Community leaders, government agencies, civil society organizations, and the media, recently converged at Landmark Hotel in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, on a one-day stakeholders Town-hall meeting with Connected Development (CODE), an accountability and transparency advocate non-governmental organization.
The meeting which held on Tuesday, March 14, 2023, had Kebetkache, Track it, Budget it, and other NGOs as implementing partners, and was sponsored by OXFAM, with the agenda: “Dialogue On Better Social Services Provisioning and Delivery at the Hosts Community”.
In his opening remarks, Rivers State Support Officer of CODE, and Follow the Money, Mr. Charles Uffort Timothy, appreciated participants for responding to their invitation in spite of their tight schedules and expressed hoped that the objective of the programme would be achieved.
He explained that before the programme, his organization reached out to community persons, CSOs, government ministries and the media, adding that issues to be discussed centre around communities, their development, and environment.
Said he: “The community leaders, CSOs, ministries and others invited have their roles to play for a better society. Connected Development (CODE) is a non governmental Pan African organization with presence in the 36 states of the federation, including the federal capital, Abuja and across more than 10 countries in the world.
“CODE is purely on development for grassroots mobilizers to make sure that we hold whoever that is responsible accountable”.
Timothy urged participants to relax and make their contributions to ensure the success of the programme.
In his speech, Mr. Effanga Etim, who is the State Follow the Money for Cross Rivers, and also the South-South zonal Lead for Connected Development (CODE) /Cross Rivers State Support Officer, said he put together the town hall meeting to share ideas between CODE, the community leaders, CSOs and the invited government officials, to create an action plan, conduct a survey for preliminary visits to host communities across six states in the country which the organization has made some findings on and share across officials in government ministries and parastatals so that they could also see what persons in the host communities are going through and fashion out how they can partner with CODE and the affected communities to salvage the situation across board in the country.
He lamented the widespread poverty in the country.
“Currently in Nigeria, 112million persons are poor, and living below one dollar (N74), it’s everywhere. It’s a pure statistics which we carried out ourselves and other persons have carried out same statistics, though it varies,” Effanga Etim noted.
He state that their action plan has helped not just the CODE target chost communities, but also other communities where these activities are not going on.
One of the participants, who is the Ochimba/Paramount Ruler of Odogwa Town in Etche Local Government Area of Rivers State, HRH Eze Samuel Odum, commended the programme and the organizers, saying: “Really, the programme is very good to sensitize our people. It will make us to organize ourselves and work as a team because no one person does it alone”.
Eze Odum said he has no abandoned project in his area, stressing that one of the reasons that brought him to the programme was for those of them who are community members present to hear about the challenges other communities are facing, and to identify the ones that are created or caused by the community members themselves.
“We don’t have primary health centre, we have other neighbouring communities that have health centers, so we go there. But as for the schools, they are functioning, the only thing is that some of the schools don’t have chairs, our children are suffering. For our educational challenge, we have written to the government”.
He advised community members to protect what is in their domain.
“What I can advise my people is that the little thing government has done, let us protect those things. If government is doing it for you, it is your responsibility to protect the facility”, he stressed.
A right activist and executive director OSF Centre for Creative Development Strategies, Mrs. Nancy Ihejuru, said she was there as a civil society organization participant, one of those people that actually got angry over what is going on in the communities. She decried the complete absence of development in most communities.
“One of the things I noticed is that there is need for information, and there is need for orientation. There is no reason why those communities should be backward at that level. I know that governance may not reach everybody at the same rate and at the same pace.
“For instance, the state government, what plan do they have for the local government, and what plan do they have for the community? Even if they are doing little development per year, you will see something instead of them to be completely left out”, she reasoned.
Mrs. Ihejuru asked what the oil companies that are sourcing for resources in the communities are doing. “What about their liaison officers, their Community Trust in the communities where they are sourcing all these things. And what kind of engagements are we making as Civil Society Organizations?”
She maintained that community people are not happy with what is happening around them, but wondered if they have the capacity to engage with the companies.
“So, how is their capacity to engage, knowing their rights and engaging from their points of right instead of ‘please help me, because it is our commonwealth?” she queried.
The development worker further added that community members have a right to good life, have a right to basic amenities, adding that there is need to begin to train grassroots community people to demand for their rights.
Ihejuru further pointed out that what CSOs can do is to train the community people, build their capacity and be behind them, and not necessarily being at the forefront talking for them.
“What is happening today is further pushing up my passion, and off-course the passion of every other civil society person that will be in here to do more and to engage the communities more, engage the government and engage the oil companies that are sourcing in this our oil rich communities that we are dealing with in this programme,” she said.
Speaking with newsmen shortly after the event, the State Lead and Follow the Money for Connected Development (CODE) for Akwa Ibom State, Ubong Ekpe, recalled that the objective of the workshop was to dialogue with stakeholders on the issues that most communities, especially oil producing host communities are facing.
“We are all aware that the goose that lays the golden egg should not be denied the proceeds of the egg she lays. So, in context, for the past four years, the oil producing states have gotten a revenue of over N2.6trillion) , 13 percent oil derivation from the federal government, and when you go down to these oil producing Communities, there’s no sign that such resource was mined from their backyard”.
Ubong Ekpe explained that the concern is to engage community leaders to engage the government on the strength that these communities are responsible for over 85 percent of the revenue that the country enjoys as a nation, and as such, certain specific amounts should be set aside for the communities.
“For instance, in Akwa Ibom State, last year, we got a revenue of N320billiion as 13 percent oil derivation”, he stated.
According to him, it’s not all the local governments in Akwa Ibom that produce oil; it’s just about seven local governments in the state that produce oil, so what percentage of this money goes to these areas that produce the oil?
Ekpe further explained that if a government received the sum of N320billion and you couldn’t send 10 percent, which is N32billion to the local governments, and you couldn’t send one percent which is N3.2billion to the oil producing communities that is the height of marginalization and wickedness to the communities. He said oil communities should enjoy developmental infrastructure and called on government to address that need.
“We are here to further this engagements and get community members to see the need for them to get involved; we shouldn’t have oil producing communities where there are no primary schools, where there are no secondary schools, where you don’t have good primary health centres and no good drinkable water.
“We are using this opportunity to call out the government to please do much more for the oil producing communities, because these people need water, they need good schools, good primary health care services, especially in consideration of the fact that the bulk of the revenue we have in this nation comes from these Communities,” Ekpe stated.
He said the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA), seeks to solve some of these problems but has not solved it. “The seeking is just an attempt, but the attempt is not good enough. The PIA is really faulty from the beginning”, he said.