Posted by News Express | 31 October 2017 | 1,901 times
Community leaders in Ekiti and Osun States have decried 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 argued, would ensure that only projects that uplifts the rural communities were embarked upon. This will also check mismanagement of funds, the funnelling of public funds for private purposes, impunity by LG officials and promote accountability.
At a four-day training and capacity building programme for grassroots community leaders on participatory governance and civic engagement recently organised in Ado Ekiti by the Community Life Project (CLP) with support from the Open Society Initiative of West Africa (OSIWA), the community leaders contended that the steps would foist harmony and trust on development issues at the local level.
“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,” noted Pade Aderibigbe, 81, community leader from Ayedire LGA of Osun State. Aderibigbe, who is a retired Professor of Forensic Accounting, said that the LGAs needed to be financially independent to meet the yearnings of the people at the grassroots.
Segun Olusola, Director of Community Development in Ekiti State, said: “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.”
“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,” said Francis Onahor, one of the facilitators. “We can’t afford to do siddon look on matters that concerns us,” he stated, charging the participants to always ask questions and grill public officials.
But Akole Olatunbosun Busuyi, 40, a youth leader from Ikere-Ekiti, said that public officials had the habit of always labelling them as “saboteurs” each time they tried to engage them on matters of development. “They’ll single you out for a backlash thereafter,” said Busuyi, also a PhD student in Information Science at the University of Ibadan.
This view is corroborated by Adeleke Jacob Ajayi, Chairman of a Community Development Association in Ilasa-Ekiti who said: “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 threaten us," said Olaniyan Ishaq Babatunde, a Community Development Association youth leader in Atakumosa West Central, Ifewara area of Osun State
However, Lanre Arinola, Programme Officer, Community Level Partnership, said: “Community leaders must be tactful in their strategy of engagement.” To be effective and avoid being used as sacrificial lambs by angry officials who might not like the faces of those raging against them, “it is important that the community leaders do not act alone. You must ensure you strike some synergy with other groups so that you do not expose yourselves to danger,” Arinola counselled.
Osun State Chairperson of the Federation of Muslim Women Association of Nigeria (FOMWAN), Suaibat Bolanle Babalola Adubi said they are sometimes in a fix when government claimed to have engaged the union leaders on the issue of half salary, for instance, while the union leaders failed to engage the grassroots people. “Who really do you blame when the governments claimed they consulted with the representatives of the workers but the union leaders fail to dialogue with their members?”
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 included 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.
On the essence of the programme, Modupeola Kolade, representative of the women wing of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Osun State chapter, said: “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.”
Executive Director of CLP, Ngozi Iwerre, said 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,” she explained.
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