President Muhammadu Buhari has, through a letter of request read at plenary by Senate President Ahmad Lawan sought the Senate to approve a request to pay the total sum of about $800 million as judgment debt through the issuance of promissory notes. The $800 million is composed of $566,754,584.31, £98,526,012.00 and N226 billion owed by the Federal government through court judgments brought against them through its MDA’s and Ministries. Social Action condemns this obnoxious request and advises that the Nigerian Senate should exercise caution and refuse consent to such a request, while also criticizing the recurrent breach of contractual terms by government officials that result in judgment debts.
SECURITY VOTES EXPENDITURE: BETWEEN DISCRETION AND ACCOUNTABILITY
Insecurity in Nigeria
Nigeria has been plagued by insecurity for decades, with the situation only getting worse in recent years. About a decade ago, the prime perpetrators of the acts of terrorism were the Boko Haram Islamic Jihadists in the Northeast Region of the country. Today the monstrosity has metamorphosed and mutated into ISWAP, bandits, armed herdsmen and IPOB factions terrorizing innocent civilians and causing mayhem all over the country.
Insecurity has become one of the biggest problems faced by Nigeria today and one of the highest inhibitors of development. 10,366 lives were lost to activities related to insurgency and banditry in 2021 according to SBM Intelligence; an increase of 47% from the number recorded the previous year. This is besides thousands of lives lost to other forms of criminality country-wide. Nigeria was ranked third, behind Iraq and Afghanistan, in the Global Terrorism Index (GTI) 2020, using the number of incidents, fatalities, injuries and hostages as a yardstick. Though Nigeria fared better in the 2022 rankings, it still falls within GTI’s 10 most terrorized countries, coming in at the 8th position.
Expectedly, Expenditure has heightened over the years for prosecuting the war against insecurity, but the results have been falling in terms of successes recorded, while casualty figures rise. Year after year the insecurity sector continues to gulp the highest chunk of the country’s budget expenditure. The budget for security rose from N920 billion in 2011 to N989 billion in 2015 and a total of N4.62 trillion in five years. The following seven years saw the budget increase to a total of N12 trillion, the actual expenditure having been shrouded in opacity. These are the budgets of the federal government, in whose purview lies the constitutional control over the security apparatus of the country. Despite the huge amount of money allocated to security, the country still suffers from terrorism, kidnapping, armed robbery, and other forms of criminal activities.
Security Vote: Illegality and Corruption
The prevailing milieu is the excuse behind the collection of huge sums of money by the federal government, some state governors and local government chairmen, monthly, in name of security vote. So, though security vote is not captured anywhere in our constitution, billions of public funds are being appropriated by the Chief Executives of the three tiers of government in the guise of fighting insecurity. In 2021, the state governors and local government chairmen in the country reportedly spent a total sum of N375 billion naira under the cloak of security vote. This is more than the combined annual appropriation for Osun, Nasarawa and Ekiti states for the same fiscal year. Since one cannot tell the composition of items that form the expenditure, it is difficult to evaluate the performance of the ‘vote’. But one sure and basic way to look at it is to appraise the current situation of security (or insecurity) in the country vis-à-vis the expenditure.
While it is unclear who started the practice of security vote, it could be traced to the military regime of General Yakubu Gowon who granted state military administrators small “out of budget” funds for pacifying some influential civilian elites. It has now become a convention among the governors and the local government chairmen, who make discretional expenditures without accounting for the huge sums from public funds. The funds, which are frequently collected in cash by governors, are distributed at their whims because they are not subject to legislative supervision or independent audit. Sadly, despite the vast quantities of money, they appropriate to themselves from the public coffers, state governors have not been able to improve on or make any meaningful impact on the security situation in their states. Instead, abductions, mysterious security breaches, religious intolerance and violence, ethnic conflicts and communal clashes and other criminal activity in their states continue to increase.
In some cases, the security votes (often separate from the budget on security services) have been used to finance personal and political activities of, and on behalf of, corrupt politicians. The former Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) Mr Ibrahim Magu had alleged that some state governors deliberately fuel insecurity in their states to collect more money vide the slush funds, drawing a connection between corruption, banditry and terrorism. This has further led to the growth of organized crime in the country, with criminals operating with impunity and little fear of being caught or punished. This is evident in instances where known criminal elements were found in the company of and on the properties of state governors who provide protection for them. Some of these elements are instruments in the hands of politicians for perpetrating thuggery and electoral fraud. It is, therefore, little wonder that the governors would prefer to keep the procurements from the security vote in perpetual opacity.
The Excuses for Security Vote
There’s the feeling in some quarters that the use of security funds requires some measure of discretion from the managers to the extent that the matter of security requires considerable confidentiality. The argument is that of the positive element of secrecy and surprise that security operations need to make incursions to the den of the criminals causing problems in society. It, therefore, requires the funds to be disbursed from the first line of charge of the state and not subject to budget and legislative approval. Again, many state governors have justified the collection and expenditure of the security vote on the support they have been extending to the federal security agencies like the Police, Army, Navy, DSS, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) etc, deployed in their states with logistic and operational facilities. The Chairman of Nigeria Governor’s Forum and Ekiti State Governor, Dr Kayode Fayemi declared that the state governors provide more funding to the Police than the Federal Government does. He asserted that “We buy them vehicles; we pay them allowances. In some cases, we even buy ammunition; of course, under the authority.”
Even if this line of argument of disclosure is excused, discretion does not preclude accountability. If the funds are excused from the budget, they could still form part of the Accountant General report giving light on how the funds were expended. And also, while it may be admirable for state governors to support security organs deployed to their respective states, security votes lack transparency, making it impossible for state authorities to separate their discretionary security expenditures from the federal government to determine whether the costs they are covering have already been covered by federal funds. The government at all levels, therefore, owe it as a matter of duty to give an account of the expenditure of these huge sums which make up a substantial percentage of the budget and concerned citizens have been calling for the governors to tow the path of honour and do so. After all, they are public funds. The most disheartening is that the governors are all too quick to give excuses for lingering insecurity in their state to the fact that the security outfits are controlled by the federal government and that they are only the chief security officers in the state by mere nomenclature and not in practice. If that is the case, then the governors have no business collecting funds which they know would not impact the purpose for which they are being appropriated.
Measures Taken to Curbing the Corruption
Rising from the recent outcry for the accountability of security votes from civil society, the federal government barred state and local governments from operating security votes with commercial banks. It also directed governors to open a special account with the Central Bank of Nigeria if they desire to obtain cash for expenditure from the security vote. This is part of the measures to implement the directive of the Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) prohibiting cash withdrawals from public accounts with effect from March 1, 2023 with an extended window for cash withdrawals for security vote until May 29 2023. It is, however, left to be seen if this directive would yield the desired results, considering that similar instructions given by the federal government have failed to live up to its purpose. One such case is the guidelines on the withdrawal of funds from the State Joint Local Government Account which has failed to instate financial autonomy in the local government as the state governors are still in control of the funds that accrue to the local government from the FAAC account. To date, we have not heard of anyone being sanctioned for flouting the directive which is backed by section 162 (6) (8) of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution and affirmed by Justice Inyang Ekwo of the Federal High Court.
Many watchers have viewed this latest move by the Mohammadu Buhari administration as cosmetic. Questions are being asked why the federal government allowed the state governor to muscle them to put forward the implementation of the ‘no cash’ withdrawal deadline to May 29th, at which time, the government would have handed over to a new administration, leaving implementation to the decision of the new administration. This concern is also amplified by the actions of the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of Nigeria, who granted presidential pardon to persons like, Joshua Dariye and Jolly Nyame, the former governors of Plateau and Taraba states respectively, who were jailed for appropriating billions of naira from public funds without accounting for them.
