2023 ELECTIONEERING ACTIVITIES: ASKING THE RIGHT QUESTIONS, DEMANDING SMART DELIVERABLES
(Being a remark presented at the “a day capacity building workshop for civil society organizations and media executives” organized by the Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership (CACOL) on Tuesday 30 August 2022 at Rights House, 43, Adeniyi Jones Avenue, Off Oba Akran, Ikeja, Lagos State)
I am delighted to be here, representing my Principal, Mr. Akinbode Oluwafemi, the Executive Director of the Corporate Accountability and Public participation Africa (CAPPA) at this occasion organized by the Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership (CACOL) to build the capacity of civil society and the media in Lagos State towards achieving the goal of bolstering support for anti-corruption and social inclusion among critical groups and strengthening policies and programs for anti-corruption at the state level as the country prepares for elections in 2023.
No doubt, the 2023 general elections will be a defining moment for Nigeria. If done right, the elections can help consolidate Nigeria’s democracy and serve as a shiny example for the West African sub-region which faces the grim reality of a recrudescence of usurpation of power by the military and other anti-democratic forces ’,.
Hence, this kind of initiative undertaken by CACOL is essential to help build citizens’ civic awareness of their civic obligations and capacity to engage critical stakeholders to ensure not only the integrity of the elections but also to guarantee that the government that emerges from this exercise work for the public good. Right from its birthplace in Ancient Athens, democracy has always been underpinned and undergirded by citizens’ participation. Therefore, the health of every democracy is directly proportional to the quality of citizens’ participation and awareness. This is why I am particularly elated by the topic of my presentation which talks about “asking the right questions” and “demanding SMART deliverables”.
Nigeria’s democracy is marked by a gross deficit of governance, Over the years, the performance of elected public officials has been seen to be below not citizens’ expectations. Also, campaign promises are rarely fulfilled once politicians are in power. This situation has led to widespread dissatisfaction and distrust in the political system. A study undertaken by the Pew Research Centre in 2019 found that “Only 39% of Nigerians are satisfied with the way democracy is working in their country, while 60% say they are not satisfied. Almost six-in-ten (59%) say the statement “elected officials care what ordinary people think” does not describe their country well. In addition, a 57% majority believes that no matter who wins an election, things do not change very much for people in Nigeria”
Asking the right questions
A major factor responsible for unsatisfactory governance outcomes is the lack of productive engagement between the electorate and the political parties and their candidates. Instead of asking the right questions, many voters prefer to settle for inducement and other largesse politicians provide during campaigns. PVCs have now turned into means of earning free money during elections instead of a powerful tool for making transformative changes. Hence, voter inducement was widespread during the recent off-cycle gubernatorial elections in Ekiti and Osun states,. For the poorest of the poor in Nigeria, election day is an opportunity to earn enough to cook a pot of soup rather than a day to define the destiny of the nation. No doubt, this is a sad commentary on the state of democracy in Nigeria.
However, while poverty may explain electorates’ predisposition to inducement, several studies show that many citizens also lack the requisite knowledge to engage political actors. For citizens to ask the right questions, they need to be informed, organized, and active. They also must be equipped with the requisite knowledge “to make decisions about policy choices and the proper use of authority, along with skills to voice their concerns, act collectively and hold public officials accountable”.
For the purpose of this engagement, I have identified six (6) broad categories of questions citizens must always ask candidates and elected public officials. These are:
(1) What is to be done? What are the issues?
(2) How will it be done? i.e., budgeting process, mode of implementation (Public, privatization, or PPP), contract system, or public works? (Lekki Epe Tollgate)
(3) Who will pay for it? i.e., will it lead to increased taxation? (E.g. Tollgates for New Roads)
(4) Who will it serve or benefit? i.e., the rich, the poor, etc. (for instance, ultra-modern markets and housing estates which are often built at the expense of the poor and to which they have no access)
(5) How will it extend to the next generation i.e., sustainability, does it come with usurious debt that will affect the next generation? Is it environmental-friendly?
(6) How will women, youth, and other vulnerable segments of society be affected?
