The part of citizens in demanding accountability and transparency in a commission that was solely established to foster development in the Niger Delta region cannot be overemphasized. The NDDC functionality must reflect the interest of citizens. For this to happen, there must be a cordial relationship between the citizens and the commission. To foster this relationship and encourage citizen interest in the NDDC, Social Action with the support of the MacArthur foundation organized a Consultative forum on “Strengthening NDDC- Citizens Relationship To Promote Transparency and Effective Service Delivery In The Post Audit Era.”
In his welcome address, the Senior Programs Officer of Social Action, Prince Ekpere spoke on the shortcomings of the Commission since its inception and how it has operated without any form of scrutiny or checks and balances. For him, there is no better time to have this conversation and demand transparency on the financial affairs of the commission and the accessibility of these fiscal documents to the public. He also tasked the antigraft agencies to be up and doing to ensure all those who have misused funds from the Commission be made to face the wrath of the law.
In his presentation on “NDDC and Citizens Relationship: Challenges and Opportunity for Collaboration Engagement for Inclusive and Effective Service Delivery” The Executive Director of We the People, Ken Henshaw remarked that NDDC money is being stolen daily by a group of persons. The people no longer know what the role of the NDDC is as it has failed to respond to the issues of development in the Niger Delta region. The Commission, which he termed ‘a crime scene’, is now a settlement ground. He emphasised the need for us as citizens to criminalize corruption by recognizing it as a crime and demanding the release of the forensic audit report.
A panel session that focused on “Towards An Inclusive Citizens/Community-led Development Approach Panacea for Curbing Corruption in the NDDC had Comrade Maxwell Ati and Comrade Princess Egbe as co-panelists. Others were Dr. Tare Dadiowei, Evangelist Duke Fekeregha and was moderated by Ken Henshaw. Dr Tare Dadiowei urged the Niger Delta people to fight for their rights as the responsibility of drawing their own map lies within them. He cautioned that the people cannot continue to live as if nothing is at stake and expect that things will change. We must demand the change we desire, he said. While Comrade Maxwell Ati blamed the communities for refusing to put an end to an abnormality that has become a norm, he noted that it is time to make a move towards the demand for accountability and transparency from public duty bearers. Comrade Princess Egbe in her remarks pointed to the fact that the people must swing into action, campaign with one voice and demand change as the only way forward. While Evangelist Duke Fekeregha spoke on changing our mentality of a short-term personal gratification to a long term communal benefit as a way to engender endearing values and conditions that foster development in our communities.
The attendees who spoke during the interactive session also suggested ways the campaign and demands for accountability and transparency for effective service delivery in the post-audit era can be achieved. One of such ways include to:
Take the message to the grassroots and sensitize them on the need to buy into the ownership philosophy as the NDDC ‘money of the money’ of the people and they should be concerned about what happens there.
Work as a group, strategize and work towards implementing recommendations made in the forum and intensify all that has been said and keep the conversation ongoing
Hold our community leadership accountable, use the structure of leadership to drive home the point and make leaders more responsible and responsive to the needs and aspirations of the Niger Delta region.
Demand for environmental Impact assessment to be carried out before projects are implemented.
What do we drink in Ogoniland? This is the question stakeholders sought to answer as Social Action brought together members of the Ogoni community, representatives of civil society organisations, relevant government agencies and the press, to discuss progress made by the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP) in implementing emergency measures as recommended by the United Nations Environment Programme. The town hall which was held in Bori on the 15th of December 2021 was supported by Development and Peace Caritas.
In his welcome charge read by Peter Mazzi, Communication Coordinator, the Executive Director, Dr Isaac Osuoka was concerned that 10 years after the release of the UNEP report and 5 years after the flag-off of the clean-up, there is still no clean water for the people of Ogoniland to drink. Dr Osuoka emphasised the need to implement the emergency phase tenure of activities to address environmental contamination in Ogoniland which include recommendations for providing access to clean water and organising health audits. These emergency measures are to provide immediate relief in the face of life-threatening contamination of the environment in preparation for the full-scale environmental remediation process, which may last for up to 30 years.
