WORKSHOP ON LOCAL GOVERNMENT AUTONOMY, INCLUSIVE GOVERNANCE AND OPEN BUDGET SYSTEM IN ENUGU

Group photograph of participants at the workshop

Nigeria is a federal system made up of a three-tier government. While the federal and state governments have been active and prominent, exerting their rights and roles in governance as specified by the constitution, the local governments, on the other hand, have been kept in the cool, ostensibly, by the operations of the other two tiers. The need to bring government to the people has always been the idea behind the creation of the local government.

To this end, Social Action, with the support of UNDEF, organized a workshop in continuation of  its advocacy campaign to strengthen individuals, groups and CSOs to engage Local Government officials on good and inclusive governance. The workshops with the theme “Capacity Building for CSOs and Community Groups on the Need for Community Development and Service Delivery”, were organised in Enugu

Resource persons including Sampson Jaja, Kentebe Ebiaridor and Franklin Olaniju took participants through different topics on local government autonomy, openness and inclusivity in government, NEEDs assessment and citizens participation in the budget system

Prince Edegbuo, Senior Programs Officer at Social Action addressing participants during the workshop

Local Government Autonomy

The Senior Programs Officer of Social Action, Prince Edegbuo welcomed participants and pointed to the fact that the local government is facing serious constrictions and lacks the freedom to pilot its affairs hence one of the purposes of the workshop is to galvanize support for the independence of the local government and put an end to the anomalies suffered by the people. According to him, the separation of local government from state government is necessary for any change to take place. Inclusion and citizens participation in the local government affairs is the way forward as citizens cannot continue to keep quiet and leave the government to carry on with the business of governance the way they want. Participants all agreed on the need for an autonomous and independent local government to achieve laudable development, abate redundancy in the LGAs and make it easier for checks and balances.

Inclusivity 

The workshops also provided a platform for CSOs, NGOs, Community Chiefs, women groups and People Living with Disabilities (PLWD) to deliberate on the topic and create a strategic work plan to hold Local government accountable to its people. Stakeholders deliberated on the role of gender mainstreaming and social inclusion in achieving accountable local government areas. They argued that social inclusion and exclusion of gender especially the female gender has been one of the societal challenges. The drivers of such exclusions were identified such as ethnicity, indignity, gender relations, religion, physical disability, place of residence, HIV/AIDs and age.

A cross section of participants at the workshop

Citizens participation in the budget system

Programs Coordinator, Social Action, Botti Isaac further charged participants on the need for participatory budgeting. In his remarks, Botti argued that citizens must be aware before any project is allocated to the community. Having noted that the budget process is flawed, he posited a bottom-top approach. The citizens must first identify their needs before a project is awarded and such project must be tailored to meet their needs. He assured participants of Social Actions assistance to active citizens and organisations who want to be involved in ensuring proper monitoring and tracking of Local government financial administration and spending.

At the end of the workshops, participants expressed their willingness to engage the local government and ensure their needs are met. During the group workshop coordinated by Bukola Adedeji, work plans and agenda were set. Attendees discussed ways to mainstream gender and ensure there is social inclusion of all groups in their organization.

Positioning CSO, CBOs to Engage NDDC in Delta State on Transparency and Accountability

As part of the strategy to awaken the consciousness of Civil Society Organizations and community agents to demand for transparency and accountability in the running of affairs in the Niger Delta Development Commission, Social Action with the Support of MacArthur Foundation organized a capacity workshop on “Strengthening CSOs and Community Agents’ Capacity to Engage NDDC” in Delta State.

Welcoming participants, Mr. Botti Isaac, the Project Coordinator recounted the underdevelopment the region has suffered and is still suffering.  He narrated the several agitations that led to the creation of the Commission and the core responsibility of developing the region that the Commission was saddled with. He regretted the fact that despite receiving over five trillion since its establishment, the NDDC has very little development projects to show for it, due to endemic corruption in the commission.

Isaac Botti facilitating a session on “Strengthening CSOs and Community Agents’ Capacity to Engage NDDC”

Taking participants on the first presentation, Dr. Harry Udoh spoke on “Understanding the role of NDDC in Championing Development Agenda in the Niger Delta.” According to him, NDDC came up as a result of the massive agitation facilitated by Environmentalists in the region as the goose that lays the golden egg was not getting commensurate development. Through the aid of a slide he explained the operations of the commission and advised community agents to synergize, mobilize and make their demands known to the Commission because it requires concerted effort for the desired change to be achieved.

