In a bid to promote fiscal transparency and accountability in governance which reflect the needs of the citizenry, the Niger Delta Budget Monitoring Group (NDEBUMOG), with support from Oxfam in Nigeria, recently organised a series of town-hall meetings in some states in the South-South and South-East regions of the country. Abimbola Akosile presents some outcomes from the interactive sessions
The need to open up the process of governance to citizens’ scrutiny in Nigeria has assumed a larger dimension. Likewise, the quest for transparency and accountability in budgeting process is fast becoming a sine qua non for any positive development process.
For those states in the Niger Delta region, which have been beneficiaries of billions of naira from the 13 per cent derivation principle from the federal revenue allocations, many analysts feel there has not been any corresponding development to match the revenue inflows; hence the need for greater focus on the governance process.
These issues, among other development challenges formed part of the thrust of activities undertaken by a non-governmental, non-political and non-religious (national) organisation with wide regional network across the Niger Delta, the Niger Delta Budget Monitoring Group (NDEBUMOG), with support from Oxfam in Nigeria, to bring governance closer to the people at the community level and grassroots.
The meetings were part of the activities of Oxfam’s Financing for Development – Strategic Partnership Program (SPP-II) being implemented by NDEBUMOG and other strategic partners.
As part of the SP-II activities, NDEBUMOG, headed by its Chief Executive Officer, Dr. George-Hill Anthony recently undertook an inclusive budget advocacy visit to the Speaker of the Delta State House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Sheriff Oborevwori.
According to Anthony, “NDEBUMOG envisions a Niger Delta where all public resources are maximally utilised for the benefit of all citizens and a mission to promote transparency and accountability for sustainable development in Niger Delta and democratic consolidation in Nigeria.
“The aforesaid vision and mission, along with our aims and objectives has deepened our work largely to a national and international (strategic) interlocking with relevant stakeholders, groups and institutions.
According to him, “We have collaborative synergies and partnership with some agencies, locally and internationally including the African Development Bank, United Nations, DfID, World Bank, USAID, Budget Office of the Federation, Federal Ministry of Finance, National Assembly Budget & Research Office, OSSAP-SDGs, SMBEPs, National Assembly Committees, National Planning Commission, NGO Unit in the Office of the Senate President, States’ Legislature within the region, except, Delta State, among others.
“However, the communities remain our critical partners. Importantly, our organisation holds a Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the United Nations.
“As part of the Strategic Partnership Programme’s five pathways for change and realising that the legislature is an important partner in the campaign towards fiscal influencing at the grassroots, we are here to seek broader partnership with the Delta State Legislature under your able leadership for a mutual partnership that shall be beneficial to both parties.
“We are gearing for more of these collaborations with other parliaments across the country, including yours; for the sake of interlocking the grassroots on participatory (inclusive) budget with your assembly, among others”, he added.
As follow-up to the advocacy visit to the Speaker, a one-day Town Hall meeting on community needs assessment and shadow budget was organised on January 30 by the NDEBUMOG with support from Oxfam in Nigeria recently in Asaba, Delta State. Participants were drawn from communities and development clusters around Asaba in Delta State.
The meeting is a communally-centred platform used for the mobilisation of community stakeholders, particularly, women, opinion molders, chiefs, youth leaders, aged-group leaders, leaders of community associations and development committees/clusters, faith-based groups, development officers and planners within the Local Government Areas around the (THM) cluster to the gathering, among others.
Presentations and interaction during the meeting were focused on: Strategic influencing through Oxfam’s pathways of change: perspectives on strategic partnership and financing for development; Community needs assessment and action plans: the connectors with the budget cycle for effective development at the grassroots; Community development action plans through shadow budget: approaches and methods; and Taxation and budget within the context of development dynamics.
Key points focused on: goals and motivation; actors and power analysis; Strategy design; projects planning and implementation; learning about fiscal architecture; Needs assessment and why needs assessment; the connection between needs assessment and budget; and how needs assessment affects women at the grassroots.
Other key points include: relationship between livelihoods, human needs, and empowerment of women through basic economic literacy; and Strategic partnership programme (SPP) and connection with sustainable development at the grassroots.
Following deliberations, the participants adopted action points and committed to implement and embark on actions below at community level as budget monitors:
These include: to engage Local Government Chairmen, especially Chairman of Ethiope East LGA on Eku/Abraka Road, which was described as a death trap. The road was contracted about two years ago but not done till date; the premises of Ethiope East LGA are in a state of disrepair and dilapidated and should be given the necessary intervention through repair.