Comrade Celestine Akpobari in the first presentation of the day faulted the method used by UNEP in conducting the research as not far-reaching enough and without the expected wide consultation with community people. He, however, was disappointed that even the report release has not been implemented by HYPREP as recommended. He expressed sadness that since the establishment of the HYPREP Project Coordination office, the first genuine attempt to provide portable water in Ogoni happened in March 2021 when water contract of N6.4 million naira was awarded. He presaged that people have seen HYPREP as another money-making venture and warned that people must be watchful and not allow gold-digger to compromise the cleanup process.
Emem Okon looked at the gaps and loopholes in the implementation of the cleanup by HYPREP in her presentation and faulted the methods and intentions of the project. In a presentation made on her behalf by Comrade Pius Dukor, she observed that needs assessment was not carried out before vocational training and capacity building was carried out for youth and women groups in Ogoniland. She also noted that the remediation measures are not done with all sincerity and intentions to clean up the pollution and make life better for the people of the impacted communities.
In a panel session moderated by Comrade Pius Dukor, the panelists consisting of Chief Magnus Edooh, Chief Cletus Mbari Bekor, Stella Amanie, Noble Worlu and Akobuto Friday, deliberated on how crucial an emergency provision of water and healthcare (health audit) is, as recommended by the UNEP report. Panelist were unanimous on the notion that HYPREP is not treating the matter of water supply as an emergency with the urgency that is required. They decried the situation whereby the helpless people of the impacted communities still drink from the same sources of water the report had designated as contaminated because of a lack of alternatives.
Contributing to the discuss in an interactive session, community members present at the audience corroborated the opinions of the panel and added that there has been a disconnect between HYPREP and the communities they claim to be remediating. They doubted the sincerity and capacity of the contractor executing the projects and lamented that people have been dying every day in these communities as a result of the contaminated soil and water which are supposed to be sources of life. They demanded that proper medical audits be conducted on patients in the hospitals and medical centres and proper diagnosis and therapy undertaken.
At the end of the meeting, observations and resolutions were documented in a communique which was read by Peace Agbo, a Communication Officer of Social Action. They include;
The setting up of an alternative team of CSOs to ensure the water project meets international standards using best practice
HYPREP should construct modern facilities instead of refurbishing old, outdated, and rusty facilities
Immediate supply of potable water should be made as a matter of urgency
Technical partners should be involved in the implementation of the UNEP Report since this is a novel clean-up in Nigeria
The people should come together to stop them whenever HYPREP is carrying out their health outreach instead of recommended health audit
CSOs should form a strong independent team to closely monitor work going on at the remediation and water projects to ensure they meet international standards using best practice
Social Development Integrated Centre with support from the MacArthur Foundation convened a consultative forum on “Strengthening NDDC- Citizens Relationship to Promote Transparency and Effective Service Delivery in the Post Audit Era.” The forum which was held on Tuesday, December 14, 2021, brought together citizens and stakeholders in Cross River state who deliberated on how collaboration between community structure and NDDC can be enhanced such that projects implemented by NDDC reflect the yearning of the people.
Welcoming the participants, the Programmes Coordinator of Social Action, Botti Isaac reechoed the theme of the forum stating that meetings like this become increasingly necessary following the recent trends around the NDDC and the need to better the lives of the people of the Niger Delta. He harped on the need for strong collaboration between the citizens and the Commission as this would help in making the work of NDDC easier. The need for citizens’ involvement and participation in the NDDC budgeting process was also emphasized to guarantee effective service delivery.
The Executive Director of We The People, Ken Henshaw spoke extensively on “NDDC- Citizen’s Relationship: Challenges and Opportunity for Collaboration, Engagement for Inclusive and Effective Service Delivery”. Giving an overview of the NDDC operations from 2001-2019, Mr Henshaw noted that the Commission has received over N3.3 trillion as budgetary allocation and about N2.4 trillion as income from statutory and non-statutory sources. Despite these huge allocations, the Niger Delta region remains underdeveloped and the people wallow in poverty and deprivation. He made reference to the forensic audit report which revealed about 13,777 projects with a compromised execution and the operation of 362 banks accounts by the Commission. This, to Comrade Henshaw, reflects a failed administration and must be put in check.
The presentation paved way for an interactive session with attendees renewing their commitments to fight against corruption in the NDDC. They agreed with the speaker and promised to share information gathered during the program and make the best use of them. It was also emphasized that NDDC projects are not gifts and the thoughts, information and resource of the forum have to be harnessed to make these engagements rewarding and for the benefit of the people.
A panel discussion with Barr. William Itorok, Mrs Effanga Henshaw, Mr Kingsley Agim and Mr Joseph Agim focused on ways CSOs, citizens and all Stakeholders in Cross River State can commit to productive engagements with NDDC and reinforce their resolve to continue the campaign against corruption in the NDDC. The panelists among other resolutions agreed on the urgency to intensify efforts towards the demand for the publication of the forensic audit report and collaborate to demand accountability on all NDDC interventions in the state. Communities in Cross River state were advises to set up a monitoring team to monitor NDDC activities in the state and develop a feedback mechanism for community participation.
The following recommendations were made:
The NDDC should make a version of citizens’ budget to allow for cross-fertilization of information.
There should be valid re-orientation for citizens to be interested in what happens in their communities.
All mechanisms should be employed to engage strategically on NDDC Projects in the state
There should be Community Need Assessment that has to fit into the NDDC budget.
There should be a Fact sheet or Citizen’s Budget for NDDC projects in Cross River state.
Oil spills are a frequent occurrence in the Niger Delta region. The effects of these spills are first felt by communities and sometimes these community members are clueless on how and what should be done when these disasters occur. To help communities manage and monitor these spills until remediation is initiated, Social Development Integrated Centre in collaboration with the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) organized a training workshop for community members on Monitoring Oil Spills Through the Joint Investigations Visits (JIVs).
Trainees consisted of community members from states in the South-South region. Speaking during his opening remark, the Senior Programs Officer of Social Action, Prince Edegbuo told trainees that oil spill should not be neglected as it is a threat to our environment and our health and it is important to tackle this challenge hence the need for training. Also, delivering the goodwill message Mr Solomon Okpeneri who represented the Zonal head of NOSDRA Mr Ime Ekanem expressed delight that the organization deem it necessary to collaborate with Social Action in this noble quest to put knowledge at the disposal of crucial stakeholders in the communities. According to him, NOSDRA cannot function fully without the community members and for community members to work with NOSDRA, knowledge and training is very essential.
The first lecture taken by Augustine Bello of NOSDRA was on “JIV process on oil spill management and Recovery Information.” He schooled trainees on the processes in managing spills and the responsibility of the oil company to complete the remediation process and how NOSDRA can generate maps where areas of concern are captured. For him after the JIV, cleanup follows and waste materials are deposited into approved areas. Using a slide, he gave a detailed explanation of how the process can occur until remediation is achieved. Mr Solomon Okpeneri who took the second presentation on “Community Participation, Needs and Complaints” emphasized the role of the community in reporting cases of oil spills as they are part of the process from beginning to the end product, which is the restoration of damaged soil. He further stated that complaints from communities are handled and treated as urgent. To wrap up the training section by NOSDRA, Mr Ifechukwu Oduolisamene took participants on a detailed section where he explained the safety measures to look out for in cases of oil spill.
The expectation after such extensive and in-depth training is that the recipients become part of the process and not live with the abnormality that oil spill is a norm because of various occurrences of these spills. For this to be achieved, communities will need empirical evidence to report these spills says Onyekachi Okoro the Executive Director, Media for Justice Initiative who spoke on “Publicizing oil spills using Advocacy and Engagement Tools.” He urged community members to collect coordinated information, explore documentation while constantly reminding stakeholders of their responsibilities to the environment. Engagement backed up with appropriate and unbiased knowledge is important, so community representatives can speak from an informed point of view, he said.
Attendees seized the opportunity to ask questions which was responded to by officials of NOSDRA. In his closing remarks, Green Isaac of Social Action also buttressed the need for all hands to be on deck as regards cases of oil spills as it is no longer a personal affair.
Social Action pays advocacy visit to National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) as part of it’s effort to secure the support and collaboration of the Agency in a series of activities aimed at raising awareness and increasing the capacity of community members and concerned non-governmental organizations (CSOs) working on and monitoring oil spills. NOSDRA is expected to bring their years of experience to bear in teaching selected representatives of the communities, particularly the youth and women, on oil spill detection and prevention measures prior to the intervention of appropriate government authorities.
