There is no valid objection to the fact that Nigeria, as a vast democratic nation with enormous tasks before her, has never experienced a full citizen-engaged parliament until this 16th year of its 4th Republic, exactly her centenary age. The most-talked-about 8th Senate since its inception on June 9 2015, till this eventful moment, has been marked by several distinguishing policies and actions that make the legislature somehow meeting up with requirements of the modern age.
The man of the moment, Senate President Senator Bukola Saraki, made a pledge to Nigerians that his leadership of the Senate will introduce transparency by adopting and encouraging e-parliament system of legislature. This is a call that must never be allowed to slip off his mind. I must emphasize.
Before the emergence of Saraki, it would be recalled that the teeming Nigerians on social media have frowned severally at the closed-door-manner at which the National Assembly is ran by predecessors. It was largely believed that making legislative activities of the upper and lower chambers hidden from the citizens negates the core values of democracy. As an intellectual protest against this act, the emergence of social media campaigns like #OpenNASS, most particularly, erupted and trended inevitably on all social media platforms. The reaction of the then Senate President, Senator David Mark, was so ridiculous to show that the Senate, in the previous dispensations, doesn’t understand the significance of social media in building an accessible legislature. According to an opinion published by Vanguard Newspaper, operations of the National Assembly (Before Saraki) were shrouded in secrecy.
Differently however, Saraki who has tasked the Senate Committee on Rules and Business to develop an e-Parliamentary system that can be employed at Senate Plenary sessions to permit public contributions, demonstrated what has been described as unprecedented “legislature-citizenry interaction” before, during and after the Ministerial Screening process. There’re multitudinous feedbacks on Twitter that would remain as attestation to this.
In the pursuit of attaining an absolute transparency, Saraki urged Nigerians on his online pages to partner with the Senate by suggesting prospective policies that would further assist the government on deliverance of dividends of democracy. A week after, the Senate President reported that the Senate received thousands of e-mails with in-depth reports, according his statement.
Even though it’s not agreeable that the whole of these is the height of what transparency is, it is totally not logical either to dispute that they’re practicable leaps towards it.
On this cause so far, it’s as if the Senate hasn’t taken any step yet, considering the amazing announcement by the Senate President that officials of that renowned social media platform, Facebook, would be led by their “Head of Public Policy for Facebook in Africa” to train Senators on holistic use of social media apps.
This, as a matter of fact, has generated a lot of online controversies, even among social media users (myself inclusive) who have lauded the innovative ideas of the 8th Senate. Aside the reckless extravagance, it’s just too flabbergasting to hear that Nigerian Senators don’t know how to operate Facebook! Don’t they have Media Aides? Some have asked angrily and mockingly. In his collections of Twitter reactions nevertheless, the Facebook Senate President clarified that the training demands “no single kobo” from the government.
If the disclaimer above could be true, one might agree with the statement by Mr. Bamikole Omishore, Special Assistant on New Media to the Senate President, that the decision is borne out of the wish to join the global community in the efficient way of using social media platforms to achieve modern e-legislature. “As a step in joining the global community in using the Social media platforms the right way, Head of Public Policy for Facebook in Africa will be coming to Nigeria with some of her colleagues to Train Nigerians Senators and their aides on effective use of the platform to engage Nigerians on formation of policies and to get undiluted feedback from their constituents”Omishore argued.
Let me state emphatically at this juncture that not all Nigerian Senators, even though it is presumed that they can all operate online social media, make committed use of it. A senator that I will give privilege of anonymity had once said: “hanging online exposes you to uncontrollable cyber criticism, incessant attacks among other associated troubles.” If truly it is the belief of many government officials that abstinence from online platforms is the only way to avoid public assessment, it should be said frankly that such ideology is not only obsolete, but also detrimental to the realization of common goals, especially in a country where public protest isn’t well encouraged like Nigeria.
Mandela is very right in his word that “it always seems impossible until it is done.” If the use of social media has the required potential to transform governance in our country by fast-tracking productive civic engagement and making our representatives more accessible and accountable, as well as bringing about job opportunities as most Senators could subsequently set up ICT centres after the training, I will, to this end, have no reservations in giving encouragements to the leadership of the National Assembly.
Submissively, it should be re-iterated that there’s more to Facebook than posting pictures and passive posts, the use of its other integrated Apps is another world of ICT knowledge that’s worth learning. Without fear or favour therefore, the Facebook Senate President remains on track as far as revolutionizing the Senate is still the struggle.