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Leaders of different communities in Lagos want political office holders to eschew frequent harassment of the citizenry that is increasingly becoming commonplace and ensure that the huge resources of the state are judiciously applied for the benefits of the people.
While lauding the development efforts of Governor Akinwunmi Ambode, they frown at the growing social costs of the government’s urban renewal policies particularly on the poor people of the state, which they contend has been “catastrophic and sometimes give the impression that Lagos is only for the rich”.
Rising from a four-day training programme organised in Badagry by the Community Life Project (CLP), with support from Open Society Initiative of West Africa (OSIWA), the leaders want the government to be mindful of the respective community interests and carry them along in the formulation and implementation of policies. The essence of government they stress is for the wellbeing of the citizenry.
“Public officials should not carry on as if the people do not matter. When you formulate policies that excludes the poor people, you are stepping on dangerous path”, says Wole Ipadeola, secretary, National Automobile Technicians Association (NATA), Lagos Island branch, making a veiled reference to the recent demolition of several settlements inhabited by the poor.
Ipadeola who is miffed with the running of mechanic villages in the state, says, “The harassment on all corners by agents of the government is too much. We now face hell with the running of mechanic villages, trying to get a space to practice our trade is becoming increasingly difficult”, he says.
This view is reinforced by Gbenga Agbeja, public relations officer of NATA, Kosofe LGA who says their members at Akanimodo, Ketu Mile 12 have been waiting since 2012 to be allocated a mechanic village despite inspection by officials of the Ministry of Environment, Ministry of Transport and the Department of Physical Planning.
“Since five years ago that we applied, we’ve not heard anything from them. We just can’t understand why it has taken so long for the government to allocate the mechanic village to us”, he says.
The community leaders also demanded for an end to what they perceive as “the rule, diktat and impunity of political godfathers” which they argue negate the entry of humane, honest and God fearing leaders who will genuinely work for the people.
Yemisi Oshifade, zonal head, National Association of Hairdressers and Cosmetologists (NAHSCO), Ketu tipper one who reveals how some of the godfathers virtually barter away the vote of whole communities says, “If you think you can go and complain to people, they’ll tell you they’ve already paid for the votes of your community. How then do you retrieve back your birthright?”, she queries.
“One of the reasons why we have leaders who can’t perform manning our affairs is because of political patronage. When public officials are foisted against the wish of the people, they do not think they need to respond to their demands and aspirations because they are answerable to some political godfather”, says Francis Onahor, one of the facilitators of the programme.
Stressing that grassroots leaders need to work in concert to check the antics of the godfathers, he argues that the loss of the candidates of the godfathers in Ikorodu and Mushin, arising from the decision of angry party members to cast lot for opposition candidates, is a pointer that they are not invincible after all.
But Yomi Olowookere, vice president, Lagos State Barbers, Hairdressers and Cosmotologists Association (LABHCA) says, the grassroots leaders need to be more assertive and faithful to themselves to be able to make some meaningful impact.
“We in the grassroots are not faithful to ourselves, how then can we challenge the godfathers? When they bring money, we are happy that our egbon has come with money”, he says.
Also sharing this view, Ajoke Sariyu Ashiru, a medical doctor and president, Federation of Muslim Women Association of Nigeria (FOMWAN), Lagos state branch says, “The level of poverty is so deep that many can’t even feed themselves. Sometimes they need someone who’ll solve their immediate problem”.
“There’s so much poverty in the land. How can you think people can be dispassionate in their electoral choices when politicians bring money to them?”, mutes Ashiru, who retired on November 2015 as deputy director and doctor in charge of the Medical Centre, Administrative Staff College of Nigeria (ASCON) in Topo, Badagry.
While conceding that there’s widespread poverty, Lanre Arinola, CLP community programme officer says, “sometimes we think if we don’t collect money now, we can’t survive. But we have to decide whether we want to collect something now and suffer for the next four years”.
Admonishing the community leaders to actively engage public officials in the budget process, he charged them not go to sleep when the budget is being prepared to ensure that their interests are adequately included.
Adewunmi Moses, general secretary, community development centre, Somolu wants capital expenditure to take a lion share of the budget at all levels of government so that the people can benefit from greater provision of socio infrastructure. “We need to cut down on recurrent expenditure to make life better for the people”, he quips.
Evelyn Salami, woman leader, Community Policing, Kosofe Local Council Development Area (LCDA) says, it’s heart warming that more women are taking prime position in the country. “It’s good that more women are coming up because women can do it better. We have better conscience unlike the men. Women are also less corrupt”, she says.
The CLP organised training and capacity building programme for grassroots community leaders on participatory governance and civic engagement, held in two batches with participants drawn from 16 LGAs. They include leaders of community development associations, artisans, women organisations, youth groups and faith based organisations.
While welcoming the participants, Chuks Ojidor, deputy director, CLP says the programme is to ensure citizens’ participation in governance. “There’s nothing esoteric about governance, you have to participate in it for life to be better for you and your children. Once you vote some people into power, you have to ensure that they deliver. If things work well at the local level, things will improve everywhere”.
Imploring the community leaders never to lower their guards, Ojidor posits they must keep pushing until their demands are acted upon. “If you demand a project from your LG chairman and he promises to do it, don’t go to sleep until it is put in a budget”, he says.