Representatives from over 45 civil society organizations participated in a forum on "Electoral Reform: Building Strong Coalitions and Using New Media Tools" hosted by the U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria, Robin Renée Sanders, May 19 in Abuja, Nigeria. This was one of a series of forums held as part of the U.S. Mission’s efforts to increase media and local civic group participation in the upcoming 2011 federal elections.
"We recognize the important role civil society brings to advancing democracy in Nigeria; however, election reform is something Nigerians must do for Nigeria,” Ambassador Sanders said, citing the U.S.’s stance on election reform in the country. “We can help, but Nigeria must be in the lead...”
Recognizing the International Foundation for Education and Self-Help’s work in education and conflict mitigation in Nigeria, Ambassador Sanders invited Dr. Julie H. Sullivan, the organization’s President and a Yunus Humanitarian Award recipient, to speak as the election reform forum’s guest expert. With a doctoral degree in international development, combined with 25 years of assisting emerging democracies in sub-Saharan Africa, Dr. Sullivan shared her experiences and gave insight on the role of civil society in promoting democratic values in a just society. She pointed out that the key deciding factor of a society’s democratic reform is the character of its civic life and that communication, collaboration and mutual respect are key ingredients necessary for a functioning civil society.
Dr. Sullivan explained how web technology and grassroots community mobilization were very influential towards the outcome of the U.S. 2008 presidential campaign and election. “An informed electorate is what wins elections,” she stressed. “Civil society and NGOs should work together to effect change by ensuring that the electorate is adequately informed and that their interests are protected. Now is the time to begin.” She went on to speak about how voter education training of youths and adults, one component of IFESH’s Conflict Abatement through Local Mitigation project, has already positively impacted election reform efforts in Nigeria.
The forum also focused on using new media tools such as Podcast, Facebook and Twitter in helping to aid organizations working at the grassroots level to promote democracy, better elections processes, and to help with voter outreach. In all, from May 19 – 21, the election reform forums were held in Abuja, Lagos and Port Harcourt.
May 26, 2009