Group presentation

Speaking next was Comrade Chinedu Bassey who made a presentation on “Awareness: Principles, Strategies, Steps & Tools.” The speaker started by looking at the historic perspective of creating awareness, the need for public awareness which include influencing policy makers, increasing support and knowledge from allies, the ability to get the message out, defy negative perception and reframe conversations. According to him, for engagement to be productive, participants must have a sound knowledge on how to create awareness. For a message to propel the desired results, it must be communicated properly through the right process as disseminating false information is punishable by law.

A survey and group discussion session was organized for participants who came up with plans on how they intend to engage and advocate for accountability from the Commission for a period of six months while also identifying the Social media strategies or tools that will be suitable for the public campaign program.

Strengthening CSOs and Community Agents Capacity to Track and Monitor NDDC in Akwa Ibom

Social Development Integrated Centre, Social Action with the support of the MacArthur Foundation organized an agenda-setting and capacity development workshop for CSOs and Community agents in Akwa-Ibom state. As part of its movement to entrench transparency and accountability in the NDDC, the workshop focused on exerting community groups to develop strategies for engaging NDDC. The one-day capacity development workshop held in Uyo on July 13, 2021, was aimed at raising the consciousness of participants on the deficiencies of the commission and the need to develop strategies for engagements.

Speaking to participants at the event, the Programs Coordinator of Social Action, Isaac Botti decried the abysmal level of performance of the NDDC. Recounting past and present media reports of gross fiscal mismanagement and embezzlement of the commission, Botti noted that the NDDC has not only failed in its mandate of engendering development but is a major cause of underdevelopment in the Niger Delta regions. He further noted that the indifference of citizens and pressure groups, particularly civil society organizations, has contributed to the level of impunity the NDDC officials enjoy.

NDDC must be held accountable but as citizens groups, we must act. The time to act is now

Dr Harry Udoh on the roles of NDDC in championing development agenda of the Niger Delta regions

One Dr Harry Udoh explained the roles of NDDC in championing development agenda of the Niger Delta regions. In his address, Dr Udoh noted that the NDDC emerged from growing mass discontent of the adverse implications of ‘oil farming’ by multinationals in the nine Niger Delta states. As its major objective, the commission is expected to ensure that the oil-bearing communities enjoy commensurate development and that citizens do not bear the brunt of IOCs presence. The speaker however noted that the commission has failed in this regards, as its history has been marked with a tale of misappropriation of funds, poorly executed and abandoned projects and embezzlement of public funds. This he explained will continue to stall the development of the regions and until proper probity is carried out. He urged CSOs, PLWDs, women groups and all citizens groups present to take advantage of the social and conventional media to monitor the activities of  commission and engage  them on good service delivery.

He concluded that in other for the campaign for an accountable commission to be productive, communication messages must be strategic and in doing so groups first identify their audience, design messages to fit them and use the right channel of communication.

A cross section of participants at the workshop

During a discourse tagged, “The Budget Process and Citizens Engagement”, Mr Botti noted that a lot of citizens have not seen the NDDC budget neither do they have an idea of the process of awarding contracts. This he stressed, makes it difficult to track and monitor projects. He, therefore, charged groups to send out FOI requests to the relevant ministries asking for the budget document. He maintained that once the document is made available, monitoring and evaluation could start and the NDDC would be made to be accountable to the people they are meant to serve.

Participants agreed with the speakers. Noting that the commission has been too secretive in their administration, groups present are determined to probe into the commission and ensure accountability is restored. During the group work session, agendas were set for engagements. Representatives of each group highlighted strategies for engagement.

Concluding the program, one of the facilitators, Ann Udonte reminded the participants of the need to mainstream gender and includes all social groups in developmental projects and budgeting

Ondo Citizens Set Agenda for Engaging NDDC on Accountability and Efficiency in Service Delivery

As part of an ongoing programme to institutionalize probity in the operation of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, Social Action launched the Strengthening Civic and Community Actions Against Corruption in NDDC campaign. The project, supported by MacArthur Foundation, seeks to strengthen community agency and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) in the Niger Delta region to advocate for transparency and accountability in the management of public resource by the Niger delta Development Commission in order to advance effective service delivery in the region.

