Constituency Project to #FurnishTongo Dilemma: How a House of Assembly member tried Stopping Follow The Money

Constituency Project to #FurnishTongo Dilemma: How a House of Assembly member tried Stopping Follow The Money

“the coming of Follow the Money is more important to the community than sending Hon Yaya Bauchi to the Federal house of Assembly”.

Community Town Hall meetings are a veritable forum the largest grassroots movement on accountability –  Follow the Money employ  to engage all stakeholders in leading conversation around specific project(s) – This time, the project was about N20m that was budgeted by the Ministry of Education for the provision and furnishing of two blocks of classrooms in Tongo 2 primary school. Present at this meeting held on February 16th at the Tongo community town hall meeting were; the representative of the district head, the representative of the Funa Kaye Local government chairman and the education ministry representative, group of APC supporters, the representation of the Nigerian Police force, the school headmasters and his teachers and some other numerous countless stakeholders in Gombe state.

30 minutes into Muazu Modu of Connected Development introduction of the project, it was clear that the community members were not aware that such funds had been allocated. According to the councilor, Ahmed Bello Tongo who represented the chairman of the Local government, “CODE and it’s FOLLOW THE MONEY team are the first to give Funakaye local Government and Tongo community information on N20 million earmarked for the construction of 2 blocks of classrooms and equipping of Tongo 2 Primary School 2016 appropriation”

It was further revealed to us by the Special Assistant to Honourable Yaya Bauchi, representing Gombe in Federal House of Assembly that the project is the constituency project of Honorable Yaya Bauchi and the said fund is not N20m but N18m. He further threatened that if Follow the Money should have such a town hall meeting in Gombe Central, the life of our representative(s) will be greatly endangered. His entourage, who largely occupied the town hall meeting also claimed that Follow The Money was sponsored by the PDP. 

Likewise, one of the participants, named Madaki, warned the Follow The Money team to make this town hall meeting the first and the last as he would not condone us bringing together the elders to discuss such a baseless information.

While the meeting was about to be distracted by the claims of the honorable stooges, a representative of the Nigeria Police had to douse the tension in the room by his words“I have been in this community for a very long time I know all your personal and political differences. Please put your personal and political differences aside. From my point of view and details explanation and evidence presented by the Project Assistant, this organization has no political motive and this is a developmental and welcome idea” said the  Police Officer

At the end of the meeting,  Yahaya Umar who is the district head and the community stated that  “the coming of Follow the Money is more important to the community than sending Hon Yaya Bauchi to the Federal house of Assembly, and that with the information gotten, they will make sure the school is renovated, and that their children enjoys the teaching aids that comes with it.”.

A day after the meeting,  another SA of Hon Yaya Bauchi called our community team and  asked if it is a must to complete all the projects appropriated in the budget, citing the example that in 2015 appropriation there is a contract of 145 million in that community and it was not executed up to date… He further explained that the project is not yet awarded, explaining that Hon Yaya Bauchi himself wrote a letter himself to Minister of Budget and National Planning and that he was surprised that they responded that 50% of the project has been funded,  “I’m advising you, people, that you should find the project that will be funded from the source which is the Ministry of finance to the office of Accountant General before you organize  any townhall meeting” he further says.

Abubakar Muhammed, headmaster of the school later called to report that the Local Education Authority directed him to write a report and send it across to the State Universal Primary Education Board, so they can follow up on the project.

The legislative arm of the government is very important in a democratic system, as they are meant to represent their citizens, and enact laws that liberate citizens, but it can be depressing when the “representative of the people” would not inform their citizens on decisions they make on behalf of them, after all, it’s their constituency!