Some states have made policies aimed at making the expenditures from the security vote more open for public scrutiny to improve transparency. For instance, the Lagos State government has introduced the Lagos State Public Financial Management Law, which requires all government agencies, including the governor’s office, to submit regular reports on their financial activities. The law also mandates that all government contracts, including those related to security, must be awarded through a competitive and transparent bidding process.
Similarly, the Ekiti State government has established a Security Trust Fund to manage the state’s security vote. The trust fund is managed by a board of trustees, which includes representatives of civil society organizations and security agencies. The board is responsible for the allocation and expenditure of the security vote, and it is required to submit regular reports to the public on its activities.
A Better Way Forward
1. Total reformation of the security vote system,.
While the measures taken by the state governments mentioned above are commendable, more needs to be done to ensure transparency and accountability in the allocation and expenditure of security votes in Nigeria. The federal government should take the lead in reforming the security vote system, by adopting a national policy on the allocation and expenditure of security votes. The policy should stipulate clear guidelines on how the funds should be allocated, managed, and accounted for, as well as the consequences for any abuse or mismanagement of the funds.
2. Pass a Federal Law outlawing security votes at all levels.
Notwithstanding the fact that security votes lack any statutory or constitutional support, it is doubtful that federal, state, and municipal governments would quit using them unless they are forced to. Legislation that specifies budgetary guidelines and standards for security spending should go hand in hand with a restriction on the use of security votes.
3. Obtain legal backing for the enforcement of accountability of security votes
As an alternative to points 1 and 2 raised above, Civil Society should approach the competent court of jurisdiction to compel the state governor to account for the humongous amounts of money they collect in their respective domains in the guise of a security vote. A similar case filed in the Federal High Court, Lagos in 2020 by Legal Defense and Assistance Project, Legal Resources Consortium was struck out for want of jurisdiction. The court pronouncement should also include guidelines to enable monitoring by specially approved lawmakers and government auditors for truly secret procurements. If keeping some of the federal and state security budgets secret is so crucial to maintaining national security, then it should be as crucial that the money is used wisely. Effective supervision procedures must be put in place if this is to be ensured.
4. Constitutionalize State Police
Currently, the police force in Nigeria is centralized and controlled by the federal government. This means that the federal government is responsible for the recruitment, training, and deployment of police officers across the country. However, the security challenges in Nigeria vary from state to state, and there is a growing concern that the federal police have not been able to effectively address these challenges. Therefore, proponents of state police argue that allowing each state to have its own police force would enable a more localized approach to security, with officers who are more familiar with the local terrain and culture. And again, if this is done, it will not be difficult to vindicate or censure the collectors of funds meant for the purpose of security by the performance of their respective state policies in their ability to curb insecurity and maintain law and order. While the wider apprehension that it could lead to abuse of power by state governors cannot be dismissed casually, the federal government have also been accused of manipulating the instruments of coercive force for political and personal purposes and obstructing free speeches. And so, that does not imply that the concept of state police as a whole should be abandoned.
5. Strengthen the Security Structure and Enhance Synergy Among them and with Citizens
To address the worsening security situation in Nigeria, there is a need for a multi-pronged approach that involves both short-term and long-term solutions. The Nigerian security system is characterized by a lack of coordination and synergy among the various security agencies. This has led to a situation where the different security agencies operate in silos, with little collaboration or information sharing. Even where there are, the different forces still lack proper synergy. Better collaboration and information sharing among the various security agencies by putting in place mechanisms that facilitate communication and coordination among the agencies is necessary. Nigerian security agencies need to invest in technology that can help them to better monitor and track criminal activities. This could include the use of drones, CCTV cameras, and other surveillance equipment. In addition, there is a general lack of trust between the citizens and the security agencies, which has further compounded the security challenges in the country. Many Nigerians see the security agencies as being corrupt, ineffective and unfriendly, leading to a situation where citizens take matters into their own hands, often resulting in violent clashes and further worsening the security situation.