 

Speaking at the event, Social Action’s Programes Coordinator, Isaac Botti in his opening remarks noted that Ondo like other oil-rich Niger Delta states suffer significantly from the level of impunity by the Commission due to lack of critical checks and effective oversight by due process institutions as well as poor citizens engagement. He noted that funds for development projects that would have improved the lives of the citizens most times end up in the private pockets of public office holders and assured them of Social Action’s support as they set agenda and work plan for engaging NDDC

Groups set agenda for carrying out needs assessment in their communities and map out strategies to engage the NDDC

While taking the participants through “The NDDC Mandate”, Senior Programs Officer of Social Action, Prince Edegbuo lamented the cronyism and fiscal recklessness that have permeated the Commission. According to him, the Commission established in 2000 has failed to deliver on its mandate of ensuring development of the Niger Delta region. He therefore charged the people to make use of the power of their voices and probe the Commission as it is citizens’ duty to ensure development occurs in their region.

Mr Franklin Olaniju a facilitator at the workshop, urged participants to pick up a campaign on the openness of the NDDC budget after the training session. He assured Social Action team members that groups within Ondo would work to ensure that the issues raised during the training are effected. He acknowledged that now is the time to speak up and demand for an effective structure of NDDC.

Presentation of outcomes of strategic session

Participants who decried the appalling spate of NDDC projects across the states expressed their resolve to increase the volume of their agitations against the Commission and ensure they are held accountable. During the group session discussion, agendas were set. CSOs, NGOs, PLWD and other community groups present at the work shop were determined to get the 2020 NDDC budget, engage in advocacy visits to NDDC, amplify media reports, mainstream gender and include all social groups in their projects as well as to track and monitor all NDDC project.

Needs Assessment for Community Development and Service Delivery

Isaac Botti on Participatory Budget System

As part of the series of activities to strengthen community voices for Local government service delivery and autonomy, Social Action on the 23rd and 24th of June, 2021 organized a capacity-building workshop in Ado- Ekiti, Ekiti state. The workshop tagged, “Needs Assessment for Community Development and Service Delivery” was organised to address key issues that have hindered the effectiveness of the local government. The workshop provided a platform for CSOs, NGOs, Community Chiefs and People Living with Disabilities (PLWD) to deliberate on the topic and create a strategic work plan to hold Local government accountable to its people.
Speaking at the event, Senior Programs Officer of Social Action, Prince Edegbuo emphasized the need for an autonomous and independent Local government. According to him, no development can occur in the communities until the Local Government breaks free from the shackles of the state. The local government must have its financial freedom to reduce redundancy and make it easier for the communities to probe into their activities.

Isaac Botti on Participatory Budget System

A discussion on the significance of the local government further enlightened the participants on the duties of the third tier of government towards them. Resource person, Frankling Olaniju who gave the discourse urged the participants to collectively advocate for their rights. He stressed the importance of collective legal actions of common interest as opposed to individual actions. Bringing to limelight the provisions of Section 7(1) of the 1999 constitution as amended, Frankling noted that the law has caged the local government. The provision confers too much power on the state assemblies over the local government councils to the extent of financing its activities. He, therefore, urged the participants to join in the clamour of a financially independent Local government. In doing this, they would be rendering their service to governance. According to him, “It is the duty of the masses to ensure governance work for all”.

Interactive Session at the workshop

Programs Coordinator, Social Action, Botti Isaac further engaged attendees on the need for a participatory budgeting system. Botti argued that citizens must be aware before any project is allocated to the community. Having noted that the budget process is flawed, he posited a bottom-top approach. The citizens must first identify their needs before a project is awarded and such project must be tailored to meet their needs. He reinvigorated the zeal of the participants by assuring them of Social Actions support toward the good of citizens at the grassroots level. As an organization, Social Action would provide needed assistance to ensure proper monitoring and tracking of Local government offices.
Participants expressed their willingness to engage the local government and ensure their needs are met. During the group workshop coordinated by Bukola Adedeji, work plans and agenda were set. Attendees discussed and agreed on ways they intend to mainstream gender and ensure there is social inclusion of all groups in their organization. Participants expressed their resolve to collaborate with Social Action and ensure the program meets its objectives.

