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In Nigeria, Holding Gov't Accountable On the Radio

BY Jessica McKenzie | Tuesday, June 10 2014

Like this, but government officials are the ones in the hot seat (Flickr/Jena Fuller)

In Nigeria, a reality radio program provides a forum for tackling issues of public or private impunity. Hosted by Ordinary Ahmed Isah, the Brekete Family Radio program has a listener base of an estimated 20 million people. Their motto is to be “the voice of the voiceless.” Writing on the Open Society Foundations blog (Brekete Family Radio is an Open Society partner), Udo Jude Ilo calls it the “last resort of the common man.”

Depending on the issue at hand, Isah will sometimes call the relevant government officials to ask for an explanation.

Ilo gives an example of this “on-air public accountability”:

And so on my morning drive to work, once again the program fails to disappoint. The issue before the Brekete panel this morning is the story of a man who was wrongfully dismissed from his job at a government agency for clearly unsubstantiated reasons. Years of approved allowances were still owed and the man had exhausted his meagre savings trying to get the agency in question to pay what was rightfully owed.

Ordinary Ahmed quickly calls the head of this government agency to get this side of the story. When the top official gets on the phone, and just moments after Ahmed introduces the issue, the man hangs up. All other attempts to call him back prove unsuccessful. Obviously the man is not keen on having this particular conversation. But now the fun part: the official’s telephone numbers are announced on air and Nigerians are invited to text and call him until the issue is resolved.

This is the same tactic employed recently with great flair by John Oliver. He called upon the trolls of the Internet to take their concerns about net neutrality rage to the Federal Communications Commission—and cause their website to crash.

The tactic also worked in Nigeria. The next day on the way to work Ilo had the pleasure of listening to the government official apologizing to all Nigerians on the air. “The bombardment of messages nearly caused his phone to breakdown. Suffice it to say, the case of the plaintiff’s overdue entitlements was resolved within weeks.”

It's like Judge Judy, but for government accountability.

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