OPINION: Activating community networks to drive anti-corruption agenda by Ezenwa Nwagwu

OPINION: Activating community networks to drive anti-corruption agenda by Ezenwa Nwagwu

Editor's note: Ezenwa Nwagwu, executive director of Peering Advocacy and Advancement Centre in Africa -PAACA and a co-convener of a citizen movement against corruption in Nigeria, Say No Campaign, writes on activating community networks to drive anti-corruption agenda in the country.

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The establishment of community anticorruption networks have been one of the most innovative ways of stimulating and sustaining community participation and ownership of the fight against corruption in Nigeria. When made aware of the powers that their consolidated voices hold, their confidence to influence governance positively is charged and the resultant effect is what was witnessed around the FCT; in communities like Abaji, Bwari, Kuje and Kwali area councils.

In these communities, the popular anticorruption citizen movement, the Say No Campaign, established its community anticorruption networks. They reported how their activities have led to the completion of abandoned projects; influenced new projects and improved public service delivery in their communities. These are the benefits for communities who not only have the awareness of anti-corruption but make conscious decision to organise with one voice and closely monitor governance in their respective communities.

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The place of community members in achieving success with the anti-corruption agenda of Nigeria cannot be overemphasized. They are most relevant in preventing corruption, especially in most susceptible areas involving public expenditure like budget implementation, constituency project implementation and more recently, the social investment program carried out in communities across the country. Through their presence, influence and voice, they have the ability to introduce transparency and accountability at the sub-national level.

OPINION: Activating community networks to drive anti-corruption agenda by Ezenwa Nwagwu
Ezenwa Nwagwu says active anticorruption networks in communities are making a difference across the country. Photo credit: Yiaga Africa
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Their influence, if properly managed, can also springboard to enhance electoral integrity in Nigeria's elections held across communities of the country. This is because corruption issues associated with elections can be tamed in communities with active anticorruption networks. This was the objectives of the Say No campaign when it embarked on its Community Anticorruption Working Group (CAWG) project, across the country since 2018; to establish foot soldiers in all communities of the country that can drive the anti-corruption agenda.

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This network has also proven to be useful in precarious situations where government activities become difficult to monitor, thereby encouraging malpractices. The COVID-19 lockdown FCT palliative distribution experience presented us with such a challenge. When tracking government expenditure and the implementation of its social investment program activities became difficult, due to the restriction on movement, this network became the only source of shadowing the report of the palliative distribution exercise in all the area councils of the FCT. They were responsible for exposing the shortage and diversion of items, irregularities in sharing, tribalism, lack of transparency and many other corrupt practices that characterised the process; even the humanitarian office of the federal capital Territory Administration (FCTA) was unable to refute the report. A similar network of community observers, established by PAACA is also monitoring the homegrown school feeding program carried out during the COVID-19 lockdown in communities of the FCT, to determine the transparency and accountability of the distribution process and provide feedback on the relevance of such exercise in a school lockdown situation.

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Other initiatives by Say No Campaign like the Lawyers Network Against Corruption (LAWNAC) and, more recently, the Network of Religious and Traditional Leaders Against Corruption (NRETLAC) by PAACA, are engaging anticorruption issues within their spaces and communities, especially, in the area of justice and behavioural change. For instance, the awareness created by NRETLAC in Kano state led to increase in citizen participation in budget hearing of their state; community awareness of budget provisions in their regions and resolve to ensure the implementation of the budget. This is a good start and the expectations for these networks are high.

Although anti-corruption movement is gaining traction among citizens with the plethora of anticorruption initiatives across the country, the expectations on the part of the government to meet up with the challenges of corruption remains high. As local organisations are being supported by international anticorruption giants, like the MacArthur Foundation and the Action Aid Nigeria, to encourage a bottom-up approach to addressing corruption in the country, the top-bottom need to come aflame to support the former and maintain the confidence of the people. We need the government to take its enforcement role seriously to balance what we do in communities, especially at the grassroots. As a serious government, with the self-acclaimed political will to fight corruption, we cannot be dropping corruption charges or overturning judgements in favour of high profile corruption indicted convicts on the flimsy ground of technicalities or politicizing allegations of corruptions, or even normalizing sacred cows in our polity. These acts gravely weaken our 'recruitment' into the battle against corruption in communities and at the grassroots.

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Community anticorruption networks provide us with an advantage of domesticating the anticorruption fight and raising a society of responsible people with integrity. If rightly managed, they have the potential to improve governance and facilitate the advancement of our communities and country by extension.

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