Mr. Ukpenevi Solomon, who was representing the Zonal Head, welcomed the representatives of Social Action and rendered an apolopy on behalf of the Zonal Head, who had to leave town on short notice to attend to other pressing matters. As part of their appreciation for the visit and the intention of Social Action, Mr. Ikechukwu Odiwlisaeme, from the National Oil Spills Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA), pledged their support on behalf of the Zonal Head and the Agency to support the course in order to ensure a safe environment for the social and economic well-being of the people. Mr Augustine Bello recalled similar partnerships between the agency and Social Action in the past and assured that the cordial relationship that currently exists between the two organizations will be maintained for the benefit of the Niger Delta people and Nigerians at large.
Modalities were then discussed on the organisation of the capacity building workshop in Port Harcourt and the townhall meeting to deliberate on the progress so far made by HYPREP on the Ogoni cleanup, scheduled for Bori.
Green Isaac, the Program Officer, Peter Mazzi, the Communications Manager, and Peace Agbo, the Communications Officer, all of Social Action, were on hand to represent the organization.
The fight against corruption is not just a Nigerian affair as today the 9th of December marks World Anti-Corruption Day. The day avails leaders and organizations all over to world to lend their voices to speak against the danger of corruption and how we can eradicate the monster so that posterity will not pronounce anathema on our names.
To mark the Day, Social Development Integrated Centre (Social Action) seized the opportunity to continue to address the issues of corruption in Nigeria, especially in the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). This is in continuation and an extension of the regular radio campaign against corruption aired on Wednesdays tagged THE VOICE ON NDDC where citizens are educated, sensitized and conscientized on their obligation to hold public duty bearers to account of their stewardship in government agencies like the NDDC.
Today’s “Radio Town Hall” the theme ‘International Anticorruption Day” was attended in the studio by Sophia Daniels, a Peace Building Analyst, Dele Oyewale, Head of Public Affairs of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Enefa George, President of the Civil Society Organization, Rivers State and Green Isaac of Social Action as host. The other attendees were listeners from the audience who joined in and contributed the telephone. All resources persons dealt with the issue of corruption in the commission, the part of the government and security agencies and the roles of the citizens of the Niger Delta. The speakers still buttressed the fact that the fight to end corruption is a collective responsibility and the need for the people to see the commission as their own and shun the idea of scrapping it as that may not solve the problem.
Thereafter, the organization through a rally took the campaign to the Port Harcourt Head office of the NDDC. Addressing pressmen and group members during the rally, Comrade Green Isaac, programs officer at Social Action reminded all present of the theme of the Anti-Corruption Day which is “Your Right, Your Role: Say No to Corruption.” According to him, this is the best time to speak up as the effect of corruption is costly and far-reaching. He lamented the fact that the commission which was set up to bring succour to the Niger Delta people, has caused them more harm than good. The following demands were made through a press statement:
That the president constitutes a new Board of the Niger Delta Commission
Publication of the forensic audit and prosecute erring contractors involved in project abandonment.
Prosecute NDDC staff involved in fund misappropriations
Publish names of contractors, location of contracts, companies and money involved in all abandoned contracts and also make its annual budget a public affair.
The rally was championed by the Civil Rights Council (CRC) and attended by the AntiCorruption Network (AcoNet), other Civil Society Organisations, and collaborators in Port Harcourt.
The demand for local government autonomy and accountability has metamorphosed into a national call as government agencies, such as; Nigeria Union of Local Government Employees, Association of Local Government In Nigeria, National Union of Road Transport Workers, Nigeria Financial Intelligence, market women, youth groups, students and community groups and CSOs all convened at the Unity Fountain in Abuja to issue a communique signed by these groups demanding for autonomy and accountability in the LGAs.
