Tope Fashola, Governance Programme Manager at Christian Aid Nigeria writes of the successes of the V2P project in fighting corruption and ensuring accountable governance.
Transparency International and Afrobarometer published a poll last week of people’s experiences and perceptions of corruption in 28 African countries – People and Corruption: Africa Survey 2015.
In Nigeria, three-quarters of those surveyed said they thought corruption had increased over the previous 12 months – this score was among the highest in the survey. Meanwhile, only 39% of its citizens felt ordinary people could make a difference in the fight against corruption – this was among the lowest.
The findings certainly make challenging reading. But in Nigeria there is also good reason for hope that the tide may be starting to turn, through grassroots voices and accountability programmes focused on participatory and responsive governance.
The Voice to the People (V2P) project in Anambra state, in south-eastern Nigeria, is working with poor and marginalised citizens by fostering a sense of potential, ownership and resolve to tackle issues like corruption head-on.
V2P, funded by the UK government’s Department for International Development and managed by Christian Aid and Nigerian civil society partners, is building the capacity and confidence of Anambrarians so that their voices can be heard and they can hold their leaders to account. There is no doubt that this, in turn, is helping to reduce the menace of corruption.
The People and Corruption survey found that in Nigeria bribery was most prevalent when it came to obtaining documents from government officials, including voters’ cards. But, since 2013, during state and local government elections in Anambra, V2P has worked to ensure polls are free and fair. A voter education programme has reached up to 700,000 people, and more than 1,243 volunteers have been trained as election observers, attending polling units across the state and reporting unusual incidents, malpractice, influencing or intimidation, and referring serious issues to the Independent National Electoral Commission.
Between elections, people in V2P communities are keeping the promises made during political campaigns high on the agenda, through active consultation and constituency briefing sessions with their elected representatives. Citizen participation in state and local government budget planning and implementation has also dramatically increased in Anambra. Community leaders are now being officially invited to participate in budget planning. This has never happened before.
Of the 2,400 people who took the People and Corruption survey in Nigeria, 43% reported they had paid a bribe in the previous 12 months to access public services – nearly double the regional average.
There are many examples of how such practices can be addressed. In Urum community, in Anambra, the cost of child delivery was 40% more for parents than in other nearby villages. The Awka North local government is responsible for managing the healthcare workers running the clinic there, and monitoring standards. This responsibility was mostly being ignored, so staff were able to overcharge.
But with more information about their rights, provided through training from V2P partners, people in Urum challenged this. They carried out a comparative analysis of childbirth costs across communities and used this as evidence to lobby Awka North’s health department. Childbirth fees in Urum have now been reduced to the more affordable, approved rates.
V2P strives to ensure that public services are not only delivered, but also monitored by those whom they are meant for. Many ordinary citizens have volunteered as community-based monitors, keeping a close eye on the progress of local projects and the quality of services through scorecards and regular meetings with service providers. If promises are broken, quality dips or corruption or cronyism is detected, the CBMs lead campaigns to address the issue.
This approach has brought great change, checking misuse or profligacy with government budgets and cracking down on corrupt practices in procurement policies. Closer scrutiny of how resources are being used for the common good has also led to more effective local development programmes and better services.
V2P has launched the Media Platform for Development, which is made up of journalists from about 25 media organisations in Anambra interested in development issues and willing to talk about solutions. The platform focuses on exposing corrupt practices that impede development and reporting on positive activities that are bucking this trend. Its work around tax, for example, has led to the Anambra government setting up a complaint hotline where illegal tax demands can be reported.
Civil society, the media and ordinary communities have a significant role to play in influencing government processes, bringing about accountable governance and minimising corrupt practices among citizens and government institutions in Nigeria and elsewhere in Africa.
This article was published by The Guardian on Wednesday 9th December 2015. See http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2015/dec/09/nigeria-corruption-eyes-open-speak-out-bribery-dishonesty