wWw To access the Speakers’ Corner Trust Nigeria website, please click here.
SCT has been working with a wide range of civil society organisations in Nigeria to develop a national Speakers’ Corner project in Africa’s most populous country. Now, with the award of a two-year grant by the Ford Foundation in February 2012 (subsequently renewed for a second two-year period), the new Abuja-based Speakers’ Corner Trust Nigeria, will be able to recruit staff and take the project forward.
The initiative’s principal aim will be to create new opportunities for public participation in governance by developing a forum for open debate through which citizens can exchange ideas and opinions, develop consensus and avoid conflict, hold their elected representatives and others to account and influence policy-making and decision-taking.
SCT’s role in the early stage of the project, which has been supported by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office’s Human Rights & Democracy programme, has been to consolidate the support already offered by a range of Nigerian, UK and international organisations, promote the initiative among key potential stakeholders, including the Nigerian Government, political parties and civil society organisations and, wherever possible, build practical working relationships.
This highly successful consultative process has allowed SCT to progress to the second stage of its work, namely to develop the vehicle for a national Speakers’ Corner project ‘owned’, steered and managed in Nigeria by Nigerians and sustainable over the long term. The securing of strong and lasting partnerships has been an important priority for SCT and essential for the long term prospects of the project.
In September 2008, SCT undertook a scoping exercise designed to test the viability of the project. Consultees broadly agreed that a Speakers’ Corner project would be particularly timely not least because, as a number suggested, Nigeria has reached an important stage in the development of its democratic and economic process: there are grounds for optimism that it can fulfil its very significant potential but also a danger that, if it does not now do so, recent progress could falter or even be reversed.
A significant number of consultees, including politicians of different parties, regarded the lack of public participation in Nigeria’s political and democratic systems as the principal obstacle to progress. They referred in particular to
- the lack of opportunity among citizens to participate in their own political processes
- the lack of influence of the majority of Nigerians on policy-making and service delivery
- the lack of accountability in Nigerian politics and public administration
- the lack of national consensus and the potential for conflict.
Several acknowledged that the President, the courts and a growing body of politicians are currently showing a renewed commitment to the democratic process. But they also recognised that, in seeking a new legitimacy, the same politicians and public servants are finding it difficult to create vehicles for the engagement they wish to promote between themselves and the public.
They regarded the creation of a genuinely ‘public space’ in which citizens can meet and debate on equal terms with each other and the decision-takers among them as vital both to the building of a more stable and sustainable democratic process and to the fostering of more cohesive communities.
Moreover, they see in the Speakers’ Corner model the prospects for a credible, independent vehicle for public engagement capable of serving the needs of both the public and those in positions of power who are serious about developing a more open and participative democracy.
From July 2009, SCT worked with its Nigerian partners to develop a sustainable vehicle for the project, gather support for it and plan its launch in Abuja and, in due course, its expansion to Lagos and other parts of the country.
That work has been very fruitful with a number of important partnerships and collaborations rapidly developing. ActionAid has pledged to provide office accommodation for the project and the Nigerian Bar Association is offering pro bono legal advice in creating a Nigerian equivalent of Speakers’ Corner Trust. The NBA, ActionAid and the Nigerian Labour Congress have also all undertaken to activate their national networks to support the development of local Speakers’ Corner initiatives when the project’s roll-out begins.
In October 2009, SCT established a Working Group to help develop and guide the project’s progress. Membership included ActionAid, the NBA and NLC but also features civil society organisations such as Coalitions for Change (C4C), Integrity, the Policy & Advocacy Centre, the Paradigm Initiative and the National Democratic Institute.
