Of the over 100 persons attending on behalf of Niger Delta communities, civil society organizations, government agencies, Niger Delta Institutions and media organizations who converged at the Best Western Hotel, Benin City on August 2, 2018, for a Niger Delta Institutions Learning Forum, two of them – the Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice (ANEEJ) and Leadership Initiative for Transformation and Empowerment (LITE-Africa), actually had a big fish to fry. That an event – to publicly present two significant institutional reports – the Citizens Report Card on the Niger Delta Institutions, and the Niger Delta Institutions Transparency and Accountability Index, the NDITI, was driven by the “Participatory and responsive governance for sustainable development in the Niger Delta”, theme.
Both reports were outcomes of a monitoring and evaluation of the performance of government intervention agencies in the Niger Delta region like the Niger Delta Development Corporation (NDDC), the Ministry of Niger Delta (MoND), and all the other Oil & Gas Producing Areas Commissions popularly referred to as the PADECS.
A great many of what participants observed include the fact that both the Citizens Report Card on Niger Delta Institutions and the NDITI are catalysts that emphasize the need for empirical evidence for measuring the performance of Niger Delta Institutions (NDIs).
Similarly, participants said that communities across the region are beleaguered mostly because of issues of access to information, engagement with the NDIs and lack of participation in the decision-making processes. They said that what makes this worse is that there is weak communication and improper feedback systems between the NDIs and communities in the region; the participants were worried as well that there are factions within community groups and whose activities hamper development in the region.
Most of the participants as well said that the absence of long-term perspective plans by state governments in the region poses serious constraints to intervention planning by the NDIs. Other areas wherein participants made observations included the following:
- The role of politics in the distribution of projects by the NDIs continues to hinder the capacity of these agencies to deliver development in a speedy, even and sustainable manner in the region;
- Lack of synergy amongst NDIs working in the same area has led to numerous cases of project duplication, abandonment and conflict between NDIs and host communities/state governments;
- Some NDIs disregard the importance of carrying out participatory needs assessments before engaging in project implementation thereby resulting in uncoordinated project delivery and poor impact of projects on their supposed beneficiaries ;
- Non-participation in the budgeting processes of NDIs by citizens and poor disclosure of NDIs’ budgets and other project information presents an obstacle to citizens’ engagement in the region.
At the end of the one-day event in Benin, participants therefore preferred key recommendations thus:
- Communities, civil society organizations (CSOs), the media and other stakeholders should utilize the CRC and NDITI as tools for engaging with NDIs to improve their performance
- Niger Delta Institutions should ensure greater citizens participation in their budgetary and other decision making processes. NDIs should publish and regularly update their websites with budgets and project performance reports, and utilize social media channels to update the public on their activities
- Development interventions by NDIs in the region should be based on participatory needs assessments and broad consultation with beneficiaries to enhance community ownership and sustainability
- The NDDC Act should be reviewed to incorporate provisions on citizens participation in the design, implementation and monitoring of projects.
- Community representatives need to be non-partisan and non-transactional in their approach to facilitating development in their communities by putting NDIsto task on transparency and accountability
- Community stakeholders and civil society groups should speak with one voice and forge common platforms and collective agenda for engaging with NDIs
- NDIs should look into other intervention areas of comparative advantage, including economic livelihoods, environmental remediation and capacity building
- NDIs should utilize planning information by other stakeholders and data available and also work within their mandates to avoid duplication of efforts and conflict
- Coordination among NDIs and other development agencies is key to development and avoidance of waste of resources. Similarly, NDIs should prioritize engagement with CSOs in the region
- NDIs should carry out sensitization programmes on their mandates and available feedback channels to enable citizen engage with them appropriately.
- Civil Society Organizations must consistently build their members capacity to generate evidence in order to ensure knowledge based engagement withNDIs.