They also resolved to identify abandoned projects and contractors handling the projects; embark on advocacy visit to the Commissioner for Budget and Economic Planning; develop a shadow budget to help with effective monitoring to avoid wastages; engage relevant stakeholders in budget monitoring; and engage in participatory budget advocacy visit to the Delta State House of Assembly.
The communiqué was jointly signed by the NDEBUMOG; Representative of Oxfam in Nigeria; Representative of CISLAC; Int’l Centre for Women Empowerment & Child Development; Aniocha North community delegates; Oshimili South and Oshimili North Community delegates.
Another one-day Town Hall Meeting on shadow budgeting and community needs assessment was organised by NDEBUMOG with support from Oxfam in Nigeria on February 2 at Elelenwo in Obio/Akpor Local Government Area of Rivers State.
Participants were drawn from communities and CBOs around Obio/Akpor and Port Harcourt City Local Government Areas. The meeting was formally declared open by the Paramount Ruler of Elelenwo Clan, HRH, Ambassador Sunny Weli.
Deliberations at this Town Hall meeting centred on budgeting, community needs assessments, and community action plans through shadow budgeting approaches.
After presentations and deliberations, the participants observed and expressed concerns: that there is general lack of interest by communities in participation towards the budgeting process, due to lack of awareness by government; that budget documents are still being treated as top secret by government actors, as the documents are not accessible to the public; and that budgeting and fiscal processes lack community inputs and proper needs assessments.
They also observed that government budgets hardly tackle community needs at all levels of government; and that communities in the Niger Delta have remained mostly under-developed in spite of huge resources from the region, largely due to corruption and fiscal indiscipline.
The participants at Obio/Akpor resolved and recommended: that government at all levels should make the budget processes more open and transparent to ensure and encourage citizens participation; and that government at all level should make budget documents and other financial information open and accessible to the public and should further avoid politicising budgets.
They also recommended proper community needs assessments as part of budgeting process to ensure the real needs of communities are incorporated in the budgets; and that there is need for massive mobilisation and sensitisation of the citizens for effective participation in budgeting.
Citizens were encouraged not to continue shying away from participation in the budget cycle and governance, as it is a collective communal responsibility to demand accountability and hold government accountable for implementation and deliveries of capital projects and programmes in their localities.
NDEBUMOG and other CSOs were also urged to embark on advocacy to relevant government agencies, with the view to encourage them to advocate for open governance from the budget to audits, monitoring and evaluation.
Participants at the town hall meeting opined that there exists a huge gap between government’s budget and citizens’ needs. To them, the government and communities should therefore adopt the resolutions of the Town Hall meeting to ensure that budgets reflect the needs of citizenry.
The communiqué was jointly signed by Coxson Queen Barine; Gift Amadi; Ijumaka Kote; and Peace Peter of the Niger Delta Budget Monitoring Group
A third Town Hall meeting on shadow budget and community needs assessment was organised by NDEBUMOG in conjunction with Oxfam in Nigeria on February 8 at Bridge Waters Hotel, GRA, Enugu State.
The meeting was aimed at creating awareness about issues of participatory budget and the use of factsheets as a tool for fiscal lobbying, influencing and development of community action plans. It was part of the activities of Oxfam’s Financing for Development Strategic Partnership Program (SPP-II), being implemented by NDEBUMOG and other partners across Nigeria.
Participants were drawn from several sectors, including Local Government Representatives, legal practitioners, traditional rulers, CSOs, students, National Council for Women Societies and other professionals. The meeting was declared open by the Traditional Ruler of Uruku Kingdom, HRM, Igwe (Dr) Cornelius Nomeh, JP, the Eze Udo 1 of Uruku Kingdom.
The Enugu forum observed that citizens at the community level do not have interest in budget work and do not ask questions aimed at holding the government accountable.
To the participants, such citizens treat budget and governance as exclusively a matter for those in power. Therefore, the need to hold government accountable on what happens in the budget circle is a collective responsibility and not the business of government alone, they observed.
It was also observed that government do not carry out community needs assessments before deciding on projects to be allocated in the budget on behalf of communities nor bother to find out, what the people truly needs, when and how they need it.
They also observed that the general lack of interest in the budget by communities and the failure to hold government accountable have created the opportunity for those in power to mismanage Nigeria’s commonwealth.
