A movement for change

Making governance work for community development

Esther Obiora, women’s leader of Urum community, Anambra, works with local groups to demand their rights to improved government services. Photograph: Chinelo Oboh/JDPC Onitsha

Voice to the People (V2P) is a project promoting good governance and increased voice and accountability in Anambra State, Nigeria.

It encourages greater dialogue between communities and their leaders and supports citizen-driven development, even in the hardest to reach areas.

Funded by UKaid and delivered by a partnership of organisations led by international development agency Christian Aid, the £2m project reaches 48 communities in 12 local government areas (LGAs).

Amaetiti community successfully lobbied for increased benefits for new teachers working in remote areas. Photograph: Christian Aid/Adebola Fatilewa

Increasing access to basic services

Until recently, the small, hard-to-reach community of Amaetiti had a run-down primary school and not enough teachers. But things are changing.

Interaction between community members, led by community-based monitors (CBMs), and local government, has brought about an influx of new teachers and healthcare staff.

V2P trains CBMs to monitor government projects and champion the interests of their communities. With fresh confidence to engage with local governments, community groups are able to demand their rights.

Alloysius Ayamelum, Amaetiti’s Secretary General. Photograph: Chinelo Oboh/JDPC Onitsha
‘We know the importance of perseverance and rights claiming, so we continued until we succeeded. Many towns aren’t receiving a lot of these benefits because they aren’t serious about the information that comes in.’ — Alloysius Ayamelum.
CBMs monitor government projects and champion the interests of their communities. Photograph: Christian Aid/Adebola Fatilewa

Addressing development needs

Charters of demands identify a community’s biggest development needs.

The charters consider the needs of all community groups and are used as an advocacy tool for engaging with local and state authorities. Water, education and roads topped the list of needs in most V2P communities.

‘We went round the community to inspect schools, roads, health centres and put the needs into the demands which were submitted to the State House of Assembly. Now the entire community knows that the person representing us is not God, he is a human being like us that you can talk to, [and] call.’ — Austine Agwuncha, a CBM in Utuh.
More than 450 community members have been using specially developed scorecards to rank services provided by government. Photograph: Chinelo Oboh/JDPC Onitsha

Community empowerment

V2P communities understand they have the power to influence positive changes and engage in persistent advocacy to get results.

The project has set up Community Empowerment Networks (COMEN) made up of all the CBMs within each LGA. COMEN hold regular meetings to share news of monitored projects with the local government, bridging the gap between government and communities.

‘The change must come. Now we know we are supposed to have people-driven demand.’ — CBM Michael Odiatu.
Photograph: Christian Aid/Tom Saater/Demotix

Voting for development

In V2P communities, there is growing participation and interest in governance processes.

For the first time, community members have organised meetings with potential elected leaders to help determine who they would vote for.

‘We learnt a lot from V2P that it is better to vote in the candidate for their ability to deliver and not because of the money [they offer you].’ — Austine Agwuncha
Photograph: Christian Aid/Chris McWilliams

Speaking directly to government

Constituency briefings organised by V2P partners have given communities greater direct access to their representatives at local government level, encouraging transparency and better service delivery.

CBM Felicia Ginigema used to describe herself as a passive citizen with no interest in community development. Now she not only monitors government projects, but speaks up when she knows things are not right.

‘They opened our eyes. V2P taught me my rights as a citizen.’ — CBM Felicia Ginigema
Eucharia Mbamalu had her two children in the Urum health centre. Photograph:Christian Aid/Adebola Fatilewa.

Improving transparency

In Urum, in Awka North, the cost of child delivery was 40% more for parents than in other communities nearby.

Local governments oversee staff, such as healthcare workers, monitoring overall standards. This responsibility was previously mostly ignored, leaving room for service providers to overcharge.

But with more information about their rights and by providing the local health department with analysis of childbirth costs from other areas, the community has brought fees down to the more affordable, approved rates.

V2P conducted joint monitoring visits of government provided services with members of AFAN.

Strengthening community groups

V2P recognises the potential of community groups in increasing engagement with government and has been working to build the capacity of established institutions, including the Association of Town Unions (ASATU) and All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN).

With ASATU, V2P has conducted joint monitoring of government education health and infrastructure initiatives, and supported its members to articulate key community issues and carry out advocacy at state level.

‘There is a very good relationship between ASATU and the government that is giving a lot of value now to the people,’ — former ASATU member Obichineke Sam Nwade.

Working relationship

A relationship between civil society and government is being built in Anambra, from local government to ministries and the State House of Assembly.

Through V2P, a working relationship with the House has been formalised with an agreement to hold quarterly meetings between members and CSOs.

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These young women (pictured with JDPC Onitsha staff) are among more than 300 who have received information from V2P on active citizenship, such as registering to vote and monitoring community projects. Photograph: Chinelo Oboh/JDPC Onitsha

Inclusive decision-making

Women are the most marginalised group in V2P communities, held back by cultural norms in the patriarchal society of Anambra State.

Traditionally, women have held little sway in decision-making and could not speak out. Important decisions about the home and community development were largely made by men.

Rita Nweke, from Umuoba-Anam, took part in V2P’s Women in Governance forum, which builds the confidence of women and girls to become leaders.

‘I am now one of the members of the traditional ruling council in my village.’ — Rita Nweke.
Christiana Unala, a widow in Amaetiti, had to endure the widowhood practices. Photograph: Christian Aid/Adebola Fatilewa.

And end to widowhood practices

V2P has sought to address harmful widowhood practices that strip a woman of her rights — the forceful shaving of her hair or not being allowed to take a bath or wash her hands for a year after her husband’s death.

V2P works to educate communities about the effects of these practices, so women can mourn their husbands according to their own beliefs and in more humane ways.

In Amaetiti, meetings with village heads ensured that those involved in the customs and traditions heard the call for fair treatment of widows and that the community was united in abolishing the traditions.

Through V2P, communities, like this group in Ogbaru, have gained the skills and knowledge to demand their rights. Photograph: Ngozi Osuchukwu/JDPC Onitsha

A movement for change

V2P has shown in practical ways that communities can drive their own development. There has been some significant institutional changes and, most importantly, responses by government to the needs of the people.

Despite challenges, the consistency in demand by communities themselves has played a key role in ensuring they are no longer ignored.

The trend suggests this movement of change will continue to grow until governments have no choice but to be accountable to their people.

By March 2016, V2P will have directly supported over 48,000 people to hold government to account. Through its activities, the project will indirectly reach over 2.4 million people.

V2P is implemented by Christian Aid, the African Centre for Leadership, Strategy and Development, Development in Practice, Civil Rights Concern, and the Justice, Development and Peace Commissions (JDPCs) of Onitsha, Awka and Nnewi.

This Blog was written by Chris McWilliams, International Communications Adviser, Christian Aid