By Joel Popoola
Would you buy a house if it was on fire? The answer is obvious just as USA and UK travel bans show international implications of Nigeria’s democratic decay.
The United States government this week placed travel restrictions on Nigerians suspected of “undermining the democratic process” or trying to “organize election-related violence”.
A day later the United Kingdom also announced anyone suspected of illicitly interfering in the upcoming elections in Edo and Ondo would face “restrictions on their eligibility to enter the UK” and “restrictions on access to UK-based assets”.
5000 prominent Nigerians have subsequently signed a petition calling for the European Union to follow Britain and America’s lead.
Now you might be thinking “Joel, this doesn’t matter to me, I wasn’t planning on going to America – I can’t afford it and even if I could, COVID-19 has made international travel practically impossible!”
The US government has even publicly stated that restrictions will only affect “certain individuals, and are not directed at the Nigerian people”.
But this matters to every Nigerian.
The key phrase explaining why it is found in the British government’s statement announcing the restrictions.
“These elections are important, both as an essential element of effective governance within both states and an indicator of the strength of Nigeria’s democratic institutions.”
What other countries think about Nigeria matters, especially when it comes to our future.
The United Nations World Investment Report recently stated that overseas investment in Nigeria reduced by almost half in 2019, falling 48.5%.
It is inevitable that things will be even worse in 2020 as a result of Covid-19. It is also more than probable that international governments counting the cost of the coronavirus will be looking to scale back on their international commitments.
Nigeria’s economic future is dependent upon diversifying our economy away from oil and developing globally competitive manufacturing and digital sectors. Our nation also needs significant spending on our energy, transport and digital infrastructure. But all of this needs international investment, both from governments and businesses.
But if the international community thinks Nigerian democracy can’t be trusted, those investments won’t be made.
As Africa’s most populous country we offer international investors a huge domestic customer base. Our tax system, comparatively low labour costs and natural resources make us highly attractive to overseas businesses looking to invest.
But political instability, corruption and a total lack of transparency continue to make us economically repellent.
This is costing Nigeria good quality jobs and badly-needed investment.
Put it this way. Would you buy a house if it was on fire? Would you put your money in a bank if you thought the directors were crooks? This is what the international community thinks of us.
Improving the international standing of Nigerian politics starts at home. And I share former President Goodluck Jonathan’s belief that the only way to guarantee free and fair elections in Nigeria is electronic voting. As the former President has said, “If the votes of the citizens don’t count, then it is as good as military dictatorship.”
Until electronic voting becomes commonplace – both in Nigeria and across Africa, the digital democracy campaign I lead is doing our bit to change the reputation of Nigerian governance.
Our free Rate Your Leader app puts voters in direct person-to-person contact with their elected officials, allowing them to put important questions straight to them.
Not only does the Rate Your Leader app give local leaders a real-time insight into what matters most to the people who elect them, it gives them an incredible platform to showcase their accountability, transparency, responsiveness and credibility.
What makes our social media app unique is that electors have the opportunity to rate the responses received from the elected – independently evaluating and promoting their openness, accessibility and trustworthiness.
If the opportunity existed for Nigeria to be rated the same way by the international community, my fear would be that our nation would be rated very badly. But one politician at a time Rate Your Leader is trying to put that right.
The US government has publically stated that it wants to help Nigeria “end corruption and strengthen democracy, accountability, and respect for human rights”.
This offer of support is welcome, but it just makes me think of the French revolutionary motto “Aide-toi, le ciel t’aidera” –God helps those who help themselves.
Joel Popoola is a Nigerian tech entrepreneur, digital democracy campaigner and creator of the free Rate Your Leader app. You can follow Joel on Twitter @JOPopola