From the fact sheets presented to stakeholders during the meeting, it was observed that up to 80 per cent of line items allocated in the capital budget for Enugu State in the 2016 FGN’s Budget were never carried out.
Such, for instance, are: construction of block 3 classrooms with VIP office, toilets and furniture at Community High School Obioma, Udi LGA, allotted N15,000,000 was not constructed; construction of Road Network in FGC Enugu allotted N34,264,125 was not constructed; construction of Perimeter Fence worth N15,002,484 was not constructed as the school already has a fence. Also a sum of N293,145,984 that was allocated to improve the standard of education at FGC in Enugu was never utilised etc.
The participants resolved and agreed that monitoring the budget processes and implementation is a collective responsibility, as the governors or presidents may have the time to monitor budget.
To them, it is citizens responsibility to monitor budget through manpower development on budget processes and analysis, reporting to community leaders or civil society groups and through press conferences and walking up to relevant government agencies.
“We will hold companies in our localities accountable for corporate social responsibility (CSR), ensuring that they carry out NEEDS Assessment in the communities before implementing community development programmes. Citizens also need to engage these entities to ensure that they pay their actual tax regularly”, participants added.
To them, women should be sensitised on the need and importance of their involvement in shadow budgeting, as women and children are the most marginalised in Africa.
Participants demanded that the 2016 Federal Government’s budget as it affects Enugu State should be revisited with a view to implementing the projects contained therein.
They commended NDEBUMOG and Oxfam for the meeting, which they said was an eye-opener for bringing such an important meeting to Enugu stakeholders.
The communiqué was prepared by a Communiqué Drafting Committee, including Dr. Godstime Okafor (Global Law Firm); Mrs. Nneka Ikeh (Legal Practitioner); Chioma Madukwe (Socio-economic Researcher); Barrister Ebere Chikezie (Legal Practitioner), and Dr. Joycelin Okubuiro (Lecturer, Faculty of Law, University of Nigeria, Enugu Campus). Barrister Chinasa Agu Ndubisi moved the motion for adoption of the communiqué and was seconded by Engr Alloysius Iloka.
The fourth Town Hall meeting on shadow budget and community needs assessment organised by NDEBUMOG in conjunction with Oxfam in Nigeria was held on February 10 at Jerry Marriot Hotel, Nsukka, Enugu State.
Participants were drawn from Local Government Areas around Nsukka, legal practitioners, traditional rulers, CSOs, youths, women groups, academia in Enugu North Senatorial District, among others. The meeting was declared open by the Traditional Ruler of Nkpunano, Nsukka Ancient Kingdom, HRM, Igwe (Dr) Ambassador Patrick Okolo, Chukwu Nwe Eze 1 of Nkpunano Kingdom.
There were presentations on community needs assessments and shadow budget made by a team of facilitators, which further elucidated discussions during the gathering.
Participants in Nsukka observed that majority of community stakeholders, do not participate in government budget process, due to lack of interest and opportunity to participate; and that community needs are hardly captured in the government budgets as a result of failure to incorporate and carry out community needs assessments in the budgeting process.
To them, budgeting processes are not transparent and budget documents are hardly accessible to the public, especially, Local Government Budgets; and that rather than tackling the needs of communities, government budgets have become avenues for corruption.
The participants also observed that many of the projects allocated to Enugu North in the Federal Government’s 2016 Appropriation Act, were either; not executed, abandoned or not completed. Most of the projects seem to be highly inflated and some duplicated, they noted. It was further observed that some projects executed by the World Bank were also contained in the 2016 Federal Government Budget.
It was also observed that health workers charge money for maternal and child services, whereas; such services have been declared as free by government.
Participants at the forum recommended that community needs assessments should be made an integral part of the government budgetary and fiscal processes at all levels to ensure that community needs are appropriately captured in the budget;
They resolved that government should not only make budget participatory, but should encourage citizens, including community stakeholders to participate actively in the process; that the 2016 Federal Government’s Budget should be revisited, so that the projects earmarked for Enugu State, which were either, not carried out or abandoned should be carried out to conclusion.
To them, the government of Enugu State should embark on the probe of its free medical scheme to fish out, for sanctions, those who collects money from patients, even when the treatments are supposed to be free; government at all levels should make budget documents accessible to the public, since budget is a public document; and hoarding of budget documents does not augur well for accountability, openness, and access to information.