 CAMOUFLAGED CASH How ‘Security Votes’ Fuel Corruption in Nigeria, Matthew T. Page, May 2018, Transparency International
 Fayemi justifies security vote, says governors spend more on police than FG – Daily Trust
NIGERIA’S INCOMING GOVERNMENT AND THE BURDEN OF INCREASING DEBT STOCK: IMPLICATION ON ECONOMIC STABILITY AND GROWTH:
Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country and the largest economy is facing a debt burden that has been increasing steadily in recent years. With declining oil revenue, the country’s main source of foreign exchange, the government has been borrowing heavily to fund its budget, leading to a worrying debt-to-GDP ratio and an even troubling debt-to-revenue ratio. The incoming government, led by Bola Ahmed Tinubu, will have to grapple with this issue, as the country’s economic stability and growth prospects are threatened.
Nigeria’s debt burden has been a major challenge for the outgoing government led by President Mohammadu Buhari as it accumulated a total of $12.56 trillion in seven years with very little development to show for it. Deficit financing has risen by 402% from N2.41 trillion in 2016 to N12.1% in 2023. For a government which piggy-backed on its promise to tackle the monster of corruption sequel to its ascension to power, it is a big disappointment, therefore that the country has slipped further in the world corruption perception index. This slip is judged by many as a total failure of the administration of Buhari.
The current debt situation in Nigeria is alarming, as the country’s total public debt stock stood at N46.25trn as of December 2022, according to the Debt Management Office (DMO). This figure is an increase of N6.694 trillion year on year representing a 15% increase and 5% from the N44.06 trillion in just three months. The bulk of Nigeria’s debts is owed to multilateral institutions such as the World Bank, African Development Bank (AfDB), and International Monetary Fund (IMF), which account for over 50% of the debt stock. The rest is owed to bilateral lenders such as China, France, and Japan, as well as commercial banks and Eurobonds.
The debt burden has become a pressing issue for Nigeria, given the increasing cost of servicing it. According to the DMO, Nigeria spent over N3.63 trillion ($4.5 billion) in debt servicing in 2022, which is about 68% of the capital expenditure (infrastructural development). A breakdown shows total domestic debt stock stands at N27.55 trillion (61.42 billion USD), while the entire external debt stock was N18.70 trillion (USD 41.69 billion).
The debt burden has far-reaching implications for Nigeria’s economy and its citizens. The increasing debt servicing cost means that there will be less money available for public spending, including social services such as education, health, and infrastructure. This will have a negative impact on the quality of life of Nigerians, as the government will have to make tough choices on what projects to prioritize.
There is also the risk of Nigeria’s debt becoming unsustainable, as the country’s debt-to-GDP ratio has been increasing rapidly. According to the World Bank, Nigeria’s debt to GDP ratio stood at 22.0% in 2011 but had risen to 23.2% by 2022 coming down from a rise of 34.6% in 2019.
The debt burden also puts Nigeria at risk of debt distress, which would make it difficult for the country to access new loans, as lenders become cautious about Nigeria’s ability to repay its debts. The IMF has already raised concerns about Nigeria’s rising debt levels and has urged the government to adopt a more prudent borrowing approach. This is because borrowing, when not properly managed, can lead to a debt trap, where the country finds it difficult to repay its debts and is forced to borrow more to service existing debts.
New governments are billed to take over at the federal level and in 28 states of Nigeria on May 29, 2023, and the responsibility of charting a way forward for more sustainable revenue generation mechanisms is a huge one the president and state governors would have to shoulder.
The new government needs to improve its debt management framework to ensure that borrowed funds are used only for productive projects and that debt servicing costs are kept at a sustainable level. But rather than resort to more borrowings to bridge the enormous yawning infrastructural gaps, the government need to think out of the box to diversify its revenue sources and reduce its expenditure, especially on non-essential projects. With a budget already running at 57% deficit, the recurring problems of the overdependence on crude oil for its foreign exchange and the weak value of the naira against other international currencies, the new government is already faced with a huge fiscal mountain to climb. The country needs more funds than it currently generates to fund its budget, which is still inadequate to drive economic growth and stir the nation into positive social development.