Read more about the campaign here

Addressing Citizenry Extensive Concerns on the 2017 Budget Proposal

Addressing Citizenry Extensive Concerns on the 2017 Budget Proposal

On 23 February 2017, the Director-General (DG) of the Budget Office of the Federation choreographed a media briefing on several issues surrounding the 2017 Budget Proposal. The DG also used the briefing to make certain clarifications on public outcries over several budget items on the proposal. Most of these outcries were on many frivolous items (especially on electricity and utility bills of MDAs; several humongous expenses on the state house budget on utensils and feeding, electricity bills, travel expenses etc.); repetitions of budget items; budget cycle crisis; the budget preparation expenses; lack of details on some of the items; budget padding etc.

In attendance at the briefing were the media and Civil Society Organizations (CSO). In responding to some of these concerns, the DG took his time to counter some of the claims:

1). He stated that there was no sort of budget padding on the 2017 budget proposal.

2). That there were no frivolous items. That most of the extensive increments such as state house proposed expenditure on utensils and utility bills; electricity bills, security and cleaning services payments in MDAs etc. were either as a result of arrears of such bills/expenses or because funds were not later provided for them on the 2016 budget (meaning they were not implemented.)

3). He stated that there were no repetitions on the proposal, unless the repetitions being referred to were budget items on the 2016 one that re-reflected on the 2017 proposal, which was as a result of the fact that funds were not provided for such items on the former.

4). He reassured the audience of his liaison with the National Assembly to ensure that budget cycle would be from January – December of every year, which was clearly stated on the constitution, as against the culture of having a previous budget being implemented in another fiscal year.

5). He also explained that the details-deficit on some of the budget items were as a result of the perspective to keep the budget simple, for public consumption. That however that his agency would ensure further details on budget items when preparing subsequent budgets.

Representing Connected Development (CODE) at the event, I further engaged the DG and raised concerns over the NGN305/$ calculation on the budget proposal (while $1 is valued at NGN 520 at the contemporaneous market); if there are extensive plans for enhanced transparency and accountability in the 2017 budget implementation; our expectancy to lay hands on the 3rd and 4th quarters’ reports of 2016 budget implementation; his plans to ensure that revenue realization deficit would not frustrate the 2017 budget implementation drawing on the country’s experience with the 2016 one; and getting access to an extensive version of the budget that had further details on some of the line items. For the latter, I mentioned the ‘Talking Sanitation’, as well as ‘Afforestation’ and ‘Tree Planting’ budget items on the proposal, under the Ministry of Environment, which all lacked details such as where and how. Lack of such specific details has frustrated the works of CSOs that are into governmental capital expenditure tracking.

In addressing my concerns, the DG made commitments that were all in line with Nigeria’s commitments on the Open Government Partnership. He stated that the 3rd quarter 2016 budget implementation report would soon be in public domain while the 4th quarter’s would soon be out too. He further stated that there would be increased transparency, accountability and citizen engagement in the 2017 budget implementation. On this, he cited plans to have a digital platform for 24/7 citizen engagement on the budget. He also mentioned that there would be a breakdown on project basis subsequently when funds are released to MDAs. In addition, he promised a quarterly media briefing on the 2017 budget implementation. These were all good news and great outcomes for nonprofits that are into Open Governance advocacy. He mentioned categorically that the revenue realization plan on the proposal is quite realizable and that the FOREX regime crisis would not affect the budget implementation.

This media engagement is a step in the right direction as bringing all stakeholders involved and addressing public concerns on the budget proposal have boosted citizen participation in governance and also provided a platform for clarifications on several portions of the budget, as well as for stakeholders to make suggestions. It is hoped that the Director keeps to all the new commitments he made at the briefing and ensuring extensive open financial governance in the budget implementation. From our part, we are sending an FOI request for an extensive version of the budget, which he promised CODE would be provided with. And before I forget, he commented that he likes our name, ‘Follow The Money.’

 

Chambers Umezulike is a Program Officer at Connected Development and a Development Expert. He spends most of his time writing and choreographing researches on good and economic governance. He tweets via @Prof_Umezulike.

What Next After Remediation of Shikira and the Minister Visitation?

What Next After Remediation of Shikira and the Minister Visitation?

