Written by Audu Liberty Oseni – MAWA Foundation coordinator
The Media Advocacy West Africa Foundation (MAWA-Foundation) has partnered with Leveraging Transparency to Reduce Corruption (LTRC) — an initiative of the Brookings Institution and R4D — to investigate corruption allegations involving the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), a federal government agency founded in 2000 to facilitate socio-economic development of Nigeria’s oil-rich Niger Delta region.
Our work uncovers ways by which corruption and mismanagement of oil revenues undermine the NDDC’s development mandate. Importantly, it also sheds light on why anti-corruption initiatives in the Niger Delta have not had the desired impact from the perspective of local citizens and how this could be remedied.
Anti-corruption initiatives have failed to meaningfully reduce corruption
As part of our research, we conducted focus group discussions and key interviews with local citizens. Many individuals noted that most international and local anti-corruption initiatives, such as Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI), Coalition for Accountability and Transparency in Extractive Industries, Facility for Oil Sector Transformation (FOSTER) and Publish What You Pay Nigeria (PWYP) in the Niger Delta were focused on oil revenues.
These initiatives were organized and implemented by various actors, including local civil society organizations, community associations, media, and academia.
However, these initiatives thus far have been ineffective. Across the six states citizens reported that significant financial resources had been spent on these initiatives and yet somehow corruption continued to increase.
Many were deeply angry about the status quo, reporting that they had come to accept corruption within the NDDC, its affiliates, and the individuals charged with managing oil resource revenues in the Niger Delta.
“We have seen many local and international interventions here working to address the corruption. We have not seen a reduction in the practice. Rather, what we see is an increase,” one citizen said.
Some respondents noted that while corruption seemed endemic, it could be solved with the right approach. We asked them to explain what the right approach would entail.
1. Anti-corruption initiatives must win the trust of local stakeholders to succeed
First, it is crucial for those leading anti-corruption interventions to take the time to build trust with local actors. Trust can only develop by involving local citizens in project design and implementation and working with local organizations that have shown to be very transparent and enjoy community support.
Numerous participants stated that organizations working to promote good governance did not prioritize earning local trust. They simply came and erroneously assumed that citizens would trust their efforts to bring about change. This is not the case — trust requires time, as well as signs of progress and improvement.
In the end, many interventions to address corruption in the oil sector do not work because citizens are never provided the opportunities to believe in these initiatives.
2. Interventions should be driven by local needs and rooted in local participation
Second, stronger participation mechanisms are needed to better engage citizens. Interviewees in Delta State reported that the interventions were not community-driven nor designed for proper citizen engagement. They said that citizens are not involved in the design of many interventions and that these are created without consideration of what works or does not work.
Instead, they are invited to attend meetings and pieces of training that do not often provide the needed impacts. These projects did not include sufficient training for citizen capacity, nor did they deepen their knowledge of oil revenue management.
They accused the international community and development partners of having designed anti-corruption interventions that served only their interests — and not those of local communities.
Interviewees felt strongly that programs should be designed as long-term projects with clear goals, and that mobilizing local citizens to act should be at the heart of any successful anti-corruption initiative.
3. Selected organizations should be legitimate and reputable
Selecting the right partners is also key, as they must be viewed as credible by the local communities. The most trusted actors in the community must be responsible for leading the process. In doing so, there will be community ownership that will translate to huge impacts and results.
“There are organizations, we know them for engaging in corruption. You can’t expect us to listen to such kinds of originations discussing anti-corruption issues. The development partners and local NGOs must work to rebuild trust in their anti-corruption efforts and must keep this in mind when designing anti-corruption programs,” one citizen told the MAWA-Foundation.
Some of the local NGOs advised the need for a Community of Hub to promote a far-reaching coalition of change across communities in the Niger Delta. According to them, the HUB would serve as a community platform for the locals to discuss issues related to oil revenues on a regular basis, suggest solutions, and identify trusted partners in tackling corruption.
Future organizations working in the Niger delta need to better include these approaches in their work, creating space for more community-focused interventions. The MAWA-Foundation is working to address issues of corruption, use of funds, and good governance. Stay tuned for their upcoming works.