Digital Democracy: As Nigeria’s Biggest Challenge Continues to Be Corruption

By Joel Popoola

Another week, yet more horrific headlines for the people of Nigeria.

More kidnapping. More violence. More separatism. More threats against the free press.

And with that, yet more international criticism and concern.

Global economic analysts, Bloomberg this week joined a chorus of critical observers, warning investors that “Nigeria’s cratering economy may become Africa’s biggest threat”.

Bloomberg wrote:

“Endowed with some of the world’s biggest oil reserves, plenty of arable land and a young, tech-savvy population of 206 million that sets Africa’s music and fashion trends, Nigeria had the potential to break onto the global stage.

“Instead, policy missteps, entrenched corruption and an over-reliance on crude oil mean that a country that makes up a quarter of the continent’s economy risks becoming its biggest problem… a dangerous cauldron of ethnic tension, youth discontent and criminality.”

For all the challenges facing our nation we cannot lose sight of the fact that the biggest challenge of all remains corruption. Not just morally. Not just legally. Not just democratically. But economically.

The average score on the internationally recognised Corruption Perception Index is 43. Nigeria has score of 23.

As I write this, the Kano State Public Complaints and Anti-Corruption Commission has announced plans to prosecute a number of officials – including the Commissioner for Works and Infrastructure – for alleged fraud relating to millions of naira’s worth of spending on petrol and alleged contract racketeering relating to a hospital.

One recent estimate suggested that our nation may be losing N100 billion every year to tax-related fraud.

Nigeria is now officially the second most corrupt country in West Africa with Guinea-Bissau the only country more corrupt than us in our entire region.
This is all money that should be building a better Nigeria. Instead it is tearing down the ties that bind our people and our political institutions.

And in a globalised and interconnected world, things are just going to get worse.
Vice President Osinbajo this week highlighted how much corruption and a lack of transparency has hurt Nigeria’s negotiations with other countries and organizations.

And it is these sorts of relationships that will be key to delivering Nigeria to our rightful place as a prosperous and peaceful nation recognised on the global stage for our innovation and invention, not our instability and insecurity.

Just look at Facebook. Last autumn, the social media giant announced it was opening an office in Lagos to build a base from which to expand across Africa.

As a country and a continent we present a potentially significant market for international investors. By 2100, Africa’s population is likely to have tripled, and Nigeria will probably have become the second-most populated country in the world.

And we will benefit from the technology this investment will bring. Just this week, we’ve seen the African Facebook office confirm the development of an education-focused mobile app called Sabee, designed to connect learners and educators in online communities to make educational opportunities more accessible to everyone.

But if we remain synonymous with corruption and division, those investors and opportunities will not come. And when it does come, there remains a permanent risk that only a few people will benefit from it.

Building trust has to happen at an individual level. That is why the digital democracy campaign I lead has created an app to connect politicians and the people they serve.

Rate Your Leader puts electors and elected in direct person-to-person contact, allowing them to discuss the issues of the day as peers and equals, exchange important information, and collaborate to improve our communities.

Rate Your Leader’s abuse proof technology ensures all contact is courteous and civil and users can even score their elected officials on accessibility and transparency.

The Rate Your Leader app facilitates relationships of trust. The more people use it, the more trust there is in our political officials and the institutions they represent.

Corruption isn’t just bad for our democracy and our economy. It’s even bad for our health. As the authors of the Corruption Perception Index have stated, corruption “not only contributes to a continuing crisis of democracy” it also “undermines the global health response to Covid-19…(as it) undermines an equitable response to COVID-19 and other crises, highlighting the importance of transparency and anti-corruption measures in emergency situations.”

We face a series of unprecedented crises. Without more trust in ourselves and our institutions, we cannot begin to overcome them. Corruption makes that trust impossible.

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

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