Monday, 20 February 2017

Anambra’s innovative community development scheme

 Constituency project is a discredited term in Nigeria’s public space. It is a byword for legislative corruption and has largely been abused.  The modalities for the execution of constituency projects can only be described as esoteric. The federal legislator [the practice is pronounced at the first tier of government] acts like a sole administrator over the funds allocated for his constituency scheme. At best, the contraption is a device to assuage the biting hunger of Nigeria’s fourth republic parliamentarians to exercise some sort of executive authority, especially the power to award contracts.
However, the grassroots scheme introduced by Anambra State Governor, Willie Obiano, mid-2016, is not to be confused with the elitist constituency projects of federal legislators. It is a civic-driven approach to community development. The Anambra State Government’s community project covering the 179 autonomous areas of the State is valued at N7bn. Divided into two phases, each community is entitled to the sum of N20 million for each round of the programme. The first phase of the scheme is projected to end February/March 2017; with the second installment taking off almost immediately in March/April.  Area-defined and citizen-centred, the programme is an ambitious venture of the Obiano administration in community development.

The United Nations defines community development as a process designed to create conditions of economic and social progress for the whole community with its active participation and the fullest possible reliance on the community’s initiative. Consequently, the community development perspective places responsibility for the development of the community on the people.
The United Nations model has been criticised for its near exclusive mandate on the people of a community. This approach is considered unsuitable for the Third World where government’s dominance of the political and economic sectors makes it the only big player in the system. For the same reason that it is easier for a committed leader in government to prosecute an ethical revolution in society than an individual or a non-governmental organisation, the limitations of rural populations make government involvement in community development imperative. If we emphasise the establishment above other realms of public life, it is only because a leader of government by his wider constituency and control of the machinery of government is better placed to introduce progressive changes in society.
Consequently, the Third World experience has introduced a variant of community empowerment in which the local population and the government are both active participants. And, given the relative underdevelopment of these societies, the concept of community transformation more often than not, approximates rural development. In the final analysis, the ends of community and rural ‘construction’ centre on capacity-building for specific societies.
The provision of social services is reckoned upon in Nigeria as one of the most important features of rural development. These essential services include education, health, roads, electricity, potable water, among others. However, for Akase Paul Sorkas, a student of rural development studies, the more impactful areas of community social organisation are in agriculture and industrial production, especially small and medium scale industries.
Underscoring the role of government in community development practices in Nigeria, we recall that in the mid1980s, the military government headed by General Ibrahim Babangida, established the Directorate of Food, Roads and Rural Infrastructure (DFRRI) to impact on the conditions of rural areas, but achieved little results. The limitations of DFRRI in the execution of its assignment hinged to a large extent on the centralisation of its operations.  The agency ran a top-to-bottom programme which had little or no room for input from the recipient communities. In effect, the projects were seen as government’s business and, to that extent, a failed undertaking in community or rural social organisation.
In conception and execution, the Willie Obiano intervention in community development is a departure from the government-dominated approach which has tended to distort the policy and, indeed, reduce the local populations to spectators. The present Anambra State version has restored community initiative and participation that are so critical to the success of the venture. This is to say that the determination of the community’s need, the choice of the project, as well as its location and contractor, is the community’s – with the latter selected from one of their own. The communities assume full ownership of the projects, providing a safety net for monitoring of construction and maintenance upon completion.
By mid-February 2017, five towns, namely, Agulu, Amansea, Umueri, Anaku and Ezinifite, had completed their tasks. Twenty-two other communities are set to follow suit with others at various stages of execution. Five towns are at the point of resolving issues on project site and contractual decisions. However, the services embarked upon assume an encyclopaedic breadth. There are health centres, market stalls, road construction, civic centres, erosion control measures, printing presses, skill acquisition centres, oil palm and crop processing factories and many more.  For the more financially involving works, a new activity is ruled out in the second phase of the scheme. Rather, the second tier funding will be used to complete the unconcluded project in the first phase. Many communities, though, are set to take on new ventures in the second installment.
These injections have the potential of stimulating local economic activity and the diversification of the rural economy. It is the setting for increased productivity, higher employment opportunities and rising incomes. At a time of national economic recession, the merit of these socio-economic interventions cannot be over-emphasised. The community development investment becomes the needed infusion for reflating the state’s economy.
The socio-political gains of the programme are no less significant.It provides for equality of communities in governance.  It also ensures that no town is left out of government’s empowerment mission. It fosters a sense of belonging and rallies the entire population of the state onto the course of development and peaceful coexistence.

Afuba writes from Nimo, Anambra State.

No comments: