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According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a parley is “a conference between two opposing sides in a dispute.” A People’s Parley, as used by the Justice Development and Peace Commission (JDPC), is a planned meeting between electorates and their government representatives. The meetings are part of a larger, continuous process of monitoring the government’s adherence to campaign promises and their use of public funds.
Problems and Purpose
The Democratic and Election Monitoring (Good Governance) Project was initiated by the JDPC after the 2011 Ogun state elections. During the campaign period, evidence of widespread government inattentiveness to citizen concerns was brought forward as were charges of harassment, intimidation and exclusionary politics. Sensing the need for more participatory oversight mechanisms and civic engagement, the JDPC Good Governance Project provided arenas such as the people’s parley for citizens to voice their concerns, share and discuss their political views, and hold their representatives accountable.
While town hall meetings have apparently been used in Nigeria for some time, the People’s Parley was introduced by the JDPC's Ijebu-Ode chapter in 2011 to deepen the level of effective communication between citizen and government representative. The Parleys largely build on the format of the town hall but emphasize two-way communication. People’s Parleys were held between 2011 and 2015 with nine out of twenty local governments in Ogun state.
While the People’s Parley is itself open to anyone interested in attending, the JDPC makes a point of soliciting complaints, grievances and comments about governance from known stakeholders prior to the event. Once these have been received and vetted, elected representatives are invited to meet with the people. The People’s Parley is then scheduled and public announcements are made so that any one wishing to listen to or ask questions of their representatives may do so.
Deliberation, Decisions, and Public Interaction
From what can be gleaned from the video footage available on the JDPC’s website, the process of each People’s Parlay varies, ostensibly, with the location it is held in. One Parley appears rather informal, with citizens and representatives sitting in a half-circle with no apparent divisions between them. There is a general introductory period followed by a moderated question and answer session. While there is evidence of a facilitator being present at one of the Parleys, they do not appear to play a large role in the process; the conversations between participants and representatives appear entirely civil with the informal atmosphere and intimate seating arrangements certainly helping to engender trust and respect between the two groups.
Another video shows a very different Parlay, both in format and proceedings. This event appears much more formal, with participants seated at long tables directing their questions to representatives sitting separately at the front of the room. The question and answer period was, at times, heated but a moderator was present and each speaker was respectfully listened to when talking.
The third Parley with video documentation is, again, formal with participants seated audience-style racing the four elected representatives at the front of the room, but, similar to the more informal meeting, the question period advances will little to no need for a facilitator.
Video of one of meeting shows it ending with the taking of attendance, presumably, to keep a record of how many citizens participated and, therefore, how many were witness to any comments or promises made by representatives during the meeting. This, again, would appear to serve the overall goal of these meetings: giving people the power to hold their electives to their word.
While the format appears to depend largely on the number of participants present and, possibly, the state of relations between a locality’s citizens and representatives, one thing that remains consistent are the ‘scorecards’ handed out to each participant before the event begins. A list of campaign goals and promises is compiled after the election and the scorecard provides a way for monitors to visually represent the government’s progress on each issue. When questioning representatives during the Parley, the scorecards allow citizen-participants to back up their charges with proof. The events also allow for participants to question or evaluate the budgeting of policies and programmes ‘scored’ as underway. This gives citizens if not more control, at least more oversight on the spending of public funds.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
According to Bonny Ibhawoh, the introduction of People’s Parleys has increase the level of communication between representatives and their constituents. Citizens are now more aware of the government’s actions and their increased knowledge of the political process allows them to ask more informed questions thereby increasing the transparency of budget allocation and policy (in)action. Akachi Odoemene gives praise to the JDPC’s organization of these town-hall-like events because “not everybody will have access to these political office-holders in their offices.” By increasing the visibility and power of the electorate, the People’s Parleys have ensured representatives respect and work more closely with constituents to effectively address their needs.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
Something that is not apparent in the video documentation but which bares pointing out is the inconsistent attendance record of government representatives at the Parleys. According to Ibhawoh, some representatives sent on behalf of government Chairmen knew “little to nothing about their policies and positions on fundamental issues of their area.” This is discouraging for participants wanting answers to their questions and to have their concerns heard and acted upon. Some officials were unwilling to cooperate with the JDPC in implementing the Good Governance project altogether even going so far as to ignore or refuse the invitation to the Parley.
It was also difficult, at times, to get citizens to participate but, as Ibhawoh points out, those that who attended became “more and more aware of the various antics of the government towards enslaving the people.” As knowledge of this spreads and as the Parley becomes a more accepted, institutionalized channel of citizen-government communication, it is likely that attendance by constituents will increase.
What stands out as consistent across events is the level of respect participants have for the process. From what video footage is available, there was no recorded instance of a representative or another participant interjecting or cutting-off a questioner before they finished. This, it may be speculated, is evidence of the success the JDPC has effected with the Parley and the Good Governance project more generally. The meetings reflect a genuine understanding among the representatives that they are the ones under scrutiny and that citizen-participants are not simply votes to be bought and sold but politically powerful agents, capable and willing to hold their representatives to account.
Ibhawoh, Bonny. "Democracy and Election Monitoring (Good Governance) Project of the Justice, Development and Peace Commission (Ijebu-Ode Chapter), Ogun State, Nigeria." Participedia. Last modified October 12, 2016. http://participedia.net/en/cases/democracy-and-election-monitoring-good-....
JDPC Organizes Peoples' Parley at Atan Ijebu. Produced by Justice, Development and Peace Commission. 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6WBIsmifdaY.
JDPC Organizes Peoples' Parley at Ijebu Igbo for The Elected Leaders to Meet with Their People. Produced by Justice, Development and Peace Commission. 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qqOLvS2aokE.
JDPC Organizes Peoples' Parley at Ijebu Igbo for The Elected Leaders to Meet with Their People (II). Produced by Justice, Development and Peace Commission. 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OJMN_zcFUiE.
Odoemene, Akachi. "Oiling the Frictions in Sociopolitical Conflicts: Faith-based Institutional Leadership of the JDPC in Grassroots Peacemaking in Nigeria." African Conflict and Peacebuilding Review 2, no. 2 (2011): 51-76.
"Parley." In Oxford English Dictionary. https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/parley.
 Bonny Ibhawoh, "Democracy and Election Monitoring (Good Governance) Project of the Justice, Development and Peace Commission (Ijebu-Ode Chapter), Ogun State, Nigeria," Participedia, last modified October 12, 2016, http://participedia.net/en/cases/democracy-and-election-monitoring-good-....
 JDPC Organizes Peoples' Parley at Ijebu Igbo for The Elected Leaders to Meet with Their People, produced by Justice, Development and Peace Commission, 2014, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qqOLvS2aokE.
 JDPC Organizes Peoples' Parley at Ijebu Igbo for The Elected Leaders to Meet with Their People (II), produced by Justice, Development and Peace Commission, 2014, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OJMN_zcFUiE.
 JDPC Organizes Peoples' Parley at Ijebu Igbo for The Elected Leaders to Meet with Their People (II).
 Ibhawoh, "Democracy and Election Monitoring," Participedia.
 Akachi Odoemene, "Oiling the Frictions in Sociopolitical Conflicts: Faith-based Institutional Leadership of the JDPC in Grassroots Peacemaking in Nigeria," African Conflict and Peacebuilding Review 2, no. 2 (2011): 68.
 Ibhawoh, "Democracy and Election Monitoring," Participedia.