Developing Good Governance in the Niger Delta

Living Earth Foundation Programme: 2008 – 2013

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Core Activity
This programme had a simple theory of change:
1.- Build the capacity of local civil servants and politicians to fulfill their mandate for service delivery (the supply side).
2.- Build the capacity of civil society organisations and innovative channels for relaying citizens’ voices (the demand side).
Combine 1 and 2 in order to:
3.- Improve the capability, accountability and responsiveness of local government authorities (LGAs).
4.- Contribute to increase the capacity of all parties to work together effectively to address priority environmental and social issues in the long term.

For more detailed information, visit the programme website at: http://goodgovernancenigerdelta.ning.com

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Background
Nigeria’s Niger Delta region covers over 70,000 square km and is home to more than 31 million people from approximately 40 different ethnic groups who speak more than 250 languages and dialects. In addition to its cultural diversity, the delta is rich in biodiversity – and oil. The delta produces around two million barrels a day making Nigeria the largest oil-producer in Africa.

Despite the region’s abundant natural resources, the majority of its inhabitants live in poverty. The federal government transfers significant oil revenue to state-level government but accountability is practically non-existent and corruption is perceived to be rife. Traditional core values of the peoples of the Niger Delta align well with transparency, honesty and good governance but these have been undermined by bad practice prevailing across different social sectors.

The programme was initiated in a context with little precedence for consulting people about their needs. Community development projects tended to be based on contracts and patronage rather than genuine needs and information sharing was uncommon. Few local governments used print media or websites to communicate with their constituencies.

Federal policy mandated the development and implementation of Economic Empowerment Development Strategies both by local government (LEEDS) and at state level (SEEDS). These were to be based on analyses of local resources, needs and capacities but the majority of local government authorities (LGAs) did not develop their own LEEDS or did not implement them rigorously.

The common practice is for LGAs to carry out ad hoc economic and social development allocating projects in a top-down manner. Contracts are often awarded several times to the same contractor, only to be repeatedly abandoned and renewed with little or no sanction. Local communities have become accustomed to poor quality or unfinished government projects while challenging vested interests can be dangerous and can escalate to a point where people’s lives are at risk. In this context, local governments fail to deliver even basic services.

Frustration and anger have given rise to political conflict. This in turn has led to increased criminality such as kidnappings and the theft of oil (illegal bunkering). It has been estimated that as much as 10% of Nigeria’s oil production is unaccounted for with the proceeds being used to buy arms by the ruling elites to consolidate their power in the delta and beyond.

The prevalence of firearms and the perception of lawlessness have restricted the ability of individuals and civil society organisations (CSOs) to challenge powerful interest groups for fear of reprisals. Many CSOs have become reliant on the favour of politicians or big business for their influence and even their survival; this has also had a negative impact on regional development.

Programme partners
The programme drew on the commitment and expertise of five Nigerian NGOs with significant experience of working with stakeholders in the region. The partnership was led by Academic Associates Peace Works (AAPW), Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law and the Living Earth Foundation (UK). Funding was provided by the Governance and Transparency Fund (https://www.gov.uk/governance-and-transparency-fund-gtf) of the UK’s Department for International Development (DfID).

Intended outcome(s)
Working with six LGAs in the Niger Delta, the programme targeted vulnerable groups to ensure a focus on poverty. It sought to achieve the following mutually reinforcing outcomes:
* Enhanced effectiveness of CSOs in demanding better governance.
* Improved capacity of civil servants to deliver basic services.
Greater functional skills among service providers.
Improved understanding of the roles and responsibilities of state and local government, among all stakeholders.
As a result of the above, better provision of basic services in the Niger Delta, thus contributing to poverty reduction in the region

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Main programme activities
Developing tri-sector partnerships (i.e. civil society, government and private sector) bringing together local government, communities, oil companies and NGOs to work around issues of common concern
* Supporting the Nigerian Government’s SEEDS and LEEDS (State/Local Economic Empowerment Development Strategies) through a participatory process involving a broad based stakeholder group and the identification of specific priorities for implementation
*Facilitating the implementation of pilot projects (informed by the participatory review of SEEDS/LEEDS) in order to demonstrate good practice. The local government authorities were supported in the implementation of these projects and encouraged to demonstrate a high degree of transparency in communicating their plans to the public. This was implemented through good governance training programmes accredited by the UK’s Open College Network (OCN), Good Governance Forums (GGFs), Accountability Corps (AC) and advocacy training.
Building the capacity of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) to question malpractice and demand better governance. This was enhanced through close involvement in the pilot projects; CSOs were encouraged to monitor the projects, ensuring that the government was held to account
Engaging the wider public in the Niger Delta through events designed to engage people’s imagination including literary competitions, local theatre, video production and radio dramas. All these events encouraged debate around transparency and governance and encouraged people to identify these principles within their traditional core values

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Programme results: most significant changes
The final evaluation report (June 2013) listed the following as main achievements:
* Greater awareness among the public in the programme area of the obligations of Local Government Authorities (LGAs) with respect to service delivery.
* Increased awareness among LGA politicians and technical staff of their obligations to their constituents.
The revival and rehabilitation of abandoned projects and initiation of new projects.
Individuals trained on the OCN-accredited courses emerged as champions for good governance practices in all of the programme LGAs; they will continue to support the approaches promoted.
Increased confidence and capacity of civil society activists to pursue advocacy through the relevant channels.
Social media provided an effective platform for engagement with politicians and technical staff at local and state levels.
A majority of the respondents reported more debate or discussion on good governance in the media.
Community Town Hall meetings were effective in identifying community needs and priorities for constituency projects (councillors now act as implementing supervisors instead of running the projects on their own).
Good Governance Forums (GGFs) have become a valued and useful mouthpiece for communities, providing a platform for dialogue between local councils and their electorates.
GGFs also provide a safety valve that can reduce levels of conflict.
Accountability Corps were able to go about their business in a relatively unmolested way and in some cases enjoyed the endorsement and support of the LGA, a significant achievement in the Niger Delta context.

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Conclusions and lessons
Our lessons learned in the Niger Delta are of particular relevance to projects implemented in complex and politically sensitive contexts:

  • The extent to which programme innovations are institutionalised is highly dependent on external political dynamics, in this context. This changing, unstable sociopolitical environment means that even ‘successful’ programmes cannot guarantee long-term, positive impacts
  • Deep-rooted practices are not overcome readily. Although training was provided to local government officials on budgeting and transparency, access to financial data from LGAs was repeatedly denied, reflecting an ingrained culture of unaccountability and secrecy.
  • The acceptance of violence as a ‘normal’ response whenever officials fail to satisfy their political masters, implies the disempowerment of the electorate. LGA chairmen, for example, are unlikely to challenge the status quo, as they are often appointed or removed by powerful interest groups rather than the people
  • In this context, the success of any project is likely to depend on the ability of local people and organisations to address issues in ways that are not perceived as threatening by the local elites. This is not always possible.
  • For a local government chairman to champion reforms without jeopardising his own position, explicit support from all levels is necessary. Changes in local government therefore require significant simultaneous changes at the grassroots and in state and national governments.
  • Capacity and organisational issues within the region’s NGO sector affected programme implementation adversely, undermining its efficiency         
  • New strategies need to be developed to secure collaboration rather than rivalry between NGOs and to improve synergies between development partners
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