Isaac ‘Asume’ Osuoka, Director of Social Action, reflects on the challenges of researching oil pollution and resource governance in Nigeria
“Why is the mortality rate in Bodo so high?” That was a question posed by Ben Naanen, a professor of history at the University of Port Harcourt. “Every weekend, there are numerous funerals in Bodo”, he informed the group of researchers from universities, think tanks and NGOs working on resource governance issues in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria.
The meeting was convened by Nigerian NGO, Social Action and other institutions to promote research collaboration. The objective of the meeting was to identify immediate research needs by examining how current politics, policies, practices and institutions related to the petroleum industry inform social and environmental impacts.
Ken Henshaw, Programmes Manager of Social Action, reflects on efforts to promote public finance accountability in the states and local governments of Nigeria
In Nigeria, quite often, accountability in the management of public resources is sacrificed on the altar of cronyism. This state of affairs may be more established at the sub-national levels where about half of all public revenues in the country are expended. While there is a justified focus on the federal government and the office of the President, in particular, many citizens do not tend to pay attention to the 36 states and 774 local governments which together receive almost 50 percent of all federally collected revenues – not to mention internally generated revenues. However, the significant allocations to states and local governments from the Federation Account on a monthly basis hardly translate into real benefits for the majority of citizens. Even more worrisome is the breeding of citizens’ apathy towards sub-national governments – the local government councils, in particular. Rather than the tier of government closest to the grassroots promoting participation, what we find is alienation, which further reinforces non-accountability of public officials.
Social Action is working with citizen groups to mobilise community activists towards tackling corruption at the sub-national levels of government in Nigeria.
In the last quarter of 2016, activists and volunteers connected with Social Action’s Community Budget Advocates Committees (CBACs) went around monitoring the implementation of budgets in six states of Nigeria. In Abia, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Delta, Kano and Nasarawa States, community budget advocates in the various locales visited project sites, interviewed project beneficiaries and government officials with the aim of ascertaining whether public funds were being deployed as appropriated in the budget.
This new Social Action briefing presents findings of research into the extent to which 5 states of the Niger Delta- Akwa Ibom, Delta, Rivers, Edo and Bayelsa- operate their fiscal processes in line with the principles of open budget. It equally examines how citizens in these states relate with and perceive government and its officials on fiscal matters.
The year 2015 witnessed unprecedented economic downturn in Nigeria. With the price of crude oil in the international market dropping steeply, the Nigerian economy shrank and the government considered activating austerity measures.
On the 31st of August 2016, Social Action’s Open Budget Cluster carried out a Citizens’ –Government Roundtable meeting on Open Budgets. The event aimed at ensuring that state annual budgets are open and available to citizens. This accessibility of state budgets will kick-start other forms of citizens’ engagement which will lead to more participatory and prudent fiscal practices.
It is worrying that at the sixth month of the fiscal year, Rivers state, Akwa Ibom state, Bayelsa state and Delta state have not deemed it appropriate to make copies of their annual budgets available on the state official websites or otherwise for public access. This is the high point of a tradition of executive and legislative secrecy which has become common practice in the aforementioned states.
Following the completion of its monitoring of the implementation of the 2015 budget of five Niger Delta states, Social Action’s budget advocacy coalition, the Niger Delta Citizens and Budget Platform has presented reports containing its findings to the key government officials in Akwa Ibom and Delta state.
According to Coordinator of the budget advocacy coalition Ken Henshaw, ‘it is important the governments get copies of this reports and use it as a guide to take action in future to make sure that budgets impact more on the people than it currently is.’
In Akwa Ibom state, the presentation was made by Executive Director of coalition partner Policy Alert, Mr Tijah Bolton, while in Delta state it was delivered by the Mrs. Bridget of the Int’l Centre for Women Empowerment & Child Dev. (ICWECD) based in the state capital Asaba.
The report contains findings by teams of budget monitors comprising of transparency and accountability activists, the media and community volunteers who were on the field for two weeks in early 2016, visiting sites of projects mentioned and allocated funds in the 2015 budgets of the various state.
Reports of health, education and food sufficiency project sites indicate that up to 80% of projects allocated funds were never executed in the states. ‘The difference between allocation and implementation is just too high. It is either the budget was too unrealistically made with impossible revenue expectations, or something else we don’t understand is going on,’ says Sebastian Kpalap, Executive Director of Citizens’ Voice Initiative and coalition member.
In the coming week, budget monitoring reports will be presented to other state governments in the Niger Delta.
As Nigeria begins to come to terms with the perilous state of the economy with the drop in oil prices, a warning has gone to the country to be wary of the dangers inherent in borrowing.
Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee of the House of Representatives, Honourable Kingsley O. Chinda gave this warning at a conference on “Promoting Accountability in the Management of Public Debt” Organized by Social Action in November 2015, in Abuja.
A new report by Social Action has revealed that Nigeria was fast re-entering the debt trap few years after it controversially exited the Paris and London Clubs debt overhang with payments amounting to over $14 billion in 2005.
The report “WHOSE BURDEN? EXAMINING THE GROWING PUBLIC DEBT CRISIS IN NIGERIA” launched in November 2015 in Abuja, shows a rapid rise in the country’s debt profile between 2006 and 2015. It revealed that government at both the federal and state levels have within this period acquired several loans to purportedly fund both capital and recurrent expenditure items. The report disclosed that the loans were effectively compromising the development of the country with a large percentage of the country’s budget and resources dedicated to debt servicing.
The report which revealed massive gap between loans acquired and actual projects executed identified fiscal excesses by public officials, poor planning and management, over-reliance on statutory allocation amongst others as some of the reasons for the dire financial situation of both the federal and sub-regional governments in the country.
It urged the National Assembly to immediately place a moratorium on all external borrowings while it conducts a full audit of the previous loans acquired to establish their usage as well as take other measures it recommended to shield Nigeria from the debt trap
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