Obviously, the above six (6) categories do not exhaust the subject, nevertheless, they can provide an important framework for citizens to engage candidates and elected officials in order to make informed electoral choices.
The acronym “SMART” stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound. It refers to specific criteria to guide in the setting of goals and objectives for better results. The term “SMART” was first proposed by George T. Doran in the November 1981 issue of Management Review. Particularly in the field of project management, the idea is that every project goal must adhere to the SMART criteria to be effective. Therefore, when planning a project’s objectives, each one should be:
(1) Specific: The goal should target a specific area of improvement or answer a specific need
(2) Measurable: The goal must be quantifiable, or at least allow for measurable progress
(3) Attainable: The goal should be realistic, based on available resources and existing constraints
(4) Relevant: The goal should align with other business objectives to be considered worthwhile
(5) Time-bound: The goal must have a deadline or defined end
What are SMART goals?
The goal should target a specific area of improvement or answer a specific need. Because it is the first step in the SMART goal process, it is important to be as clear as possible. For example, note the difference between “I will make lunch” and “I will use wheat toast, peanut butter, and strawberry jam to create a tasty sandwich for myself to eat”. See how specific it is? This example also illustrates the importance of word choice. Not only are you noting which ingredients or tools will be used to achieve the final goal, but you are also articulating who benefits. Details like these color your goal description, making it easier for collaborators to visualize and align intentions with your project.
The goal must be quantifiable, or at least allow for measurable progress. In this step, you’ll choose what your progress markers or project KPIs are and how you’ll measure them. This might mean adopting the right tools or restructuring your KPI’s to something that you can easily monitor. You’ll also need to define who is in charge of measuring your progress, when these measurements will take place, and where the information will be shared.
The goal should be realistic and based on available resources and existing constraints. Typical project constraints include team bandwidth, budgets, and timelines. Project managers should look to data from similar past projects for insight into what’s achievable this time around.
The goal should align with other business objectives to be considered worthwhile. You can also break your project goal down into smaller, equally relevant goals that will keep the whole team focused. Be diligent about eliminating irrelevant goals and subgoals to save significant time.
The goal must have a deadline or a defined end. This can be measured in hours and minutes, business days, or years depending on the project scope. To set your project timelines, get feedback from major stakeholders about their deadline expectations, and compare it to team members’ inputs.
How does it relate to citizen engagement of political actors?
The SMART criteria provide a framework for engaging political actors whether they are candidates or elected public officials. Oftentimes, politicians make outlandish pronouncements and promise that they do not intend to implement. Sometimes, a newly elected public official announces they are unable to fulfill campaign promises because of the state of finance of the government they have just been elected to lead. By using the SMART criteria, citizens and electorates can be armed with a tool for productive engagement and for making informed political choices, and demanding accountability.
Therefore, SMART deliverables can be defined as a set of government priorities and projects that meets the criteria of specificity, measurability, and attainability and that are relevant and time bound. For example, in the area of public education, citizens must demand government projects or programmes that are:
(1) Specific: How many school buildings will be renovated or built anew and how many students are targeted to be enrolled? How many new teachers need to be recruited?
(2) Measurable: How will the project be implemented, how much will it cost and what are the Key Performance Indicators?
(3) Attainability: What is the status of the resources of the state? How will the project be funded?
(4) Relevance: What are the present level of school enrollment and the condition of school infrastructures and how does this project align with the overall objective of the state.
(5) Time-Bound: How long will this project last? Is it within the financial year or within the four-year tenure?
I do hope that I have within the limited time available been able to increase our awareness and knowledge of the tool and skills to engage and promote active citizen participation in the political process. Obviously, these discussions and engagements are so crucial and therefore ought to continue beyond the 2023 general elections. Once again, I thank CACOL for inviting me and hope for greater collaboration between CAPPA and CACOL in the effort to promote anti-corruption, social inclusion, and accountability in governance and political processes.
Policy and Research Lead
Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa
 Doran, G. T. (1981). “There’s a S.M.A.R.T. way to write management’s goals and objectives”. Management Review. 70 (11): 35–36)