By Joel Popoola
“Governors are the most suspected elected officials. Everyone thinks governors are just thieves… wasting state resources (and) not doing anything.”
The sort of opinion you hear all the time in the queue, and inside danfo – but not something you hear very often from governors themselves. But this week Kaduna State governor, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, publically addressed his and his colleagues’ “very negative image”.
He was right. Nigerians do think all governors are thieves. The statistics prove it.
Research shows 72% of us believe “most politicians are corrupt”.. 57% of Nigerians believe that nothing will ever change, no matter who wins an election.
And other countries agree – that’s why the international Corruption Perception Index ranks us amongst the most corrupt countries on earth. And 80% of Nigerians think that placing is deserved!
Regardless of your politics, no governor has done more to tackle the systemic and structural shortcomings of our democracy than Mr El-Rufai himself.
It was El-Rufai who trialled electronic voting in Kaduna in 2018, deservedly winning praise for his efforts to promote transparency and increase electoral integrity. Voters even reported enjoying going to the polls – which will hopefully encourage them to do so again in the future.
Even more strikingly, four Kaduna elections were won by the opposition rather than the incumbents – a statistical rare occurrence in Nigerian elections. People knew their vote would have an impact. So they voted.
After a recent governorship election in Edo where only one in four voters went to the polls, it is clear our nation needs to incentivise and encourage voters to vote more than ever before.
Its measures like electronic voting – which make vote-rigging and ballot-stuffing significantly harder – are so desperately needed across Nigeria if we are to fix our current democratic deficit.
A coalition of over 70 human rights organisations recently united to raise the alarm about increasing vote buying in Nigerian elections, with convener, Clement Nwankwo, quoted as saying:
“Politicians are increasingly investing money to buy votes with voters appearing to be willing to sell their votes.
“In the Edo State election, this practice was widespread with all of the major political parties engaging in this infringement”.
With only 25% of Edo voters going to the polls, it feels like the only people voting are the people who are being paid to. This is a bleak assessment of Nigerian democracy.
These allegations follow an election which has thankfully been described as “relatively peaceful” and “relatively credible” by the Centre for Democracy and Development.
But we Nigerians should expect more than “relatively credible” and “relatively peaceful” elections. I ask you, would you buy a car which is “relatively safe”? Would you purchase a pet which is “relatively harmless”?
Our democracy faces significant challenges. The first step to tackling them is better communication between electors and elected.
Mr El-Rufai has described the role of a governor as “one of the most difficult jobs in the world”. As both a Nigerian tech entrepreneur and as a digital democracy campaigner, I have seen firsthand how true this is. Local politicians are, for the most part, motivated only by public service and a profound love of their communities. They step up to take the hardest decisions for us, even when they do not like those decisions any more than we do.
But they need to explain themselves better. That’s why the digital democracy campaign I lead created Rate Your Leader, a free app which puts local officials in direct person-to-person contact with the people they serve. It also allows voters to contact them, helping them gain better insight into the needs and wishes of the people who elect them.
If politicians using the app are responsive and authoritative, and explain the decisions they are taking clearly and satisfactorily, their voters can give them a positive rating. If people see that neighbours who have interacted with their local politicians have all rated them highly, that builds trust in our leaders. And that in turn builds trust in our system.
Communication between the authorities and the public has never been more critical. As more and more Nigerian parents see their children returning to school after the disruption of Covid-19 they need to be able to trust institutions as much as they need to be able trust leaders. They also need to be able to receive vital public health messages instantaneously.
But with more Nigerians owning a smartphone than voting, the answer is literally in their hands.
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 @JOPopoola