Why I'm determined to ensure Kwara people follow Kwara money - Akinsola
One of the controversial issues of governance in recent times has been that of abandoned projects and ignorance of communities about approved projects for their communities. In this interview, Community Champion, Kehinde Akinsola speaks with RoyalTimes on how a N10 million school project, in Alore-Ogidi community of Ilorin, was never executed.
RoyalTimes: Who is Kehinde Akinsola, and how did you come about the title of a Community Champion?
Kehinde Akinsola: Kehinde Akinsola is a Community Champion, a Broadcast Engineer. I'm a volunteer with EduplanaNG, an education platform and volunteer with Follow the Money Organisation. With my work with these two organisations, it avails me the opportunity to work with communities in my state and region . This makes me an advocate for community growth in the area of Education and I also follow government projects in communities to ascertain that they are done as budgeted. I also bring to the knowledge of communities, plans of Government for them just as I follow the money for such projects. So, it is from all these and more, that I got the title, 'Community Champion'.
RoyalTimes: Interesting, tell us about the #RenovateOgidi project
Kehinde Akinsola: In 2017, there was a heavy storm which affected schools, houses and several other properties in Ilorin. This storm destroyed the roof of the Aliyahudeen L.G.E.A Primary School, Isale Balode, Alore- Ogidi, Ilorin West Local Government, Kwara State (Two blocks of four classes). Pupils from the affected classes were shared with other classes. This led to overcrowding in those classes and reduction in the numbers of pupils in the school.
RoyalTimes: And did the school make any effort to address this? If yes, what effort?
Kehinde Akinsola: The community solicited for help from the Kwara State Government, Ministry of Education, Kwara State Universal Basic Education Board and Former Senate President, Senator Bukola Saraki Constituency Office. None of these bodies provided the school with what they needed; which was the renovation of the school. The four classes were shut down for eight months until the community raised funds within themselves and the people around them, which they used to pay for the roof and the school furniture. Subsequently, the pupils returned to their classes and life continued.
Unknown to the people, in 2018, the Universal Basic Education Commission budgeted N10m, (Ten Million Naira) for the Renovation of Aliyahudeen Primary School, Ogidi, Ilorin West, Kwara State with the code number ERGP2102453 and tagged as a NEW project. Surprisingly, the school and community were unaware that UBEC had budgeted N10m for the renovation of the school. I got to know this and since I love to unravel hidden facts, I keyed into this to let out any can of worms, keep the community in the know and most especially ensure public fund does not go down the drain.
Akinsola, enlightening the school and community representatives during one of the town hall meetings.
RoyalTimes: So, what steps did you take?
Kehinde Akinsola: On July 15, 2019, I went to the school for site assessment after I had dropped and tracked the FOI letter sent to Kwara SUBEB on information about the project. On getting to the school, I met the Headmistress of the school and was made to understand that the school was unaware of the project budgeted for them and no work had been done in the school. The headmistress informed the community head and July 17 was picked for a Community outreach so as to inform the community as a whole. The meeting was held in headmistress office with ten people in attendance from both the school and the community. They were shocked that N10million was budgeted for the school and no one either from UBEC or SUBEB had visited them to inform them. They were happy that I had brought this information to their knowledge.
On the same day, I went to SUBEB office and met with the Director, Project and Planning, Engr. Abdulsalam, he claimed that he was not aware of the project and other project handling by UBEC in the state. He said "UBEC approved project to contractor after tender bidding by contractors, UBEC monitor the project by themselves without informing SUBEB about it". He said, "the last time SUBEB executed a project for UBEC was in 2015 and it was for the 2013 budget". He gave me the contact of Engr. Otumkoko; the Project Coordinator for Senator Bukola Saraki Constituency Office.
RoyalTimes: (cuts in) And were you able to reach him?
Kehinde Akinsola: Yes I did. On July 18, I visited the constituency office and met with Engr. Otumkoko. He said “the project was not among the project given to him by UBEC". He brought out the list of projects given to him by UBEC and the school was not among them. He advised that I write a Freedom of Information, FOI, letter to UBEC office in Abuja for more clarity.
