In his book, ‘The Rise of the Public in Enlightenment Europe’, James Van Hom Melton examines the rise of the public in the eighteenth century Europe. During the period, the public assumed a new significance as government came to recognize the power of public opinion in political life. Of course, by then, the expansion of print culture had created a new reading and enlightened public. Thus, it became quite evident that government can no longer take the public for granted.
Thus, in order to ensure that communication gap does not exist between the government and the citizenry, governments across the globe now pay utmost attention to public enlightenment campaigns. This is a deliberate and conscious strategy to duly inform and educate the citizenry as well as share ideas about government policies, plans, activities and programmes.
Lagos, being a growing mega city with mixed population, is more complex to govern. Sometimes, for various reasons, government’s actions and programmes and policies, which ironically are conceived for the betterment of the citizenry, are often misconstrued by the people. This trend is not unusual in a democracy. It is in order to ensure that government and the citizenry operate on same page that the state government places high premium on effective public information management.
An integral part of this is public enlightenment campaign. Hence, the State Ministry of Information and Strategy, which coordinates the state’s information machinery has a viable Public Enlightenment Team that works round the state to disseminate crucial public information about government’s plans and actions.
The primary goal of the Team is to create awareness and elicit attitudinal transformation towards informing people about government’s policies and programmes. This is basically done through the production and distribution of relevant Information, Education and Enlightenment Communication, IEEC, materials at no cost to the public. Other strategies include public lectures, symposiums, seminars, workshops and advertorials in both print and electronic media.
This is a clear departure from the transmission model which sees communication not as an exchange of ideas but as the mere transmission of messages with or without a purpose. In order words, once a message is transmitted, it does not matter whether the receiver understands it or not. But public Enlightenment is more than that. It is not just an event but a transaction which involves a set of actors and activities. Thus, it is better to rely on the sensitization campaign, which recognizes that the sender and receiver of a message through the feedback mechanism are both simultaneously engaged in sending and receiving messages.
However, for public enlightenment to be effective, relevant target group and the language it understands have to be identified.
To effectively take the public enlightenment campaign to the nooks and crannies of the metropolis, especially the grassroots, the Lagos Enlightenment Team now has a grassroots structure which enables it to relate directly with all the 20 local government areas and 37 local Development councils. It is well positioned to organize a more robust sensitization programmes on Government policies, the operational arrangement whereby its workers function in their places of origin and relate with the people in the language they understand is an appropriate and credible channel.
Effective public enlightenment presupposes that the message being passed is clear and accurate. There should be no ambiguity so that it would be easy to comprehend because human beings use and interpret meanings of words differently. It is in efficiently deploying this method that the Lagos Enlightenment Team has been able to showcase the achievements of the Ambode administration to the world. Consequently, it is now more or less a famous song in town that the Ambode administration is working for the good of the people. But this would not have been made possible if there was a break in communication between the government and the citizenry.
Aside showcasing the Ambode administration as a performing government, the public enlightenment campaign initiatives of the state government, to a large extent, has made it easier for government policies and programmes such as the Mobile Courts, Light up Lagos, road construction, enlargement of tax net, environmental sanitation advocacy, security initiatives as well as efforts at curtailing outbreak of communicable diseases to optimally achieve set goals.
It is, therefore, safe to affirm that public enlightenment is the lifeblood of any society and vital to the activities of both the Government and the private sector. From the Lagos example, it has led to the promotion of positive change; enhance growth, progress, stability and cohesion. It has also projected the people and the state as progressive, civilized and cultured. Similarly, it has helped to reflect back to the government the views, aspirations, doubts, anxieties and hopes of the people about its policies and programmes.
In a way, periodic interactions between the State’s Enlightenment Team and the citizenry had given direction to areas which the Lagos state government needs to focus attention on. Having a feel of the peoples’ expectations and needs have not only helped in meeting the yearnings of the people but has equally helped in curbing incidences of abandoned projects.
Also, incessant calls by the Enlightenment Team for beneficiaries of government infrastructure to take ownership of public infrastructure now happen seamlessly as the people readily take charge of government facilities within their neighbourhood as though it was built with their money directly. Government at all levels should identify the indispensability of a good public enlightenment structure as an integral part of governance. It is in doing this that a virile democratic culture could be attained.