Advisory Council Takes Shape As Project Coordinator Appointed
The project took several steps forward over the summer of 2010 with the completion of a Business Plan and the recruitment of several distinguished Nigerians as the founding members of the Advisory Council of the proposed Nigeria Speakers’ Corner Trust, the equivalent body to SCT in the UK. The first members are
- Dr Christopher Kolade – lecturer in Corporate Governance, Lagos Business School; former Nigerian UK High Commissioner; former Director General of the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation; former Chief Executive and Chairman of Cadbury Nigeria Plc
- Dr Timiebi Koripamo-Agary – Media Coordinator and Liaison Niger Delta Amnesty Programme; Federal Permanent Secretary (Rtd); Member Board of ActionAid Nigeria; Labour Adviser to the Presidential Taskforce on Power; Executive Director, Gender Rights Advancement and Development
- Matthew Hassan Kukah – Catholic Bishop of Sokoto; author; human rights campaigner
- A.B. Mahmoud – lawyer; Senior Advocate of Nigeria and former Solicitor General, Attorney General and Commissioner of Justice in Kano State
- Clement Nwankwo – Director, Policy & Legal Advocacy Centre; former executive director, Constitutional Rights Project
- Dr Kole Shettima – Director, MacArthur Foundation Africa office; Co-Chair, Higher Education Initiative in Africa; Chair, Centre for Democracy & Development; Member of the Board of Actionaid Nigeria
- Pat Utomi – Professor of Political Economy, Lagos Business School; broadcaster; former Presidential candidate
- Maryam Uwais – lawyer; member of the African Union Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child; former member of the Nigerian Presidential Advisory Council; former member of the National Human Rights Commission.
In June 2010, Coalitions for Change awarded a grant which enabled the project to recruit a part-time coordinator and organise its first events in the run-up to the Nigerian elections in April 2011.
Ojobo Atuluku, a former deputy director of ActionAid Nigeria, was appointed in August and has made a very considerable contribution to the project’s development. The new Speakers’ Corner Trust Nigeria (SCTN) was registered as an Incorporated Trust in October 2011 and with funding now secured, a national launch in prospect for 2012.
Citizens’ Deliberation in Tender Vine Park
With the approach of the Nigerian elections in 2011, SCTN has been keen to demonstrate how the Speakers’ Corner model can provide opportunities and platforms for both civil society organisations and the public at large to engage in the electoral process and contribute to a constructive debate about often controversial issues.
With the aid of a grant from Coalitions for Change, SCTN was able to organise the Citizens’ Deliberation on Free Fair & Credible Elections which took place in Tender Vine Park in Abuja on 7 December 2010.
The event brought together a wide range of civil society organisations to debate the key issues for Nigeria’s 2011 elections including topics as diverse as electoral integrity and political accountability, climate change, the rights of people with disabilities and the needs of women and young people.
Their deliberations, which were widely reported by Nigerian TV, radio and press, gave rise to the Tender Vine Declaration. The Declaration is to be widely disseminated via the internet and through a series of radio features and phone-ins to provide encouragement and guidance to local communities wishing to debate their own priorities, develop their own consensus and engage with candidates on their own agenda.
Ford Foundation Grant for SCTN
In February 2012, the Ford Foundation announced that it is to provide funding for the new Speakers’ Corner Trust Nigeria which SCT is establishing to take the national project forward. SCTN has its own constitution, Advisory Council and Boards of Trustees and Directors and, with the benefit of Ford’s two-year grant, will now be able to recruit its own director who will lead the project towards its national launch and the roll-out of its first local projects.
SCTN Appoints First Director
At the end of March, SCTN was able to appoint its first Director, Ramatu Umar-Bako from a very strong field of candidates.
A lawyer, human rights advocate and development specialist, Ramatu has over 11 years experience working in both local and international organisations including the British Council where she was Governance Manager. In recognition of her work for women, she was appointed to the advisory board of Women in the New Nigeria for Empowerment & Positive Change. Ramatu has also contributed to a number of publications and has herself been the face of Tozali magazine.
Ramatu took up her post in April and will be based at ActionAid’s office in Abuja. Her appointment means that SCTN can now plan its own national launch as well as the first of its local projects, starting in Abuja but, over time, rolling out across Nigeria.
The Abuja Conversation
SCTN’s first public event took place on 23 June 2012 in the grounds of the new Top Rank Galaxy Hotel in Abuja’s Utako district.