The participants resolved to embark on budget advocacies, using the shadow budget techniques in order to attract development to their areas. They further resolved to embark on awareness campaigns in their localities to arouse the interest of community members for participation in budget and governance process.
The participants thanked NDEBUMOG and Oxfam for the Town Hall meeting, which they said was an eye-opener to them. The communiqué was jointly signed by: Mrs. Onyechi Tochukwu – Obimo Community/Dept of Economics, UNN, Nsukka; Dr. Uchechukwu Onah -Department of Educational Foundations, University of Nigeria, Nsukka; Mrs. Amadi Happiness of Nsukka Community, and Mr. Celestine Okwudili Odo of Oxfam in Nigeria.
A fifth Town Hall Meeting on fiscal influencing, shadow budgeting and community needs assessment was also organised by NDEBUMOG with support from Oxfam in Nigeria on February 15 at Agbor, Delta state.
The meeting was focused at creating awareness on issues of inclusive budget, community needs assessment, basic economic literacy, shadow budget, fiscal lobbying and community mobilisation for responsive governance. Factsheets were used to motivate participants on how to develop community action plans, including how to lobby for inclusion of such action plans in the budget through knowledge of shadow budget.
It was also part of the activities of Oxfam’s Financing for Development- Strategic Partnership Program (SPP-II) being implemented by NDEBUMOG and other strategic partners. Participants were drawn from communities around Agbor, women groups, youths, academia, including a few CBOs around Agbor, among others.
Following deliberations around issues of budget and fiscal processes of government, participants observed that citizens, especially, persons at the community level, hardly participate in government’s budget process or on other aspects of fiscal governance, due to lack of opportunity to participate.
They also noted that community needs assessment is crucial in budget making, as such, will ensure community needs are included across the budgets of all tiers of government. Presently, community needs assessment are hardly factored into government fiscal blueprints, which will negate the achievement of SDGs by Nigeria, they observed.
To them, political office holders, who ought to be representatives of the citizens, have detached themselves from the people they ought to represent, which makes it difficult for citizens to lobby for their inclusive budget needs.
They also observed that the manner in which the government handles issue of budgets, from conceptualisation, preparation, passage, implementation, monitoring and evaluation does not allow for transparency, and that budget documents are hardly accessible to the public, especially, at the Local Government level.
Participants also observed that rather than the budget being a tool that tackles societal problems, it has become a platform for looting of public treasury; and that many projects earmarked for Agbor’s cluster in the 2012 and 2013 Delta State Government’s appropriation, were not carried out. Some of such projects are reappearing in subsequent budgets; which could not be tracked, as most locations for the projects were not clearly stated in the budget document, they added.
Participants demanded that the government revisit 2012 and 2013 budgets to remedy non-implementation of projects that appeared for Agbor’s cluster in previous years, which were not implemented.
They recommended that government should incorporate community needs assessment as part of the budgeting process. “At the beginning of any budget cycle, governments should create forums for collecting and collating community needs. Such will make the government people friendly and purpose driven”, they added.
To them, budget documents are public documents and should be made accessible to the public, rather than being treated as secret documents. People’s right to access information should be respected; Government should make the budget process open and participatory and should encourage citizens, including community stakeholders to participate through the process.
“Citizens should begin to show interest in governance and should begin to ask questions on how they are being governed, demand accountability as a democratic prerogative, including the right to know and the right to participate in governance.
“Government should ensure that projects contained in budgets are duly executed in line with specifications to avoid abandonment; political office holders should create avenues for regular interactions with the people that they represent. This will ensure that interests of the citizens are protected at all times”, the forum recommended.
Participants resolved to embark on awareness programmes to enlighten communities on the need to embark on budget monitoring as a civic duty; and to use knowledge of shadow budget and related techniques impacted on them at this town hall meeting as an advocacy tool to attract developments to their communities and resolved to begin the monitoring of budgets to ensure that projects allocated to their areas are carried out.
The participants thanked NDEBUMOG and Oxfam for the meeting, and pleaded with the organisers of the meeting to ensure such meeting holds periodically, maybe quarterly. They further requested that NDEBUMOG and Oxfam should regularly update them with budget/public financial information to enable them follow up on budget monitoring.
The communiqué was jointly signed by Ogbeni Chris (Owa Community, Ika North East); Omate Stephanie (Ozoro Community, Isoko South); Orumgbe Sandra (Agbor-Obi, Ika South), and Philips Chinwe (Asaba, Oshimili South).