=By Funmi Falobi=
Nigerian citizens have again been encouraged to participate in governance and engage the government in order to ensure development at the grassroots.
This was the summation at a stakeholders’ policy dialogue on “Community Development Charter as a Tool to Enhancing Citizens/Inclusive Participation in the Electoral Process, Governance and Grassroots Development in Lagos State. The dialogue, which brought about 120 community stakeholders from six local government areas in Lagos State – Lagos Mainland, Somolu, Amuwo-Odofin, Ifako/Ijaiye, Ikorodu and Surulere to interface with key officials of the Lagos State government on using community development charter to enhance grassroots development, is an initiative by the International Press Centre (IPC) with support from ActionAid and UKAid as part of a project to strengthen citizens’ participation in electoral process.
In his remark, Mr. Lanre Arogundade, Director, IPC, explained that the project which has been running since 2014 has been able to produce community charters on development challenges of communities in the select six local government areas.
“There is no doubt Lagos State is the centre of excellence but a lot still need to be done. Hopefully, in the coming period, we will be able to extend it to other local government areas in the state” he said, noting that the charter have been harmonized and as such there was the need to amplify the voices of grassroots communities in order for them to have more inclusive participation in governance.
On his part, Mr. Kenneth Okoineme, Policy and Governance Adviser, ActionAid Nigeria, declared that inclusive participation in governance will enhance development at the grassroots. “For us at ActionAid, we are seriously interested in people having attention in governance. As citizens, we should make sure government policies are implemented, we should engage the government for development”, he said, while giving a brief goodwill remarks.
In his keynote address, Mr. Richard Akinnola, Executive Director, Media Law Centre, said that engaging the government affects every citizen and the charter will serve as a guide for the government to know the challenges of the people and how to tackle them.
Going through the charter, he observed that the issues of road, infrastructure, schools, hospitals affect everybody saying “I have been in Lagos for over 30 years, I’ve never lived in a house that has pipe borne water except borehole.”
“In Okota-Isolo, our challenge is inner roads. We have been talking about restructuring but no government, whether federal or state level is ready for it. We do meetings with local government chairmen and we are told there is limit to what they can do.
“Government has reneged against its manifesto and promises. What IPC is doing will help Lagos State because government can access each local government challenges. This is a wonderful thing even to guide the government. But how do we guide the government in providing the infrastructure? On the issue of budget, how many of us know how much is budgeted for our area? There is something called Public Impact Litigation. If we have direct link with government, it will help us. The challenges we face get bigger every day. We need to engage the government because there is a limit citizens can do. We can put government on its toe on some of those issues,” he said.
Director, Press and Public Relations, Ministry of Information and Strategy, Mrs. Toro Oladapo , encouraged the citizens to embrace due process in their dealings in order not to suffer any loss as a result of government project in their locality. “I’m happy efforts of the state government have been recognized by IPC. Governor Ambode practices government of inclusion for development of Lagos. The citizens accused the past government that all it did was in urban areas and Ambode being a grassroots man, engaged in grassroots development.
“If we don’t give attention to due process in what we do, people without necessary papers will lose their property when government embarks on projects, especially when such property obstruct infrastructural development. Let’s follow due process. Everybody wants to have property in Lagos because it’s lucrative. Town hall meetings by the government were to engage the citizenry through which 114 roads had been done. Budget is also done through citizens’ participation because the governor’s policy is government of inclusion.”
Also contributing, Honourable Kehinde Joseph, Special Adviser to the governor on Civic Engagement, stated that civic engagement involves everybody and that is what the Lagos state government has been doing. “Most of the town hall meetings have a lot to do with us. When people have issues, they do not write to tell government. In Lagos, if a contractor does bad job, you have right to complain to the government”, he said.
On his part, Honourable Kehinde Bamigbetan, Special Adviser to the Governor on Community Affairs, said Lagos State University and Lagos State Polytechnic , LASU/LASPOTECH radio stations will take off next year respectively. “This will help to take care of people in the areas, inform them about government programmes in the areas and also create awareness for the people in the community. “
He acknowledged that Lagos State does not have enough buildings for those who are of school age but added that the government is devoting 12.5% of its budget to education to take care of the over 10 million children of school age. He added that because of the number of project that need to be done, the government has to prioritize its capital project. He said the Lagos State government will continue to reach out to the people with its programmes and plans and seek their inputs.
“We have 24 million people in Lagos out of which 10million are youths. We need 1,800 schools, we don’t have enough space, so about 12.5 percent of this year’s budget will focus on education. There are 5,300 private schools that are not registered with government. We are working to have Education Trust Fund. We will be all inclusive in the way we handle road issues in the state. There are181 roads coming around. Two roads each year in each council. The governor is committed, Lagos State Public works has mandate to construct five roads in each local government area”, he added.
The representative of Senator Gbenga Ashafa, Mr. Rotimi Ishola who also graced the event and had an interactive session with participants from his constituent, expressed his pleasure at the organization of the forum and called for more of such, especially at the divisional levels so the citizens are more deeply engaged on issues affecting them.
The participants thereafter engaged the duty bearers on different development challenges of the communities, calling on the Lagos state government to ensure that citizens are more entrenched and are more widely consulted as stakeholders in democratic governance and in the decision making process of governance in Lagos State.