Some fifty people came together to listen to the journalist, blogger and inspirational speaker Prince Charles Dickson who ranged far and wide in a thought-provoking analysis of the current state of Nigeria’s democracy, the need for genuine dialogue between Nigerians and the case for active citizenship as a means of shaping the country’s future.
In the course of the afternoon, almost everyone had the opportunity to speak in a debate which focused on what it means to be an active citizen in Nigeria. Their contributions were heartfelt, sometimes passionate, sometimes funny but always thoughtful and constructive and many of those who took part volunteered to become active supporters of the Speakers’ Corner initiative.
The Launch of Speakers’ Corner Nigeria
Speakers’ Corner Trust Nigeria was formally was launched in City Park in Abuja’s Wuse district on 15 November 2012.
The event’s centrepiece was planned as a debate on Nigeria’s crucial constitutional review process and in the days before the launch volunteers from the English Speaking Union trained some thirty willing students from a range of ages and backgrounds in the arts of public speaking.
The intensive two-day course, which was hosted by the UNDP at its offices in Maitama, was a great success.
Not only was it an obviously enjoyable experience for those who participated but they gained insights, skills and confidence which many would have thought unattainable at the start of their training. By the time of the launch on Thursday, people who on Monday had been reluctant to stand up and speak in any kind of public setting were addressing a large audience with confidence, passion and persuasive eloquence.
The launch was attended by over 100 invited guests including representatives of a range of civil society organisations, both TV and newspaper reporters and diplomats from the British High Commission and the Swiss and German Embassies.
They heard from a number of distinguished speakers including Dr TK Agary on behalf of Speakers’ Corner Trust Nigeria’s directors, SCTN’s dirctor Ramatu Umar Bako, SCT’s director Peter Bradley and, guest of honour, Britain’s Acting High Commissioner Giles Lever.
Recalling Sir Winston Churchill’s observation that “democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried”, Mr Lever stressed the importance of creating new forms of dialogue which can help build stronger relationships between citizens, public servants and politicians and welcomed SCTN’s role in providing new platforms and forums for deliberation, debate and engagement.
SCT’s director Peter Bradley echoed that theme when he said:
“This is a country of extraordinarily rich natural resources, the most important of which are its people. But if Nigeria is to realise its promise and if its citizens are to share fully in its success, new ways of nurturing and harnessing their ideas and energies must be found.
“That task can only truly be achieved by giving Nigerians a greater role in their own governance and a stronger voice in the decisions which affect their daily lives.
“Deepening democracy may not on its own be the solution to the problems of poverty, inequality and division in Nigerian society. But there can be no solution without it.
“The initiative we’re launching today aims to provide for all Nigerians, irrespective of age or gender, faith or ethnic origin, opportunities to express and exchange their ideas and opinions, participate in public debate, influence decision-taking and hold politicians to account in a way which will extend both their rights as citizens and the role they can play in their country’s future.
“Whatever Nigeria’s promise, there’s no denying the challenges it faces but there are grounds for real optimism too. Whenever I visit Nigeria, I can’t help feeling inspired and invigorated by the sheer strength of commitment of Nigerians to their democracy and the irresistible energy they devote to making it a reality.”
The text of Peter Bradley’s article for the Nigerian press to mark the launch of SCTN can be found here.
Debating the Budget
In September 2013, in partnership with the DFID funded States Accountability and Voice Iniiative (SAVI), SCTN conducted a training session in the techniques of speaking in public and then led a debate in Dutse, the capital of the northern state of Jigawa, on the relevance of the budget monitoring process and whether there is enough civic engagement in it.
The event took place in a local market place involving many of the traders and was conducted in Hausa. For several, it was their first opportunity to participate in open debate and they grasped it enthusiastically. Now more events are planned in the south of the country.
Speakers’ Corner on Film
SCTN regularly films its debates. Here’s one held in Abuja in November 2014 on Democracy and Electoral Apathy in Nigeria. Others can be found here.