Reading the communique, during the gathering, Comrade Akeem Ambali, the National President of NULGE, noted the discussions and challenges identified during the National Dialogue held on the 1st of December, 2021 at Abuja. The lack of autonomy by the LGAs and concentration of so much power on the state government has crippled the efficiency of the LGAs. The communique raised cogent issues which, if not addressed, may continue to hinder development in the LGAs. The demands as collectively agreed on include the dissolution of joint state and local government accounts and the remittance of LGs allocation to a dedicated account for the Local Government and to stop states from making laws for the LGAs. others are to encourage citizens involvement in serving as watchdogs to curb the excesses of the local government while demanding transparency, accountability of financial transactions and access to their financial records. The communique also demanded that local government elections be conducted by INEC in place of the State Independent Electoral Commission.
Speaking on behalf of Social Action, Prince Ekpere buttressed the fact that the call for local government autonomy is as old as the local government itself and that more Nigerians live in villages and communities and as such, the Local Government is supposed to respond to infrastructural and human capital development at the local level but this is not the case. The Programs Coordinator of Social Action, Botti Isaac also corroborated Ekpere’s assertion and expounded further that any constitutional process that does not take into consideration the autonomy of the local government in Nigeria is a fraud. Comrade Botti expressed the fact that the government should grant autonomy to the local government and cut the excess of the state governors. This is not the time to keep quiet, grassroots development is important as our people need to enjoy the dividends of democracy, he concluded.
The coalition of the several groups represented at the rally further took on the march to the office of the Speaker and Clerk of the Nigeria National Assembly, the office of Nigeria Governor’s Forum and Office of the Conference of All Speakers, where signed copies of the communique were received by these offices. The various offices expressed their delight to receive representatives from NULGE and Social Action and a successful deliberation ensued.
Dr Isaac Osuoka has cautioned active citizens of the enormity of the Nigerian crisis as one that requires an urgent individual involvement in collective struggles informed by a clear and alternative vision to be able to reclaim and transform the state. He made this profound statement in a welcome charge at the National Prodemocracy Conference for 2021 which was held at the Lagos Airport Hotels Ikeja Lagos. In the address read on his behalf by the Programs Coordinator, Isaac Botti, the Executive Director of Social Action stressed the need to work towards a process that can utilize such moments as presented by the #EndSars to build sustainable and enduring structures of popular power. He concluded by calling for a manifesto on how the colonial state can be recreated into a community that taps from the strength of the people to advance the historic cause. The philosophy must define how to manage the ownership and control of means of production, addresses the rights and relationship of nationalities
Solidarity Messages of Collaborators
Angela Odah of Rosa Luxemburg Foundation sent her solidarity message via live video conferencing and congratulated all partners involved in the conference’s organization as well as all activists and comrades present for their commitment to Nigeria and belief that the deliberations will bring solutions to Nigeria’s issues.
Dr. Chido Onumah, Executive Director of AFRIMIL, said that the political class cannot address the ongoing situation in 2023. Besides dealing with the present administration’s failings, he says the future president would have to deal with critical concerns like separatist movements in the South-East and South-West. Unless these difficulties and challenges are tackled with ingenuity, intelligence, and resolve, the country will continue to drift from crisis to catastrophe.
Democracy has failed to benefit Nigerians in terms of improved living conditions and access to essential services. According to CISLAC Executive Director Auwal Ibrahim Musa (Rafsanjani), the Nigerian state has faced serious challenges such as civil strife, electoral disputes, and high youth unemployment. Pro-democracy and human rights activists may improve democratic systems. Security must be addressed to boost socioeconomic activity, create employment, and decrease hunger. He highlighted that the government must prioritize the rule of law and human rights because this is the only way Nigerians can understand democracy.
The chairman of the conference, Femi Falana (SAN) in his opening remarks gave a brief history of lawlessness in Nigeria- a litany of lawlessness from Lekki, to Mushin, to Kaduna and illiteracy and fear of arrest as a reason most downtrodden people never speak out. He paid particular attention to the lawlessness in the handling of the #EndSars panels, the double-speak of LCC and the deliberate attempt to confuse the Nigerian people. He warned that the struggle ahead is getting tougher and tougher, the political class can never change unless there is a new party to take power. A political party that will defend the interest of Nigerians, not a party of loan collectors, not a “dollarize” party. This system is at its best, it can’t do beyond what is happening now.
