The Office of The Citizen and Why Government Fails In Nigeria – Japheth J. Omojuwa

In January 2013, a few Nigerian citizens got emails about the danger of abandoning Bagega, a lead poisoned village in Zamafara unremediated. There was the danger of losing at least 1500 children to lead poisoning, not to mention the attendant danger to adults. There was meant to be a reason to fear for the lives of residents of Bagega as they had been  promised a quick remediation process when the president Dr. Goodluck Jonathan said money would be released for the purpose. Nothing happened for about 10 months. Bagega residents had been living through lead poison for at least 2 years. Then these citizens bought into the idea of saving Bagega, launched a Twitter hashtag #SaveBagega, got the phone numbers of certain Senators and Lawmakers, got the buy-in of a major Senator. The Twitter campaign was intense, the phone calls never stopped. In just less than 3 days, the FG released the money for the remediation of Bagega. The remediation happened. Children got saved. Change happened. All of this under the same government that never really cared. What really changed? Ordinary citizens became active citizens. They activated change by using the government to do what it was meant to do but left undone for years.

The formation of Enough Is Enough Nigeria happened through the same process. A President was ill and was dying, a Vice President needed to be made acting President to keep the state running. In a sane democracy, that would have happened automatically. Nigeria’s situations often come with a few drops of insanity and this had loads of it. A power cabal refused to let the VP become acting president citing technicalities in the departure of the president. The president never handed over to the acting president when he made the journey abroad to Saudi Arabia for treatment. Again, ordinary citizens got together. They were young, they were mostly meeting one another for the first time. They agonized, then organized, then marched. In Lagos and Abuja. That accident birth EIE Nigeria. It was a birth necessitated by the needs of the Nigerian society. The doctrine of necessity happened at the Nigerian National Assembly, Goodluck Jonathan, then powerless and redundant Vice President soon became Acting President. When he eventually became the President following the eventual death of President Yar’Adua in May of 2010, it was a smooth transition but only because the battle had been won weeks before. Won mostly by ordinary citizens taking the role of the citizen, playing to the responsibility of the active citizen, acting in the office of the modern day active citizen.

Five years on this week, EIE Nigeria has been very much part of the Nigerian civil society space. Evolving along with the Nigerian democratic space, getting involved with elections, organising citizens around the Occupy Nigeria movement, campaigning to have the National Assembly take another look at its indefensible budget, organising Presidential debates etc. Lots of victories on the way, loads of failings, all pointing to one simple truth: if we act our roles as citizens, we with help to make change happen issue by issue, campaign by campaign or we fail. In failing we will at least learn how to be better. We stand a chance if we try, we stand no chance if we don’t.

Yemi Adamolekun and her team at EIE Nigeria over the years had no extra powers. They were and still remain ordinary citizens. They did extraordinary things over the years because they realized the extraordinary power within the office of the citizen. This is why we as a people, especially young people, must understand that, just as our public office holders have been elected or appointed to get things done, we as citizens have been born to make them get things done. It is our job. It is the primary job description of the office of the citizen.

Never in the history of humanity have ordinary citizens been this empowered. We did not have to write newspaper articles to Newspaper editors to have them publish our grouses with the government for leaving Bagega unattended to. We did not have to go on television to scream at the government. Those are powerful tools but the barrier of usage is too high for ordinary citizens. Today, we have new tools, New Media tools that are right inside our phones and computers. The media space has been deregulated by social media. The voice of one citizen could easily become the voice of 600,000 citizens as the number of people who tweeted #SaveBagega at the time. There is work to do in the rescue of Nigeria. We the citizens must step into our roles as citizen to make this country prosper or we continue to trust that things will work anyway. The latter option is why we are where we are today. With EIE Nigeria and others leading the way, the former option is the path we must take to a just and prosperous Nigeria.