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.

Freedom Of Information (FOI): Requesting Public Finance Accountability In Rivers State

Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State inspecting the Garrison Junction flyover project in Port Harcourt. Picture by the Rivers State government-owned newspaper, thetidenewsonline.com

Administrations at the federal, state and local governments always come with new policies, developments and changes intended to showcase its performance in providing the dividends of democracy to the citizens. However, despite numerous infrastructure and development projects embarked upon by the federal, state and local governments areas (LGAs), Nigerian citizens have seen crumbling public infrastructures as successive administrations do not adequately maintain projects.
The administration Chief Barrister Ezenwo Nyesom Wike in Rivers State has embarked on several commendable infrastructure projects, especially in road construction. In the past months, the state has witnessed the commencement of three new flyovers in ObioAkpor and Port Harcourt City Local Government Areas (LGAs). These include the Oro Abali flyover (Garrison Junction), which has been completed and commissioned, the Okoro Nundo flyover (Rumuokoro), and the Artillery Flyover as part of other numerous urban renewal constructions ongoing in Rivers State.

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PIB: A Call For Adequate Public Participation

Social Action led concerned CSO and host communities to make representation at the Public Hearing on the PIB at the Media Centre of the National Assembly Complex, Abuja

Introduced in 2008 at the Federal Government’s instance, the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) now has a reputation for being one of the oldest and most contentious bills in Nigeria’s legislative history. Corruption, bad politics and deeply vested interests have all combined to ensure that the bill remains a miscarriage. It is a bill that is promoted as one that would sanitise the petroleum industry in Nigeria, improve benefits to the national economy and address the environmental and social costs borne by host communities. However, since its introduction 13 years ago, the bill has suffered several unfortunate and avoidable setbacks. That is why there was heightened expectation when the Muhammadu Buhari government reintroduced the PIB as an executive bill to the 9thNational Assembly, which promised to speedily pass the bill into law by the second quarter of 2021.

In line with its standing orders and house rules, the National Assembly announced a public hearing on the bill. The public hearing was expected to provide an avenue for public input into the bill and capture all the concerns by different interests. Public hearings, organised as part of the law-making process, enable the coalescing of recommendations from critical stakeholders to enable legislators to produce legislation that best serves the national interest, which cannot be divorced from citizens’ good.

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“I feel liberated” Supporting Economic Opportunities for Displaced Women in North-East Nigeria

Maimuna Dahiru tending her vegetables

 

                                                By Joy Bitrus Ashalva, Project Officer, Social Action

Maimuna Dahiru is a 35-year-old woman originally from Baga, in Kukawa Local Government Area (LGA) of Borno State in North-Eastern Nigeria. A mother of eight children, including five girls and three boys, Maimuna and her family fled when Boko Haram insurgents attacked Baga town in December, 2018. Since 2013, particularly in 2015, Boko Haram fighters have raided Baga and surrounding villages, killing thousands of people and burning homes and public buildings. Given the fluid security situation, people sometimes return to their community after periods of calm only for the insurgents to strike again.

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CSO Situation Room monitors activities in Rivers State as Government lifts lockdown temporarily

Crowded markets in Port Harcourt City Local Government after the announcement of the two-day ease on lockdown

The total lockdown which took effect in Port Harcourt and Obio Akpor Local Government Areas of Rivers State on Thursday, May 7th, 2020 was temporarily relaxed on Tuesday, May 12th, 2020 by the Governor to enable residents of the State replenish their stock of basic needs and cater to other necessities, in view of a resumption of the total lockdown on Sunday, May 17th, 2020. This came as a breather to the people of both LGAs who have been on a 24-hour lockdown. Following the initial two-day lift slated for Tuesday and Wednesday (May 12th and 13th) but which was later extended till Sunday, May 17th, Port Harcourt and Obio/Akpor LGAs came alive again with several humans seen hustling and bustling on the streets and other public places.

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Bayelsa CSO COVID-19 Situation Room embarks on massive sensitisation.

CSO COVID-19 Situation Room distributing flyers and hand sanitisers to members of the public in Bayelsa State

The COVID-19 Situation Room which is a coalition of Civil Society groups including Social Action, set up to monitor government’s response to the pandemic and provide support in creating massive awareness amongst the populace, has visited different communities in the State to monitor people’s response to the pandemic and create awareness about it. The Situation Room embarked on a massive outreach in various communities to enlighten the people of Bayelsa State on the risks posed by the coronavirus and the need to prevent getting infected by adhering strictly to all stipulated safety measures such as keeping safe distance from others, regular washing of the hands, frequent use of the hand sanitiser, wearing of face mask in public, eating healthy meals and engaging in physical exercises regularly.

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Reviving Popular Action for Democracy and Freedom in Nigeria

In 2019, Social Action and its solidarity partners mobilised civic constituencies against the increasing assault on freedom of expression and democracy in Nigeria. Throughout the year, the country experienced shrinking of the civil spaces reminiscent of the dark days of military dictatorship. There was an escalation of state impunity and brazen disrespect for the rule of law in the country as exemplified by the detention of journalists, pro-democracy and anti-corruption activists in defiance of court orders. Thus, Social Action and its collaborators: the African Centre for Media and Information Literacy (AFRICMIL), Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), and other partners, Civic Media Lab (CML), Coalition For Revolution (CORE), Nigeria Intervention Movement (NIM), The Difference Newspaper and Sahara Reporters, supported by Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, organised the second edition of the Nigeria Pro-Democracy Conference, which was convened as a platform for pro-democracy activists, social justice advocates and organic scholars in Nigeria to examine the democratic practices in Nigeria since 1999 and discuss options for positive civic engagement in politics; for promoting popular power and enthroning a representative and accountable government in Nigeria.