Keynote Presentation- Professor Toye Olorode
According to Professor Toye Olorode we now face the dynamics of our people’s fights and the forces that sabotage them, both inside and external to our organization. A New Nigeria can now be established with the masses of our people, employing all means of production, distribution and trade to serve their wants without endangering their future or long-standing unity, he said in his keynote remarks. Olorode noted, however, that the imperialist thieves (IMF, WTO, WTO) and their multinational businesses continue to deploy ministerial, technocratic, contractor, and consultant staff to monitor the privatization of public assets and the devaluation of the Naira. Rather than individual heroics, resolving the foregoing paradoxes demands extraordinary collaborative efforts. “We will continually evaluate our progress towards a socialist Nigeria”, he said.
Brief Comments on the State of the Nation
With Nigeria at a crossroads and people disillusioned with the two major political parties, the #EndSars was a response to general difficulties on the ground, according to Barrister Rasheedat Adeshina. We have a historical obligation to provide the people what they need, she argues. Power doesn’t wait; we must begin immediately.
According to Barrister Chima Williams, we need alternative political manifestos since the individuals formulating policies are unqualified, we need to go beyond campaigns and advocacy, and we must think about power or stay at the hands of those in power who use authority to enrich themselves. We need to discuss solutions and a new political platform. It’s about power, he said.
Comrade Owei Lakenfa thinks a shift in the existing exploitative capitalist system is required for a more compassionate society to emerge. They hide their flaws by borrowing from communist systems, posing as liberals, but we all know who the true owners are. Comrade Lakenfa prefers the socialist system because capitalists believe in individual profit accumulation whereas socialists believe in corporate profit accrual. Lack of ideological capitalism is a degrading system, and many comrades end up selling their souls to Satan through godfathers and donor agencies.
Ken Henshaw The Nigerian nation is in a crisis, the country is a shambles, and it has never been this awful. The administration is actively attempting to make life harder for ordinary Nigerians. The master’s tools will never enable us to bring about meaningful change. Change comes only every four years, via elections. We need to go from advocacy to revolution. Our only hope is to alter the system, not the masters.
The panel discussion session on the keynote presentation and the state of the nation was moderated by Comrade Jaiye Gaskiya and had Affiong Affiong, Betty Abah and Chiemeke Onyisi as panelists.
The Moderator Jaiye Gaskiya, highlights the tasks of the panel and also states clearly that the theme does exclude 2023 and not just beyond 2023. We know the goal, but how do we do what ought to be done and how to get there.
A summary of the Contributions by the panelist;
Barrister Chiemeke Onyeisi
We must learn from Latin America, using Peru as a case study, how they have been able to take over power despite losing out in the past. The past generation of revolutionaries hoped for the revolution and lost hope and moved into Non-Governmental Organizations but NGO’S do not take overpower. The example of the Black Panthers; how they were able to achieve so much through the introduction of Medical Insurance which the American state later copied. The consistency of action is the key to survival.
According to Comrade Affiong, having the PVC to alter what is existing cannot work unless we organize for change. Nigeria is a neocolony, but with black criminals replacing European colonists and we need to mobilize a national movement against neocolonial systems. We must first propagate the message that black criminals have supplanted white criminals in robbing our commonwealth. Imperialism is a global system it can only be defeated with global efforts. Think globally act locally!
We must be particular in inclusiveness, we must build a movement that carries everybody along. A movement that is very diverse, that attracts all sorts of people. Women and children are the most affected by state terroristic acts, we must speak for them and be seen to speak for them. We must involve the women that have felt the pinch of terror from the present system. We must infuse the energy of young people, we must carry them along. We must be dynamic in our approach, an inter-generational dialogue must happen.
Contribution from the audience and online participants agreed on the need for an alternative political platform and encouraged the message to be taken to the grassroots- to the critical masses who form a major part of the electorates. A network with sympathizers of our ideology was also suggested to have an all-inclusive platform to bring together everyone that believes in this course. In addition to these suggestions, some comrades emphasized that we must be prepared and organize for a revolution
Barrister Onyeisi encouraged participants as thinkers of an alternative political system to learn from Latin America, namely Peru, how they have risen to prominence despite previous defeats. The previous generation of revolutionaries lost hope and migrated into Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), but NGOs do not capture power. The Black Panthers achieved so much by introducing Medical Insurance, which the American state eventually emulated. Action consistency is vital for life.
