By BOB MAJIRIOGHENE ETEMIKU
At the USAID Strengthening Advocacy and Civil Engagement, SACE, media public awareness workshop in Benin City recently, the plan was for organisers to bring CSOs and media together to up awareness and campaign strategies related to our projects.
The Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice, ANEEJ, works with the USAID seeking to entrench accountability and transparency in the Niger Delta Institutions – some say that is a tall order and this is mostly because of the perception that like the security vote, the Niger Delta Institutions like the Ministry of the Niger Delta, the NDDC 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 onto 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 ask- ing for accountability in the management of the budgets of the Niger Delta institutions (NDIs). Pronto, we readily present our citizen’s scorecard – a report which we carried out with our cluster organization 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 Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, then acting president of Nigeria, and highlighted the need for government to ‘disrupt’ the system and use innovative methods of bringing accountability and prudent management into the budgets of our Niger Delta Institutions, NDIs. 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. Hear it – Nigeria is third largest home movie producer, and across Africa, these home videos sell like hot akara. Sometime ago I was in a mar- ket 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 Road, Aba. My friends in Monrovia and Dares Salaam have often told me that no- body in their right elements is to be found watching American or British home monies/films, and that if I were to find away of getting our videos to their country, we would together make a tidy in- come 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 out- come 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 lifestyles 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, Whistleblowing has become a protagonist of sorts, especially with the 5% incentive which a Whistle blower stands to rake in in the event that he/she did not blow wrong. What seems germane is that several young people are now online 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 in class 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 Whistleblowers, 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 Whistleblowers 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 is ANEEJ Communica- tions manager.