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Community voices for change: local advocacy in the Niger Delta

Corruption, patronage networks, difficulty in getting access to political representatives, and a lack of transparency mean it is extremely difficult for citizens in the Niger Delta to hold government to account.

SDN is working with three communities in Rivers state to promote social accountability and action. This includes training ‘Community Monitoring and Advocacy Groups’ to engage with government; creating ‘Village Books’ that document the development priorities of a community through a consultative process; and supporting communities to access information (such as government budgets). SDN has learnt that through empowering communities to do this kind of work, they’re equipped with the organisation and skills to be able to identify and take advantage of political opportunities to create positive change in their communities.

In one particular case, SDN worked with the Ogu community to update their village book, which prioritised rebuilding their previously demolished local school. Ogu’s Community Monitoring and Advocacy Group (CMAG), which includes representatives of the local Council of Chiefs, as well as women’s, youth and other groups, organised engagement with local officials to amplify their collective voice, and demand action to rebuild their demolished school. CMAG shrewdly utilised the upcoming election for Governorship to leverage political commitments from candidates to rebuild their demolished school. Here’s how they did it:

After attempting protests and other means, two community representatives from the Council of Chiefs took part in a radio discussion on Nigeria Info and Rhythm FM to express the challenges being faced, in relation to the demolished school, by the Ogu community, and the lack of action by the Governor. In light of the approaching elections, this elicited promises of rebuilding the school from the Governor’s Special Adviser on Youth Affairs. Although these promises were aired over the radio the following day, they did not materialise into action.

Simultaneously, the Secretary of the Ogu Council of Chiefs also visited the then Minister of State for Education for support, who was about to enter the election for Governor. During the election campaign, the Ogu community came together to vocalise the rebuilding of the school as their collective priority to candidates for Governorship. This further encouraged the former Minister of State for Education to include rebuilding the school as a campaign promise, which upon successful election to the position of Governor, committed them to deliver on that promise.

‘‘I am an alumni of this great school and it gives me joy to see the school being rebuilt to her past glory.” – Silas Iruene, Vice Principal of Ogu Government Secondary School.

Whilst SDN is working to make political representatives responsive to their constituents at all times, this case study demonstrates the value of understanding the political cycle and utilising the windows of opportunity to strengthen the social contract between politicians and citizens. SDN is continuing to work with Ogu and other communities to help them secure their development priorities. Read the full story

This is the first case study in a three-part series looking at how local communities have successfully lobbied for change within difficult political environments in the Niger Delta.

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