Bukola Saraki, Smwlagos And The Rest Of Us
Permit me to borrow one of the sentences used by Senator Bukola Saraki to buttress his point further during his interactive session at the just concluded Social Media Week Lagos2016 where he referenced the evolving nature of the social media environment that -''Times Have Changed, And, So, Must We''. One remarkable admonition to take home is the realisation that the media space is ever dynamic and non-static; a fact most politicians struggles to adapt with in their quest to defend government policies and the extent of stakeholders' participation in political decision making.
Indeed times have changed, but only a few have mastered the craft of evolving with social trend and citizen participation in governance. Last week, I made it a point of call to attend the grand Finale of the much talked about Social Media Week Lagos, otherwise known, as #SMWLagos by the social media enthusiasts. Firstly, the choice of the topic for the StateCraft Inc. early bird event was attractive as it pertains to the current trend where citizens' input on the 2016Budget had forced the gladiators to withdraw and reduce the over bloated humongous amount allocated MDAs and secondly, the decisions to have on board a political figure from this present administration as a key speaker removed any doubt about the acceptance of the event as a youth programme that has come to stay.
Eventually, Bukola Saraki will go into the history books of the Social Media Week as the first Senate President to grace the occasion. This perhaps came without the rigmarole that often accompanies events of such magnitude. It was straight to the topic – ''The GameChangers: 'PROMOTING ONLINE COMMUNITIES TO IMPROVE PARTICIPATORY GOVERNANCE''. As at 9:30am, social media lovers and industry leaders had converged at the main bowl of Landmark centre in Oniru, the event was anchored by Ebuka-Obi Uchendu with seasoned panellists like Seun Okin of ChannelsTelevision, Gbensa Sesan of Paradigm Initiative Nigeria (PIN),Chioma Akwuegbo of CACE and The Enough Is Enough (EiE) crew in attendance.
For Bukola Saraki, it was a familiar terrain with familiar faces eager to rip through with damning and flattery questions while others sought his account of stewardship of the 8th National Assembly as the Senate front man. Saraki, the former governor of Kwara State was well applauded by the entire segment of the crowd after his brief presentation. He has proven his depth of knowledge on happenings in around the social media space in clear, unambiguous terms that Nigerians can achieve a lot by acknowledging the role being played by the social media especially in the April 2015 general elections.
It is no longer a coincidence why Saraki remains the most sought after speaker on media events by organisers, aside his position as the Senate President and Chairman of the 8th Senate, you will recall that Bukola Saraki has been active on Facebook and Twitter since his days as Kwara State governor. The social media week 2016 may have come and gone, but its significance is not lost, rather, it is a process that should ensure continuity and taking the conversation higher. A good example of citizen participation in giving governance a meaningful direction is the public outcry on the awareness raised by a random twitter user on the spread of the deadly lead poisoning in the small town of Bagega in Zamfara State. Once this was brought to the attention of the Senator, other influential social media changers jumped on the story, and Senator Saraki who was then the Senate Committee chairman on Environment and Ecology ensured that funds were released by the Jonathan government to carry out remediation action in the contaminated zones. Foreign volunteer, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) Doctors without borders were equally effective in treating the children.
The Social Media Week Lagos organisers and Statecraft inc couldn't have chosen a better person to address the youth on the topic of the day, evidenced by the quality of questions that followed from the audience. In fact, it was practically a subconscious avenue for Bukola Saraki to give a sterling account of his personal experiences as an avid social media user. Emphasising the non-exclusivity of social media as a preserve of some certain group of privileged people, Sarak said: ''my presence here is a message from the National Assembly saying that social media has a role to play''. This admittance sends a strong message of hope to media savvy individuals hopeful of collating government data, seeking urgent relevant information and participating government policies at the formulation stages.
Some of the key areas, Bukola Saraki spoke on are, the issue of making NASS budget and activities open to the general public, non-implementation and revision of outmoded Nigerian laws, the multiplier effect of having citizen participation in government, the breakthrough on TSA fund recovery and support for local production amongst others.
If democracy insures that we're governed not less than we deserve, as rightly postulated by George Bernard Shaw, the question and answer segment leaves no one in doubt in the direction today's generation is headed. Moderation was lost in this case as democracy took full control to ensure questions were entertained from the tomfool to the clever, small, eccentric, clueless, informed and the opposition.
The highlight of the interactive session would remain the question raised by the audience on the bill for an act to prohibit frivolous petitions and other matters connected therewith also known in the media parlance as ''Anti-social media bill''. To the admiration of the crowd present, Saraki disclosed that the social media regulation aspect of the bill was ''dead on arrival'' and section 4 of the frivolous petition bill will be expunged from the main bill. The corresponding thunderous applause from the cross section of the audience in approval of their Senate President's live confirmation of the non-existence of such restrictions sent the elated young people at the event venue to a new tranquility.
Lastly, the concept of power is accepted as endemic to humans as social beings. The joke is on the rest of us, and politicians slow to respond to the roles of the new media in the social movements, in the media emerging world. Lessons from the #socialmediaweekLagos abounds, office of the citizen can be fully represented by taking advantage of various social media tools to demand real time feedbacks, engagements and accountability in government. Most politicians realises that perception is key, and, luckily, this is entirely up to an individual. Our growing internet penetration could only mean that we are getting to an era where politicians will have no choice but to make a detour on social media before taking their campaign offline.
Written by Wale Bakare.