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The Umukabia community in Umuahia rejoiced Tuesday, April 23, 2019, as their solar-powered streetlights came on. They added illumination and changed the look of the city at night. All thanks to their son, Emeka Nwosu, an Abuja-based technocrat who worked to bring it about pushing through the appropriation process at the National Assembly.
In December 1987, Umuode-Nsulu community was the star attraction in the 22 villages of Nsulu, in Isiala Ngwa North LGA. The village attracted the then governors of Imo State, Amadi Ikwechegh and Anambra State, Emeka Omeruah, to commission their electricity project. The community initiated the project and funded it through levies and donations by their sons and daughters.
This column reported last year the efforts of old pupils of College of The Immaculate Conception, Enugu to provide infrastructure in their school. In three years, they committed N360m to build a 540-bed hostel, a 2, 200 capacity multipurpose hall and an alumni centre. Citizen Joe Attueyi shelled out N52m to build a primary school for his community in Nnewi in replacement of the one that gave him his foundation.
Across Igboland, self-help has been the model for community development. Through it, communities in the region have erected schools, hospitals, electricity projects, water schemes (mainly boreholes) and earth roads. It dates to the return of the Argonauts from America, the first set of graduates in Igboland that included Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe. They proselytised for education and convinced our people to build schools and other infrastructure for themselves.
The results have been outstanding. Igboland stands out today as the exemplar in community development based on the self-help model. Town unions drive the efforts, and they have in turn become a case study in community development. Many have registered as community development associations in line with the paradigm of the UN system and their agencies. There are more self-help infrastructure projects in Igboland than those provided by the governments, federal, state and local. We speak of projects that affect the grassroots and have a direct impact on the lives of citizens. Water. Light. Education. Access roads. Health.
This good practice has had an unintended obnoxious consequence for governance in the region. It has provided a cover for the failures of governments. Governors and high office holders shamelessly strut their stuff to commission projects built by communities because of government’s abdication. They come and make bold statements and promises of deliverance that never translate to the deliverance of promises.
It is time to modify this hugely successful model. Community development should be the forte of local and state governments working with the communities. Unfortunately, the Grund Norm did not fully empower LGs. It made them an administrative unit of state governments. Even so, the 1999 constitution charges LGs with some responsibilities. They include provision and maintenance of health services; agricultural and national resource development; provision and maintenance of primary, adult and vocational education. Many state assemblies conferred other functions. Unfortunately, the Local Governments have collapsed thanks to rapacious State Governors. -9
Whatever their current status under various governors and governments, the LGs must perform their obligations. We have excused them long enough.
So what model would serve best? It has to be one that involves and not allows the governments to abdicate their responsibilities. It should be one that borrows from current best practices. Let’s try the Government Counterpart Funding for Community Projects.
Firms in the extractive industry commenced this practice. Nigeria LNG calls its version the community stakeholding principle. Various players in the oil and gas sector have theirs. Each community beneficiary of NLNG support would have a stake in the project by contributing something such as community land which they assign a market value as part of the total project cost.
The Anambra State Government of Willie Obiano has run such a scheme for three years now. It gives each of the 181 communities listed in its register N20m to implement a community project of their choice. In three years, the government says each of those communities has received N60m. The communities execute the projects with close supervision of the State Government. Labour and supplies come from within so that it impacts the immediate area.
After three years, the Anambra Scheme for Community Development deserves interrogation. Has it achieved the objectives? Were the objectives in sync with the desires of the communities? Did the communities lead in choice and execution of their projects as intended? What are the highpoints and low points? How can it be better? Is it replicable and scalable to bigger and high impact projects such as the 1m KVA power autonomous power projects of the FG?
Government Counterpart Funding for Community Projects is a bottom-up approach. Communities identify their projects. They could come together as groups of communities to envision larger projects. They cost it. Then approach government, local or state, for approval and counterpart funding. For one, projects would directly address community needs. The costs would be realistic, given the awareness of the communities that they would bear part of it. It would significantly help to reduce project cost inflation. We will continue this conversation.