On 22nd of January 2017 our team was informed of the expected visitation of the Minister of Environment to Shikira community to access the work done so far. To us, it was a surprised at first because it was on a Sunday, but also we think this is how the government should work which the Amina Mohammed Administration showed to us that the government could follow the money themselves too rather than doling millions out on a project without clear monitoring and evaluation criteria to assess the situation of the project.

Indeed between our last visit in August 2016 and 22nd of January, we have seen some changes in Shikira Community as the first phase of the remediation is finished and the second phase which was the last stage would be kickstarted in a matter of weeks.

The first phase includes the removing of contaminated top soils and spreading of clean soils to restore the soil to the way it was before the lead poisoning saga. The removed top soil was dumped in a temporary dumping site which will then be buried with clay soil coating in a low water level soil.

Observation on Phase One

  • The lead-contaminated soil is in the dumping site for now and it will soon be buried at a site which will be identified in few weeks time after a deep geological test by the approved personnel.
  • The compounds and soils that were once tested lead positive have been remediated with 400 – 405ppm lead level which the US EPA standard is 400.
  • The children are already undergoing treatment by the MSF (Doctors Without Borders Team) and they have started playing around again; though the treatment is still ongoing.
  • The only medical facility in the community has been renovated and it now has toilets, water, and medical personnel though none was found on the job when we visited.
  • The MSF team and the State Ministry of Environment have started a safer mining training for the artisanal miners in the community.
  • The community engagement is ongoing so as to avoid reoccurrence of such event and how to take precautionary steps towards lead poisoning.

What the challenge of the community is 

They need water as they are presently fetching water in more than 20 miles away from their community and the water is not safer as it might likely be contaminated with lead too. Simba Tirima of the MSF said we cannot say we are remediating this community without providing them water as that was part of what cause the contamination in the first instance. If we are to be done finally with this remediation, we must provide water for them so they won’t have to go back to the water that was contaminated.

Lead Contaminated soil Waiting to be Buried

What is left to be done

  • The community with the state Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Solid Minerals & Mining is to provide a plot (50×100) of land with low water level for the team to bury the contaminated soils.
  • The site would be fenced with a restricted area inscription so that the people in the community won’t dug it up later after the contaminated soils have been buried.
  • The community would be provided with water source/s
  • There will be a geological test to identify a low water levelled soil to bury the contaminated excavated soils.

Our reaction

We are calling on the Minister of Environment, Amina Mohammed to consider handling the project to the hand of trusted officials as she will soon be leaving office so that the monies earmarked for the second phase which is as important as the first phase won’t go missing as there have been some cases of likely misappropriation of the fund by some cabals within the Ministry.

Also, the Follow The Money team is thanking the minister for her due diligence, professionalism and vigilance on the #SaveShikira Campaign, her actions gives us more hope that the government can be transparent and responsible when called on by the people. And we also congratulate her on her new position in the UN.

Nigeria’s Economic Recession, The 2017 Budget As The Magic Wand

Nigeria’s Economic Recession, The 2017 Budget As The Magic Wand

Following our works in ensuring transparency, accountability and citizen engagement in governmental spending, I represented Connected Development (CODE) in the public presentation and breakdown of the 2017 budget. This was held on the 19th of December, 2016 at the Conference Hall of the State House, Abuja. The invitation was from the Honourable Minister of Budget and National Planning, Sen. Udoma Udo Udoma. The event was a postscript of the 2017 budget presentation to the National Assembly by President Muhammadu Buhari.