 

The well-attended conference which took place at the Osun Hall, Lagos Airport Hotel, Ikeja on December 17, 2019, had the Theme: Reviving Popular Action for Democracy and Freedom in Nigeria. The gathering witnessed presentations by various human rights activists, all of whom agreed that the country’s democracy was endangered and that there was an urgent need to revive pro-democracy movement with a view to stopping the encroaching dictatorship tendencies under President Muhammadu Buhari.

conference1

In his opening remarks, Arochukwu Ogbonna who represented the Executive Director of Social Action, Dr Isaac Osuoka, noted that the shrinking civic and political space has led to a general state of insecurity in Nigeria and worsening social and economic conditions for the majority of citizens. Delivering the welcome address, co-convener of the conference, author and activist, Dr Chido Onumah who spoke on behalf of the organising partners, noted that the conference was put together to get people to speak with one voice on the many challenges confronting progressive movement in Nigeria, in particular, and the existential threat that millions of compatriots face on daily basis. The conveners recalled that the inaugural pro-democracy conference of December 2018, at the National Press Centre, Abuja, in the lead up to the 2019 general election, provided space for democracy activists to examine the state of the pro-democracy movement since the 1990s. The inaugural conference brought together veterans of the pro-democracy movement and younger activists and served as a platform for inter-generational dialogue on the movement of democracy in Nigeria and the state of the nation.

The conveners stressed the imperative of civic intervention of the pan-Nigerian character reminiscent of the 1990s pro-democracy movement. They noted that more people are living in extreme poverty in Nigeria than anywhere else in the world while violent conflicts are escalating.

Other activists, including Richard Mammah, publisher of the Difference Newspaper; Angela Odah; Prof Anthony Kila; Habib Dolapo; Wale Okunniyi, among others, took turns to speak on the state of affairs of the country with all of them in agreement to the urgent need to stop the encroaching fascism under the present leadership. In her remarks, Mrs. Odah, representative of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, said the conference was necessary to enable the participants add voice to the call for a stop to the encircling militarism in a democratic dispensation. She pointed out that the government of the day was using siting of projects and lopsided appointments to divide the country along ethnic and religious lines while encroaching on the rights and liberties of the citizens.

Delivering his keynote address titled: The Anti-Politics of the Buhari Administration, Dr Odion Silvester Akhaine warned that the country was heading to the point of no return.
He noted that the current leadership of the country has inflamed divisive tendencies and called for concerted effort to build alliances to save the country from collapse. He said that the legislature is a rubber stamp one, known in British history as the ‘Long Parliament’, a proxy of the executive who act in brazen compromise of parliamentary autonomy. The judiciary is peopled by political appointees without merit but programmed and intimidated to do the will of the executive. The keynote address was followed by a panel discussion during which members of the panel further dissected the issues and took questions from the audience.

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In a communique drafted at the end of the conference by Mr Obinna Ezugwu and read by Mr Otedola Adeola, the conference observed as follows:

  1. Nigeria is fast sliding into a fascist dictatorship.
  2. We are confronted with a government which has no regard for the rule of law.
  3. Court orders are being disobeyed with impunity. Journalists and activists are arrested and detained indiscriminately.
  4. Sahara Reporters publisher, Omowole Sowore, Olawale Bakare, former National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki, leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, among others, remain in detention despite court orders for their release. We also have journalists like Agba Jalingo and Jones Abiri who are facing terrorism charges for simply doing their jobs. These are all testimonies to the shrinking of media and civil space in the country.
  5. The government proposed social media bill and hate speech bill are aimed at curtailing the freedom of expression of Nigerians.
  6. Even though the country now houses the highest number of poor people in the world, there is a bill called finance bill passed by the National Assembly awaiting the president’s assent. The essence of the bill is to force everyone, including the mass of unemployed Nigerians to pay more taxes. According to the bill, if you have no Tax ID, you can’t have a bank account. The government has also increased VAT, introduced POS charges, all of which are aimed at further impoverishing Nigerians to make more money available for the elite to loot. The minimum wage has yet to be implemented.
  7. In addition to several billions of dollars that it has borrowed, the government is now seeking to borrow another $30 billion while the bulk of the 2019 budget is to be borrowed. This is an attempt to plunge Nigeria into a debt crisis and leave a heavy debt burden on the future generation.
  8. It has become obvious that the Buhari government has no solution to the country’s economic and social problems. The despotic approach it deploys is only a decoy to take people’s attention away from the real issues of its failure.
  9. Part of the challenge facing the pro-democracy movement is that unlike during the military regime when we had a vibrant civil society when it was us against the military, we are facing a different challenge today. Politicians have succeeded in dividing us along ethnic and religious lines.

RECOMMENDATIONS

  1. The current battle to reclaim Nigeria is complex. We need an alliance of forces that would lead to the formation of a radical pan-Nigerian organization, taking into consideration the nuances of the Nigerian situation.
  2. We must answer the question of the structure of the Nigerian state.
  3. We must all, as lovers of freedom and people who have the interest of the nation at heart, start organising to ensure that our democratic rights are protected.
  4. We must all begin to act, to organise in our different localities to stop the encroaching fascism. We must not rest until journalists, activists and other individuals jailed are released.
  5. No matter the differences we have, we must decide on a few things: accountability of those in power, regardless of who is in power. We must ensure that the right of minorities is protected and that our freedoms are guaranteed.
  6. We must revive and restructure pro-democracy organisations and use them to make our voices heard and sustain the tempo of our activism.
  7. The pro-democracy movement should stand in solidarity with student unions across the country in order to strengthen their activism. We should also stand strongly against the victimization of student union activists in our various universities.

Participants agreed that the pro-democracy conference should be held at least once every year as a rallying point for activists and citizen across the country to continue to uphold the tenets of democracy.