hear if you actually attend one of these meetings. They are ostensibly designed to be a cornerstone of democracy, informing the electorate of the progress made so far in the legislative year. They are supposed to operate like an account rendering of sorts.
However, in practice or ‘real life’ as we like to say, they are nothing more than a show of sickening opulence and an avenue to reward party loyalty. They mostly happen in December which is a plus since a significant proportion of us are usually ‘home’ in our states of origin. Go there and talk! Now I’ve got you. Demand for the right thing. God help you as you do.
All of the aforementioned tips would amount to a load of baloney if you do not develop the necessary mettle to see your efforts through. Let’s be honest with ourselves, people will try to stifle your voice, label you as a long suffering idealist and out of touch with reality. You will have to be bold enough to stand by your convictions. If you can rant on Twitter, you can rant in your councillor’s face. Shikena!
This is not designed to be a rigid body of commandments. You can omit any of them and import what suits you.
A final prayer – may the boldness you exhibit in your bedroom translate into the public space.