In the event, in which relevant governmental/non-governmental stakeholders were in attendance, Sen. Udoma took about 90 minutes to breakdown/present the lustrated ”Budget of Recovery and Growth.” He stated, “the budget reflects the government’s commitment to restore the economy on the path of sustainable and inclusive growth.” He started with a brief analysis of the performance of the 2016 budget. Highlights from the analysis showed that as at the Q3 of 2016, oil production was at 1.81 mbpd as against the predicted 2.2mbpd on the 2016 budget. The exchange rate was at N305/US$ as against the predicted N197/USD. In addition, GDP growth rate which was predicted at 4.3% was at -2.24%. Inflation which was predicted at 9.81% was at 17.85%. And ultimately, the government has only realized 75% of the 2016 budget revenue. A take home from his analysis is that poor performance of the 2016 budget, hugely contributed to the country’s economic recession and worsening macro-economic indicators.

In the breakdown of the 2017 budget, the Minister commented, ”the budget was designed to expand partnership between public and private sectors, including development capital to leverage and springboard resources for growth.” In sum, the budget intends to focus on infrastructural expansion, establishment of Special Economic Zones (SEZ), expansion of agriculture, encouraging the growth of small & medium industries, and providing a social safety net for poor Nigerians. The N7.298 trillion budget has key assumptions such as: oil production at 2.2mbpd, benchmark oil price at US$42.5/b, exchange rate at N305/US$, GDP Growth Rate at 2.5%. The 2017 budget envisages a total revenue of N4.94 trillion, exceeding that of 2016 by 28%. The projected revenue realisation from oil was N1.985 trillion and Non-oil, N1.373 trillion.

The capital expenditure was at N2.24 trillion (30.7%) with ”Ministries” such as Power, Works & Housing, Transportation, Special Intervention Programmes, Defence, Water Resources etc. taking N529 billion, N262 billion, N150 billion, N140 billion, N85 billion respectively.

While there in several initiatives on the 2017 budget, such as the recapitalization of the Banks of Industry and Agriculture by N15 billion, N50 billion for the establishment of SEZs and the benchmark oil price at US$42.5/b (if OPEC keeps on its esplanade of cutting down oil production), there are several key concerns that quickly comes to mind:

1). The problem has always been implementation crisis as well as lack of transparency, accountability and citizen engagement in governmental spending. We call for increased transparency and accountability in the budget’s implementation.

2). Participatory budgetary process in the preparation of the 2017 budget was very poorly implemented especially with respect to involving CSOs and leaders of local communities.

3). The performance of the 2016 budget still remains poor, most of its capital items are still at the contracting stage.

4). No. 3 leads to a key concern about how the government intends to manage the whole kerfuffle of the 2016 spill-over in 2017, with the weak coordination chain we are seeing now.

5). Planning the 2017 Fiscal Year on N305/US$ is quite unrealistic with several FOREX rates out there. The Central Bank should find a way to address the worsening FOREX crisis and harmonize the rates.

6). The 2.2mbpd oil production estimate might not be realized, following the continuing oil pipeline vandalisation in the Niger Delta which the government has not found a sustainable means to address.

7). The N2.2 trillion budgeted capital expenditure is still so nanoscopic to what is needed to stimulate the economy. The government must find a way of reversing the trend of having recurrent expenditure taking over almost 80% of the budget of several sectors.

8). While the government is preaching financial prudence, it’s quite paradoxical that several overhead items of the State House have increments on the average of 250% from their 2016 appropriations.

9). #FollowTheMoney team of CODE urgently await a part release of the performance of the 2016 budget performance, while we continue tracking the implementation of its capital items in rural communities.

COUNTING THE COST: COAL IN NIGERIA’S ENERGY MIX

COUNTING THE COST: COAL IN NIGERIA’S ENERGY MIX

Global Rights organized a town hall meeting, which brought together stakeholders in Nigeria’s energy sector, including government, coal mining companies & their host communities, the media and civil society. The meeting was for a debate on coal in Nigeria’s energy mix considering the challenges the country suffers from energy deficit that is negatively affecting its socio-economic development and practically every other part of its national life. Because energy sources in Nigeria can no longer meet demand, the Federal Government, therefore proposed alongside with other sources to meet 30% of Nigeria’s energy local need demand from coal energy without considering the implication of utilizing coal as a source of energy in Nigeria.

