From Timothy Olanrewaju, Maiduguri
Projects of the ministries, departments and agencies of the Federal Government generally get a lot more attention and monitoring than those executed at the community level. However, Convener of Say No Campaign (Nigeria), Ezenwa Nwagwu, who is an anti-corruption campaigner, strongly believes that monitoring the execution of projects at the community level remains a better way of fighting corruption in Nigeria.
Nwagwu in an interview with Sunday Sun at the sideline of a capacity building seminar for labour, community leaders and civil groups on projects execution and monitoring in their localities held in Maiduguri, Borno capital recently, submitted that the elite who ought to interrogate public spending and projects execution in their localities, often do not have information about the happenings around them. In this interview, he explains why the Economic and Financial Crimes (EFCC) cannot fight corruption alone and harps on the need for citizen-driven anti-corruption campaigns.
We’ve heard and seen various anti-corruption moves. What are you doing differently?
We have a support from the MacArthur Foundation to deepen citizens’ oversight and monitor government project at the subnational level, especially the local government. What we found out is that there is a lot of attention on federal and state government budgets and many educated people are not even aware that the local governments where they live also do have budgets. They are the ones to stand to explain to the people that the local governments are hamstrung; they can’t do anything because of the joint account with state governments. But the truth of the matter is that both of them hamstrung and therefore, they can’t spend the money without budget.
So if citizens are not aware that budget is the intention of government using their resources such as taxes, VAT and levies to do something for the people, the lamentation you will hear all over the country would be about abandoned projects. Uncompleted projects can only happen because citizens are not engaged.
The support from MacArthur Foundation is to take the campaign round the country and see how we will excite citizens to become more interested in local governance, especially projects in their places. You could go round the country and you find out that boreholes are dug in communities and the only day people drunk water from the boreholes was the day of the commissioning and everybody goes away including those who benefit from it. Nobody asks what happen, what happen to the contractor?
The training was essentially to build a national movement of community and anti-corruption activists, who will monitor projects and ensure projects are done in their communities to the specification that they are given. This simply means to ensure that the proposal of government in terms of service delivery match outcome in such communities. That is what the project is all about.
How many states have you taken this sensitization campaign and what has been the response?
We have been to six states now. We’ve done Lagos, Kano, Enugu, Akwa Ibom, Borno and the FCT. We’ve brought a new component into it as we are also getting into labour unions. We have set up the labour union anti-corruption network in those states. We are charging them that they also have the competency, know-how and indeed the exposure to fight corruption in their local communities. The excitement is that when we talk about communities, we’re saying the places where you were born, communities of your residence, and communities of the affected, which refers to bad roads. Bad roads do not wear tribal marks; everybody gets to feel the terrible state. If the hospital or community clinic is not working, everybody gets to feel it. So we need to understand the community from that perspective. We are drawing in everybody: traditional rulers, religious leaders, civic groups, labour union. If we excite them enough to get interested, it will be difficult to steal monies meant for projects.
What made you believe Nigerians will be keen in holding public officers accountable now?
You see, what happens in our country is that we venerate a personality cult. We make so much noise about an individual or institution fighting corruption, such as the EFCC. That is outsourcing. Those personalities or super-activists somewhere are reporters, they are awareness creators, but they do not shift the needle from one point to the other. It is only the citizens that can shift the needle when they get interested. Yes awareness is created about the fact that monies are being stolen. That’s fine; our media is robust enough to do that. We are not lacking in information but the famine we have is the people who will take action in their small communities. If we have resources and able to car y this campaign far and wide with civil groups, labour unions and community leaders buying into this, we are going to have a national movement that will make stealing a difficult task.
Don’t you think the prevailing poverty situation in the country could make people complacent about this kind of campaign?
Poverty is a comfort zone because it helps people to get away with crimes. Take for instance, vote buying! Anytime you talk about vote buying, you will hear argument that people are poor and for that reason, they will accept money for votes but there is a law against vote buying. So does poverty explain why people commit a crime? If something is illegal, can your poverty be pleaded in court? Will the court accept the reason that you snatched someone’s cellphone because you were hungry? Committing a crime has nothing to do with your poverty. The community people are interested in water for use and not the kind of contractor. If the water project for which money is allocated is done according to specification, diseases will be less. Sick people have died while being taking to the hospital because money meant for road rehabilitation or construction have been diverted and the roads in bad shapes. Therefore what we need is education. We must begin to think about our enlightened self-interest. It is by so doing that we ensure that we follow The execution of projects allocated to our communities religiously.