By Jude Atupulazi
The Community Choose-Your-Project introduced by the Anambra State Government led by Gov Willie Obiano, is a masterstroke which other states are unsuccessfully trying to emulate. The Anambra State Commissioner for Local Government, Town Union and Chieftaincy Matters, Mr Greg Obi, stated this in Awka in an exclusive interview with Fides.
The Commissioner, while reviewing the ministry's activities under his brief, said the Choose-Your-Project initiative was a major part of what his ministry did.
Said he, 'The 20 million Naira Choose-your-Project Initiative is laudable; a major thing that our Excellency has done. This idea has not been done in any part of Nigeria; done in the way that we did it. Done in the way that it succeeded. The closest thing that we had before was the MDGs Project and we know that the MDGs Project, for most parts, did not succeed. You have boreholes, abandoned projects; I'm not trying to knock anybody, but these are well known facts. So, yes, it's something we did and we are very proud of it. It's a legacy.'
Noting that the first phase had been done, he said the project was being done in a transparent manner and that it was government's way of empowering communities and everyone in them.
'It's a grassroots thing that has succeeded. From the stand point of finance; I'm an economist, you know that when you disburse 20 million Naira into a community, it is done in stages, the contractor will buy cement, sand and everything from that community. And the people that he buys them from will in turn engage them, use it to either pay school fees or buy things from the market. So the business men in that community will sell.
'So we have seen 20 million from the contractors to those who sell the things used for the construction. Then the 20 million still travels from those people they buy things from to people you pay for things like school fees for children and so on so forth, or buy things from the market. The traders benefit. So what I'm saying is that in Finance and Economics, we call it multiplier effects of money. So when this government puts in 20 million into a community, by the time that 20 million has finished moving, it would have generated economic activities of over 100 million Naira in that town,' the Commissioner stated.
According to him the government had achieved 50% completion rate in the second phase, others in various stages of completion, this is even as he further disclosed that those at the stage of practical completion were over hundred communities.
The Commissioner, who noted the project was a yearly thing, disclosed that the government had already advertised for the third phase and that over seventy communities had applied.
Insisting that it remained the quickest way to develop the rural level, Obi said that the way the project was conceived, the Igwe and the PG and other people would hold a town union meeting or decide among themselves to select a project that was important to the town. When selected, he said, they would get contractors to bid.
'They know who is capable of doing the work or not. But this ministry supervises the process. The contractors bid, they come to Tenders Board; one person is selected along with the others and is recommended to Exco for approval. The whole thing is transparent. Then Exco approves; then an agreement is drafted and an award letter is issued to them. They produce what you call Advance Payment Guarantee from the banks. So based on that guarantee, we mobilize, and as the work goes on, we go through.
'We have consultants who supervise what they are doing, then come back and issue completion certificate. And when what they are doing gets to the stage where we can now pay them more money, we then pay more. That is why projects have succeeded tremendously. Most states are trying to copy us but they have not succeeded; it requires a high level of discipline, integrity, transparency; and you have to follow it all the way through. When contractors try to play games, we don't allow them. When stakeholders in the community can try to push for money to be disbursed, they use all kinds of tricks for money to be disbursed. That is not equal to the amount of work that has been done. We refuse because we maintain strong oversight functions,' Obi said, noting that it accounted for the reason why the state, during the recession in the country about three years ago, was not adversely affected.
On the government's relationship with communities regarding chieftaincy issues, he described it as cordial, noting that the Obiano Administration had stabilized communities by observing the right process in the emergence of traditional rulers.
'Each community has an Igwe. And at any point in time, there are some Igwes that have passed on to the great beyond. When that happens, the community has to elect a new Igwe. Usually, this is a common cause for strife in communities. People struggle for it and my ministry has to sieve facts from fiction and political maneuvering to get the Igweship title and I'm happy to say that this governor, under his watch, has not hesitated to follow the path of truth, as far as we can determine, and when we finish our investigations and we see clearly who has the right to the Igweship title, without hesitating, we make recommendation to the governor and usually, the person gets his certificate.
'So it's on record that this governor has issued certificates of recognition to well over 50 communities since we started. This is a record. Previous administrations had, maybe 10, 20. We don't waste time because we realize that a community without an Igwe is a recipe for trouble,' he submitted.
On the menace of herdsmen, the Commissioner said the state had fared better than most states in the federation because of the measures put in place by the governor.
'If you notice, there has not been any major thing here. Our governor, in his wisdom, saw that this could be a big issue and took early measures, going back three four years, to set-up a working relationship for the Herdsmen and the farmers. And, he set up a system whereby the farmers are told not to kill the cattle of the herdsmen because that is where usually the problems come.
'So our Governor set-up a committee to address this issue. When the herdsmen destroy crops, they pay compensation to the farmers. And the farmers, when they kill their cows, equally pay compensation. And this has been working very well in Anambra State. Members of that committee are high ranking government officials and security people. So it's a model that has worked well for us. And I will say it's something that maybe, if it was put in place in other states, the issue will not be as bad as it is today,' he said.
Speaking on the autonomy of local governments and how it affected the state, Obi assured that the state was coping well with the development being that Anambra had always done things transparently.
'Local government funds are used for local government activities. And that continues to be so, even in this present dispensation. What do I mean? Local government funds are used to pay salaries in the local govt, pay primary school teachers, pay the overhead of local government, and so on and so forth. And then for education and small projects within the LG system.
Street lights that are at various LGs are being done. Neither have the teachers complained nor local government workers, so we will find ways to continue with activities that are being done for the people,' he said.