The new government also needs to address the issue of corruption, which has been a major factor contributing to Nigeria’s debt burden. Corruption has led to the mismanagement of funds, resulting in inflated contracts, uncompleted projects, and embezzlement of public funds. This has been one of the major contributors to Nigeria’s rising debt, as the government has had to borrow more to fund projects that have not yielded any results. Other measures the new government can employ include
Diversify the economy: Nigeria’s economy is mostly reliant on oil exports and is thus susceptible to changes in oil prices. The government must promote diversification by making investments in other industries including manufacturing, agriculture, and technology.
Reduce wasteful spending: By eliminating unused costs and enhancing the effectiveness of public expenditures, the government may eliminate wasteful spending. The cost of funding the high, opulent and frivolous lifestyles of political office holders at the executive and legislative arms of government has been a huge burden on the scarce resources of the country to the detriment of the general citizen who lives on an income of less than a dollar per day.
Improve public sector governance: Reducing corruption and enhancing openness, inclusiveness and accountability are three ways the government may strengthen public sector governance.
Manage debt effectively: The government can manage debt effectively by prioritizing debt repayment and avoiding excessive borrowing.
Implement structural reforms: The government can implement structural reforms to improve the efficiency and competitiveness of the economy. Examples include improving infrastructure, deregulating key sectors, and improving the ease of doing business.
Failing to implement these actions will result in more borrowings by the incoming administration to implement the 2023 and subsequent years’ appropriation. This will plunge further the nation into more debt which will have devastating effects on Nigeria’s economic stability, development prospects, and citizens’ quality of life.
SOCIAL ACTION AND THE CRC TO COLLABORATE WITH THE NATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION AT NATIONAL LEVEL
Social Action paid a courtesy visit to the office of the Executive Secretary of the National Human Rights Commission in Abuja as part of its effort to build alliances and strengthen collaboration with stakeholders in advancing the needed social change. The visit, made on Wednesday, March 1, 2023, was led by its Policy advisor, Dr. Uche Igwe was mainly to familiarize the NHRC with the workings of Social Action and build a formal relationship between both organizations.
The Executive Secretary, NHRC, Mr. Anthony Okechukwu Ojukwu (SAN) expressed gratitude to the team, whose visit coincided with his recent reappointment as the Executive Secretary of the NHRC. Mr. Ojukwu thanked Social Action for the stride they have made, and the successes recorded in championing the protection of human rights and respect for the rule of law across the country. He recognised the areas of mutual interest and committed to putting mechanisms in place for NHRC to partner with Social Action and its sister organization, the Civil Rights Council (CRC) to reach grassroots citizens, educate them on their rights and also solve some of their problems.
Fruitful deliberations between the Social Action team and the Secretary, NHRC and his team
The Executive Secretary also suggested collaboration in holding joint Town Hall Meetings in rural communities and any other project relating to the core objectives of the National Human Rights Commission.
Speaking on the human rights campaign of Social Action, Dr. Igwe mentioned how the Civil Rights Council (a progeny of Social Action) handles criminal and civil cases in the country and how they have worked with the Human Rights Commission at regional levels, especially in Rivers state. He concurred that more can be done and Social Action and the CRC are ready to upscale the work of the NHRC for the betterment of the country.
Mrs. Halimat Oyedele, Director, Corporate Affairs and External Linkages of the NHRC also recounted similar partnerships with CSOs where the Human Rights Desk was established in communities to address cases of human rights abuse and violations. She hoped that when a concrete proposal is on the ground, the NHRC and Social Action would work hand-in-hand for success.
