Yiaga Africa Deepens Grassroots Democracy through Faciliating Direct Engagement Between Citizens and Local Governments
Yiaga Africa has held the People’s Assembly in Lagos State as part of its efforts to deepen democracy at the grassroots level through direct engagement between elected local governments and citizens.
The two-day meeting brought together government officials and representatives of citizen groups from three local government areas in the state - Ikeja, Kosofe, and Surulere - to discuss the challenges in their communities and explore ways to increase citizen participation in decision-making in the local government areas.
In his welcome remarks, Yiaga Africa’s Program Manager, Governance and Development, Ibrahim Faruk defined the objectives of the meeting as to entrench a culture of deliberative democracy at the local government level, such that deliberation between government officials and the citizens becomes the norm. This is especially important as the local government is the tier of government closest to the people.
“The main objective of the People’s Assembly is to create a space to learn together. As we learn together, it is also important to identify problems within the community, and further find common ground on solutions,” he said.
He added that this approach will ensure that there are better policy outcomes and better decision-making processes. This would in turn ensure government decisions have more legitimacy, and citizens would have more trust in government.
In his contributions to the meeting, the Executive Chairman of Surulere Local Government Area, Hon. Sulaimon Bamidele Yusuf buttressed the importance of deliberative democracy as improving governance and the relationship between government and citizens. He called for more citizen awareness, especially among young people, to encourage them to interact with their local government representatives.
Participants at the meeting highlighted challenges such as lack of political autonomy for local governments, lack of youth participation, and citizens not initiating engagements with their local representatives as impeding the progress of democracy in their local government areas.
The meeting also included a session on Experience Sharing on Local Government Administration in Lagos State, which was led by Professor Surajudeen Mudasiru of the Department of Political Science, Lagos State University.
Prof Mudasiru started by emphasizing the need for such a People’s Assembly to be honest in discussions in order for it to achieve its objectives.
“Democracy is a social contract between elected representatives and the electorate, and participation in a democracy is its true cost,” he said.
There was also a session led by Michael Ogunsola, a community organizer on how citizens can participate in the decision-making processes at the local level, with the participants suggesting engagements via Community Development Association (CDA) meetings and public hearings. They also pushed for more deliberate gender inclusion in participation and decision-making.
This was followed by a session led by Yiaga Africa’s Program Officer, Olaniyan Sanusi on how the People’s Assembly can be sustained in the local government areas. He advised the leadership of the People’s Assemblies to formalize their relationship with the local government areas as a way of legitimizing the Assembly. He also suggested expanding the number of groups that are involved in the People’s Assemblies so that no group feels marginalized from the process.
The People's Assembly meeting is a follow-up to the launch meeting in March.
It is being implemented in 3 local government areas each in Lagos and Sokoto states in order to promote equal participation of diverse groups through debates and consensus-building on issues affecting respective communities, so as to inform governmental actions and policies in selected local governments.
The People's Assembly is implemented under the TurnUp Democracy project and supported by the United Kingdom Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office (FCDO). It is part of efforts to bridge the gap between citizens and the government. The aim of the TurnUpDemocracy project is to find areas of improvement in the practice of our democracy, especially as it relates to grassroots citizens' engagement.