Driving social change in developing countries like Nigeria and everywhere else in the world is a commendable and fulfilling endeavour, especially when you succeed, that comes with its fair share of difficulties and challenges. This article aims to shed light on the obstacles faced when trying to initiate social change in the country, particularly the struggle to gain the buy-in of government agencies and engage the intended beneficiaries. It highlights a real-life example of a social change campaign in the Tudunwada community, a community in the suburb of Lugbe, Abuja and emphasises the importance of perseverance and collaboration to overcome these challenges.
On the 10th of November, 2022, I started a petition on Change.org to champion the issue of poor waste management in the Tudunwada community. I was driven by a strong passion for clean environment and responsible behaviour and I sought to engage the Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB) in providing waste bins and waste collection points for the community. The petition garnered approximately 610 signatures, indicating a shared concern among community members.
One of the major hurdles encountered in driving social change in Nigeria is obtaining the support and involvement of government agencies and decision makers. My efforts to engage the AEPB were met with initial enthusiasm from the acting director, Osilama Braimah, who met with me and the change.org team, which included Wale Ajiboye, Weyinmi Eribo, Maryam Bukar Hassan, and Ebenezer Wikina, in his office. In fairness to Braimah, during the meeting with the director, he mentioned that the AEPB was not responsible for waste management in Tudunwada community but he also expressed willingness to look into the issue and see what assistance he could provide. However, a subsequent request to address the petition to the Satellite Town Development Department (STDD) instead of the AEPB demonstrated the complexities and bureaucracy often encountered when dealing with government entities. This experience serves as a valuable learning curve for those driving social change, highlighting the importance of identifying and engaging the right stakeholders for the specific issues at hand. In retrospect, if the petition had been initially addressed to the STDD instead of the AEPB, it is possible that the desired result could have been achieved.
But it’s not only the support of the decision makers that you need. Obtaining the support of key community leaders is crucial in driving social change initiatives. To gain the support of the community leaders, my friend, Grace Okeke and I visited the palace of the Chief. Unfortunately, the Chief was absent during our visit, but we were warmly received by his lieutenant and other palace chiefs. The meeting was filled with promising discussions, and we left with a sense of excitement, eagerly anticipating our return the following week to organise the cleanup and sensitisation exercise in the community. However, during a subsequent visit to the chief of the Tudunwada community on the day of the exercise, it became evident that personal benefits played a significant role in his willingness to support the campaign. The chief showed reluctance in providing support as he did not see any direct personal advantages for himself.
Furthermore, the palace of the chief reneged on their earlier promise to mobilise youths from the community to join the clean-up exercise. On the day of the exercise, the attitude of the youth leader and the son of the chief became increasingly awkward. The chief even inquired about potential payment for the participation of the youths. When informed that there would be no payment involved, he stated that he could not mobilise them.
The encounter with the chief of Tudunwada community shed light on the influence of personal interests in garnering support from community leaders. It underscores the need for continuous advocacy and community engagement to foster a collective understanding of the benefits of social change. The success of any social change drive is accelerated once there is an active support and buy-in of decision makers, community leaders, and influential figures in the community.
One of the significant challenges encountered in the social change campaign in Tudunwada was the mixed response from the community members themselves. While some individuals welcomed the initiative and embraced proper waste management measures, others quickly reverted to their old behaviours despite the admonition and sensitisation efforts.
It was disheartening to witness some community members disregarding the campaign’s message and continuing with indiscriminate dumping of refuse. Despite the educational and awareness-raising activities conducted, it became evident that changing deeply ingrained behaviour requires sustained effort and a comprehensive approach.
However, amidst the discouraging behaviour of certain community members, there were also positive outcomes. Some individuals within the community recognised the importance of the campaign and willingly adopted proper waste management measures. These individuals became champions of the cause and actively encouraged others to join in preserving a clean environment.
The difficulties faced in driving social change in Nigeria extend beyond the challenges of gaining government buy-in. Engaging the intended beneficiaries, such as the community members, can be a complex task. Some individuals may revert to old behaviours despite initial awareness efforts, while others may prioritise personal benefits over the broader goals of the campaign. In some situations, culture, tradition, and religion can also be a barrier.
Despite the difficulties faced, the journey of driving social change in Nigeria can be immensely fulfilling. The clean-up exercise and sensitisation campaign organised in Tudunwada had a positive impact. Collaborative efforts with organisations such as SustyVibes and the contributions of individuals like Okeke Grace Eche played a crucial role in achieving success.
My involvement and participation in the WeCreate Change fellowship is a valuable resource and support system. The fellowship provides a platform for like-minded individuals to collaborate, learn, and work together on various social issues. With its focus on creating sustainable change, this fellowship equipped me and other participants with the necessary tools and network to overcome challenges and make a lasting impact.
The pursuit of social change in Nigeria is an essential and undoubtedly a challenging task, requiring perseverance, collaboration, and adaptability. The difficulties of obtaining government buy-in and engaging beneficiaries cannot be understated. However, the fulfilment that comes with driving social change and the positive impact on communities make it a worthwhile endeavour. Initiatives such as the one in the Tudunwada community demonstrate the potential for change when individuals, organisations , and government agencies unite with a shared purpose. By fostering platforms like the WeCreate Change fellowship, Nigeria can nurture a culture of social responsibility and empower change agents to continue making a difference in society.
Victor Terhemba is the Executive Director of Raising New Voices in Abuja. He can be reached via @victor_terhemba [email protected]