GRANT LOCAL GOVERNMENTS POLITICAL AND FINANCIAL AUTONOMY; ACTIVISTS URGE NASS

GRANT LOCAL GOVERNMENTS POLITICAL AND FINANCIAL AUTONOMY; ACTIVISTS URGE NASS

Social and development activists in Nigeria have called on the Federal Government and National Assembly of Nigeria (NASS) to grant local governments in the country financial, political and administrative autonomy as a matter of urgency. This call was made on Monday during a one day virtual Town hall meeting on, “Addressing Obstacles to Local Government Independence in Nigeria” organized by Social Development Integrated Centre, Social Action with support from the United Nations Democracy Funds.

Speaking at the event, Comrade Akeem Ambali, National President of NULGE said the major obstacle to Local government autonomy in Nigeria is the lacuna in Section 162(6) of the 1999 constitution as amended; “Each State shall maintain a special account to be called “State Joint Local Government Account” into which shall be paid all allocations to the Local Government Councils of the State from the Federation Account and from the Government of the State”.

Operating a joint account with the state, according to the Comrade does not favour the local government as the state political actors cash into this opportunity for private enrichment. “The heavy corruption, greed and insatiable appetite for immense wealth by state political actors are major obstacles to achieving LG independence in Nigeria”, he said. To address this bottleneck situation, local governments should be funded directly from the federal allocation.

Comrade Ambali suggested a bottom-up approach to governance in Nigeria.  Along with financial autonomy, the local government should be given political and administrative autonomy. Rather than the state electoral commissions, Independent National Election Commission (INEC) should be allowed to conduct unbiased and transparent elections for local governments.

He further stressed the need for community policing and the entrenchment of Local Government Service Commission to ensure quality assurance and a proper audit system in LG operations. These strategies would not only break LGs from the shackles of the state governments but also strengthen democracy tenets in Nigeria and create employment opportunities at the grassroots, Comrade Ambali asserted.

In her summation, Comrade Hauwa Mustapha, a development activist, said it is sad to note that the local governments are seen as appendages to the states, rather than as a tier of government. This dis-functionality has led to a breakdown of governance and facilities, reduction in human capital and extreme poverty at the grassroots. She, therefore, called for a proper definition in the constitution on the roles and power of local governments as a tier of government. She also called for a collective movement for local government autonomy in Nigeria. This movement she stressed will advocate for citizens’ rights at the grassroots, gender empowerment, fiscal and resource control and an accountable Local government system.

Other members of the panel, Barrister Che Oyinatumba of Kubwa Express and Dr Udy Akpan of Youth for Change Initiative also called for behavioural and structural changes in Nigerian local governments. According to them, a lack of accountability in the local government will continue until its structure is unattached to the State.

Participants also suggested that pressure be put on the state Houses of Assembly to assent to bills regarding local government autonomy.

Responding to this, Prince Edegbuo of Social Action said the campaign for local government autonomy continues and hinted that a massive campaign will be launched on Twitter. Edegbuo, therefore, encouraged all to join Social Action and partners in this “storm” as well as other social and traditional media campaigns for local government autonomy. This he believes will give room for accountability of the local government system and improved service delivery.

While the moderator of the event, Comrade Jaye Gaskia thanked panellists and participants for their contributions to the program, he reminded all that local government autonomy is a must and so is inclusive governance. He, therefore, urged all to rise up and defend the local government.

 

 

 

COMMUNIQUE OF THE REGIONAL ACCOUNTABILITY CONFERENCE 2022: BEYOND THE FORENSIC AUDIT – REPOSITIONING THE NDDC

Communique of the Regional Accountability Conference 2022: Beyond the Forensic Audit – Repositioning the Niger Delta Development Commission for Inclusive and Effective Service Delivery

 

PREFACE

Social Development Integrated Centre (Social Action) with support from the MacArthur Foundation successfully organized the 2022 Regional Accountability Conference with the theme, Beyond the Forensic Audit – Repositioning the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) for inclusive and effective service delivery. The conference, which was held at Visa Karena Hotels, Port-Harcourt, Rivers State, on Thursday, February 24, 2022, was attended by various stakeholders from anti-corruption agencies and committees, traditional rulers, civil society groups, community groups, and the Media.