2019 ELECTIONS; EDO CITIZENS MARSHAL OUT LEGISLATIVE AGENDA FOR CANDIDATES

With the general elections set to usher in a set of political office holders and leaders across the Country, citizens and groups in Edo State, south-south Nigeria, have outlined a set of key legislative agenda for candidates contesting for elections for the various legislative constituencies of the State.
The agenda-setting took place at a series of Town hall Meetings put together by the Social Development Integrated Centre (Social Action), in partnership with the Shehu Yar’adua Foundation, with support from the MacArthur Foundation, across the three legislative constituencies of Edo north, Edo south and Edo central of the State in February, 2019.

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Abandoned Projects

Abandoned Projects: Citizens’ Report on Budgets of Selected States in Nigeria, 2017 is the documentation of analyses and findings from the monitoring of the implementation of the 2017 annual budgets of six selected states of Nigeria, Abia, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Delta, Kano and Nasarawa.

The report shows a continuing pattern of underwhelming spending on the social sector in 2017, even as budgeting in the states remained poor. Projects executed in previous years continued to appear in budgets as new projects while several projects that gulped large budgetary funds over the years were either roundly abandoned or never got off the ground. Budget lines continued to be vague, ill-described or ambiguously defined in budget documents hindering accountability and good governance much to the detriment of the people whose lives the projects would have impacted positively.

As an output from Social Action’s anti-corruption efforts at the sub-national level of government in Nigeria during the year 2017, the findings of budget analyses and monitoring is a tool for further public advocacy by citizens and civil society organisations at the grassroots level.

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Citizens Groups And Activists In The Niger Delta Focus on Anti-Corruption Amplification With Two-Day Strategic Training

Activists and civil society groups across the Niger Delta have set in motion strategies and mechanisms for tackling corrupt practices in the region. The activists stated that corruption is one of the most potent dangers faced by the region, which is compromising public institutions, infrastructure and social services.

The groups made this known at a two-day workshop on “Amplifying Anti-Corruption” organised by the Social Development Integrated Centre (Social Action), with support from the MacArthur Foundation in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, on the 23rd and 24th April 2018. The program geared towards giving the necessary traction by citizens and civil societies in the region in the fight against corruption in Nigeria.

Through presentations and syndicate sessions,  the workshop examined the various legal and policy frameworks concerned with transparency, accountability and fiscal responsibility including the citizens right and access to timely and accurate information regarding public expenditures and transactions. Participants extensively engaged the Public Procurement Act, the Fiscal Responsibility Act, the Freedom of Information Act as well as the Whistleblower Policy of the Federal Government. Other embedded policy frameworks such as the Medium Term Expenditure Framework MTEF, MTSS, Fiscal Sustainability plan, were also brought into purview.

Speaking at the program, the Co-ordinator, African Centre for Media and Information Literacy (AFRICMIL), Chido Onumah explained that the Whistleblower Policy, approved in December 2016 and although still at the level of policy, is a useful tool in exposing and ultimately combating corruption. According to him, the policy provides a platform for individuals, groups and organisations to report corruption adding that critical features of the policy were the protection of the whistleblower(s) as well as the incentivization of the exposure of corruption. Onumah stated that these were in line with and towards the objective of the policy which is to expose corruption and financial crimes and to help the government recover stolen public funds while ultimately enhancing transparency and accountability in the management of public funds.

Doing an appraisal of the Whistleblower policy, Onumah disclosed that the Initiative which he said was domiciled in the Federal Ministry of Finance, has received 8,373 communications, 123 tips, completed investigation on 534 tips and referred 40 tips to the EFCC and ICPC. He further revealed that through the policy, a total of N7.8 billion, US$378 million and £27,800 had been recovered from corrupt individuals and entities. The AFRICMIL Coordinator pointed out that despite its modest successes so far, there were significant constraints and challenges around the policy, topmost which is the non-promulgation of the policy into law. Without enabling legislation, the Initiative has remained a mere unwritten policy that can be done away with at any time in addition to exposure to manipulations. He said the same fate presently faces the Proceeds of Crime Bill (POCB) which has been stalled at the National Assembly. Making further review of the Whistleblower Policy, Onumah decried the policy’s inadequate provisions for the protection of the Whistleblower as well as its unclear and poorly managed reward system and called for the strengthening of the Policy while also urging civil society activists and citizens to push for the passage of the bill on Proceeds of Crime into law as this will go a long way in curbing corruption in Nigeria.

