Discussants at a panel on promoting peace in Niger Delta have stressed the need for improved communication between the government and resident of the oil-producing region to drive development in the axis.
The session was held at the weekend during the Social Media Week held in Lagos. The panelists were unanimous in their call on the need for the government to adopt technology as a means of enhancing communication with the Niger Delta people.
The session with the theme: Government and the Citizens, Communicating the 21st Century Way in the Niger Delta, was organised by the Foundation for Partnership Initiatives in the Niger Delta (PIND).
Managing Director of Niger Delta Development Corporation (NDDC), Mr Nsima Ekere, represented by the commission’s Technical Adviser on Partnerships and Development, Mr John Akpan, participated in the discussion.
Other panelists included Special Adviser on Communications to Abia State Governor, Sam Hart, Program Director of the Stakeholders Democracy Network (SDN), Florence Kayemba, Chief Executive Officer of NETOPPS, Fibiresima Bereni, and Chime Asonye, Special Assistant on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to of Abia State governor.
On the role of government in communicating feedback to the Niger Delta resident, Akpan said platforms offered by social media played key role in opening up discussion between the government and the people in the region.
Akpan said: “The newly-inaugurated governing board of the NDDC is determined to improve openness and transparency in its dealing and engaging the people in the Niger Delta.”
He reaffirmed the commission’s dedication to 4Rs method it adopted to restructure its balance sheet, adding that the commission had embarked on reform to improve its governance systems to ensure compliance to extant rules and regulations.
Kayembasaid said the Niger Delta’s heterogeneous nature made its needs peculiar. She advised the government should create a system where residents would provide feedback on the development programmes being currently carried out in the region.
Hart noted Governor Okezie Ikpeazu had introduced programmes to drive citizens’ engagement in his administration, giving example of an e-library recently commissioned by the Abia government to create platform for feedback from the citizens.
According to him, the Abia government would host events to select outstanding technology startups in the state.
While speaking on the need to maintain open budgeting by state in the Niger Delta, Hart said: “I support open budgeting by state in the Niger Delta. It is not required by law to do that, but it has to be done to promote transparency and accountability.”
He also reiterated the need for governors in the Niger Delta region to engage the social media in communicating with citizens. “Any government not on social media is doing itself a disservice,” he said.
Speaking on poverty and lack of access to basic amenities, Asonye noted that implementation of the SDGs in the Niger Delta states was poor, adding that there was a need to focus attention on the challenges hindering development in the region.
The SDGs, he said, will provide a proper channel for irreversible development in the Niger Delta. Chime called for openness in implementation of government’s programme to tackle poverty.
He said there should be a platform where citizens can give feedback and receive responses from the government, citing an example of Abia State which has an active social media presence that serves as a feedback mechanism between the government and the citizens. He stressed the need for evidence-based budgeting process that would afford citizens’ participation in governance process.
In his discussion on private sector and technology, Bereni said there is a need to improve technology adoption in the region. “The Niger Delta is still struggling with low internet penetration, which is affecting the emergence of startups. Government needs to address the developmental gaps in the region by creating a holistic innovation strategy to support the young people who are marginalised,” he said.
In response to the panelists’ submission, members of the audience drawn from the Niger Delta region expressed optimism that the discussion could bring about new thinking in the region to drive development.
One of them, Obat Akpeji, said: “We should hope some of the solutions offered here would be considered by the governors in the region.”
Another participant from Edo State, Ezekiel Efeobhokan, said: “I hope to see Niger Delta governors spearhead programmes that would impact on innovations of the youth.
We want the youth to stop engaging crimes that tarnish the image of people from this region. Niger Delta youths are known as angry people, but we want the narrative to change.”