Recently, the Speaker of the Cross River State House of Assembly and Member representing Abi State Constituency Hon. John Gaul Lebo communicated his plans to unveil the Abi State Constituency Development Strategy.
He said that as part of the strategy, 3 strategic areas will the subject of focus.
1) Educational Discovery Initiatives and Scholarship.
2) Constituency projects and payment of Constituency Allowance.
3) Enterprise Academy and funding support.
4) Health/ Medical support and Community Diagnosis.
5) Town Hall meetings and Constituency Conversation.
In the light of this, our treatise this week will focus on the need for constituents, with a focus mainly on the youth, to engage with elected representatives in Cross River State to ensure they fulfill their constituency responsibilities.
It is a constitutional responsibility of the constituents to do this and it will lead to better representation and the development of the state.
INSIGHT INTO THE ISSUE
A look at the definition of democracy as the government of the people by the people and for the people shows that the people are the body and soul of any democratic government.
The active participation of the citizenry, especially the youth demographic, in the act of governance is very essential for the survival, entrenchment and growth of democracy.
The exclusion of the people from governance and decision making processes at different levels of government in Nigeria is thus an anomaly.
A situation where decisions are made independently by elected representatives who represent the people and their interests, without regular consultation with the people they represent is thus not acceptable.
Experiences from around the world show that peace, order and good governance cannot be attained in any society where the citizens are not involved in the process of making laws and policies that directly or remotely affect them.
The situation in Nigeria today where there is little or no participation of the citizenry in the process of governance is, the least to say, undemocratic.
It is therefore imperative that a regime of healthy and effective citizens-representatives engagement must be facilitated and encouraged by all stakeholders in Nigeria in general and Cross River State in particular.
Cross River State Democracy Club and the Cross River State Youth Parliament as development organizations are committed to achieving this strategic objective in Cross River State.
The emolument approved for elected representatives covers the provision of a constituency office and other constituency activities but it is sad to note that some elected representatives in Cross River State neither have functional constituency offices nor carry out any form of constituency engagements with the people they represent.
Going forward, this must change. The people in Cross River State, with particular focus on the youths, must seek opportunities to engage with elected representatives and insist on the representatives having functional constituency offices, projects and clearly outlined activities.
This we believe will help the people contribute better to the process of governance.
Town hall meetings and other consultative gatherings where the representatives and the people will be able to exchange ideas on issues as prioritized by the people in all constituencies is the way to go.
These meetings must not only be regular but also consistent with citizens clearly informed about venue, time and date of meetings.
At such meetings, the youths will have the opportunity to ask questions and make contributions on the issues as it affect them, all in a bid to engender proper representation.
This should be very serious and strategic meetings and not an occasion for dancing, sharing and eating of rice, as is the case in some constituencies.
In this regard, in order to improve youth engagement with elected representatives in Cross River state, we will like to encourage youths and other constituents to be more conscious of their civic rights and responsibilities and demand regular engagements with their elected representatives.
A SHORT NOTE TO ELECTED REPRESENTATIVES
In democratic societies, elected representatives are expected to represent citizens’ interests. When carried out effectively, citizens/representative engagement can help elected representatives successfully fulfill their representation roles, as well as provide information that can help them better execute other functions.
Engaging with constituents involves communicating with them, learning about their concerns and helping to solve problems affecting them in the constituency.
It involves everything from conducting public forums and hosting constituency meetings, to visiting a constituent during holidays and events.
Citizen engagement is one of the most important aspects of an elected representative’s work. Elected representatives who actively engage their constituents help to create a link between citizens and the government.
Active engagement in one’s constituency also gives a more human face to the elected representative. Finally, effective engagement can help mobilize citizen participation in public affairs.
With limited time, money and other resources however, elected representatives need to be able to prioritize and plan their constituency engagement work.
This requires that they define their engagement goals, establish objectives based on those goals, and determine priorities. All these must be achieved even while still carrying out other important activities.
Elected representatives are often faced with challenging decisions regarding how to represent their constituents most effectively. Balancing the right amount of engagement with citizens against the need to spend time on other activities within available budget, often forces representatives to make strategic choices to maximize their effectiveness.
Knowledge about one’s constituency is one of the most important tools in developing an effective constituency engagement strategy. The more a representative knows, the more effective he or she will be at identifying the most pressing issues for constituents and determining the engagement activities that deliver the best results.
It is important to also communicate effectively with the constituents. Communicating effectively with constituents demonstrates a representative’s responsiveness and commitment to a community, while enhancing his or her public image, both of which are critical to winning office and continuing to serve as elected representatives.
A good communication strategy should employ a variety of methods for speaking with and listening to constituents. Some of these strategies include news releases, flyers, radio and television, town criers, internet and social media etc. These strategies cannot and should not take the place of regular constituency public meetings.
Constituency public meetings are an important means of developing and maintaining a local identity in the constituency and communicating with constituents.
A public meeting affords an elected representative occasion to speak with a very large group of citizens at once. This allows him or her an opportunity to gain a first hand sense of the community’s challenges.
Bringing a diverse audience together has its challenges. So on the negative side, representatives will of course be fielding challenging (and probably unfriendly) questions, or bombarded with the type of requests that may be impossible to accomplish within a short time. This should not however discourage representative from having these meetings.
Constituency tours can also be an effective way for elected representatives to connect with constituents. In this way they can hold several different meetings in a short period of time in different constituency districts.
During their time in the constituency, representatives can set up meetings with constituents at specific locations. However, location, date and times of meetings must be effectively communicated.
Constituency offices are very important in the work of a representative. They can help streamline constituency services and improve the efficiency of outreach activities.
There are important things to take into considerations when setting up a constituency office and several tools which can enhance the office’s image and improve the quality of constituent services.
Some of the things to take into considerations when setting up a constituency office include accessibility to constituents, functionality of the available space, quality of staff employed and available facilities.
Some of the tools which can improve the quality of services include computers, telephone and internet where possible.
Helping individual constituent work through the bureaucracy to resolve their problems is a demanding, but often rewarding, part of any elected representative’s job.
Few constituent engagement activities have as much potential for directly impacting citizens’ lives, or for enhancing citizens’ perceptions of their elected representatives.
Internet is changing the way elected representatives reach their constituents. A personal or constituency website highlighting a representative’s accomplishments and vision for the constituency, and allowing for public feedback will prove increasingly critical to political success in the digital age.
Another emerging platform is the use of social media with applications such as facebook and twitter.
The last but certainly not the least; and a very important, issue we will like to consider is constituency project.
This has been an issue of much controversy and elected representatives must seek to throw more light on this at the constituency level.
They must also ensure that their various constituency projects are not only visible but make impact on the lives of constituents.
Emmanuel Etim is President of the Cross River State Youth Parliament and Cross River State Democracy Club.
email@example.com for more information.
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