5 Steps To Political Well-Being
For centuries we've been good at thinking about our physical well-being. Pick up any magazine and it'll be full of advice about exercise and healthy eating. In the last few years we’ve got a bit better as a society at thinking about our emotional and mental well-being. You can't walk through Waterstones without being accosted by books about mindfulness. But what about our political well-being? You won't find a 5 point article in a magazine about how to achieve that.
We believe poverty isn't just a lack of money or a lack of food, it's also a lack of power. That's why in Nigeria we're working with communities to give them a louder voice in their local politics. And it's making their lives better.
Here are their top tips for political well-being.
Welcome to Anambra State, Nigeria.
Because of it's remote location, people here used to be very disconnected from their political representatives. 'They never saw their representatives. They were hard to find because they didn't even have offices here, and they didn't have any responsibility to the community.' - Eugene Obiodu Some say it was because the roads were in such a bad state that government officials wouldn't make the long journey out to the community. Perhaps it was beacuse people didn't realise that they had a right to demand things in return for the taxes they paid. And it was undoubtedy because women were not allowed to even attend local meetings.
This used to be a place with a low political well-being. People were disempowered and disconnected from politics.
Voice to the People - or V2P - was a project set up to help the most vulnerable communities in Anambra State to claim their voice and demand their rights, and that's what they did.
1. Have regular communication with your political representative
Before, the roads in Anambra State were so bad that government officials wouldn't make the long journey out to the community.
Voice to the People set up spaces and forums where people could meet and dialogue with their local governent, providing a platform for citizens to take an active engagement with their representatives.
But first they had to convince the government officials to come and take part. Some of the community travelled to the government headquarters and demanded for a space for citizens to interact with the government and particiapate in decision making.
They convinced them of the benefits of a space where government could share their plans and updates, as well as having space to hear the needs of the people. This was the beginning of interaction between people and their representatives. Now these meetings happen on a regular basis.
2. Know what your rights are and work out what you want to change
People in the community learnt for the first time that they could demand things in return for the taxes they paid.
Before, they didn't realise that they were entitled to funds for public services or that they had the right to claim for things from the government. Voice to the People worked with the community to draw up a list of their demands and prioritise community issues that needed government attention.
Now they're asking for things to change - to have better roads and drainage systems, to get better access to healthcare, and to have better education in place.
3. Know how to hold your governent to account
It's all very well asking for things, but we also need to make sure they get done! Voice to the People are teaching people how to hold their political representatives to account and make sure things got done.
Christian Edochie is a Community-based monitor in Mgbakwu, Anambra. He says, the training he recieved from Voice to the People 'taught me that I could go to sites where the government is working in the community and ask them questions about the work.' 'If I don't get satisfactory answers, I will hold them to account.' - Christian Edochie
4. Make sure election campaigns are run fairly.
As part of the project, Voice to the People trained people to become official election observors, monitoring voting and counting. They report anything unusual or irregular and they make sure that the election is free and fair.
As Florence Asomuga queued up to vote she said, 'I have the right to vote for the candidate of my choice, and it is my civic responsibility to vote for the candidate of my choice, so nobody should push us around.'
Exactly. You have the right to vote for whoever you think will do the job best!
5. Be confident in your right to have a voice
Before Voice to the People started working with the community in Anambra, women played no role in local politics. Amake Obiekwe, the President General of Nzam community in Anambra West says that, 'Before, women looked at other women participating in politics as wayward, and they didn't come out to listen to them. But now, people understand that women can come out for politics.'
Everyone can play a part in politics and decision making, but sometimes we need to help those in minority groups and excluded groups to have confidence in their right to take part. This is why Voice to the People runs confidence training sessions for women and girls, providing a safe space for women to support and encourage each other.
In the last three years, the negative perceptions that people in Anambra State had about women's involvement in politics, has shifted to an appreciation and encouragement of all that they bring.
'Now women shine bright like stars.' - Theresa Nnatoanya
Eugene says, 'The community have started having insight and they're now informed. They learnt a lot; that government is their own and they should participate in whatever is happening. Women are joining in and participating in politics. Women are now accepted and appreciated in the community and are seen as co-partners in progress.' Now people meet with their government on a regular basis and things are changing in the community - people learnt for the first time that they could ask for things in the community in return for their taxes, their demands are being met and new community serives are happening, people know how to register to vote, and women are participating where before they weren't allowed to even attend the meetings.
The community have seen change in Anambra State because they demanded it and held their government accountable until it happened.
That is political well-being.