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The civil society leader used the occasion to inform participants of AFRICLIL’s Whistleblower support programme, the “Corruption Anonymous”, a CSOs, people-centred intervention “to mobilise citizens as the critical success factor in the war against corruption through Whistleblowing” and urged participants to engage the Intervention actively.

In his presentation, Biobele Arimie, Procurement Expert and Member of the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply, Nigeria (CIPSN), who analysed the States in the Niger Delta, posited that procurement was one of the most exploited means of fraud and corruption in the States of the region. He stated that in the Procurement Laws in these States to some extent gives CSOs access to the procurement process including documents and information that are not classified as well as bid process and contract implementation. Arimie pointing out that these were avenues for CSOs to get involved in their States procurement processes in order to be able to meaningfully track and monitor contracts and their implementation for goods, services and works.

Arimie stated that so far, CSOs involvement in the public Procurement process in the States in the region has been abysmally low explaining that this significantly accounts for non-impactful project monitoring by CSOs as well as the high rate of project abandonment across the region. He said States and local governments in the region have exploited this lacuna to violate the law and embark on fiscal irresponsibility and mismanagement of public resources. The Procurement Expert said the template must ask/answer questions as;

Are the items to be procured consistent with the needs identified in the needs assessment?

Does the procurement plan clearly identify the goods or services to be procured?

Have any unnecessary items been included in the procurement plan?

Is the timing of the planned procurement reasonable to ensure that the goods or services will be delivered when and as often as they are needed?

Is the procurement method appropriate? For example, is sole source bidding being proposed when competitive bidding is really required? etc

Arimie pointed out that it was the right of monitoring CSOs to demand for the information and documents on public procurement and as such should not hesitate to activate the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act provisions on any public servant or entity that rebuffs the procurement request, noting that an Appeal Court of Nigeria has by virtue of its ruling in April 2018 made it evidently clear that FoI law applies to all the States of the Federation.

The Procurement Expert who bemoaned the level of non-transparency in some States in the region such as Rivers state which he said has kept the State budget away from the public and Akwa Ibom State which he said has not enacted a Public Procurement law. He said these were acts that contravene the spirit and principles of democracy and good governance, insisting that CSOs must work towards ending such anomalies.

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Other presentations at the workshop focused on Understanding States Fiscal Policy processes and Frameworks; Fiscal Policy Tools to Combating Corruption by the Executive Director of Policy Alert, Tijah Bolton. Public Awareness and Communication Strategies; Critical Components of Public Awareness, Measuring and Evaluating Effectiveness by Peter Mazzi of Social Action.

Earlier in a welcome note, the Head of Advocacy of Social Action, Vivian Bellonwu-Okafor stated that corruption has eaten deep into the fabrics of the nation with sadly little or no visible signs of abating as the country has remained high on the index of ratings by local and international organisations on corruption perception. He explained that with the present administration’s three-pronged agenda of Anti-Corruption, Security and Economic Development, the fight against corruption could only be meaningful and productive if citizens at the national and sub-national actively key into it. Osuoka stated that that the Amplifying Anti-Corruption project of Social Action as supported by the MacArthur Foundation was meant to support citizens action to confront and challenge corruption.

Participating CSOs drawn from the different States in the region including Edo, Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Delta and Bayelsa outlined sets of activities to be carried out in their states to tackle corruption. Some of the strategy steps itemized include: monitoring of abandoned projects in the states; synergizing with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC); public enlightenment campaigns on corruption; strengthening strategic partnerships; formation of anti-corruption clubs in primary and secondary schools in the region; advocacy visits to state actors and step-down trainings for various stakeholder in the states and local councils amongst others.

Towards Budget Democracy: State Level Sensitisation Workshops in Six Niger Delta States

As part of ongoing anti-corruption work at the sub-national levels of government, Social Action organised State Level Sensitization Workshops in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria during the first quarter of 2018. The workshops aimed to enhance the capacity of CSOs to understand the budget and to use it as a tool to engage the government on accountability and good governance. Representatives of citizens groups participated in the workshops in Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Delta, Edo, Ondo and Rivers States. Over thirty participants in each of the States received training on budget processes and participation, and strategies for achieving budget democracy and accountability.

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