by Abigail Anaba
When the story broke on social media that Governor Fayemi of Ekiti State had invited some online media people and influencers to see for themselves the good things that have been happening in Ekiti state, a few people were skeptical. For some, this was not a progressive thing to do. Had we not just complained of the jamboree by the Federal Government labeled ‘Good Governance Tour”? While we were yet trying to wrap our heads around the necessity of the tour, another fact was revealed. Each person who was invited for the tour was given a flat rate of N50,000 to cover their transportation and other logistics.
In the last couple of days, both the organisers and their sympathisers have been seeking ways to justify both the tour and the N50,000.0 ‘payment’. According to them, this is how things have always happened. When you ask people to leave their posts for a couple of days and serve as your guests you need to give them something: honorarium, per diem, brown envelope or whatever else you choose to call it to compensate them for leaving their station.
Others have argued that bloggers live off blogging and so the only way they can make money is by getting invited for occasions like these and getting paid for it. If they are not given something, how do you expect them to continue blogging?
Now, let me start from the beginning: Why was this tour needed in the first place?
According to this piece, it is “In continuation of the tradition of participatory governance, Governor Kayode Fayemi will be having a no holds barred session with key social media actors (bloggers, activsits, factivists and influencers) from the 6th through 9th February 2014 at the Ikogosi Warm Springs Resort, Ikogosi-Ekiti, Ekiti State, Nigeria. This foremost, open and frank interactive discussion forum will look at the advancements, scorecard, challenges and shortcomings of the government under Kayode Fayemi over the past forty months.”
According to Wikipedia “Participatory governance focuses on deepening democratic engagement through the participation of citizens in the processes of governance with the state. The idea is that citizens should play more direct roles in public decision-making or at least engage more deeply with political issues. Government officials should also be responsive to this kind of engagement. In practice, participatory governance can supplement the roles of citizens as voters or as watchdogs through more direct forms of involvement.”
So going by that article, if the session was really in continuation of a tradition of participatory governance, then it would have made a lot more sense if citizens of Ekiti are the ones who should have been invited. It should have been social media influencers and bloggers from Ekiti. In essence, the entire idea of participatory governance is to give voters and citizens an opportunity to ask questions about deep governance issues. They should have seen this governance in action and with their firsthand experience of how things were and how they are now, they will be able to ask questions.
Of course, the case can be made that when bloggers from other states come and see what is happening then they will be able to make comparisons between what is happening in Ekiti and what is happening in other states and help Ekiti people understand that things are either better or worse off for them. This of course can work both ways: either Ekiti people reject it as the blabbing of people who don’t know what they (Ekiti people) really want or they accept it. It will also be dependent on the influence of these bloggers over Ekiti people. For instance, even though the Minister of Finance has been talking about GDP growths supported by statistics, the average Nigerian still believes he is suffering and only actions that can change his status will convince him otherwise.
So, while there may be nothing wrong with the “No holds barred session” with bloggers and influencers, when another session like this is being convened perhaps more attention should be given to people who are either citizens of Ekiti or known friends and influencers of Ekiti people. Unfortunately, according to Stanley Azuakola in this piece, the no holds barred session was the lowest point of the entire tour. This seriously calls into question whether this tour was indeed necessary.
Now to the issue of the money.
The justification that this is how things have always been is the lamest I have heard so far. Progressive people do not succumb to the “This is how things have always been mentality”. They are progressive because they go against status quo. The question is: is this how things should be? If you invite people to your home and you really want them to come, it may be necessary for you to offer to pay their way. You will provide accommodation and feeding, that is also expected. But do you need to pay them to be there? My answer to this question is NO.
On the part of the organisers, their compensating the writers for attending their event undermines their own credibility. It gives me a “business as usual” impression. Of course, if the event was funded entirely from the personal funds of Governor Fayemi, then we have no reason to worry. Then it would be his money and none of the Ekiti people would have any right to ask questions. But, if this was public funds, then there will be need for accountability. And accountability does not just happen at the top.
You see, when we talk of corruption and billions missing, they do not just develop wings and fly away. Though the buck eventually falls on the table of the (wo)man in charge, when we actually look at it, when people do not account for N5, they will also not account for N50 and N500 and N5,000 and N5 million. If the Ekiti state government is claiming transparency, then how did they arrive at giving each blogger and influencer N50,000 for transport? Did they all leave from the same place? Are they all heading to the same place? Of course, for most who attended this event, N50,000 is clearly overstated for transport only.
Then there is the argument, that the N50,000 is not just for transport, but also represents a compensation for moving them out of station. For the journalists among them, this is the brown envelope they are expecting (for those who expect it) otherwise they will do a shabby job of your story. For bloggers, they now call it honorarium. Again, this represents status quo. I am aware that serious minded journalists frown at the brown envelope syndrome. They are employed by a newspaper house and are expected to do their jobs. They should not be given any additional compensation if it is not that the sponsor requires some extra favour.
Bloggers on the other hand are a special case. There are bloggers and there are bloggers. It all depends on a blogger’s business model. If the bloggers business model is to get paid for covering events then he will expect to get paid. The question then is: is this the type of blogger a state governor who wants things that happen in his state to be accurately reported should be looking for? Will such a blogger have the credibility needed for such a report?
Anyone with half a logical mind will agree that money influences people’s actions and decisions. It is for this reason that we have the saying “he that pays the piper calls the tune”. By bringing some form of payment into the equation, the Ekiti state government has shown its willingness to influence some, if not most of the articles that will be written about the session.
Again, no blogger of repute will have picked up money from the government for this event. The worst they would have done if they do believe in transparency and accountability is to take only what they needed to cover the cost of transportation to and from this event. Happily, some bloggers did just so.
I have also heard that argument that N50,000 is nothing. And I ask, nothing to who? To the bloggers? Why then did they collect it? To the state? The same state that claims it gets the second lowest allocation from the Federal government? I don’t think so. Is this the really best thing that the poor government of Ekiti could do with at least N3,500,000?
When I hear the argument that bloggers are not journalists and so should not be bound by similar principles when it comes to collecting money to write reports, the impression I get is that bloggers lack ethics. I also get the impression that bloggers should not be taken seriously. Couple this with the fact that some of these same bloggers are quite vocal when others attend similar events organized by other politicians, and you see we have a problem.
So at the end of the day, it comes down to the question: what type of blogger/influencer/activist/factivist are you? Do you really want to be taken seriously?