OXFAM EXPRESSES ADMIRATION OVER THE ACHIEVEMENTS OF SOCIAL ACTION IN THE CAMPAIGN FOR SOCIAL CHANGE AND GOOD GOVERNANCE
Oxfam Nigeria expressed its impression with the achievements of Social Action in the campaign for social change and strengthening of government systems across the country. This admiration was expressed by Mr Abdulazeez Musa, the Director of Programmes of Oxfam in Nigeria when playing host to Social Action team in Abuja. He also expressed his desire to know more about Social Action, noting that a transformative partnership can be built with Social Action as Oxfam is keen on galvanizing the strength of numbers.
Social Action team led by its Policy Advisor, Dr Uche Igwe, paid an advocacy visit to Oxfam in Nigeria’s office in Abuja on the 17th of November, 2022 to familiarize itself with the workings of Oxfam in Nigeria, review similar intervention areas and seek partnership for the collective good of Nigeria.
Earlier, the programmes coordinator of Social Action, Mr Botti Isaac gave a detailed explanation of Social Action’s thematic areas and intervention programs with particular reference to the Climate justice and peacebuilding programs in the North East and public finance accountability programs in the Niger Delta. According to Mr Isaac, there seems to be a lot of overlapping interests between Oxfam in Nigeria and Social Action and with collaboration, more can be achieved.
Madam Peggy Maimaji, Oxfam’s project lead on Together Against Poverty (TAP) and the project coordinator, Mr. Kenneth Akpan also acknowledged Social Action’s consistent campaigns for good and transparent governance across the country. In their view, the organizations may be able to work together around gender-responsive budgets, climate intervention programs and research.
At the end of the meeting, it was agreed that Social Action’s team will systematically seek areas of alignment with Oxfam and schedule other meeting sessions to discuss how both organizations can collaborate on some work areas.
COMMUNITIES IN OGUTA LGA TO COMMENCE LITIGATION AGAINST THE NDDC FOR ABANDONED PROJECTS
Community leaders of Oguta local government of Imo state converged at a Town hall meeting in Izombe community to discuss some abandoned and unexecuted Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) projects assigned to their local government in the 2019 NDDC Budget.
The meeting which was held on Wednesday 19 October 2022, was part of a series of activities to strengthen civic and community actions against corruption in the NDDC sponsored by Social Development Integrated Centre, Social Action, and the MacArthur Foundation.
Chairperson of the meeting, Mr Chibundu Uchegbu enlightened participants drawn from youth, men and women groups, and members of the press on the role of the NDDC in championing the development of the Niger Delta Region of which Imo is a member state. According to him, the NDDC has failed in its mandate of providing services that benefit the people of the region. He expressed regret that though provisions were made for projects to be executed in Oguta local government in the NDDC 2019, capital projects monitored by his team in December 2021 showed that most of the projects were never executed while a few were abandoned halfway. This realization informed the Town hall meeting; allowing members of the community to take action.
2 Basil Ejigini, itemizing the amount attached to each project that was not done in Oguta
Mr. Basil Ejigini a member of the 2019 NDDC projects monitoring team gave further details on the actual projects assigned to Oguta LGA. According to Basil, about N121, 750,000 was allocated to cater for five human development projects in the local government for the period under review. These projects include; Rehabilitation of 2 school blocks Trinity High School Oguta, the Provision of Solar Powered Street Light in Ndi-Ikwuegbu, the Construction of the Izombe Federal Medical Centre Annex, the Construction of the Health Centre in Ubi, and the Construction of Okonya/Justice Assieme Road.
These revelations prompted outcries from participants who confirmed that the communities mentioned are theirs but none of the projects had been executed in the community. They promised to convey enlarged meetings with all members of the community and consider possible actions that would be taken to ensure that what belongs to them comes to them unvaried. Although the community blamed the government for not including the community leaders when the funds were released for the project implementation, they insisted on taking action to curb the abnormalities.
Mr. Chibundu thanked all for their reception and informed them to get ready for the third stage of the campaign which is the Litigation stage.
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
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.
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
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.
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.