Let’s Reclaim Naija, Na We Get Am!

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Community leaders in Ekiti and Osun states resolve to take the gauntlet, check impunity and constantly put public officials on the grill, in order to achieve better governance and management of funds at the local level, writes TONY IYARE
Padeola Aderibigbe, 81 hardly betrays the looks of his four scores. Still radiating some glimpses of his very active youthful years, his well honed delivery roused many participants who had become a bit dozy after a sumptuous lunch of pounded yam with vegetable soup. “I’m blessed with good health, I thank God for his grace”, he says with the gait of a man in his early 70s.
At the alluringly beautiful and expansive lawn of the serene Pope John Paul 11 Pastoral Centre, Ado Ekiti, venue of the training programme for grassroots leaders organised by Community Life Project (CLP), this retired academic and community leader in Ayedire Local Government of Osun state shares his scary worry.
“Local Governments are the closest to the people, but we have virtually rendered them spineless financially. They’ve been pocketed by the state governors who can’t even allow them to supervise the collection of TV and radio licences”, says Aderibigbe arguing that the LGs need to be financially independent to meet the yearnings of the people at the grassroots. 
“I’m dead set that government accounting process is inherently prone to fraud and manipulation. Change is seriously resisted. There’s so much emphasis on cash receipts and payments unlike what obtains in the corporate businesses that use the accrual system”, he mutes.
“They do not have an asset register but to check against fraud, you must have an assets register as it obtains in England. I audited a local government in Ife; they bought some computers in the morning and took them away few hours later. So it’s easy to buy assets and steal it immediately because they don’t have assets register”.  
With his enviable background as a professor of Forensic Accounting and teacher in five reputable Nigerian universities, Aderibigbe, who worked as a chartered accountant in England and Wales for 13 years before returning to Nigeria, is equally disturbed by the passive response to payment of taxes at the local level.    
“People don’t pay tax but the government need resources to carry out its projects. The people pay tax in England and that’s why they’ve been able to develop their societies. We need to go back and educate our people to pay tax. We must encourage our people to pay tax”, says Aderibigbe who retired from teaching Accounting at the Ladoke Akintola University, Ogbomosho, Oyo State few years ago.
A former vice chairman, Iwo LGA between 1988-1989, he had also taught Accounting at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife, University of Ilorin, Babcock University, Ilishan and Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago Iwoye.
Aderibigbe, a former presidential aspirant on the platform of defunct National Republican Convention (NRC), perceives himself as a worthy graduate of what he calls ‘PPP’, which defines his Practice as an Accountant, his intervention in Politics, and his Pedagogy as a teacher.  “We need a cultural revolution in Nigeria to clear the mess we’ve sown virtually everywhere”, he says.
The four-day training and capacity building programme for grassroots community leaders in Osun and Ekiti states on participatory governance and civic engagement, organised by CLP with support from the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA), stirred the hornet’s nest, imbuing the participants with new ideas and skills, setting them roaring to put their respective public officials on the grill.
They also cast lot to take back the country from the hands of “mindless and heartless” political leaders who treat their affairs with disparagement as their loud recurring chants of “Reclaim Naija, Na We Get Am!” reverberated through the very imposing hall. “Our votes put them there, they can only act according to our dictates.”, says Olumide Michael Funso, chairman, CDA, Ikole LGA in Ekiti state.  
The community leaders are particularly miffed at the near hijack of the statutory functions of local governments by the states. This they say is seriously hampering concrete development efforts at the local level. They also want public officials to regularly interface with them on projects and matters of public policy.
This practice they argue will ensure that only projects that uplifts the rural communities are embarked upon. This will also check mismanagement of funds, the funnelling of public funds for private purposes, impunity by LG officials and promote accountability.  They contend that this will foist harmony and trust on development issues at the local level.
Their anger is fuelled by functions of LGs as enunciated in the Fourth Schedule of the 1999 constitution which has been carried out largely in the breach. They include: Collection of rates, radio and television licenses. Establishment, maintenance and regulation of slaughter houses, slaughter slabs, markets, motor parks and public conveniences. Construction and maintenance of roads, streets, street lightings, drains, and other public highways, parks, gardens, open spaces, or such public facilities as maybe prescribed from time to time by the House of Assembly of a state. Naming of roads, streets and numbering of houses.
LGs are also charged with Assessment of privately-owned houses or tenements for the purpose of levying such rates as may be prescribed by the House of Assembly of a state. Their task also includes control and regulation of outdoor advertising and hoarding amongst others. A great part of these functions have been stripped and taken over by the states thereby rendering the LGs financially prostrate.
The views of the local people hardly matter as governments both at the federal, state or LG level scantly border to seek their inputs on major development initiatives, leading to the preponderance of white elephant projects that have little bearing to the people. In many instances, the projects are primarily embarked upon to enrich the pockets of some public officials and their cronies.
