2019: CSOs, media thrive in a daunting shrinking civic landscape by Moshood Isah

2019: CSOs, media thrive in a daunting shrinking civic landscape by Moshood Isah

Editor's note: YIAGA AFRICA's media officer, Moshood Isah, writes on the year 2019 and its attendant challenges, especially for the Nigerian media and Civil Society Organisations who constantly interface directly or indirectly with relatively unwilling state and non-state actors in a bid to entrench democratic values in the country.

Read below:

The year 2019 was an interesting year for Civil Society Organisations who constantly interface directly or indirectly with relatively unwilling state and non-state actors in a bid to entrench democratic values in every facets of governance. Ranging from advocacies on credible elections, political inclusion and transformative leadership, accountability, and social justice, CSOs through various tools of campaign and movement building, made an appreciable impact during the year.

One major impact was the appreciable increase in the number of young people who contested for various elective office after the historic passage of the age reduction bill into law. This is despite a lot of political parties’ conundrum and bottlenecks which young people must navigate in the process. Today, we not only have 103 under 35 years old who are occupying elective offices, but Nigeria can also boast of four states of assembly speakers who are below the age of 35. This would not have been possible if not for consistent advocacy by CSOs led by Yiaga Africa who not only pushed for age reduction but provided technical support for young candidates in the run to the 2019 elections.

2019: CSOs, media thrive in a daunting shrinking civic landscape by Moshood Isah
Deji Aeyanju, an activist battered by government supporters in Abuja recently. Photo credit: Olubiyo Samuel
Source: Twitter

More recently, SERAP secured a landmark judgement ordering the federal government to “recover pensions collected by former governors now serving as ministers and members of the National Assembly. The court also directed the Attorney General of the Federation and minister of justice Mr Abubakar Malami, SAN to challenge the legality of states’ pension laws permitting former governors and other ex-public officials to collect such pensions.”

For democracy to thrive, the government must be accountable to the citizens. This informed series of capacity building drive to see that citizens take the lead in demanding accountability via tracking of fiscal policies and asking the right questions on its implementation. Initiatives like FollowTheMoney by Connected Development, BounceCorruption accountability lab by Yiaga Africa, tracka by BudgIT amongst other effort have successfully tracked budget implementation and demanded accountability from government especially at state, local government, and legislative constituency level.

Similarly, in a bid to ensure that lawmakers across Nigeria are accountable to their constituencies, CSOs conducted a comprehensive assessment of the 8th National Assembly which provided facts and figures giving pointers on how the assembly fared in legislations, representation, and oversight. The assessment provided a pathway for improved functionality of the legislative arm of government making the people as priority.

Citizens across the length and breadth of Nigeria are demanding electoral integrity at all phases of the electoral process having been mobilised by concerned non-state actors. The 2019 elections came with a high expectation for all election stakeholders and CSOs lived up to it. For instance, With a nationwide structure across all 774 local government areas in Nigeria, WatchingTheVote project of Yiaga Africa became a reference point for credible and accurate election information and recommendations for electoral reforms. The deployment of citizen pre-election observers across all 774 LGAs in Nigeria provided comprehensive data across the country which successfully predicted electoral tendencies, provide early warning signals amongst other important recommendations ahead of the 2019 general elections.

The year witnessed countless protests for various reasons ranging from human right abuse, disobedience of court orders and other forms of neglect of rule of law. While a few yielded results others ended in avoidable death and injury but the resolve to keep on this line of freedom of protest and refusal to be intimidated remains a profound feat during the year 2019.

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It was not all rosy as journalists like Agba Jalingo continue to remain in illegal custody despite outrage and call for his release. Other journalists also suffer attacks during the 2019 elections and subsequently during governorship elections in Kogi state. This again did not deter the media from digging deep and fact-checking and other forms of investigative journalism which exposed a lot during the year. In a bid to further drive journalism driven by facts and data, CSOs contributed to enhancing the capacity of media organizations on data-driven journalism and reporting during the last general elections by conducting a comprehensive training of over 100 journalists, editors and media executives across Nigeria on data-driven journalism to stem the tide of fake news and disinformation.

The highlight of discoveries by media is the SexForGrade scandal that exposed university lecturers who se*xually harass female students and the undercover reporting by Fisayo Soyombo that further exposed the rot in Nigerian security and justice system. Many more discoveries which have ensured some local councils now release their budget for public engagement. Citizens mobilized to take the lead in demanding accountability by tracking fiscal policies and asking the right questions on their implementation.

It is difficult to know what to expect in 2020 with still a lot to be desired in terms of fundamental human rights and absolute supremacy of the law. All arms of government have the opportunity to entrench democratic values in all their activities while non-state actors like the media and civil societies should remain neutral and continue to serve as the voice of citizens even on a daunting political landscape.

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