By Adebayo Abdulrahman, Development News NIgeria
The road that leads to Oba-Adebimpe palace in Odinjo community in Ibadan, Oyo State gives an impression that all is well. But on sighting the palace, the excitement fades away almost immediately leaving one with more questions than answers.
“They renovated it recently,” Kolapo Jimoh, a carpenter who works directly opposite the palace told this reporter. But despite this renovation, the entire outlook of the palace didn’t give any impression that it was renovated. Checks around the premises revealed that the palace is a one-room story building with the down-floor rented out already. The staircase that leads inside the palace is shaky and the balcony still looks very old. Further observations show that only the windows, door, and roof were changed.
When this reporter spoke with Ganiu Anigenifa, the family member in charge of the palace, he confirmed these observations and expressed dissatisfaction with the quality of work done.
“This renovation work was done in April. No painting. Only the door, windows, and roof were changed. The balcony is still bad and only some part of the staircase was plastered,” he explained in a heightened voice.
In Oyo State, palace renovations were an initiative of Senator Kola Balogun, the lawmaker that represented Oyo South Senatorial District between 2019–2023 in the Senate. In 2021, he started with the nomination of eleven palaces across this senatorial district, and last year, he nominated an additional six to be renovated.
A breakdown of the data obtained from the Zonal Intervention Project document for 2022 of the budget office of the federation revealed that N25 million was allocated for the completion of the Olubadan palace while another N25 million was meant for the renovation of five other local palaces and the beneficiaries was listed as Oba-Adebimpe palace, Ita Baale Olugbode palace, Oba Aleshinloye palace, Onidere palace, and Asawo palace.
The project was domiciled under the Centre for Black and African Arts and Civilization, an agency under the Ministry of Information and Culture. Still, across these palaces, the project delivery did not tally.
According to BudgIT, constituency projects are meant for grassroots development so that the people can enjoy the dividend of democratic governance but lawmakers are not making it beneficial to the people.
In this three-week investigation, DNN was not able to lay hands on the disbursement records that should reveal the identity of the contractors. Checks on GovSpend, NOCOPO, procurement monitor, and other open contract portals came back negative.
Status Of Projects
The sorry state of Oba Adebimpe palace where the renovation was executed just a few months ago does little to prepare this reporter for the sorry states of other palaces ahead.
Like Oba-Adebimpe palace, at Oba Aleshinloye, this reporter observed that the renovation was redefined to a single exercise: changing the roofs. Aside from the palace roof that was changed, other parts of the palace are begging for help and in dire need of renovation
“It left us with more questions,” Soliu, a resident explained who spoke on condition of anonymity. Apart from the abysmal quality of work done on the project, this reporter observed a bigger problem from conversations with multiple residents.
According to them, they do not feel an alarming sense of disappointment towards the project because to start with, they have more pressing issues begging for attention. These needs as identified by residents range from the absence of a good drainage system to the need for a maternity center among others.
This reporter also visited the central palace of the Olubadan of Ibadan and observed that nothing much had changed. Unlike the other palaces, this particular one has been receiving allocation for completion before Senator Kola Balogun assumed office but still with no major difference.
During the visit, this reporter noticed that work needed to be completed on the project site. The building has no windows. The inner part of some of the rooms was filled with dust. On the outer part are some materials indicating that work was stopped abruptly and is partially being taken over by weeds.
In other places like Ashawo and Onidere in the Ibarapa region of the senatorial district where this renovation project was also earmarked, residents, including custodians of these palaces, didn’t even benefit.
A report from the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offenses Commission (ICPC) in 2019 revealed that over 2 trillion naira has been spent on Zonal Intervention Projects since 1999. But despite this figure, the Commission says the discrepancies in handling these projects are some of the factors affecting its implementations.
Tracka, a civic-tech non-profit that helps citizens follow up on budgetary information and constituency projects in its 2021 reports shows that the overall project completion rate in Oyo state stood at 40.7%, further highlighting that there was under-implementation of traditional rulers’ palaces in the State.
Renovated But …
At Ita Baale-Olugbode, custodians were excited when they met this reporter. This excitement was not far-fetched, it was the only palace that benefited completely from the renovations, making it the only exception to the long line of renovation projects that were either poorly executed or not touched across the senatorial district.
Aside from the new windows and doors, a thorough check around the premises revealed that the one-story building palace was painted. The building roof was changed and they also got street lights fixed in strategic places around the palace.
But there’s a bigger problem in this community, the palace renovation project is not in tandem with the urgent needs of the community. According to multiple residents who spoke with this reporter, while they are impressed with the project delivery, they explained that there are more pressing developmental needs more important to them.
These needs range from school renovations and health centers among others. But one case that featured consistently from residents was the poor state of the only good school in the community. At this school, some of the classes are in a sorry state, making it not conducive for learning.
“The school that our children are attending needs repair. Their classes are not in good shape. We also need maternity centers here. We don’t have to go far away during emergencies and security too,” one of the displeased residents, Tunde Gafar, told this reporter.
This situation shows a gap because Nigeria’s Zonal Intervention Project through which the renovation project was funded, emphasizes that lawmakers should carry out assessments to identify the most pressing needs of constituents before nominating projects. For instance, access to quality education ranks high on the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations, making it a priority issue for policymakers.
However, in the case of the Olugbode community, the reverse was the case as multiple residents who spoke with this reporter maintained that they were never consulted to identify their most important needs.
Experts argue that this is problematic because it shows the absence of political will to truly meet people’s needs which is at the core of the creation of the Zonal Intervention Fund. They maintained on the rare occasion that the project introduced was needed by the community, they didn’t show a sense of ownership towards this which then contributed to poor maintenance and inevitably, failure.
Speaking with this reporter, Ijeoma Okereke, the Program Manager for UDEME, a social accountability platform holding the Nigerian government accountable for developmental funds noted that when citizens are part of the budget formulation and implementation process, they will take ownership and this would lead to sustained development in the community.
“One of the advantages of participatory budgeting is that it enables citizens to take ownership of projects because they were consulted from Project initiation to execution stages. That way, they know how much has been invested in the project, the benefit of the project to them, and the implications of failing to maintain such projects,” she said.
She explained further that this pattern of lawmakers not consulting constituents before nominating projects persists because only a few citizens have the knowledge of federal government funds for developmental projects.
“Not many citizens are aware the FGN makes provision for constituency projects as some think it is implemented by personal funds of the lawmaker, not many citizens are aware of the total amounts budgeted and released for these projects. If they do, they’ll put pressure on lawmakers and demand accountability.”
However, when confronted with the findings, Dapo Falade, the Media Aide to Senator Kola Balogun said his principal, despite nominating the projects, merely facilitated them and further told this reporter to direct questions to the Agency in charge of the project.
“You can look at the direction of the Centre for Black Arts and African Culture (CBAAC) for your inquiries on the said projects Senator Kola Balogun merely facilitated the projects,” he said.
This story was produced in partnership with Civic Media Lab under its Grassroots News Project.