By Olasunkanmi Akoni
Kehinde Bamigbetan is Special Adviser to Governor Akinwunmi Ambode on Community and Communication. In this interview, Bamigbetan says Ambode gave impetus into grassroots governance and development through CDAs, CDC, among others.
What is it all about Community Day?
Every year, there is what we call Community Day. It is easily understood by the United Nations as a day set aside by communities all over the world to celebrate their efforts to survive. In Lagos State, it is a one-day event in which we bring all the Community Development Associations, CDAs, and Community Development Committees, CDCs, together but, before that day, government has a programme of rewarding the CDAs that have invested most in self-efforts projects. There is an assessment committee that goes round the state to look at projects that have been proposed for inspection. But this year, there is an additional feature: The decentralisation of the concept from being one-spot to 57 spots.
We started the process from the time we were celebrating Lagos@50 when, at the committee level, we wanted to have the Community Day in 20 LGs and we succeeded in pushing it and, from there, the state government adopted that and instead of everybody coming to the centre, everybody is now going back to operate in the community. When this one came up, the governor said ‘let us move from 20 to 57’, and we thank God, we didn’t record any incident of death, no stampede, everybody attended and the community was better for it.
To now complement it, we now said members of the CDCs should come to the state to interact with the governor. So, two things happened at the Community Day event. One, the results of the self-help projects completion was announced and car prizes were given to the 1st, 2nd and 3rd place winners. Second, the governor acknowledged that without the support of the CDAs, government would not have gone thus far. He took the opportunity to commit himself to more projects and the CDAs, having seen the kind of projects the governor had done, pledged their support for 2nd term for Governor Akinwunmi Ambode.
So, how has the journey been in the last two and a half years in office, in terms of community participation?
First, let me say that before this ministry was created, there had been what you called the Ministry of Rural Development which managed CDCs and CDAs and when they were now brought to the Ministry of Local Government, they sort of created a symbiotic relationship between the CDCs and the local government system. That was the first collaboration we did. The second was to see how to regulate that process. First we thought of having monthly interactive session; we would bring ministries, departments and agencies to come and explain what they intend to do and seek the backing of the CDAs. So it was coming like a routine thing. So before the MDAs could embark on any project, they need to come to this forum and set their ideas and get the feedback.
From there, more people get to know what we are doing having decentralised things. For example, we had a forum in Epe where a woman was able to let us know that if a big tree fell on the road or a major event happened between Epe and Ajah, there would have been no other road to pass. But this woman gave us an idea that there is an alternative road that government could construct between Epe and Ajah. You don’t get that kind of thing unless you go to such forum. We also organised leadership programmes because we realized that it is through CDAs that we can easily do relationship management. How do you bring people to attend your CDAs if they don’t have stake in it? Do you just go there and pay them a visit, are you involved? Do they see you around in that community, who is possibly the general manager of a company that can assist the youth to get employment? So, we expose them to how they can make the CDAs relevant to everybody in the community that you want to be part of it.
The other thing is how you now bring the private sector, companies in the neighbourhood to add value to what you are doing. We are also after the relationship between the people and the CDAs. We went on a tour of all the CDAs, during which we audited the relationship between the CDAs and CDCs and between the CDCs and the local governments. We tried to find out how often do they try to interact with CDAs? If you have problems, how often do you go to the CDA Chairman to respond to it, and the CDA, what is your relationship with the local government? We were able to identify the areas of obstacles and we were able to engage the stakeholders and later developed a stronger web among them.
There were instances, for example, where the CDAs and local governments were at loggerheads and we used that intervention to bring them together. There were CDAs, for example, that had projects and they were expecting matching grants from their local governments which they didn’t get but our intervention was able to resolve the issue. From that point, we started using the CDAs not just for policy formulation but also for execution. For example, when we were going to do the 114 roads, we had a meeting, we brought them to a workshop and we gave them a system on how to monitor the projects.
There were communities whereby landlords would have to give up their fences, or move the fences back so that the road dimension can be achieved and we were able to do all these things and be able to put the 114roads in place without any major clashes. For example, the CDA in Mazamaza in Amuwo, the dimension of the road was 7metres and many of the homes in the area belong to widows who rely on room rentals to survive and the widows were not willing to allow the road expansion, and the contractors said, ‘I have collected money to do 9.5m road, I cannot do anything less.’ We had to come in and to find a midway.
We wouldn’t want the widows to lose their rents and, at the same time, we wanted to do the road and we came in, did the negotiation to get the proper dimension to make sure we achieve the purpose of the114 roads without creating skirmishes all over the place. In the course of the tour, we found out that because the system had not been improved over time, many of CDAs had forgotten about renewal, some of them were not even registered.
So, that enabled us to bring everybody to one point and we now have index, a state-wide directory that tells us the numbers of the CDAs registered. That is why the governor could announce that two years ago we had 3,900 CDAs, and that means going forward; we are encouraging more people to have CDAs so that they can be part of this process for development.This office also serves as point of disperser of information. Some CDAs come and say our roads are bad, we need to do it. We go to Lagos State Public Works. If they are like 20 CDAs that are waiting for us, we do a covering letter, ‘these are their pictures showing that the roads are bad, in your next round of rehabilitation, try and bring them in’. If it is clinics that the CDAs are demanding, we go to the Ministry of Health; if they were to engage the ministries, they would not have the clout to draw the kind of attention they would have. So, we back them by pushing their cases before MDAs; hence, responses are faster.
What is the relationship between CDAs and councils in terms of funding?
Local governments have been very instrumental in nurturing CDAs. Consequently, CDAs have tended to over rely on local governments for financing and for support that is one of the challenges they are facing. Our effort now is to try and encourage CDAs not to put too much pressure on local governments but to rely on their own skills to try and improve their locality. That is why we reward self-efforts. At the 2017 Community Day event, the CDA that came first, Covenant CDA, was able to complete projects without support from its local government. It purchased a 500kva transformer, built major roads in the community, 270 metres in all, with interlocking stones and concrete drains as well as slabs. It provided street lights and constructed a police post, all on its own. That is the model now, you cannot complain that the local government is controlling or overbearing if you yourself don’t look inwards and try and do something for yourself. And councils would now see you have more intrinsic value that you have tried to express and that is what we are trying to encourage. We also know that we have to also review the laws to increase the autonomy of CDAs.
It is widely believed that local government administration is virtually dead in the country, with the ascendancy of CDA.
I think it is the other way round. I think the idea is to encourage CDAs to push the local governments to perform better, that is the role we are trying to make them play.
For example, in the case of the 114 road projects, they were able to monitor many of those road projects and gave an independent report. And because they were monitoring, the local government staff became more careful because they knew the CDAs had direct access to the governor to enable him know what is happening in those local governments. That helped a lot. Accountability is another area. Current law says the local governments are supposed to publish their accounts on notice boards at the local government secretariats. That means they need the CDAs and CDCs to be carried along to enable them ascertain how local governments funds are being used and we have tried in that area. And the problem with our democracy right now is lack of popular participation. Our people are alienated from the political process and the people who are benefiting are politicians. So, I see it as a passion to energize the base and, when you energize the base, you will have productive politics. It is a silent crusade to empower the people to ask the questions and, luckily, many of the people at CDAs are retired professionals, they don’t need freebies. They are even landlords who have built their houses, so they are not people who would be looking for chairmen to give them money. And so they should be able to speak the truth, but government needs to encourage them to do so. And that is what the administration is doing in Lagos.