The elites in most societies are invariably the most educated, most enlightened and most exposed segment. Several studies have shown that citizens whose overriding concerns are topmost on the political agenda of the elites are more likely to be satisfied with democracy, hence will participate actively in voting at elections and will be ready to defend democracy. Mass-elite preference congruence assures citizens that their concerns, needs and aspirations would eventually translate to concrete government policies and predispose them to the dividends of democracy.
If voters’ issue priorities are salient in the campaign, they are likely to perceive the election to be important and find it easier to evaluate parties and make their vote choice (Reher 2014).
Extensive empirical research has shown that mass-elite incongruence lowers voters’ turnout and political trust, leads to dissatisfaction with democracy, the growth of populism, and detracts from democratic legitimacy.
Compared to previous experiences in our nascent democracy, voters’ turnout for the 2023 presidential and national elections was dismal at 27%, despite the unprecedented interest shown by more than 85m voters in arming themselves with the Permanent Voter’s Cards. The reason for this is not farfetched. Political elites failed to converge on the burning priorities of the masses. When the masses were sleeping in petrol stations and going berserk in banking halls, political elites were polarised along party lines.
A newspaper front page showed the ever busy Federal Secretariat, Abuja, looking desolate, because civil servants, some of whom had money in the bank, could not access their funds. While the elites were interested in winning elections, the masses were fighting the battle of their lives. In the circumstances, the voter is wont to say ‘who election help?’
Lagos State government has evolved several initiatives to bridge proximity between the government and the citizens, that are worthy of emulation. The state was the first sub-national in Nigeria to institutionalise an Economic Summit (Ehingbeti) in 2000. This flagship public discourse has enabled policymakers in conjunction with the private sector to harvest ideas from the masses, international statesmen, local and international investors and intellectuals.
In 1999, the security situation in Lagos State was so precarious that the then military governor, Colonel Mohammed Buba Marwa was almost assassinated in broad daylight. One of the resolutions of the 2001 Economic Summit was the establishment of Lagos Security Trust Fund, a collaborative effort between the Organised Private Sector and the State Government, which has boosted the financial resources for the Rapid Response Squad (RRS) and other security architecture.
The other far-reaching resolution of that pioneer summit was the establishment of Export Free Zones and SME Industrial Parks which gave birth to the Lekki Free Zone, and subsequently, the Lekki Deep Sea Port, and the Dangote Fertiliser and Refinery. It was also at the Summit that the idea of LAMATA, the Blue and Red lines emanated. Subsequent Ehingbeti gave rise to audacious projects like: the Fourth Mainland Bridge, the Imota Rice Mill, The Lagos Energy Academy, Lagos Empowerment Trust Fund, Alaro Town, among others. The Governor of Lagos State, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, based on his institutional knowledge about the landmark contributions of the Lagos Economic Summit to the state’s transformation, resuscitated the Conference and ensured that two were held, in the spate of four years, despite the debilitating effects of COVID 19.
To change the narrative of the non-existence of community involvement in the budget process in Nigeria, the state government pioneered the introduction of an Annual Budget Consultative Forum where citizens are given opportunities to make input into the budget indicating their priority projects and programmes.
The administration of Governor Sanwo-Olu increased the fora to five to hold in the five divisions of the state. This has eliminated the incidence of misplaced priorities, project duplication and ensured community participation in project conceptualisation, implementation and monitoring.
Elite’s narratives of relative performance of public officials often create a divergence between public perception and reality. It is therefore of extreme importance that sterling performances are given due recognition, while also pointing out areas that need improvement.
• Aare Adebayo Sodade is a retired Permanent Secretary and currently serves as Special Adviser to the Governor of Lagos State on Economic Planning and Budget