“IF YOU ARE A COUNCILOR,
YOU ARE THE NUMBER ONE CITIZEN REPRESENTATIVE

An interview with Councilor Wurus Funkeye Fortune, Burutu L.G.A.,
and Deputy Leader, Burutu Legislative Arm (April 2010)

In its March 2010 Citizen Report Card, it was found that 7 out of the 10 riverine communities surveyed stated that they had not seen their councilor in over a year.

In a sobering video clip taken in April 2010, a community health worker is tormented by not knowing which public official he needed to talk to in order to get drugs made available to his clinic. “I go to the State, they tell me to talk to the LGA [Local Government Authority]. I go to the LGA, they tell me to talk to the CDC [Community Development Committee]; and the CDC tells me to go talk to the State!” At no point, did the health worker think to ask his councilor. In the structure of governance, below the State is the Local Government Areas, and within LGAs are wards. Councilors, or ward representatives, are elected public officials whose job it is to convey the needs of communities to the LGA Chairman and influence the LGA to satisfy those needs.

Through surveys and community visits, it appears that a large number of community members in the Niger Delta either have never seen their councilor beyond a campaign visit nor do they trust the councilor that they have. In addition, there is little clarity among community members about what a councilor’s roles and responsibilities are. To clarify all matters related to councilors, Wurus Funkey Fortune was recommended to NIDPRODEV as a model example of what a councilor should be doing.

The Honorable Mr. Fortune is 35, fit, and passionate about his work as councilor or ward representative to five riverine communities in Burutu L.G.A. Part of his passion comes from the fact that one community is his mother’s and the other his father’s. “I visit all of my communities regularly. If someone says that they don’t know who their councilor is, then they don’t live in my communities. It is my manifesto: I will find time to visit you to hear and interact with you and to understand what your needs are at any time.”

We met with Fortune and 3 councilors from other wards on a sunny (pre-rainy season) morning to talk about the role and challenges of councilors for communities and gain an understanding of why some communities are never visited by their councilors.

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Q. What are the responsibilities of a Councilor?

A lot of what you do depends upon the place, the terrain and the people.

You are expected to have a working relationship with your community.

You are the first point of call on issues that border on community matters.

You are expected to visit them more often than other public officials.

You are to bring to them at their doorstep the operations of the L.G.A.

You are to influence projects that will go to the community, which means that you need to know what your people need.

You need to influence the authorities to help bring these projects to the communities.

Q. Do the people have any responsibilities?

Yes, the people have a responsibility to get to know their councilor and to be interested in what happens in their communities.

Q. Can you give an example of something that you did for one of your communities that demonstrates what a councilor does or should do?

My job is to influence the process between my communities and the L.G.A. There was a primary school block in one of my communities that was completely dilapidated. I took a photo of the school and then showed it to the L.G.A. Chairman. He approved a new school project after seeing the photo.

Q. Why do some councilors never visit their communities?

Some people are not the community’s choice person. If you are not the community’s choice person, they see you as an outcast imposed on them. And as a person, you do not want to incur risk on you, so you abstain from visiting because you are afraid.

If a councilor is afraid to visit a community, he will get information about the community from his community liaison officer or political advisor who lives in the community. The councilor gives stipends to political advisors or community liaison officers.

Q. Some community members say that they don’t have any contact information for their councilors. How do they get that information?

The Ward Party Chairman has an executive who has all of the phone numbers. And the Community Executive has all the phone numbers. All the phone numbers that community members need are available in the community.

Q. What are the challenges that you face as a councilor?

Finance is a challenge. Community members need to understand the problems that a councilor faces in trying to get financing for projects. A councilor has a responsibility to explain these challenges to the communities.

A councilor is suppose to be a peacemaker. You have to work hard to have peace with your communities, which means that you have to have good intentions. You need to go the extra mile.

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