Comrade Affiong believes that using the PVC to change the status quo is ineffective. Nigeria is a neocolony, but with black criminals replacing European colonists. We must propagate the narrative that black thieves have replaced white ones in plundering our country. Imperialism is a global system that requires worldwide action. Do-it-yourself!
Betty Abah feels that we must establish a movement that includes everyone- a movement that draws individuals from all walks of life. State terrorism affects women and children the most; we must speak and be seen to advocate for them. She insisted we must include the women who have been terrorized by the current system and also enliven and inspire the youth using a dynamic strategy and an intergenerational interaction.
In their comments, the audience and online participants agreed on the necessity for a new political platform and urged spreading the message throughout the critical masses. An all-inclusive platform with admirers of our ideas was also recommended. Apart from that, several comrades stressed the need to plan and organize for a revolution.
The conversation on community development and effective service delivery in the local government areas has facilitated workshops where CSOs and community groups were trained on how to engage their local government officials. However, to take the conversation beyond CSOs and Community groups, Social Action organized a one-day National Dialogue on Local Government and Grassroot Development in Nigeria: Need for Autonomy and Accountability at the federal capital territory. According to Prince Edegbuo who gave the project overview and welcome address on behalf of Dr Isaac Asume Osuoka, he noted that about twenty trillion naira has been shared among the local government areas in Nigeria over the last 18-20 years. Sadly, these funds have hardly been used for the purpose of infrastructural development and other intervention purposes in the communities for which they were released. He also pointed to the fact that the local governments have gradually turned to a platform for settling political cronies and party loyalists while deferring the odds of credible democracy. This abnormality must be corrected, and autonomy returned to the LGA to foster development as funds are diverted because of the overbearing nature of the state Governors.
Speaking on “Constitutional and Legislative Challenges to Local Government Autonomy in Nigeria”, Barrister Eze Onyekpere clearly stated that the primary responsibility of the local government is to relate with the people and reflect their interest and be accountable to the people as the government is elected with a mandate to mainstream the constitutional aphorism of the security and welfare of the people. Ironically, this has failed as the Local Government Council and its activities are now been monitored, sanctioned, manipulated and abused by State Governments. The local government feed directly from the state and this can change if we go back to the 2014 constitution operation exercise.
The second Keynote speaker described the relationship of the local and state government as a master-servant relationship. He blamed the decline of the service delivery at the Local government level for the overwhelming corruption and weakness of the institution. Comrade Ken Henshaw, who spoke on Local Government and Public Finance Accountability, faulted the local government for operating without a budget and attributed their suffering to the abuse of the process and structure for electing local government officials. The speaker made recommendations and encouraged citizens to hold local government officials accountable.
The panel sessions gave room for government agencies, CSOs and participants and key interest groups to ask questions and suggest ways the Local Government can have autonomy and carry out its functions. The NULGE National President Comrade Akeem O. Ambali asserted that there has been a systematic destruction of the LGA governance by state actors. He proposed a political, financial and administrative autonomy of the local government as the current system does not support growth. The first Panel session facilitated by Jaye Gaskia focused on “The Independence of the third tier of government.” Other panellists were Hajiya Adamu Bello from ALGON, James Onu, the Head of Department, Legal Drafting and Advocacy, Dr Keshi Chuba who represented Deputy Senate President of Nigeria, Senator Ovie Omo. While Hajiya stated the challenges of ALGON, she demanded uniform tenor for all tiers of government and advocated for the setting up of Internal Revenue Mobilization Commission for the local government just like we have for the other tiers of government.
Speaking also, James Onu explained the issues of corruption and constitutional complexities in the Local government. Sensitization at the local level and demanding autonomy with one voice will bring about a realistic goal, he said. In his contribution, Dr Chuba condemned political favouritism and nepotism at the local government level.
The second panel session focused on community members who spoke of their diverse experiences in the Local Government Areas. All speakers unanimously agreed that the local government has not met the expectation and purpose of its creation. Facilitated by Che Oyinatumba, Panel members were Peter Adejobi, Faith Rtyehbo, Ozor Kingsley and Innocent Orji.