On July 26, FOI letter was dropped at UBEC office in Abuja requesting for information concerning the project, contractor the project was awarded to and finally to inform us if the project was mobilized for execution. The same letter was dropped at SUBEB office in Ilorin on the 2nd of August, 2019. Further engagement with UBEC office after the seven working days didn't go well. At first, they claimed the person in charge of the case file, was yet to resume from the Sallah break, and later claimed the person had gone on a LEAVE during the second visit to UBEC office. They also claimed that SUBEB will know about the project. Back in Ilorin, SUBEB claimed to be in total darkness concerning any projects from UBEC in the state.
On August 27, I organized a Town Hall Meeting with the community, with the school serving as the venue of the meeting. Fourteen members of the community (4 Women and 10 Men) and a reporter friend attended the meeting with me. I was able to inform them about the progress of my tracking and also told them about the challenges I was facing from UBEC and SUBEB. Suggestions and ideas were given by the community members. It was suggested that I should write a letter to inform the new Senator representing the constituency, Senator Ibrahim Yahya Oloriegbe about the project of the school (which coincidentally is his alma mater), and the community promised to inform him too from their end.
RoyalTimes: Considering this challenge that you encountered, what do you think can prevent this kind of issue?
Kehinde Akinsola: I sincerely think there's need for people to know what is happening in their constituency. It is pathetic and unheard of that government projects will be approved for certain institutions and communities and the authorities there won't be in the know. Before you know, a project that was duly paid for will not even see the light of day at all, and the people will continue to groan. This informed why we decided to involve the press. On September 4, I took the campaign to Royal FM, a private radio stations in Ilorin, where both the School and Community representatives were in attendance. Engr. Yusuf Salma, School Based Management Council and Alore Community (SBMC) representative and also an old student of the school, Alfa Issa Abdulsalam Oniseeshin, Youth Leader of Alore Community and member of SBMC and Mr. Nuhu Yusuf, Teacher representative.
We used the media opportunity to inform Kwarans of the needs to follow every Government projects in their community. One of the callers on the program advised the community to inform EFCC about their issue in order to apprehend anyone connected to mishandling of the Ten Million Naira budgeted for the renovation of the school. The link to the radio program on Royal FM is https://drive.google.com/open?id=1FQyOnQFQLPVtUd5HnPgdV80WDId2kRnw
On September 6, I dropped another letter at the SUBEB office giving them forty-five days ultimatum to disclose the whereabouts of N10 Million budgeted for the school or else, the community will be left with no choice than to embark on a peaceful protest to their office, which was discussed in the Town Hall Meeting. I also dropped another letter to the Constituency Office of Senator Ibrahim Yahya Oloriegbe as discussed at the Town Hall Meeting.
On September 10, one of the staff of Senator Ibrahim Yahya Oloriegbe called to acknowledge the receipt of the letter and said they are going to work on it and will update me as things unfold.
RoyalTimes: So, at the moment, what is the situation of things?
Kehinde Akinsola: Well, we are still waiting for their response while I also hope to get necessary documents in Abuja to know the true picture of the situation. But by and large, the intervention of my campaign, has helped both the school and the community to know that UBEC budgeted N10 Million Naira for their school. SUBEB was able to know that one of the UBEC projects in Kwara State was not executed. The outcry and use of media has enabled more citizens to be interested in following money budgeted for their respective communities. More citizens are also now aware that Nigeria Budget is online and accessible by everyone in order to track projects budgeted for them.
RoyalTimes: How easy was this campaign of yours?
Kehinde Akinsola: You will agree with me that, because of the various Nigerian factors, nothing seems easy. We faced challenges to include lack of cooperation between Government agency such as UBEC and SUBEB. This affected the planning, monitoring and execution of projects. The bureaucracy in Government offices affected the flow of work as experienced during FOI letters tracking. Also, the lack of synergy between SUBEB Project Office and various Constituency Offices was an impediment.
But by and large, there were lessons learnt. This campaign experience reinforced the importance of getting community members involved, as it ensured that they have since taken ownership of the process and bid to ensure accountability. Learnt that most citizens are not aware that Government budget are accessible to everyone online and that they can download to know what was budgeted for their community.