A non-governmental association, Policy Alert has rounded off town hall meetings in rural communities in Akwa Ibom state.

The meetings, which are part of the NGOs effort in promoting the ongoing anti-corruption campaign, Upright For Nigeria, were held in 12 rural communities of the state.

Policy Alert launched the Upright For Nigeria Townhall Meeting on Thursday, February 20, 2020, in Ikot Odoro village, Nsit Ubium Local Government Area, where it engaged over 60 indigenes of the community on budget tracking and the use of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act.

While speaking to the indigenes, the Program Assistant, Policy Alert, Faith Paulinus said that the essence of the Townhall meeting is to enlighten indigenes or the vital role they have to play in the Upright For Nigeria campaign and fight against corruption.

Mr. Paulinus told the indigenes that one of the ways for them to join the fight against corruption is to get involved in the process of tracking the budget of the state by monitoring the projects in their localities which are budgeted for. He said that many communities are littered with abandoned projects because communities have not been actively involved in budget monitoring.

He further said that abandoned projects especially in rural communities, are very common means through which corruption thrives because the perpetrators know that indigenes will not be asking questions about the project.

He revealed that projects like roads and fishponds should ongoing in some communities in Nsit Ubium because they have been included in the 2020 budget of the state, adding the community can demand for the projects and even the completion of abandoned projects from the government.

He told participants at the Townhall meeting that one of the ways they can make demands from government and get immediate response is the use of the Freedom of Information Act. He informed the participants, which had the village head, woman leader, and community youths, that with the proper knowledge of the Act, the community can call attention of the government to any pressing need in the community.

“With FOI, a village head can use his letterhead and write to the government about any particular particular project in the community and the government will respond immediately. When indigenes begin to ask questions, those in power will realize that those in the communities are enlightened and this will help reduce corruption”.

At the end of the Townhall meeting, participants were divided into groups and each group was asked to identify abandoned projects in the community and use the newly acquired knowledge of FOI to draw government’s attention to the projects.

Some of the participants who at the end of the meeting, revealed that there are projects which the community was promised by the government but has not been given, in addition to some abandoned projects in the area. They promised to use the knowledge acquired at the Townhall meeting in monitoring projects in the area and even writing to the government on abandoned projects.

Chief Edoho Ukwa Udo, the Eteidung of Ikot Odoro village, said that his village is among the communities in Nsit Ubium that was promised a fish pond by the government, but has not been given. Chief Udo promised to use the knowledge acquired at the training to write to the government on the fish pond and other projects in the area.

Policy Alert team then moved to Ikot Akpanya village in Etinan Local Government Area, where the team had another Townhall meeting on budget tracking and the use of Freedom of Information Act, with over 50 members of the community.

On Friday, February 21, 2020, the Townhall meetings were held in Use Ikot Amama in Ibiono Ibom Local Government Area and Nto Edino in Obot Akara Local Government Area. During the interaction, indigenes of Use Ikot Amama revealed that the community has been seriously exploited by the government as abandoned projects are littered all over the community.

They however admitted that the massive abandonment and neglect by the government was due to their silence, while assuring that with the knowledge acquired at the Townhall meeting, they will begin to make demands from the government. No fewer that 35 indigenes of the community attended the meeting.

The Program Assistant, Policy Alert, Faith Paulinus enumerated some of the projects in 2020 budget which Ibiono Ibom should benefit from to include, N10,000 bursary to students of tertiary institutions which is allocated N500,000,000; N700,000,000 budgeted for payment of WAEC/NECO/NAPTEB for indigenes of the state; N40,000,000 budgeted for scholarship to students in tertiary institutions, and others.

He said that it was the right of the indigenes to ensure that their children benefit from these provisions by monitoring how the government is implementing the budget.

In Obot Akara, there was a massive turnout for the Townhall meeting with over 60 indigenes. The head of Programme, Policy Alert, Alert and Faith Paulinus took turns to enlighten the participants on budget tracking and how to use the Freedom of Information Act in driving development to their communities.

