Posted by Bob MajiriOghene Etemiku | 6 May 2017 | 1,941 times
At the USAID’s Strengthening Advocacy and Civil Engagement (SACE), media public awareness workshop in Benin City, Edo State, recently, the plan was to bring civil society organisations (CSOs) and the media together, to raise awareness and campaign strategies related to our projects. The Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice (ANEEJ), works with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), seeking to entrench accountability and transparency in Niger Delta institutions: some say it is a tall order. This is mostly because of the perception that like the security vote, the Niger Delta institutions, such as the Ministry of the Niger Delta, the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), etc, are said to be the unofficial ATMs of the executives where these institutions are domiciled.
It is a good thing that some of the Niger Delta institutions have started to post their budgets on their websites. The spectre of budget padding and how to reconcile it with the gale of abandoned or ongoing projects in the Niger Delta has been a matter of concern to my organisation. As a matter of fact, we are often asked to justify our success in asking for accountability in the management of the budgets of Niger Delta institutions (NDIs). Pronto! We readily present our citizen’s scorecard – a report which we carried out with our cluster organisation – LITE Africa – on ongoing and outrightly abandoned projects in the Niger Delta. Prior to this workshop, our executive director had presented that famous document to Vive-President Yemi Osinbajo (then acting President), and highlighted the need for government to ‘disrupt’ the system and use innovative methods at bringing accountability and prudent management of the budgets of our Niger Delta institutions. We have also carried out many advocacy visits to these institutions, seeking to engage them on the need for these budgets and expenditure to be in the hands of the public. Sadly, though, a lot of the gains which these visits and interactions and campaigns had garnered were lost with the constitution of another board in place of the one initially headed by Ibim Semenitari.
But as I sat there at my table ruminating on some of the documents I received from the SACE officials, what came to my mind was that if we really must go beyond traditional methods of getting these NDIs to make their budgets public, and use these non-traditional methods to verify the number of abandoned or ongoing projects on ground, something would have to give. During the training, the idea I presented was an unpopular one, yet. That is: Nigeria is third largest home movie producer, and across Africa, these home videos sell like hot akara. Sometime ago, I was in a market in Accra, Ghana, and was shocked to see that posters of Nigerian home videos dotted the place to the extent that I felt that this was a section of the famous Alaba International market or 51 Iweka and Pound Road, Aba. My friends in Monrovia and Dar es Salaam have often told me that nobody in their right elements is to be found watching American or British home movies/films; and that if I could find a way of getting our videos to their country, we would together make a tidy income thereof.
On my own, I have mulled the idea of producing videos to weigh in on the relationship which an undisclosed budget and expenditure has with issues of abandoned or ongoing projects. I have thought about drones as a veritable instrument with which to capture the neglect in the Niger Delta, as an outcome of not knowing what monies are tied to whatever projects. One of such movies, The Age of Stupid, produced in the UK in 2009 by Franny Armstrong had already set the pace and tone and produced the kind of result which no public awareness or campaign or a Twitter blast could ever achieve. In that movie, the Niger Delta featured prominently. And, presented to a local, national and global audience, it highlighted the folly and effect of relying on fossil fuels as our primary source of income or as a driver of our lifes-tyles as a people.
Therefore, as I sat at my table mulling the idea of doing silent videos, organising campaigns, carrying out a flurry of Twitter and Facebook activity with which to demand for accountability in the management of the budgets of the NDIs, another idea suddenly struck. Why not whistleblowers? Recently, whistle-blowing has become a protagonist of sorts, especially with the 5 per cent incentive which a whistle-blower stands to rake in, if he/she did not blow wrong. What seems germane is that several young people are now on-line at the website of the Finance ministry or browsing such items as How to be a whistle-blower. I saw a caricature the other day of a teacher in class asking the kids what they want to be when they grow up. In one accord, the kids said they wanted to be whistle-blowers. While I cannot totally support the need for schools to integrate values such as this in the school curriculum, the point must be made that whistle-blowers, like them or not, have tipped the pendulum in favour of the need for development institutions in the Niger Delta to give a blow-by-blow account of their expenditures.
In the light of the foregoing, therefore, I would strongly recommend to the National Assembly to pass the “Whistle-blowers Bill” before them into law. I do not know who it is that will not stand to benefit – if NDIs established by the National Assembly – account for the monies they collect on our behalf.
•Etemiku, ANEEJ Communications Manager, can be reached
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