Grassroot and Community Development; Traditional Leadership and Institution as Champions of Community Development

By: Dr. Inenyo Esinte.

Traditional Leaders, Rulers, and institutions are the symbol of power, and authority, the gatekeepers, and the centre piece of community administration in Nigeria. They dictate the pace, pattern, and spread of community development unilaterally or in synergy with other external factors such as government, corporate bodies, NGOs, and International Oil Companies (IOCs) domicile in their Communities.

No one thirsts and quests for development, be it human capacity, infrastructural or environmental development, more than the people and communities that lack development, hence the communities through their respective traditional institutions, rulerships, and leadership, are the advocates, solicitors, mediators and drivers and champions of the desired development across communities.

From the foregoing, any leadership inadequacies, failures, and shortcomings in the traditional institutions portends danger, affect and derail the development of any community where such leadership gaps exist, as evidenced by a lack of community development, despite the availability of enormous resources at the disposal of a community.

The trajectory, flow, and direction of development of whatsoever nomenclature and taxonomy in Nigeria has always been a unidirectional, top to bottom approach, which is highly suboptimal to meet the yearnings, ever-growing needs, and aspirations of the people at the grassroots, where the triad of poverty, ignorance, and disease are endemic.

This top to bottom channel of development, where most developmental projects come from government is grossly inefficient and inadequate, hence traditional institutions and leaders cannot rely only on government for the development of their communities but seek, explore and efficiently utilize every available opportunity, resources, and developmental arsenal at their disposal to fast track the development of their communities, especially communities that are privileged to have multinationals oil companies and corporate bodies operate in their domains, must negotiate good deals and put the importance of community development at the forefront with cognisance to immediate, short, intermediate and long-term impacts on the communities of their decisions, bargains, and actions. Hence, traditional Leaders and institutions must make the right decisions always for the benefit of their communities.

The practices and habits, where a few select groups of people, under the guise of traditional Leaders and Heads of communities, mismanage, embezzle, and pocket resources meant for the development of their communities, without giving back to the communities what the communities truly deserve for self-development, spells doom, truncates, hampers and stalls the growth and development of communities.

Thus, traditional leadership and institutions embroiled in such misdemeanors must change their anti-community developmental practices for the common good and growth of their communities.

There are several communities that are blessed with abundant natural resources and also enjoy immense financial benefits from IOCs and other corporate bodies operating in their domains, but these communities, sad to state, wallow and languish in total lack and decay of basic public infrastructure and amenities, because some privileged individuals in the communities under the camouflage of traditional leadership, decides to divert funds meant for the development of their communities for personal usage at the expense of their communities. These corrupt and self-serving community leaders will rather wait and blame government for the infrastructural lack and rot in their communities for basic community development projects that can be achieved through community self-effort.

Traditional Leadership must re-organize and reorient themselves with the true essence of Community governance and administration, they must see themselves as a miniature government in existence at the grassroots, where the security of lives, properties, and development of their communities is their primary responsibility.

Without community interest, ownership, and active participation, any project, no matter how beneficial, important, and expensive, is billed and doomed to fail.
Active community interest, ownership, and participation are the bedrock and foundation for the sustenance of projects, programmes, and policies across communities, and only traditional leadership and institutions can spur and sustain the required interest, active participation, and ownership of community-oriented developmental projects, programmes, and policies.

Traditional leadership and institutions should mimic the administrative organization of government, where there are various organs, units, and outfits for various aspects of community development, such as educational unit, health unit, youths and social development services, environmental services, and works, just to name a few which will be saddled with defined obligations in accordance with established community legislation to drive purposeful leadership and development.

With the passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), and the provision of 3% derivation funds for host communities, communities need to institute, install and operate purposeful, people-oriented, and community development centered traditional leadership and institutions, for accountable and judicious utilization of community resources for the development, welfare, and well-being of the communities.

Community indigenes and followers of traditional Leaders must also hold their leaders accountable and demand good community governance. It can no longer be business as usual, as public resources accruing from government are scarce and highly competitive, it is critically important for communities to properly utilize resources accrued to them from IOCs and other corporate bodies operating in their communities, as government alone cannot solve the increasing developmental needs of communities, communities should resort to self-help to meet their needs, especially where resources are available and at their disposal.

Dr. Inenyo Esinte, is a Medical Doctor, Social Commentator, and Analyst.

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