Opinion

Time to Take Osinbajo’s Plea for Unity Serious If Nigeria Must Endure

By Joel Popoola

I am almost as old as Nigeria itself, and in all my time on Earth, I have never known our nation to face so many challenges.

Corruption. Covid-19. Kidnapping. Economic collapse. Climate Change. Civil insurrection from secessionists. Civil unrest in rural towns.

Last month alone, almost 600 civilians were killed across our nation – with at least 400 abducted by armed groups.

As I write this, senior lawmakers are urging President Buhari to declare a state of emergency, with one senator stating “our nation is on fire”.

This is why Yemi Osinbajo’s plea for unity this week is so important.

The Vice President has said: “If the political elite does not speak up, if we don’t see anything wrong in what is going on, if we allow it to continue to slide, we will endanger ourselves and endanger the future of our country.

“I know that every conflict is a result of elite failure, the elite failure to speak up and tell the truth to their communities, that’s the cause of every one of these civil conflicts. So, I would urge that we speak up. I would urge that we stand for something. Sometimes it’s dangerous to stand for something. But the greater danger of course, is to keep quiet.”

But who is this political elite speaking up to? How are they speaking to them? And how do we ensure that those who are not part of this elite have the opportunity to talk back? How are ordinary Nigerians supposed to get involved in this conversation?

The answer is digital.

Yemi Osinbajo is one of the leaders who best understands how Nigeria’s future must be driven by digital.

Just this week the Vice President announced a new partnership with global tech giant Microsoft which will digitally upskill 5 million Nigerians – designed to boost their employability and entrepreneurship – and improve internet connectivity and cloud access across our nation.

The Vice President has also this week spoken of the importance of the start-up ecosystem as a “catalyst for future economic activities that will bridge the divide between rich and developing countries” and Nigeria’s wider economic development.

At a time when it feels like the only expanding economic sector in Nigeria is industrial scale kidnapping, the promise of a digital and digitised economy becomes more and more critical to our national future – not least as economic inequality is one of the principle driving forces behind so many of our security issues.

But this goes deeper than economic development. Our democracy must digitise too.

As the digital democracy campaign I lead, we are working to build digital bridges between voters and elected politicians – developing personal relationships between local leaders and the communities they serve in the name of collaboration, co-operation and unity.
We have developed a free smartphone app called Rate Your Leader which connects verified political figures with verified voters in the divisions they serve.
The app gives local people the access only previous allowed by lobbyists and party donors, which giving politicians a real-time insight into what matters most to the people who elect them – allowing them to take action, make changes and win the respect, trust and affection of the people their serve.

Once these relationships are established it becomes a lot easier for Nigerians to come together in the national interest. These relationships don’t exist in isolation and aren’t limited to the digital space, the more of us who join hands across political philosophies, ethnicities and even geographies and agree that as Nigerians we will always have more in common than what separates us, the quicker we can move forward as a nation.
As one observer has written, the people of Nigerian too often “lack a shared sense of what it means to be “Nigerian” leaving our country “a state that only exists on paper, sustained by the recognition of the international community”.

But as many of our artists and creatives – not to mention our social movements – can tell you, communities can be created almost instantaneously online.

Digital democracy, using platforms like Rate Your Leader, makes this possible.
Nigerians are more likely to own a smartphone than voter’s card. Politicians must recognise that and utilise the power and potential of the online communication to build the connections that are so badly needed to hold our nation together. If not now, then when?

Joel Popoola is a Nigerian tech entrepreneur, digital democracy campaigner, political commentator and creator of the Rate Your Leader smartphone app. He can be reached via @JOPopoola

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