Citizens Trust prepares Ogoni communities to demand legislative accountability

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By Codratus Godson, Fortune Okorie, Kelechi Anozie & Peace Elemuo

To attain effective representation and get more value from government projects especially the much-talked about clean up, communities in Ogoni areas of Rivers State, Nigeria, are now to be groomed on the technics of demanding for effective representation and legislative accountability.  This is a non-governmental organization (NGO), Citizens Trust, led by Lawrence Dube, says attention has so far been focused on the executive side of governance whereas there is much that lawmakers can to bring the dividend of democracy to the people.

Starting with the Ogoni areas, Citizens Trust it was launching huge awareness in Nigeria to approach developmet activism through legislative activism. On that score, he said plans are afoot to groom Ogoni community people to demand and obtain account of what every lawmaker from the area has done with the legislative mandate at their disposal. This is said to be in realization that lawmakers hold huge power and responsibility in the quest for good governance and effective representation.

Citizens Trust Advocacy and Development Centre, with support from Dakar-based Trust Africa, would be backing the efforts of Citizens Trust in the new campaign. The effort would lead to an action to support the Ogoni community people to engage with their lawmakers in such constructive ways that may force a new dawn in legislative accountability and representation.

Speaking at a media interactive session in Port Harcourt, the Programme Coordinator (Lawrence Dube) mentioned the objectives of the latest scheme aimed at helping the Ogoni come out of misery inflicted by man and nature.

Dube runs other non-grant activism projects such as getting persons out of prison. He said the intervention is designed to improve legislature-constituency relations in two local government areas of Ogoni ethnic nationality through civic awareness and capacity- building for citizens and policy engagements with states and federal legislators.

He said: “It is clear that a democratic government derives its credibility and legitimacy through effective citizens’ participation, inclusion and engagement in the law making processes and oversight of government functions through their elected representatives.  And democracy can improve in Ogoni if the national and states legislators are more accountable to their constituents and includes them in their lawmaking and legislative oversight functions. If there are functional and open communication channels, feedbacks and periodic engagements between constituents and their elected representatives, the governance space will be more inclusive, participatory and accountable.”

This project, he disclosed, would be implemented in Bori in Khana Local Government Area and Kpor in Gokana Local Government Area. “The target groups for this intervention are men, women, youth, community leaders, traditional leaders, religious leaders and opinion leaders. The criteria for selection of these participants are based on the stakeholder dynamics and social relations in Ogoni where community power and leadership are structured around democratic village assemblies which involve men, women, youth groups, religious leaders, opinion leaders and political elites.”

The goal, he stated, is to improve legislative accountability in two the chosen areas so as to make constituency representation more inclusive, participatory and politically accountable for constituents.

Answering questions, the coordinator said the project last from September 2018 to February, 2019.  “There would be stakeholder engagements and dialogue sessions with stakeholders.” He said there was weakness in consistency and interface in most efforts so far in Ogoni, thus the need to float this particular scheme to close the identified gaps.

On effective representation, Dube explained that anyone in the parliament must know he has two levels of representation: constituency and sectoral representations. He said a series of media briefings would be executed to brief the media on how the project would help to enhance representation in Ogoni areas.

On strategies, he said: “There is need to contact the representatives and let them know that now exists a mechanism of monitoring how they are representing the Ogoni people and what the issues are. It is also to let the constituents know how to handle their frustrations and complaints in a proper way that can attract the right attention from the parliamentarians.”

He went on: “It is important to show them there is no need to invest all their energies in complaining instead of in ways to achieve results. It is the task of Citizens Trust to teach them and make them viable citizens.’

Should this scheme be well implemented, he said good governance would be the reward to the people because of financial autonomy coming for state lawmakers through latest reforms from the centre. For now, most Nigerians think their lawmakers especially at state levels were mere rubberstamp legislators.

Dube declared: “This project is for all. Village assembly is for all. If Ogoni people understand the clean up well and use appropriate institutions to press for what they need, they would achieve their goals faster. They need good roads, hospitals, clean water, effective security.”

On whether Ogoni has been over-sensitised, he said what was lacking is building appropriate structures and systems to help people understand the issues and act correctly. Thus the community people would be made to demand constituency visits; to learn to demand accounts of projects being executed in the community and force community people to demand for details.

Looking ahead, Dube said: “We want to build a society where the people can demand for accountability. Ogoni sensitization is not sustainable. There have been many intervention projects but with little effect.”

He said such work demanded for passion. “As a person, I am an activist and also a man of God, out to create peace for all the community.  I am keen to see that the society works well. We help to create political systems to help the people. We are busy building the capacity of citizens to decide who represents them. Through this project, we are bent on fostering legislative accountability and inclusive constituency representation in Ogoni areas of Rivers State.”

Citizens Trust is said to be a citizen’s platform established to mobilize Nigerian citizens to engage constructively and non-violently with governmental institutions through policy dialogue, institutional engagement and public advocacy to drive civic consciousness and socio-economic transformation in Nigeria.