I start by saying thank you for extending this invitation on how best government and other stakeholders can establish appropriate structures and platforms to take advantage of new media tools in driving transparency, accountability and public service delivery.
In the last few years, governance all over the world has witnessed fundamental changes with the emergence of new media. With recent occurrences all around the world, it has become paramount for every government official, employees and even contractors to embrace the use of new media such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Radio, TV, websites that are updated daily, and periodic bulk SMS messages to show transparency and accountability in public service through direct engagement with stakeholders.
The use of new media in governance has altered the style of communication radically. Now we have internet discussion groups and chat rooms which provide unprecedented opportunities for political discourse. It is clear that this transformation from print media to electronic media has important implications to the development of our country, especially as people have been influenced significantly.
Moreover, there is more political information disseminated today through a vast range of sources on the web. Political news is available at the click of a mouse and one of the primary characteristic has been the interactive communication that technology facilitates among citizens, politicians and even media personnel. Rather than the citizens being passive recipients of information be it from the Federal Government or the National Assembly, it is now possible for citizens to make their political opinions and presence known, and to play a more active role in governance.
For example, the Democratic Party in United States was able to use this tool to galvanize members of the public, most especially during the Obama campaign, and have kept this momentum going in order to maintain their support. I remember recently, President Obama (@BarackObama) and Senator Kirsten Gillbrand (@SenGillibrand) of New York among other legislators I follow on Twitter, have used the medium to seek the public’s opinion and support and to ask them to reach out to their representatives to pass particular bills.
During the election in 2011, I noticed that a large number of Nigerians are on different social media platform and I felt it was only proper for me to be able to bring information to them at the comfort of their home, school, place of work and practically everywhere. That singular act afforded me the opportunity of undiluted feedback and real time interaction.
New media has turned the world into a global village. Let us take a quick look at how new media has liberated countries in the Gulf. Take for instance the Arab gulf countries which welcomed the unprecedented political initiative of founding the most popular Arabic language news and information satellite channel Al-Jazeera; this happened to be the only independent satellite television news. Sequel to this emancipation, the country in recent times has been subject to a series of censorship from various government interest groups as a way of checkmating the excesses of local contents.
Liberation of the press from government and special interest groups interference had a corresponding effect on the way media is being viewed, thus permitting freedom of speech and public opinion through the new media especially Radio, TV and social media sites which have paved way for a healthy civil society. The “Arab Spring” witnessed in Tunisia, Egypt and other parts of the Middle East relied heavily on new media, mostly social media tools like Twitter, Facebook, Youtube and Blackberry Messenger. These processes led to unprecedented transparency and have helped the government to play a decisive role in resolving the crisis to bring about normalcy.
Here are some basic statistics
Official Country Name: United State Of America
Region (Map Name): North and Central America
Language: English, Spanish
Literacy Rate: 97.0%
Area: 9,629,091 sq km
GDP: 9,837,406 (US$ millions)
Number of Daily Newspapers: 1476
Total Circulation: 55,945,000
Circulation per 1,000: 264
Total Newspaper Ad Receipts: 48,700 (US$ millions)
% of all Ad Expenditures: 33.10
Number of Television Stations: 1500
Number of Television Sets: 219,000,000
Television Sets per 1,000: 787.6
Number of Cable Subscribers: 70,991,360
Cable Subscribers per 1,000: 252.1
Number of Satellite Subscribers: 16,000,000
Satellite Subscriber per 1,000: 57.5
Number of Radio Stations: 10,322
Number of Radio Receivers: 575,000,000
Radio Receivers per 1,000: 2,067.9
Number of Individuals with Computers: 161,000,000
Computers per 1,000: 579.0
Number of Individuals with Internet Access: 95,354,000
Internet Access per 1,000: 342.9
Over 7 million Nigerians worldwide are on Facebook, 2 million active users on Twitter, over 50 million internet users, and 100 million active mobile phone lines. This has made sharing of information very easy, which is essential to the development of our great country. Now Nigerians in Diaspora can get real life information within minutes if not seconds. There is no doubt that new media is now the most dominant and strategic mode of communication.