In his reaction, the village head of Ikot Essien, Chief Isidore Jacob lamented over abandoned projects in the area which he noted have contributed to the hardship in their communities, he however said that with the knowledge acquired at Townhall meeting, will move from complaining to taking action.

On Saturday, February 22, 2020, the Townhall meetings were held in Eyo Abasi, Oron Local Government Area and Anua Ekeya, Okobo Local Government Area. Speaking at the Townhall meeting in Eyo Abasi, Mr. Paulinus disabused the minds of the indigenes who had earlier lamented over continuous marginalisation by the government and the possibility of them resorting to violence in order to get government attention.

He told corrupt practices thrive more where there violence and assured them that joining the Upright For Nigeria campaign is the best way to fight corruption and bring development to their locality.

The Townhall meeting, which was attended by over 50 indigenes, had the people identifying abandoned projects in the area and learning practical steps on how to use the Freedom of Information Act and demand government to give accurate account of the projects.

In Anua Ekeya, Okobo Local Government Area, 63 community people attended the Townhall meeting. Speaking to the indigenes, Faith Paulinus noted that communities hardly feel the impact of the budget because policy makers sit in their offices to decide what goes to where without carrying out proper need assessment, adding that it is easy for them to abandon the projects without being questioned because the citizens do not show interest.

Participants were divided into groups and asked to identify abandoned projects in the area which they can use the newly acquired knowledge on Freedom of Information, to write to the appropriate authorities. Some of the projects identified by the indigenes are, abandoned road construction from Anua Ekeya to Ebighi Edu; electrification project from Anua to Obot Inwang, etc.

When interviewed, some of the indigenes said that the Townhall meeting was an eye-opener and assured that they will unite and begin to ask the government questions about the projects.

On Thursday, February 27, 2020, the town hall meetings well held in Mkpok, Eket local government and Ikot Ikere in Ibesikpo Asutan local government.

Speaking in Ikot Ikere, Mr. Faith Paulinus, said the campaign is aimed to encourage citizens to ask questions on what is allocated to them in the budget and how governments’ projects in their communities are implemented.

He said the Freedom of Information Act gives individuals and communities the right to ask questions on budgets implementation in their communities, hence the campaign seeks to help the community-based committees to use the FOI to seek information on what is in for them in the budget.

Paulinus said awareness and involvement of communities in budgeting and implementation of projects will reduce the propensity of corruption in governments’ budgets.

“We have been talking about budget, and Freedom of Information Act which gives everyone the right to ask questions about anything. Today, we here to work with you so that you can ask questions on budget and project implementation in various communities across the state.

“Everyone has the power to ask question about what is in for each community in the budget. We want communities to ask this question and also be interested in monitoring the implementation of government projects in their domain.”

Paulinus said Policy Alert will work with the community-based anti-corruption committees, providing them information on budgets and projects in their respective communities, guide them to raise FOI requests and how to get involved in the implementation of projects in their communities.

Receiving the campaign facilitators in Eket local government area, the acting chairman of Mkpok community, Bishop E. E. Etteh, said members of the community are in support of the initiative.

Women leader of Mkpok, Deaconess Eno Essien, said the community has felt the harsh impact of corruption in bills forced on them by PHEDC.

“We have seen and suffered corrupt practices in this community. And we are worried that some households are given bills of N15,000 monthly without electricity. They give light about two days a month and mostly few days to the day they want to give bills. And if you don’t pay, the next day, they will come for disconnection. Is that not corruption?”, she asked.

Another woman in the community, Deaconess Comfort Etukudoh, alleged that PHEDC staff were hoarding electricity meters from poor people and selling them at exorbitant prices to people with high purchasing powers while continually giving outrageous estimated bills to poor households.

A youth leader in Mkpok, Samuel Ben decried that despite having two water projects in the community, none was functional.

He said one of the water projects located at Government Primary School, Mkpok, dug by the Akwa Ibom government has never given the community a drop of water, years after the project was completed.

Other communities visited by Policy Alert were Nnung Ukim, Ikono Local Government Area; Ukpum, Abak Local Government, where the Upright For Nigeria town hall meetings also held.

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