Unveils report titled ‘Echoes of the People’
By Gabriel Ewepu and Alice Ekpang
A Non-Governmental Organisation, known as Hipcity Innovation Centre, on Tuesday, called for grassroots inclusion in budget preparation and implementation and also for the federal government to adopt a co-productive approach for budgeting and planning in the rural areas.
The Executive Director, Hipcity Innovation Centre, Bassey Bassey, made the call in Abuja, at the premiere of a documentary produced by the organization titled ‘Echoes of the People’ which intends to expose the pathetic plight of citizens in rural Nigeria.
According to Bassey, the documentary is making grassroots people voice out their condition and also to be carried along in the scheme of things and not necessarily only to be recognized and remembered during political campaigns.
He also decried the neglect of rural people by the various levels of government, “A lot of time we pay attention to the government at the Federal and the State levels, and no one really pays attention to the government at the grassroots, which is the Area Council and the Local Government.
“And by the makeup of our Constitution, Area Councils, Local Government are supposed to drive grassroots development and this to an extent they have been feeling.
“In the last two years, we have worked across over 30 communities in the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, and one thing I would tell you is that from the basic budgeting process, the people are not carried along. So that is a step that the government needs to work on. How are we budgeting? What are we budgeting for?”
He also decried huge money spent on overhead at the Area Councils including bloated spending on office renovation, buying computers rather than the main community development that is supposed to change the narrative of the people.
“Most times you find out that the communities are not consulted. So it begs the question. What informs the kind of projects that the Area Councils and Local Governments take on?
He also pointed that there is a disconnect in how communities are being communicated and engage with the community, which he maintained that, “Echoes of the People’ is that platform where citizens and the government are supposed to have a dialogue and for the government to listen to the people and therefore, the ability to also understand the workings of the area councils.”
However, speaking on the contending issue of local government autonomy, (Bassey) called for a legal framework for community involvement in local government financial processes should be put in place before pursuing local government autonomy.
“Local government autonomy any time is something that we feel should be implemented, but one basic question that we must answer the area councils and local government must answer before that conversation is taking up, is what have they done with the available funds at the moment?
“I tell you that in the last two years, each time we try to access the budget of the area council it’s like passing Carmel through the needle’s eye; you either have to find someone who works within the area Council to tip. These are public documents, but you would have to go through a series of stress and you would not find the budget anywhere.”
He called for synergy between local government and the private sector in order to fast-track community development and to have a recognized platform for easy access to information and communication.
“We have six Area Councils in the FCT, and none of them have a functional website. The Abuja Municipal Area Council, AMAC, at a time had a website but the other five do not have a website, no social media platforms, and oftentimes when you write letters they get lost in transit. These are the challenges that we are talking about.
“The government is not being open, transparent for people to come in. There are private organizations that want to work with them but doors are not open to them”, he added.
Speaking also was a representative of the Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Agency, RUWASSA), Chinyelu Ebrike, who promised that the agency is committed to providing water supply and sanitation to the various rural areas of FCT.
“For water supply, we have done quite a lot. RUWASSA just came on board about five months ago, we had RUWASSA in several other states but in FCT we just started about five months ago.
“We are on board and we are beginning to take this bit by bit. We were under Water Board before as a department handling the Rural Water Supply.
“We have gone now, we have taken census of all those rural Villages, what they have, what they have on the ground, The water supply they have, the ones that are broken down. And by the grace of God, we are beginning to visit these communities one after the other.
“Just, as I said, we will need to do it in phases and in bits so that we will be able to measure the results that we are achieving. It’s not a one-year plan it is a long-term plan. Our mandates are water supply and sanitation to the rural areas of FCT. So that is our job as long as this agency exists”, Ebrike stated.
She added that “We have had some programmes to eradicate open defecation. We are taking it to ward by ward and area council by area council. So we have started from the Bwari area council. We visited about ten communities.
“We used the CTLS approach which is the Community Total Led Sanitation which is a people-driven approach to get them committed themselves to end this open defecation.
“We started with some advocacy, we discussed with them, we started preaching behavioral change for them to stop this open defecation and we’ve been able to declare some of the communities open defecation free.”