Key Highlights from the Meeting:

benita1

Looking at an overview of global trend on coal energy, coal was accountable for emitting 14.2 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide (C02). That is 44% of all energy associated carbon dioxide emissions and more than one-quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions. In other words, no other energy source other than coal contributes as much greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, digging up coal to generate electricity stirs out emissions that escalate greenhouse effect and because coal is pure carbon, it is one of the enormous sources of climate change. However, coal is burned to manufacture heat and electricity that emits a lot of CO2 along with some quantities of methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N20). (Friends of the Earth International, COAl ATLAS 2015).

Usually, producing electricity from coal is harmful to the climate, most gas powered plants releases only half as much as carbon dioxide as modern coal-fired power stations. This is why most coal mining companies in advanced countries are shutting down because of the enormous effect it has on the environment and health of the people which in turn will adversely affect sustainable development.

(Okobo Community Traditional Rulers explaining the ordeal they are facing)

Nigeria really need to consider the concept of trade-off, looking at the cost of ownership which covers short term benefit and long term cost. As a coal mining company in Okobo community in Kogi State is already affecting the people and their sources of livelihood.

Nigeria’s proposed utilization of 30% of coal is definitely going to jeopardize our commitment to the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) to The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Paris Agreement. Focusing on coal as energy source will only give us short term benefit and long term cost, as a country we should look at other sources of energy which will benefit us more in the long run.

In addition, the Federal government of Nigeria could consider cleaner alternatives to coal such as windmill energy: which is dependent on available wind, has no impact on landscape and no emission of carbon dioxide, Biomass energy: from wood, crops, landfill gas, alcohol fuels and garbage. By using biomass in power production instead of fossil fuel, C02 emissions are significantly reduced. Hydro power plants have a long economic life with no fuel cost and lastly solar energy which is the fastest growing renewable energy source. All these are cleaner and achievable sources of energy which we could take as a country to meet our energy demand.

SAY NO TO COAL…

Engaging Legislators on #MakeNaijaStronger Campaign

Engaging Legislators on #MakeNaijaStronger Campaign

Connected Development [CODE] in partnership with ONE Campaign and The League of Progressive Ambassadors of Nigeria (LEPAN) organized a one week outreach to engage legislators on the #MakeNaijaStronger campaign which is a national health campaign to draw attention to the urgent need for increased public investments to improve health and nutrition outcomes in Nigeria. The Campaign amplifies the calls of various Nigerian organizations that have called on government to priorities increased health investments to help strengthen health systems and save lives.

The aim of the outreach was to get the legislators to sign the petition which calls on the government needs to ensure full implementation of the National Health Act, including more resources and better spending to ensure all Nigerians, including the poorest are able to access health care.

The National Health Act was signed into law by the president on December 9, 2014 with the aim to establish a framework for the regulation, development and management of a National Health System, to set standards for rendering health services in the Federation and other matters concerned, it also provides that there would be improved funding of health care services at the grass root so that people don’t have to travel far to access medical services.  This Act will also ensure that states participate in improving health centers through a counterpart fund that would enable them benefit from the consolidated funds.

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Getting the legislators to sign the petition was not an easy ride as most of them could not be found at their offices. Those that were around were apprehensive and bluntly refused to append their signature, while some will verbally support the cause and refuse to sign the petition. We also understood that it was a very difficult time for them as previously they just experienced a total blockade of the complex by an aggrieved group and therefore there was little acceptance given to advocacy groups at the moment. Notwithstanding a total of 84 petitions were signed by the legislators.

This shows that 34 distinguished senators and 50 Honourable members are also joining CODE, ONE Campaign, LEPAN and the Nigerian citizens to call on the Government to fully fund the National Health Acts and its provisions, Increase transparency in health programming and spending and also scale up investments in the 2017 budget for areas that can have the greatest health impact for Nigerian citizens in other to #MakeNaijaStronger