By ‘Sola Fagorusi
Last week, Nigerians got another unsettling glimpse to the workings of the mind of a part of the country’s leadership. Using #SpeaktoSP, the official twitter handle of the Nigerian Senate, @NGRSenate released series of tweets on the 24th of November informing Nigerians that the Senate President, Bukola Saraki and his colleagues had just launched a suggestion box for Nigerians to have access to ‘Speak to Senate President – #SpeaktoSP’. The tweets further explained that ‘The #SpeakToSP Suggestion Boxes will be around the @nassNigeria complex to allow staff and the public reach SP @bukolasaraki directly.’
Expectedly, the reaction did not go down well with Nigerians on social media. Knowing the several unverified information on social media, one will have been tempted to pass it off as a joke or the ‘hard work’ of a mischief-maker. The accompanying pictures showed that it was true afterall. The pictures showed the senate president flanked by a number of his colleagues cutting the ribbon and launching the suggestion boxes. It must be clearly said that this idea belongs to the past. It is akin to what the second senate, led by Joseph Wayas between 1979 and 1983 will have done and rightfully summarized has having had a productive day given the limitation in communication technology at that time. The idea of launching suggestion boxes in the 5th senate, led by Adolphus Wabara will even have been a stale idea.
Asides from this Senate president led initiative being archaic, the logic behind it is also faulty. The senate president is first among equals and a feedback that is targeted at him only is not likely to translate to the benefit of all. All 109 senators are obliged to have a mechanism through which they can communicate with their constituency. What the senate president should have launched instead was a compendium both in electronic and hard copy of contacts of all senators and senate committees. Their names, brief biography, constituency address, committee membership, contact phone number for suggestions and complains, their social media contact inclusive of Facebook, Twitter and Whataspp, BBM and their email addresses should have been included in such. This will make feedback possible and easier. Such publication/handbook should also have information on how Nigerians can engage with the senate through bills they want pushed and even on how to extract information from the national assembly using the Freedom on Information Act. And besides, how does the senate president and his team expect complains from the IDP camps in Borno to reach him through this launched suggestion box or those from communities battling gully erosion in the East? At the very least, the senate presidency should have launched a set of easy to remember toll-free mobile numbers that Nigerians can call to share suggestions with his office. Such 24-hours manned lines will create the kind of result the senate president desires if truly his intent is to hear suggestions from Nigerians. There are a little over 150 million connected lines in Nigeria according to Nigeria Communication Commission; the suggestions will certainly rain from across social classes if mobile lines are made available.
It is commendable that the senate is looking to have means of having the public communicate with it but the latest approaches seem faulty. The leadership of the senate recently was scheduled to receive free training for senators and their aides from Facebook Inc. as part of retooling senators to understand e-governance. With just 25 senators aides attending the event of the about 500 available, as reported, three things are clear – it is either the import of keeping in touch with the electorate is not a priority for them or the message was not properly channeled or that they already know enough to shun such training.
The leadership of the senate has since assumption of office portrayed itself as one that is technologically savvy. It needs to build on its good online presence instead of focusing effort on suggestion boxes that will soon gather dusts and their keys lost. The senate may choose afterall to take a cue from the Nigeria Police Complain Response Unit. The idea is to use the platform to monitor the activities of Nigerian policemen and women who have been more of foes than friends to the people they are paid to protect. With details available on www.npf.gov.ng/complaint/, the institution may be on the path to a complete overall if the information of the availability of this platform filters across the country with citizens ready to use them and the leadership of the police ready to respond accordingly to complaints. The Nigeria Police ticks all the boxes in terms of channels that complainants can use (seven options) and the colourful posters and placed in public places was also a well thought out idea by the Force. Interestingly, there are suggestions boxes at the gate of most police stations but no one dares use them. Already the internal Ombudsman is beginning to get feedbacks from the public and the retweets from @PoliceNG_CRU shows this. @NGRSenate can learn from them.
@SolaFagro on twitter.