As the chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Ecology, new media has been exceptionally helpful as it has offered the opportunity for public participation in governance. For example, when the oil spill occurred in Bonga, through my website and twitter account, I was able to get real life images and reports from people on the ground even before the agency in charge submitted their report. This made it easier to facilitate and immediately initiate an on-the-spot assessment by the committee to visit the location of the spill in record time.
Everywhere in the world, citizens participate actively in governance through new media; this medium allows for free expression of opinion irrespective of political, religious, ethnic or social status. It shouldn’t be any different in Nigeria. It is the individual responsibility of every one of us in this room to canvass the needed awareness, and publicize the strengths and shortcomings of every arm of government to help enhance our democracy, as transparency will bring about good governance. There is no other platform that is vibrant and can provide such a robust interactive platform to continue to promote good governance than new media.
Effective communication in government is a good way to amplify people’s voices, face-to-face communication that can either be one-on-one or in small groups. The objectives are to share information, respond to questions, and motivate specific behavioral practices. The belief is that while new media allows for the learning of new ideas, interpersonal networks encourage the shift from knowledge to continued practice. Communication is always a two-way stream. While we are still working to perfect the possibility of answering each and every question sent through my website, Twitter and facebook, it is important to stress the importance of issue-based conversations. I have noticed that a few people will rather engage in character assassination rather than engage in constructive criticism.
I must commend great minds that regardless of political affiliation have been able to contribute to the development of our great country by providing solutions to issues and giving constructive criticism. In one of such criticism, when a young man by the name of Adewale Omoba Adebayo in January of 2012 sent me an email asking me to ask my fellow legislators and the Federal Government of Nigeria how they expected him and many other Nigerians who barely make minimum wage to afford the 141 Naira fuel price. I immediately called on the Federal Government to revert back to 65 Naira or at least to give opportunity for negotiation.
I also must extend my sincere appreciation to all the Civil Society Organizations that have supported different government agencies by bringing them up to speed with the use of modern technology. During the election, quite a good number of organizations were reporting how election was going on in their respective wards. I want to encourage these organizations not to relent in this effort as we need their input on a daily basis to help keep us in check.
By encouraging more cooperation between CSO’s and different government parastatals, the best use of resources can be leveraged. We have seen all over the world how new media is used to fight crime and we must be able to bring our institutions up to par with this modern technology.
Government must continue to embrace new media. With the use of the Freedom of Information Bill, activities of the government will become open book available for all to flip through. This will offer a feedback channel, keeping the citizens abreast of happenings in the country. If every government official in all levels could embrace the use of new media, half of our job would be done because it will speed the process of dividends of democracy provided that is devoid of constraints by geographical boundaries and technological limitations.
In conclusion, while using new media, we must understand that it cannot replace the traditional mode of communication, which is one on one communication. A few months ago, I started #ABS INTERACTIVE SESSION which has provided me the opportunity to put names with faces of my online constituents and members of the community at large. These meetings confirmed my greatest fear which is the need to carry members of the public along so they will not be misled by wrong or diluted information sometimes propagated by our traditional media sources. The response received from the Interactive session was quite instructive as it has helped sharpened the approach needed to tackle matters such as unemployment, education and entrepreneurship.
Despite the challenges posed by new media as it concerns availability of reliable internet accessibility, government will continue to strive to deliver online content in new ways and new venues as technology impacts where and how people consume content. We must still work to make all government offices internet-accessible. Also, it is imperative to have civil servants trained to be computer literate in line with international practice of bringing governance closer to the people.
I leave you with this: For all citizens to be deliberately engaged in governance is the price and promise of democracy. I urge you to engage all elected officials constructively as we work towards a better nation upheld in the transparency and trust of its government.
My website is www.abubakarbukolasaraki.com