OrderPaperToday – Many members of the National Assembly see social media simply as a tool to advance positive narratives and achieve a ‘look-good’ effect but shirk from the demand of providing feedback to citizens who make constructive engagements on their pages.
Power of social media…
Across many countries of the world, democratic activities, social engagements and accountability reporting have transcended mainstream media into the digital space, which to a very large extent, has given citizens the opportunity to express their views, interact with governance data, mobilize for action and gain support for causes and demands.
In Nigeria, social media has undeniably become part of political strategy, particularly during electioneering periods. Unfortunately, some state actors are unrelenting in their efforts to gag the space after benefiting immensely from its “benevolence”.
Nonetheless, it has to a significant extent, made it possible to challenge public officials and institutions of government on issues related to well-being of citizens while also promoting general socialization and participation. With reference to the #EndSARS campaign in September – October 2020, the global community witnessed how Nigerians expressed their displeasure with repressive policing and the failure of government generally via sustained and well-coordinated social media campaign.
While political leaders have benefitted immensely from the social media in gaining publicity and public relations traction, the trend show that they barely engage with citizens who reach out on their pages. This hampers the value of social media as a channel of public accountability and diminishes performance of the function of representation imbued on legislators.
Many of the senators and members of the House of Representatives on social media are heavy on ‘feel good’ positive posts and narratives but very light when it comes to providing feedbacks and other direct engagements with followers and citizens generally.
An examination by OrderPaper Nigeria into the verified Facebook and Twitter pages of the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, with over 133,000 and 232,000 followers respectively, reveals regular zero engagements with citizens by the top government official.
Peeping into senate president’s pages…
For a one-year period when the pages were observed, there was no recorded feedback to questions and interactions from citizens on both Facebook and Twitter (before the government ‘ban’). There were notable instances where direct responses were demanded but no responses given. There were also cases were citizens called for action on governance issues but not even acknowledgements were offered by the official. For example, on 21st October 2019, while the National Assembly was considering the 2020 budget proposal, Citizen Olona Ademola drew the attention of Sen. Lawan to the condition of a road in Oyo State, requesting the Ministry of Works to examine its budget to capture the fixing of the road. His comment on Facebook read: “… before the final ratification of the budget proposal, let the Works Ministry revisit its presentation. ….Some roads if not urgently attended to can spell a doom for socio-economic activities in d region they are situated. A good example is Oyo-Iseyin-Saki road. We count on your intervention to rescue us from total cut off.” This was post was not acknowledged.
On 9th December 2020, Citizen Mohamed Haliru drew the attention of the Senate President to hike in the price of commodities by asking a question on his Facebook: “……what is the Senate doing to persuade the executive to create Price Control Board or Agency that may mitigate the frequent indiscriminate price hike that has become rampant and affect the masses the most and make life unbearable for them. What of the issue of insecurity bedeviling the country? ” Again, there was neither acknowledgement nor response to this poser.
On 14th September 2021, via the Senate President‘s Facebook handle, Leke Obele called attention to alleged disengagement of the staff of the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), saying: “….. Let me use this medium to remind you about the 4029 National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) staffs, who were wrongly disengaged in 2012 after 10,12,15,20 and 25 years in service without gratuity of allowance for no offence committed. Hope for your urgent attention to solve the re-occurrence and burning issues.”
Similarly, prior to the suspension of Twitter by the authorities, precisely on the 15th of March 2021, Ariyo Dare Adetoye raised concerns over delays in the passage of electoral bill. “Can we interrogate & engage SP @DrAhmadLawan constructively on the delay in passing the electoral bill?,” he tweeted. This was also ignored.
Likewise on 9th Feb. 2021, Gabrel Iduh called the attention of the Senate President to the activities of the management of PenCom, referring to Section 16(2) of the PRA 2014 which made provision for early withdrawal from pension fund. Furthermore, Agim Ogechi Adaku on 14th October 2020, expressed concern over striking varsity teachers: “My Honourable sir, all levels of the non teaching staff of the universities and polytechnics are also on warning strike because of IPPIS, nonpayment of minimum wage arrears and irregularities in the payment of salaries. Can their issues be tackled too? The entire system is down,” she tweeted. Both concerns did not elicit any response from Lawan or social media his handlers.
It is pertinent to note that while the issues raised above could be captured as matters of urgent public importance, the lack of responses to the engagements point to the assumption that legislators see social media only as a tool to advance the ‘feel and look good’ effect.
While it is acknowledged that political actors cannot by themselves respond to every question or comment on social media due to tasking public engagements, it leaves one to ask what their numerous media aids paid with public funds are doing with respect to issues directly related to their principals.
While it is also admitted some public questions on social media are not healthy for social advancement, it is also worrisome to note that the constructive opinions and questions from citizens on verified social media pages of leaders have been left perpetually unattended to.