Political AffairsStrategic Opinions

Civic engagement: the Osun example, By Abiodun Komolafe

Not long ago, Osun State Government launched a feedback platform to further bridge the gap between policy implementation and the experiential realities of the residents of the state. The website, www.civicengagement.os.gov.ng, was launched through the state’s Civic Engagement Centre.

According to Olatunbosun Oyintiloye, pioneer Head of the Centre, the website was designed to “serve as a feedback mechanism between the government and the people in the areas of the measure of development as well as ascertain the functional value of government policies and programmes.” Oyintiloye, who also doubles as Special Adviser to Governor Gboyega Oyetola on Civic Engagement, stated that “both residents and non-residents would also have the opportunity to express their opinion about government programmes” and how those programmes “affect them, using the platform as a credible conveyor.”

Created in the Year 2020, Osun Civic Engagement Centre has undertaken programmes and activities that have placed the state in good stead. Among them were: ‘Governor’s Family Meeting with Informal Groups’, ‘Community/Rural Engagement’, and ‘Market/Park Rallies’. It has also held parleys with farmers, women, youths, traditional councils/community leaders, trade unions, religious bodies, andnon-indigenous communities “in the state towards enhancing inclusive governance and peaceful coexistence.” This is in addition to creating an “avenue for partnership with many multinationals and NGOs with interest in the improved living condition for rural dwellers”.

Without doubt, civic engagement helps in improving the conditions that influence the health and well-being for all. Through it, nations are not only brought back into democracy, power is also transferred back to the people. Since government does not have the capacity to go it all alone, it also serves as a rigorous thinking avenue on which way forward for the state. Truth be told, the Osun civic engagement project is a sign of sincerity on the part of the Oyetola-led government. Since words travel faster among people, the hype has a ring to it, which, indeed, stands it out from several others, in and outside the state.

Sometimes, people become angry simply because they feel alienated. When this happens, money and whatever it stands for may become insulting to such people, for it makes them look like commoditized items, which most people on this side of the rung loathe. Already, the governor has a spectacular structure on ground through which he can gauge the feelings of the residents of the state. From the grassroots, the electorate can tell the government what is actually going on in their domains. Thus, it has helped this administration in working out the dynamics of the political parties and crisis resolution.

When the project started, Nigerians hardly gave it a serious thought. Added to it was that the man at the helm of affairs at the Centre was largely seen as an underdog. But, take it or leave it: the former Member of the Osun State House of Assembly was resilient. He refused to lose fuel. Instead, he concentrated on his mission. As fate would have it, the systemic aspect of the structure was able to add finesse to the output. Thankfully, the impact has been rewarding!

Sociologically, Oyetola’s version of civic engagement has a way of actually making the people appreciate the government in a way never witnessed in history. Why did I say so? In this part of the world, governments go, governments come! Their mission, primarily, is to deceive the people with programmes that are only lofty on paper. But, that is where it ends, for they end up not yielding this kind of response, or result. Once upon a government in Osun, we had ‘Labe Odan’, which was more of a jamboree. That Oyetola is sending a team out to discuss with the electorate adds a touch to governance. And that makes it magical because the voting public is easily drawn to the government.

Where there is no communication, there is no relationship! Worthy of note is the effective communication, with creative feedback, which is greatly impacting Oyetola’s system of government. Besides, the beauty of Oyintiloye’s team was that, instead of staying in the city centre, dancing, flowingly, to Portable’s ‘Sazu Zeh’; or, recreationally, to Tekno’s ‘Skeletun’, it would travel hours through the rough and tough paths, just to spread the good news of the government to the governed in their huts and hamlets. At times, telephone receptions would fail members of the team. Yet, they would keep walking, and working, until results were obtained. Is it any wonder therefore that, within the one and a half years of the Centre’s establishment, the team has visited more than 1000 communities across the state?

Well, for those who delight in running after empirical information such as power of incumbency and influence of moneybags as the required ingredients in wining an election, Osun Civic Engagement has offered an alternative: develop a man or a neighbour and the multiplier effect will acquire a life of its own!. Taken together, here is a governor who does not talk much but goes about doing his job, meticulously. He is always solemn, carrying the burden of governance with all his heart and looking at how to improve the lives of an average resident of Osun. It is not that Oyetola does not like the merry crowd. Available information says he does! But, in a country where water is not running, where power supply is erratic, and unemployment rate is on its way to 50%; where inflation rate is in double digits; and exchange rate is fast accessing the rooftop, that the governor has succeeded in bringing out the esoteric part of the art of governance is no mean feat. Take his cabinet as another example. Members also watch the body language of their principal. Of course, that is why they are not seen misbehaving.

The issue on ground brings to the fore the essence of pattern formation. This is an approach whose time has come! Give it few years, political mass-participation of the people will be laudable and commendable! Civic Engagement protocol ensures a free-flow symbiotic relationship between the government and the led. Unadulterated feed-back is also assured.

All said, feelers from the streets insisted that, most times, governments run after insinuated narratives of the opposition, instead of dictating their own narratives. This needs improvement. Good to note therefore that the project has captured the rural dwellers. The arrangement is also in the interest of the ruling party in the state. With it, the All Progressives Congress (APC) is far better, more so as each of the meetings of Oyetola’s very ingenuous approach to politics will just be like a mini-party interface with the people.

Lastly, it is important to note that a serious government will not only think of sustaining Osun Civic Engagement for the future but also improve on what the Oyintiloye-led team is currently doing. This will go a long way in connecting with the people and giving them a disserving government, not just by propaganda or campaign rhetoric but in the delivery of goods and services to the people.

May the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, grant us peace in Osun State!

*KOMOLAFE wrote in from Ijebu-Jesa, Osun State ([email protected])

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