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POOR OVERSIGHT AND SUPERVISION BY THE PRESIDENCY/MND/NASS: THE BANE TO ACCUNTABILITY IN NDDC

At the just concluded Social Action’s Regional Accountability Conference on “Beyond The Forensic Audit”, development experts, anti-graft agencies, duty bearers, academia and community groups have all identified poor oversight and supervision by the Presidency, the Ministry of the Niger Delta and the National Assembly as main enablers of corruption and are primarily responsible for the failure of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) to live up to its mandates. This view is contained in the Communique issued at the end of the conference and released to the media by Social Action in Port Harcourt on Thursday 24th February 2022. The conference which aimed at ensuring how effective collaboration between duty bearers, anti-graft agencies, civil society and other critical stakeholders can contribute to repositioning the Niger Delta Development Commission to the path of prudence and accountability, urged the citizens to take up the responsibility of fighting corruption in NDDC by working closely with relevant anti-graft agencies and public institutions like the Bureau of Public Procurement.

Launching of the Citizens report on budget and projects of the Niger Delta Development Commission by the Director Advocacy of Social Action flanked by dignitaries from the public and private sectors

While presenting the welcome address, Vivian Bellonwu of Social Action noted that the NDDC has lost its purpose of creation and has failed to keep up with its social contract. She, therefore, calls for all hands to be on deck to bring about a complete overhauling of the NDDC system. In the same vein, the Public Relations Officer of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC),  representing the Zonal Commandant, Mr. Dele Oyewole noted that “there is no way we can achieve effective service delivery in NDDC without the participation of everybody in the Niger Delta”. He emphasized the need for public ownership of the fight against corruption, citing the fact that abandoned projects are sited in environments where people lives and so should collaborate with relevant authorities to end the menace posed by corruption. Corroborating the statement of the EFCC representative, Mrs. Ekere Usieri, the Zonal Director of Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offenses Commission (ICPC) affirmed that her agency is willing to work with the citizens and the NDDC to put an end to the deep-rooted level of corruption in the NDDC.

While presenting a paper on Strengthening Service Delivery through Effective Procurement Process in Public Institution, the representative of the Director-General of the Bureau of Public Procurement, Mr. Adebowale Adedokun referred to the CSOs as credible drivers in the process of strengthening service delivery in the NDDC. He called for a change of approach and the need for citizens to acquire prerequisite skills in carrying out projects monitoring and to stop unscrupulous contractors from stealing public resources.

The occasion of the Regional Accountability Conference was used to launch a report by Social Action, “Pond of Crocodiles: Citizens Report on Budgets and Projects of the Niger Delta Development Commission”. The report contains the analysis of the NDDC 2019 Approved Capital Budget and reports of coordinated field monitoring of NDDC projects across five states of the Niger Delta. The findings of the budget monitoring exercise by Social Action, its partners and community monitors, revealed several issues inhibiting the effectiveness of the NDDC including questionable funds allocations, project abandonment, delay in annual budget passage and over-ambitious and unrealistic projects pursuits, oversight and supervision complacency among others.

While summarizing the findings of the report, the Programmes Coordinator of Social Action, Isaac Botti revealed that some 172 projects were monitored across five states of the Niger Delta, out of which 47% were not existing, 38% abandoned, 22% completed and 4% still ongoing. He further stated that frivolous expenditures in the regional allocation in the 2019 budget of the NDDC amounted to N31 billion. Social Action’s, Vivian Bello while unveiling the report, charged attendees to take advantage of the veritable information contained in the publication to engage the government and the NDDC on inclusive and effective service delivery. She stressed that the report is a detailed, well-researched document with pains-taken field observations that should not just grace the table or shelves in our offices and home but should be used as advocacy tools.

Key recommendations from the report include the overhauling of the NDDC by constituting the substantive board, ensuring open budget and transparency of operations, strict adherence to procurement procedures laws and standards and active monitoring of financial and procurement activities of the NDDC by anti-graft agencies. Others are an improved legislative and administrative oversight of the Commission, strengthened community engagement and participation in budget and project implementation and multi-stakeholder partnership to constantly monitor the activities of the NDDC.

The Conference advised the President Muhammadu Buhari government to take decisive action on the forensic audit of the NDDC and prosecute those found culpable for malfeasance and collusion leading to the abandonment of over 12,000 projects and diversion of trillions of naira meant for the execution of development projects in the Niger Delta.

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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