The Presidency on Wednesday described as untrue claims that the Federal Government was always afraid of civil society organisations which had always tried to put the government in check.
While insisting that unbridled freedom for members of the civic space could portend danger, the Presidency said liberties must be exercised with a sense of responsibility.
The Senior Special Assistant to the President (Policy Research), Chris Ngwodo, made the clarification in Abuja during the public presentation of a document titled: ‘A compilation of policy briefs on civic space engagement in Nigeria’.
Ngwodo said it was almost reductionist to claim that the government was afraid of the civic space, insisting that unbridled freedom could portend danger.
“Liberties must be exercised with a sense of responsibility”, the Presidential Aide said.
He also explained that the perceived tension between the government and those in the civic body was sociological and deeply rooted in people’s culture.
The aide said, “All power structures in the country will always be concerned about the expansion of the civic space. It is the way society is. This is a social manifestation of domestic situations. It is the culture of the people you’re dealing with.
“So, part of the struggle is to change that. Society evolves and our challenge is to channel that evolution towards more inclusive structures.”
He, however, recommended that Nigeria needs leaders that are open to accepting differences and ultimately managing the diversities that exist in the country.
At the event, Executive Director of The Kukah Centre, Rev. Fr. Atta Barkindo, raised the fears that the unwillingness of the ruling class to tolerate opposing views in Nigeria was posing a threat to the development of the country’s civic space.
According to him, desperate politicians, who have benefited immensely from the Nigerian project over the years, but cannot accept constructive criticisms from well-meaning citizens, had remained the greatest threat to the people’s engagement with governance.
Barkindo said, “The greatest threat to the civic space in Nigeria is the people, particularly politicians, who want to do everything to hold onto power, and cannot accept constructive criticisms.
“Nigeria is growing and there is a serious political consciousness ongoing in the country. The citizens have the right to participate in the affairs of their own country and the way it is governed. They have a contribution to make towards policy formulation.
“Constructive criticism is one of the unseen ingredients of democracy. Democracy must be open to different perspectives and opinions. If you have people in power who have very small capacity for accepting constructive criticism, you have the greatest threat to participation in the civic space.
“Any political leader who cannot accept criticisms will certainly deploy the instruments of power and the monopoly of force to suppress and even sack an entire cabinet, because they disagree with him. In my opinion that is the greatest threat.”
He also said that governance was an applied science of running the affairs of the nation, stressing that people can learn how to effectively operate the democratic processes through socialisation.
Barkindo said that a potent way to overcome the threat to the civic space was the proper education of the child to participate in the democratic process.
He said, “To overcome the threats to the civic space, we need to have short-term, medium-term, and long-term strategies which include educating our children the democratic process from very young ages.
“If we plan it well, the next generation will simply enjoy the advocacies we are making today for the expansion of the civic space for engagement.”
The cleric, nevertheless, warned the citizens against abusing the liberties inherent in civic engagement, urging them to tread with caution when spreading information from one source to another on social media.
Earlier, the representative of the Open Society Initiative for West Africa, Haniyat Bakare, stressed the need for active citizen participation considering the forthcoming elections, noting that the Nigerian civic space has been seriously tampered with by the political elite over the years.
She said, “Human rights defenders, activists, and civil society organizations have faced numerous attacks in the last decade. Healthy public debates have been significantly threatened, while the legislation and deployment of security forces have suppressed the press and media freedoms.
“At this point in Nigeria’s national life, there is a need to rebuild the torn fabrics of social cohesion through structured and productive citizen engagement.
“Also, civic participation is needed to create a sense of duty in the leadership to drive real and tangible democratic dividends.” (The Punch)