SDN staff in Port Harcourt have been visiting local communities to facilitate participatory discussions on political participation, gender inclusion, mandate protection, and mitigation of electoral violence as part of it’s MacArthur Election project. Timipere Felix reports:
As part of the MacArthur Election project we completed the first in the series of community sensitization events. In September the project team organized Town Hall meetings in Oporoma and Kaiama (Bayelsa State) & Bumadi and Orogun (Delta State).
In each community 100 participants were targeted. Overall turnout was 93%. Out of that number the turnout of women was about 46%.
The sensitization events revealed some of the challenges that stop people taking an active part in the electoral process. These challenges include poor understanding of government, its origin, purpose and relationship with citizens, poor political and civic knowledge and loss of confidence in politicians and the election management system. The team made the first step at rekindling the interest of community members in the electoral process. Subsequent engagements hopefully will build on this.
Participants expressed their wish for a time when elections would be more credible and politicians would see the electorate as the holders of the ticket to political offices. They demonstrated readiness to partner with the SDN’s election preparation and monitoring team to see that the 2015 elections mark some improvements.
Most assuring was the attitude of women to the engagement. The women in all four communities drew the attention of the team to the things that stop their full participation in the political process. These include cultural practices that prevent them from aspiring higher, domestic obligations to their husbands and children, poverty amongst women while politics in Nigeria requires big cash, and the clandestine nature of party activities and meetings, some taking place far away from their communities and at odd hours when husbands will not permit their wives to attend. Also identified was the lack of confidence and failure of women to aggregate and pursue a common political interest.
The meetings ended with the selection of 30 citizen election observers from each community. SDN set the criteria and the communities took responsibility for making the selection. The observers will be trained and equipped to monitor the upcoming 2015 elections in their towns and villages.