One of the prerequisites of the dialogue was to reach an agenda with appropriate and clear-cut procedures backed with an implementation plan with solutions proffered for the autonomy and accountability of the local government areas. The following resolutions were, therefore made:
That a four-year tenor be allocated to local government councils as against the varying tenures fixed by different states
NULGE, ALGON CSOs should engage in sensitization at the local level for the autonomy of the LGAs so they can speak with one voice.
Citizens and anti-corruption agencies be more proactive in launching and following through on criminal investigations and misappropriation of funds at the local government level.
Citizens should demand the publication of financial income and expenditure by all Local Government Areas and advocate for the publication of all allocations given to the LGAs
Public hearings should be conducted at the local government level as part of the budget-making process
Discontinue the use of the joint account by the state and local government and a dedicated account created for the local government for the remittance of funds directly from the FAAC account
The local government should have political, financial and administrative autonomy.
Local government councils to either adapt state-level development/perspective plans as policy frameworks for budgetary initiatives or develop their own plans such as the Local Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy Framework.
The people take a bold step to hold the local government accountable for service delivery
One of the tools for gaining political legitimacy is national dialogue and to abate political apathy and encourage citizens participation in governance and political transition beyond the political elite, national dialogue has over time been employed as a negotiation mechanism. The inability for a sitting government to address prevalent issues and unwillingness to change the status quo necessities these dialogue as beyond the government, there are citizens, organizations whose core value is to ensure that the interests of the people are reflected on governance and Social Action is committed to this.
Giving the vote thanks, Prince Edegbuo, assured participants that the resolutions will produce actionable plans but however, it is our duty as Nigerians to demand autonomy, transparency and accountability as no governor or speaker is more powerful than the people who gave them the power.
Social Development Integrated Centre, Social Action with the support of the United Nations Democracy Funds (UNDEF) launched a campaign on “Strengthening Advocacy for Transparent and Inclusive Budgeting Processes in Local Government Areas in Nigeria”. As part of the campaign objective, Social Action and its Anticorruption Network partners (AcoNET) paid an advocacy visit to the National President, Nigeria Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE), Comrade Akeem Olatunji Ambali.
The visit which took place on the 16th of November, 2021 was partly to commend the Union for their impact in advocating for the effectiveness of Local Government administration in Nigeria and to work out collaboration between Social Action and NULGE.
Speaking on the role of Social Action in the campaign for local government autonomy, the team lead, Comrade Botti Isaac said the key to a successful campaign is consistency. He said Social Action is resolved to push continuously for Local Government Autonomy. To this end, a National Dialogue has been scheduled for 1st December 2021. The Dialogue among other objectives will request President Muhammadu Buhari to sponsor an executive bill to be passed by the National Assembly for LGAs Autonomy. The team further invited the National President and members of his union to the dialogue.
Delighted by this, Comrade Ambali assured Social Action’s team of NULGE’s involvement in the project and confirmed his participation at the upcoming dialogue. He lamented the draconic structure of Section 7(2), 1 and 2 of the 1999 constitution as amended and posited a structural change in the administration of Local Governments. According to him, the local governments will only function effectively when it is Independent, hence the urgent need for Local Government Financial Autonomy. This autonomy he explained will bridge the infrastructural gap that exists in local government areas of Nigeria and make the local government councils a suitable place for work. By this, the Nigeria Union of Local Government Employees will continuously fulfill its patriotic obligations and strive to ensure that LGAs in Nigeria are granted the financial freedom to act in the interest of the people.
The Nigerian state operates a three-level system of governance responsible for the welfare of its people. While the Federal and State level of government carries their duties independently, the Local government appears to have been clamped down. Section 7(1) of the 1999 constitution as amended guarantees the survival of the local government but Section 8 of the same constitution restricts it. That section of the constitution confers too much power to the States and the house of assemblies on oversighting the local government to the extent of managing its finances. Sadly, the States and House of Assemblies use this opportunity to siphon funds meant for the Local government.
This no doubt has rendered the local governments in Nigeria ineffective. The government closest to the people and responsible for bringing socio-economic development to the grassroots is unable to do so effectively.