A common complaint seems to underline the presentations of the community leaders as they render their reports after their breakout session: “No democratically elected leadership run the LGs as no election has been held for a long time. LGs are no longer allowed to perform their traditional responsibilities. Lack of autonomy and financial independence undermine their constitutional roles. The people in the respective communities are not involved in the decision making process. License of Radio and TV and the collection of tenement rates have been taken over by the state governments”.
Adedeji Juliana Bolaji, who represented the Iyalaje in Ikole-Ekiti notes that the “LGs have virtually been rendered useless. We need to awaken our conscience and speak out as citizens of this country to ensure the proper thing is done”.          
But Segun Olusola, director, community development, Ekiti state says, “It is important that the voices of the people in the communities are heard each time government wants to carry out any projects”. “We cannot continue to treat the people as if they do not matter, lack of consultation with the people is not good for democracy”, he quips. 
“Anyone resisting the participation in governance by the people is deluding himself. Participatory governance is the right of the people. Government must be consensus oriented. When government and citizens come together to seek for solution over knotty issues, things are done better”, says Francis Onahor, one of the facilitators.
“Good governance means that policies and projects are reflective of the interest of the people. We can’t afford to do siddon look on matters that concerns us”, he says, charging the participants to always ask critical questions and grill public officials. “We need to put their noses on the grindstone”.
“To be able to do this effectively, you must know your rights as a people, you must also be discreet about your expectations on development projects and how to exert pressure on public officials to achieve their aim. We must follow the money at the LG level. We all need to be empowered so that we can ask the right questions”  
But Akole Olatunbosun Busuyi, 40, a youth leader from Ikere-Ekiti says the public officials have the habit of always isolating them as “saboteurs” each time they tried to engage them on matters of development. “They’ll single you out for a backlash thereafter”, says Busuyi, also a Phd student in Information Science at the University of Ibadan.
This view is corroborated by Adeleke Jacob Ajayi, chairman, community development association, Ilasa-Ekiti who says “If we try to ask questions about what they do, they’ll threaten you and you can even get killed if you are not careful”. “How can we ensure that we’ll be safe when we ask questions? When we ask questions, they’ll come after us and our families”, says Olaniyan Ishaq Babatunde, community development association youth leader in Atakumosa West Central, Ifewara, Osun state 
However, Lanre Arinola, programme officer, community level partnership CLP, says, the “community leaders must be tactful in their strategy of engagement”. To be effective and avoid being used as sacrificial lambs by angry officials who may not like the faces of those raging against them, “it is important that we do not act alone. You must ensure you strike some synergy with other groups so that you do not expose yourselves to danger”, says Arinola.
“Let us do the right thing. We must be discreet in our mechanics of engagement. We should also understand the nature of our assignment. It is not for you to fight alone. If you want to fight alone, you are at risk”.
Osun state Chairperson, Federation of Muslim Women Association of Nigeria (FOMWAN), Suaibat Bolanle Babalola Adubi says they are sometimes in a fix when the state government claim to have had dialogue with the union leaders on the issue of halve salary, for instance but the union leaders fail to engage the grassroots people. “Who really do you blame when the government claim they consulted with the representatives of the workers but the union leaders fail to dialogue with their members?”, she queries.
The training programme, which involves leaders of community development associations, youth groups, women organisations and faith based associations across 31 LGAs in Ekiti and Osun states, covered areas like community participation, good governance, civic obligations and budget preparation.  
It also includes understanding the sources of government revenue and the functions of the local governments. They were also given tips on laws that promote participatory budget process like the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2007, the Public Procurement Act of 2007 and the Freedom of Information Act of 2011.   
They were also given guidelines on how to prepare for a town hall meeting where the different segment of the local communities including the physically challenged, would discuss the different priority projects, arrive at a consensus and also work out a budget on how to finance it.   
Arinola who took the participants on the essence of participatory budgeting said it ensures service delivery, has the potential of improving the Internally Generated Revenue (IGR), promotes public satisfaction and makes government accountable to its citizens. “We have voted for those in government and expect them to report back to us. There’s a social contract between us and those in government”, he says
On the essence of the programme which featured a two-day session each for the restive community leaders from Ekiti and Osun states, Modupeola Kolade, representative of the women wing of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Osun state chapter says, “It’s important we take the message and discuss with our people back home. It is not a fight with public officials but we are going to meaningfully mobilise our people to engage them”, she says.
While thanking the organisers for the training programme, Olagunju Dauda Aderemi, community leader, Osogbo LGA, Osun state wants it extended to the Legislature and the Judiciary. Beyond being a talkshop, Boniface Segun Adeyemi, youth leader, Boluwaduro LGA, Osun state wants a blueprint to ensure the participants are involved in governance. “Do we have a plan to ensure that participants are actively involved in governance beyond talking and talking?”, he asks rhetorically.
Executive Director, CLP, Ngozi Iwerre says the programme is designed primarily to raise awareness and empower the people at the local level. “At least it will make the next set of leaders to sit up because they’ll be confronted with a more enlightened citizenry who can confront them with critical questions. They’ll at least know that they can no longer toil with the interest of the people”, she says.

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