Fellow Since 2006
This profile was prepared when Emeka Nsofor was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2006.
Emeka Nsofor is increasing civic participation, promoting good governance and developing functioning constituencies by empowering rural communities with information on the Nigerian electoral process and the responsibilities of elected representatives.
The New Idea
Nigeria’s citizenry lacks the necessary information and tools to participate effectively in its own governance, thus preventing democracy from flourishing. To address the problem, Emeka empowers communities by involving constituents in the political decision-making process and holding elected officials accountable for their policy-making. Emeka encourages greater participation in civic life and builds effective constituencies by equipping grassroots and rural dwellers with the necessary skills and opportunities to utilize their democratic institutions and collectively determine their own economic and social plans for development. He helps communities design development strategies and then enter into social contracts with elected officials to ensure their plans are implemented. Emeka also educates the communities on the process of recall as a last recourse for removing poorly performing politicians from power. He is the first person in Nigeria to develop social contracts between communities and elected officials as a way of ensuring civic participation and good governance.
Six years after the return to democratic rule, Nigerian rural communities have yet to experience the much-touted positive impact of democracy because of political excesses and misrule by elected officials who see power as a personal acquisition rather than a call for public service. Abuse of power and a rampant lack of accountability infiltrate every level of government and foster a culture of inefficiency and corruption. This absence of good governance is exacerbated by the electorates’ lack of knowledge of the established processes for participating and contributing effectively in a democracy. For example, voters in Nigeria have no access to basic electoral laws and regulations, as they are usually in short supply and distributed only to government departments. As a result, voters have no way of determining the roles and responsibilities of their elected officials. Surprisingly, it is not only the masses that are ill-informed. It is widely accepted that most elected representatives are not aware of and/or do not respect their responsibilities to their constituencies, rendering them largely ineffective.One major consequence of poor leadership and a disempowered populace is that the citizenry becomes disenchanted with the democratic process. Nigerians are now resorting to violence as a means of airing their discontent, and their quickly spreading intolerance with the status quo is provoking conflicts at the rural and urban levels. Recent examples of political unrest are youth restiveness in Jos, Plateau State, Kaduna, and Lagos, as well as politically motivated kidnappings in the Niger Delta region. If the current political trend continues, electoral fraud, intimidation and election rigging will become institutionalized and any gains made toward establishing true democracy in Nigeria will be eroded. The return to a military dictatorship is a possibility should good governance not firmly take root and flourish within the very near future. Emeka is striving to address these problems by reversing the culture of unaccountability and political apathy through his organization, Human Support Services.
Emeka has put into place a two-pronged strategy to advance his objective of good governance: 1) he builds the skills and knowledge base of both constituencies and elected officials so both groups understand the democratic process as well as the roles and responsibilities of all parties involved, and 2) he helps communities create social contracts with their elected representatives that outline their plans for development.Emeka begins by identifying community leaders and stakeholders who will act as effective intermediaries between the grassroots communities and elected officials. He always involves registered voters as leaders, driven by the belief that registering to vote implies a person understands the need for voices to be heard. These community leaders attend political awareness programs which include street workshops for youth, stakeholders meetings, information dissemination techniques for community leaders, youth, women, community development associations, and elected officials. Once these leaders become ‘master trainers’ equipped with knowledge of the electoral process and the skills to effectively communicate it, they are encouraged to mobilize their communities. They begin dialogue between constituencies and their elected officials to identify, discuss, and address key issues. Emeka creates a forum for dialogue between constituencies and representatives that is unprecedented in Nigeria. In one of the most unique aspects of his programs, he encourages communities to articulate and document development plans and enter into social contracts with elected officials, creating a basis for evaluating the performance of each official. These contracts detail the rights and responsibilities of all key actors in the community and also include the participation of local businesses, chiefs, religious leaders and other high profile entities to provide legitimacy to the community development plans. This model has been successfully implemented in two regions: Mushin and Ajegunele, and is rapidly spreading to other communities.As a final mechanism to ensure effective governance, Emeka educates citizens on the principles of recall—an effort that enables the community to participate in and evaluate the activities of its elected representatives. With support from the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, Emeka is currently training 50 representatives of youth organizations to be ‘master trainers’, providing them with access to workshops on advocacy and lobbying skills as well as democratic principles and procedures. He emphasizes guidelines and strategies for recall of corrupt and incompetent elected representatives. The social contract is the basis for recalling, and through this mechanism, he is ensuring the right of citizens to affect change if they are displeased with the work of their elected officials. This process fortifies democratic institutions, accountability, and positively influences the psyche of both voters and those voted into office—if there is a loss of confidence in government voters are now empowered to change their political landscape. By the same token, the ability to remove government figures from power encourages these elected officials to hold up their end of the social contract. Additionally, Emeka is encouraging communities to influence the electoral law guiding recall. His organization participated in the recent electoral law reform movement, advocating for improved transparency and less stringent rules for the process of recall. In Nigeria presently, the signatures of one third of registered voters is needed to introduce a recall, but the voters list is not made public by the electoral commission. As a result, no one ever knows exactly how many signatures are needed. Through Emeka’s efforts, this situation has recently been reversed and voters’ lists are being made available publicly. He is planning a campaign to reduce the numbers of signatures needed to affect a recall to improve accountability. Emeka has also designed and developed a pamphlet, posters and handbills on ‘democracy- made-simple’ to be distributed in schools, public transportation vehicles, motor parks and during his street workshops to increase awareness about the democratic process and recall.Emeka has built numerous partnerships to ensure his efforts reach the widest audience possible. He works with legal aids both at the state and federal level to ensure his activities fall in line with the constitution and political legislation, and has partnered with the U.S. National Institute of Democracy in addition to local citizen organizations. He is also in the process of putting together a best practice manual documenting his experiences in creating his proven models for good governance. He plans to disseminate the manual to other organizations interested in political accountability and self-articulated community development plans. One of the benefits of networking and working closely with other organizations is that Emeka has acquired significant marketing and organizational management know-how which have facilitated the rapid spread of his programs. He currently has four paid staff and 90 unpaid volunteers that facilitate his programming in rural areas. He has also put a mechanism in place to address any community problems that may surface in the form of a call center. He has a board of directors comprised of eight prominent, trusted community leaders from the north, east and south of Nigeria who help provide strategic direction to his organization.
Emeka has always been dedicated to finding solutions to the social problems that surrounded him. For example, he opted to live and work in a rural part of Northern Nigeria for his national youth service assignment and teach chemistry at a local school. With no entertainment, electricity or running water in the schools, Emeka saw that young people were missing out on critical social and character building activities. He was determined to bring life to the remote community. He taught chemistry during the school day and then organized a basketball team and a drama society in his spare time in the afternoons and evenings. He introduced after-school activities to the community and witnessed first-hand how he was able to improve the lives of those around him. After his national service assignment was over, he left the field of chemistry and dedicated himself to the service of humanity, as he believes that a functional Nigeria will contribute more to his life and his children’s lives than any achievement he could make as a chemist. Emeka followed his passion for politics, and with the earnings from his national youth service assignment, founded his citizen organization, Human Support Services, that he has nurtured since 1998. Deeply committed to human rights, Emeka is also a member of CRAK, a Nigerian citizen organization dedicated to protecting and advocating for the rights of children. He is also vice-chair of Hueynet, a lobby group comprised of individuals and organizations that advances a human rights agenda. Through these engagements, he wants to unite with others to become a formidable force to push governmental reform.