SDN has worked extensively across Rivers State, setting up community groups called ‘Community Monitoring and Advocacy Groups (CMAGs)’, and supporting them with ongoing advice and materials. These groups have gone on to successfully campaign for significant infrastructure improvements from their local representatives and government agencies. Unfortunately, infrastructure is often left in disrepair due to poor accountability and governance, which CMAGs are mandated to try to improve. SDN’s support to CMAGs was funded by the Dutch Embassy, and on 16/03/2021, a team at SDN took Dutch Embassy representatives to witness the improvements that CMAGs had won through their campaigning, in Ogu community, in Ogu/Bolo Local Government Area (LGA) of Rivers State.
Ogu community’s CMAG is 1 out of 6 CMAGs that SDN set up across Rivers and Bayelsa states to campaign for the delivery of their communities’ development priorities from local representatives, government agencies, and companies operating in the area with corporate social responsibilities.
SDN and the Dutch Embassy representatives were taken on a tour by members of the Ogu CMAG, starting from the local government secondary school, which was rebuilt after the CMAG’s successful campaigning. CMAG Chairman Patrick Fubara explained that students from Ogu community had their rights to education violated because the school had been abandoned in unusable disrepair for years. SDN helped the community create a CMAG and campaign for restoration of the school through it, with training and a membership that balanced representation between the different groups within the community (Council of Chiefs, Community Development Committee, young people, women, and vulnerable groups).
One Dutch embassy representative asked how the CMAG members were able to get the local government to rebuild the school and boarding facilities in Ogu. Patrick answered: “we have a village book which we present when we go for advocacy…we were able to put the trainings received on leadership, advocacy, and communication to good use by engaging with the government, our chiefs, and also the old boys’ association of the school. We used both the radio and Facebook to attract attention to our plight and now our children can receive quality education”.
Silas Iruene, Vice Principal of the School, added: “some of the development projects that have been achieved is as a result of the peaceful disposition of the people. This is a very peaceful community and as you are now, you are safe, you don’t have any problems”.
Just outside the school was an ongoing 10km road project, the result of another successful campaign by this CMAG. The tour was then taken to what was supposed to have been the girls’ school. This school was built but subsequently abandoned and never opened. CMAGs campaigned for it to be converted to a girls’ dormitory facility so girls can participate equally to boys in the newly rebuilt government secondary school. The site engineer, William West, confirmed to the tour that the work would be completed in two months to be ready for the next school year.
In an example of the CMAG’s ability to rapidly respond to, and successfully campaign for, needs that suddenly arise in the community, the tour was taken to the community marketplace. At the marketplace, work was almost complete expanding it to allow for social distancing to reduce COVID-19 spread in the community. The CMAG had engaged their constituency representative in the House of Assembly, Hon. Evans Bipi, at the height of the pandemic and convinced Hon. Bipi of the importance of this measure. Community members using the marketplace shared firsthand testimonies of the value of the intervention and ideas for what more needed improving in their community.
Artisanal oil refining in the area was a significant source of local water, soil, and air pollution. In response to the CMAG’s petitioning, the Ogu community leadership put a stop to local artisanal oil refining activities. The tour visited the waterfront to see the aquatic life now returning to the area. CMAG members spoke of their concerns around local flooding as a result of climate change, and explained they are now campaigning for NDDC to complete shore embankment projects in the community to make the area more climate resilient.
In his closing remark, CMAG chairman Patrick Fubara thanked SDN and the Dutch Embassy for their support, remarking: “your impact has been felt by everybody, while we know that we can drive change now, we still need further support to continue the work we are doing”.