By Yusuf Ishaku Goje
Kaduna State has continued to attract the attention of the global Open Government Partnership (OGP) community. Evidently, the State government has never shied away from initiating bold reforms in public fiscal transparency, management, and accountability. This is exemplified as the State is the first sub-national in Nigeria to subscribe to the OGP, and attain the global membership status, with reform commitments co-created with civil society.
More so, for embracing innovation and technology towards increasing citizens’ participation and engagement as well as government responsiveness and accountability. How these reforms have been implemented and whether they have translated into improved living standards for the residents is a subject of public debate. While some stakeholders acknowledge and celebrate the progress made as a result of the reforms; others believe it is more of motion without movement (isomorphic mimicry).
Nonetheless, the recent approval of the Community Development Charter (CDC) protocol by the Kaduna State Executive Council is another commendable milestone given that it is a civil society-led initiative, which has been embraced by the government. The CDC is a participatory budgeting process and social accountability tool that enables communities to prioritize and nominate developmental needs to inform the annual budgets.
The CDC has progressively influenced the twenty-three local governments’ annual budgets on average, currently, by fifty percent. However, the advocacy for the adoption of the process at the State level can be akin to a long walk to freedom. Despite the institutionalization of the CDC as a key milestone in the ended first State Action Plan (SAP, 2018-2020) of the OGP, the appointment of a desk officer, and submission by a number of local governments, the CDC was unable to inform the State budget.
Subsequently, the civil society advocated for the prioritization of the CDC in the OGP commitment and an open budget during the development of the second SAP, 2021-2023. The advocacy yielded the desired result with its inclusion in the SAP as well as the submission of CDCs by some LGAs for the current 2022 budget. Even so, there is yet to be publicly available and verifiable evidence of the CDC informing this year’s approved budget.
Notwithstanding, even though we are not where we desire to be, surely we are not where we used to be. Hence, the significance of the approval of the CDC protocol by the State Executive Council. Going forward, this will encourage increased citizens’ participation in budget formulation. More importantly, ensure evidence-based CDC influence in the annual budgets of the State. In this light, special mention should be made of a number of stakeholders that played critical roles in initiating the CDC process and developing the approved protocol.
The leading Civil Society partners involved in the development process of the protocol, including pioneering the CDC process, are Legal Awareness for Nigeria Women (LANW), Aid Foundation, Gender Awareness Trust (GAT), Initiative for Collective Voice, Accountability and Progress (ICOVAP), Coalition of Associations for Leadership, Peace, Empowerment & Development (CALPED), Open Kaduna Radio as well as CDC Champions and the Local Government Accountability Mechanisms (LGAMs) in the 23 LGAs.
Furthermore, the Partnership to Engage, Reform and Learn (PERL/FCDO) that supported the learning visit to Anambra State, brought together civil society to harmonize the CDC template and develop the draft protocol as well as supported the training of CDC Champions from the 23 LGAs and CDC Influence and Performance tracking is worthy of commendation. Similarly, it is important to acknowledge the key role played by ChristianAid, ActionAid Nigeria and M4D.
Also deserving of commendation are the Commissioner of Planning & Budget Commission (P&BC) for ensuring the approval, the Ministry for Local Government Affairs for supporting the process, the past and present civil society members of the OGP State Steering Committees, CS members of the Technical Working Group on Open Budget, the past and present Point of Contacts and the CDC Desk Officer in the P&BC.
Now that the CDC protocol has been approved by Council, it is only one among many more steps needed to ensure the end justifies the means. Worthy of mention, another important step already taken is the recent successful pilot automation of the CDC process (www.citizensdemand.org) by the civil society, with the buy-in of the Planning & Budget Commission, which will surely increase CDC influence and performance in the State annual budgets.
Finally, for sustainability, it will be key for the CDC to have the backing of a legal framework. Hence, this is a call to action on the State government to initiate the amendment of the Fiscal Responsibility Law, 2016, to provide the needed legal backing.
Goje is a volunteer with the Coalition of Associations for Leadership, Peace, Empowerment, and Development (CALPED) and Local Government Accountability Mechanism (KAD-LGAM)