Hamzat Lawal: Code and the politics of ‘us’ versus ‘them’

by Hamzat Lawal

“If you ever think you are too small to be effective, you have never been in bed with a mosquito!” – Wendy Lesko, Executive Director, Youth Activism Project.

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I have often read and heard thinkers- mostly political scientists – say that oppositional thinking is crucial to social change, especially when these thoughts play on the fragmented shape of our social worlds along the lines of race, class, gender, sexuality, species, and ability, among others. Reform activists then, who are on the side of social justice, are expected to transform these systems of domination, in order to entrench all-inclusive governance and democratic best practices.

However, I have observed that even the activists occasionally get sucked into the whirlpool of ‘us-versus-them’ mentality. Sometimes we use it to define our work and give us a sense of clear-cut mission. At other times, we just come face to face with it as evidence that we are not just activists; we are youth activists. The trick is in keeping our balance while walking the thin line.

My experience as the Chief Executive of Connected Development is still ongoing, and shaping my outlook on political and global affairs on a daily basis, but the story of CODE started when we saw the impact of #SaveBagega campaign. We realised that voices raised against injustice could really initiate processes towards social justice. And that other established institutions dedicated to similar calling would also hear that voice.

 

In 2013, Follow The Money got an e-mail from Indigo Trust, UK, requesting to know more about us and our campaign. Its team had been planning a visit to Lagos, and so upon receiving our reply, extended their tour to Abuja in order to meet with us. After the meeting in Abuja, we were told to come up with a project proposal. Needless to say, it was a novel experience for us, having based our campaigns so far on a loose administrative setup without any formal process of operation.

With the advantage of hindsight I can say that with the intervention of Indigo Trust, we arrived at the moment of truth. It was a time to test whether Follow The Money was just a fluke or something that has a deeper foundation in innate passions. When the international grant making organisation reacted to our two-page proposal by giving us a grant of nine thousand, six hundred and forty-eight Pounds (£9,648 – an equivalent of about N2.4million then), we stood at the threshold of history, which held many possibilities. As young people, we could have easily used the sudden cash to help ourselves; but we found the needed strength to keep our eyes on the big picture.

So, we decided that we had come to that place when we had to institutionalise our campaign. We began the necessary moves to register our organisation. We brainstormed on several names (starting with ones like “Open Development Watch”), sent to the Corporate Affairs Commission, and got all of them rejected. At a point we suspected that the-powers-that-be did not want us to be registered; so our lawyer had to threaten a lawsuit with the CAC.

However, at the end of the day, the name Connected Development [CODE] Initiative was cleared. CODE was born on December 23, 2013.

We then brought together the different loose activities we worked on under the new organisation – health, education, environment, etc. – and grouped them in appropriate thematic areas. I became the Chief Executive, who would drive the mission and vision of the entity. Follow The Money (FTM) became a movement under CODE, and we enlarged its scope and modus operandi.

FTM was envisioned to be a platform to give the right tools and channel to community reporters and random citizens who are passionate about making a positive impact on their community and environment, as the case maybe. So, what started with #SaveBagega, immediately snowballed into other milestones: #RelocateGutsura, #EducateMaru, #SaveShikira, among others.

Without a doubt, even the concept and nomenclature of FTM gives it that peculiar air of being a tool for the politics of us versus them. The familiar picture is that the common man perceives the politician as a squanderer of the people’s wealth, and so it becomes necessary to keep an eye on him whenever resources are put in his custody. But FTM goes beyond that narrow scope.

Nevertheless, we became more involved in the political governance process when we told ourselves the home truth: “Before you follow the money effectively, a credible government has to be in place.” This is because even in FTM we are actually interested in the process of governance; and in order to take it a step further, intervention is also needed in the electoral process so as to guarantee credible democratic governance.

The truth of the matter is that many a time, by distorting the electoral process, it is the politician who discourages the citizens from getting involved in political processes. This, therefore, creates a vicious circle of sort – as bad governance entrenches electoral malpractice and vice versa.

We were therefore very active in the 2015 general elections in Nigeria where we worked as accredited observers. We were able to mobilise over 1,000 volunteers in 31 states who assisted in our elections monitoring efforts. We also collaborated with established international partners like Ushahidi to bring about a new dimension in digital electoral monitoring in Nigeria. Also, during the last Local Area Council elections in the Federal Capital Territory, we were accredited observers.

It must be pointed out that as we got involved in these processes, we remained true to the spirit of FTM, which is ensuring open data for transparent governance. We set out to mainstream transparency and accountability by introducing the infrastructure that would ensure that such best practices remain sustainable. We also determined to instill self-confidence in the Nigerian youth by motivating them into social services that would make them recognise their worth.

Our efforts were not in vain. Eventually, other developing countries recognised our network and sought our collaboration. We had outreaches in Ghana, Togo, Cameroon and others. But the icing on the cake was during the last presidential election in the United States of America (November 2016), when CODE was officially invited as part of the international election observation team. Our team travelled to the US and came back with experience and knowledge that would definitely be useful in strengthening our involvement in Nigeria’s electoral process, especially as it pertains to all-inclusive democracy.

And should someone ask me, where do you start? I will answer; let us start with our first constituency: the youth.

I believe that the Nigerian youth, who makes up 60% of the population, is marginalised in the democratic process. Irrespective of his region, religion or origin, the young Nigerian is the most marginalised and segregated amongst all subgroups. It has become obvious that his/her defined role in the country’s electoral system is to vote for the elderly Nigerian who vies for political positions and appointments. At best, the youth serves as his Personal Assistant and briefcase hauler. At worst, this youth serves as the politician’s tool for rigging elections, snatching ballot boxes, political thuggery and hired assassination.

Our colleagues and friends at the Youth Initiative for Advocacy Growth & Advancement (YIAGA) is an active part of the civil society coalition currently championing the Not Too Young To Run campaign in the country, which we believe shall give the youths an opportunity to play active roles in the political space. For now, they are still caged and marked for disqualification because of the constitutional age limit slapped on them by law.

The Not Too Young To Run Bill is moving, and hopefully, it will see the light of day. At the National Assembly, It has already passed second reading and now with House Committee on Constitutional Review at the House of Representatives, while at the Senate is has only passed first reading. The process may take time, but I believe real change will come sooner than later.


Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija

Hamzy! is an Activist and currently the Co-Founder / Chief Executive of Connected Development [CODE]. He is working to build a growing grassroots movement of citizen-led actions through Follow The Money for better service delivery in rural communities. He Tweets via @HamzyCODE

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