With the elections few weeks away, Nigerians are in a sour mood. They are dissatisfied with the direction of the country, and generally pessimistic about its prospects. The general opinion is that the country stands at one of its lowest points in history, off on the wrong track, and perhaps the most negative ratings we have seen after the civil war. The challenge of nation-building is snapping at us heading into the elections. During a church service two years ago, to mark the independence anniversary, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo said, “our walls are not yet broken, but there are obvious cracks that could lead to a break up if not properly addressed”. He spoke the truth.
Factors are responsible for this sorry state of affairs include challenges of diversity, leadership failure, rising poverty and unemployment, unending scourge of corruption, among other existential threats. It is gratifying to note that in spite of these challenges, Lux Terra Leadership Foundation, an indigenous, non-profit, networking and advocacy group, established in 2009 under the leadership of accomplished theologian and author, Rev. Fr. George Ehusani, is changing the narrative. At this point in Nigeria’s political history, there’s no doubt that a vibrant civil society voice has become an essential tool for a strong democracy and nation-building to flourish. From the emergence and activities of such networking and advocacy which Lux Terra represents, and with support from MacArthur Foundation (a U.S-based philanthropic organisation), it will help highlight the obvious gaps in government service provision, challenge the deepening incidence of corruption and oppose injustice. This has also become imperative because an organised, well-driven civil society can be hugely influential in channeling public opinion, policies and good governance. To be effective, such civil society must be credible. It must also be seen to hold the public good above individual interests. That’s exactly the approach the Lux Terra Leadership Foundation is striving to enthrone, as it seeks to address the current shrinking civic space in Nigeria. It is doing this by facilitating the networking of respected and patriotic Nigerians from across religious, ethnic and political divides as well as provide a platform for them to engage in objective analysis of a wide range of challenges facing Nigeria. It is with a view to putting forward alternative consensus narrative and ideas for advocating policy changes and promoting social inclusion, national integration, peace and progress. Its mission, among others include to offer specialised training and transformative capacity building exposures and experiences towards making Nigeria a better society for the realisation of the common good.
Between 2017 and 2020, the Foundation, with active collaboration of the Islamic Trust (IET), it has implemented a project funded by MacArthur Foundation which focused on using religious institutions, networks and resources to fight corruption and promote a culture of integrity in the country. Within this period, at least 300 religious leaders, comprising pastors, Imans, women and youth leaders have trained. This is in addition to 600 student leaders from both Islamic and Christian school and NYSC members. At the end of the training, they were commissioned as “Accountability Ambassadors”. Taking it from the spiritual perspective, what Lux Terra Leadership Foundation is doing is akin to the example set by apostle Paul when he invited Timothy to join in the missionary work. Paul shared the preaching and teaching methods with the young Timothy (Acts 16:1-3, 1Corinthians 4:17). Timothy, in turn, used Paul’s methods to train others. In all of this, Lux Terra recognises the fact that nation-building involves efforts to establish trusted institutions of national government, education and enlightenment, citizenship participation, their rights and liberties. For this to happen and achieve its objectives and outcomes, the Foundation has been in the forefront of organisations in the country working diligently to drive citizenship education. In the course of this, it has been able to generate and spread advocacy materials that will guide the citizens towards informed political decision-making. With the youths constituting a sizeable number of the voting population, according to figures from the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), that makes the work and approach taken by Lux Terra a unique and impactful path towards building public awareness. It’s the kind of advocacy that Nigeria needs at this transition period, and even beyond the elections. As election campaigns go to the homestretch, Lux Terra must be counted among the very few civil society organisations that have maintained a constant and consistent focus on improving governance, leadership and political engagement in the country. This creative initiatives of bringing public attention to issues that Nigerians want to hear, is heartening. It’s by far, in contrast to the current abusive conduct of some of the presidential candidates who have been fighting dirty, throwing tantrums in public places rather than focus on issues and proffer a pragmatic approach on how to rescue the country from its present crises caused by poor leadership.
The way the Foundation has been able to drive just-concluded voters registration and the collection of Permanent Voters Cards (PVCs), is something that is needed in a democracy. As former President Goodluck Jonathan once said, “democracy is not just about fulfilling all righteousness by treating the people to the ballot box that you bring out on Election Day’”. As a matter of fact, democracy boils down to legitimacy and ensuring that the people have the necessary dividends. For all that counts, elections must offer valid choices, and the votes must count through a credible, fair and transparent electoral process. That is where Lux Terra approach has earned the respect and support of many. Its approach allows for a period of assessment, a feedback mechanism and periodic review that monitors the impact, the objectives that have been attained. That is how democracies that have succeeded to deliver dividends were able accomplish much for their citizens. With a sustained interventions by Lux Terra and other advocacy groups, Nigeria could, in the near future, grow its democracy to the point where elections would be essentially based on the programmes and policies of the political parties, and on the character and competence of the candidates, rather than ethnicity or religious preferences. As Lux Terra Leadership Foundation may have found out, nation-building is work in progress, a dynamic process in constant need of nurturing and reinvention. It’s built by exemplary men and women and sustained by institutions that can promote good governance and socioeconomic development. There are indeed, three essential components of nation-building: it involves setting the rules, hiring persons with the requisite expertise and moral competence to interpret the rules and implement the goals of the organisation, and ensure that the institutions inspire public confidence. In the absence of public confidence, nothing will work. That’s why having true leaders for nation-building, whether at political, business or church levels and the professions, must be known by their ability to draw the best out of those with whom they work, and over whom they exercise any kind of influence. They should be able to talk with people, and not talk at them. Stable political system, vibrant economy and a courageous, committed judiciary, are necessary to attain these noble objectives. In respect to the Nigerian judiciary, its independence and proven integrity of judicial officers are essential political tools that will serve as a unifying voice on issues of national concern. The judiciary should not only be involved in arbitrating disputes between various levels of government and citizens, and among citizens or political parties, it must also be involved in settling issues among private sector agents. In Nigeria, however, problems arise for civil society organisations like Lux Terra. These include the passage of repressive legislations that attempt to deter citizens from speaking out against perceived injustice and elements of bad governance. A recent report by Amnesty International revealed that Nigeria is among 50 countries where legislations constrict the civic space. Sometimes, government power is deployed to silence civic actors that expose failures in governance or policy implementation. (Continued on www.sunnewsonline.com)
Across the states, governments in power have been stifling opposition parties. A number of bloggers and activists have been reported harassed and arrested on trump up charges for challenging some policies of the government. In some cases, the media have been gagged or sanctioned with hefty fine for publishing or airing views considered unpalatable by the government . There are also some sections of the amended Companies and Allied Matters Act(CAMA) that are widely perceived among civil society organisations, including faith-based organisations, as aimed at curtailing their legitimate activities. This is shrinking the civic space, and in some cases, heightening political tensions and making consensus building in the polity very difficult. In all, this is part of the ugly narrative that Lux Terra wants to change. And, in its place, promote mutual understanding and peaceful coexistence in the society. It couldn’t have come at a better time.