14 May 2013, by Nwafor Chinyere.
On 1 March 2013, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) launched a text service to enable citizens and residents who witness or are victims of local government corruption in Lagos State, Nigeria to anonymously alert SERAP. SERAP will then pass on reports of corruption to the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) so that they can follow up accordingly.
This initiative is undertaken as part of SERAP’s local government anti-corruption project in Lagos carried out in collaboration with the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA). The project aims to combat corruption at the grassroots level by targeting corruption in local government. The local government is the lowest level of government in Nigeria and is charged with making recommendations to a state commission on many issues including local economic planning, collection of rates, construction and maintenance of the local area and licensing.
They also collaborate with state government when dealing with the provision and maintenance of education, healthcare and in the development of agriculture and natural resources. There are local government chairmen that preside over the affairs of the residents of local councils. The initiative hopes to hold local public servants to account and encourage greater community involvement in anti-corruption activities, which SERAP anticipates will contribute in the long-run to improved public service delivery local residents in areas such as health and education.
For several years while Nigeria was under a military regime, citizens lacked the basic freedom of expression which is paramount in a democratic society. This project hopes to help marginalised communities participate more in their own governance by improving the ability of citizens to speak out against local government councils that are corrupt and fail to carry out their constitutional duties.
Despite the important roles local government administrators are supposed to play in the delivery of essential services to citizens, systemic corruption has rendered this largely impossible. Our investigations show that corruption at the local government level goes beyond theft of local resources and often includes bribes being solicited from policemen, doctors, tax officers and council administrators. For example council officials may request bribes from locals seeking permission for construction work or permits for the local market stall. This type of corruption damages local residents’ ability to access important social and economic benefits.
SERAP has high expectations that citizens and local residents will be more likely to report incidents of corruption in their communities if they can do so via text message, knowing that their identity will be kept confidential. Currently, to report corruption at any level a citizen would usually be expected to write a petition to the ICPC. Local residents usually do not come forward with reports of corruption at local government level to the ICPC. We believe that many low-level cases of corruption go unreported because citizens and local residents are simply too scared to blow the whistle.
SERAP will closely monitor messages reporting corruption and carry out appropriate checks to ensure that the allegations made are done so in good faith, in the belief that the information is true and that the disclosure is in the public interest. In order to monitor messages, SERAP will need to engage residents and have close discussions with locals in the community. Once these conditions are satisfied, SERAP will forward the allegations to the ICPC for necessary action and follow-up.
Addressing corruption at the local government level is critical to comprehensively tackling the endemic corruption in Nigeria and ensuring effective management of the country’s natural resources. Local-level corruption is assessed to be much more widespread than corruption at the federal and state levels but allegations of corruption among local government officials frequently go unreported and not enough action is taken to address the problem.
SERAP is hopeful that this initiative will impact positively on the lives of the local residents and increase access to basic amenities in the near future.
About Nwafor Chinyere
Nwafor Chinyere is a staff attorney at SERAP, Nigeria.
- Fourth Schedule of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria
- See ‘14-Point Programme for promotion of Transparency and Accountability at the Local Government Level’ (SERAP, 2009), page 3
- Allegations of corruption go unreported to official bodies. Local government officials are regarded as the most corrupt, probably because of their direct and personal contact with citizens. Gradually people tend to accept the corrupt practices of local government as the norm and adopt the idea that this kind of corruption helps people survive. Ibid, page 2