A Year Later, Youths Are Still Tracking COVID Spending in Nigeria

Kevwe Oghide 28 April 2021 1

‘Kevwe P. Oghide

A growing group of young Nigerians are demanding that the government accounts for the $8.9 billion dollars donated by international agencies, corporate organisations and individuals to tackle the Coronavirus pandemic and secure the country’s failing healthcare and economic infrastructure.

Follow the Money is holding Nigerian Government to Transparency Standards

A social accountability initiative, Follow the Money, largely driven by youths who are holding government to accountable standards and ensuring they deliver on improving public services have expressed deep concerns about government’s responsiveness to battling COVID. At the time when the first donation for COVID was announced late March 2020, young Follow the Money activists began trailing and tracking the funds closely, asking pertinent accountability questions and following the money to ensure proper allocations and spending to fight the pandemic.

Follow The Money activists at Eagle Square in Abuja, ready to document palliatives distribution by the Ministry of Human Affairs

The young activists tracking COVID funds were not backing down during the lockdown, they deployed online tools to monitor spending, drive conversation to spark actions and advocate for a transparent and inclusive approach, urging government stakeholders to make public all funds released for the fight against COVID and its implementation plans. They are collectively challenging their federal and state government to be more responsive to requests for detailed reports on COVID spending.

Over 60% of Nigerians distrust the government—given a history of inherent corruption and financial leakages, coupled with the widening inequality gap and its poor economic performance. Governance has also been marked by a lack of transparency, poor accountability, careless leadership, opaque budget systems and lack of civic involvement.

Already, over 4000 Follow the Money activists across the 36 States of Nigeria, including the Federal Capital Territory, are tracking funds, documenting procurement processes distribution of palliatives, cash transfer programs and amplifying voices of people in marginalised communities who are not beneficiaries of COVID palliatives. One of the beneficiaries 53-year old retiree turned cab driver, John Usegwu who lives in a rural area in Inyanya part of the country’s capital, Abuja. Usegwu noted that although he is glad the government gave them palliatives, it is insufficient to feed his family of 6 , especially as this is a one-time support . As a cab driver, Usegwu’s means of livelihood was hampered due to the lockdown enforcement.

Using online and Off-line Advocacy tools during pandemic lockdown reveals how Government spent $8.9 billion dollars on COVID

The influx of huge donations, cumulating to $8.9 billion dollars, was impressive at the beginning but to date details about spending have been patchy, confirming fears that the donations would end up in personal pockets. Official statements on COVID supplies surveillance, palliatives distribution, isolation centers and capacity building were often evasive. In the early stage when the Follow the Money activists started tracking donations and spending, the founder of the initiative, Hamzat Lawal took to Twitter to ask the Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Mele Kyari, for details of $28.8 million claimed to be donated by the NNPC and 30 partners. Kyari responded that “all donations will be in kind.” Similar vague responses by the government, makes it difficult for citizens to hold any public institution to transparency standards.

Documenting citizens’ voices on the impact of COVID on lifestyle

Some officials have been responsive to Follow The Money’s request for information on how COVID funds are being utilized. The Accountant-General of the Federation in a response to Follow The Money’s freedom of Information (FoI) request, compiled a breakdown of how it dispensed 84% of N36 Billion it received to tackle COVID. It revealed that it gave $57.8 million to the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 and distributed $18.4 million to support COVID-19 initiatives in the 36 States of the country. $2.3 billion was given to the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) for the deployment of assets in support of COVID-19 operations; while the Nigeria Police received $1.3million on personal protective equipment and $47 was paid as bank charges.”

Follow The Money sent 57 FoI request letters, received by 27 State Government agencies, requesting details of COVID19 funds and the distribution of palliatives. Of the 6 States that responded, Ondo State revealed that it spent $6.3m on medical services and food distribution to the vulnerable and $150,000 on face masks and medical supplies while Oyo State reported its spending of $5.3 million to tackle COVID. The other 4 provided sparse information, assuring that palliatives were distributed accordingly, even though there were no details of distribution and evidence of the same. It was no surprise when palliative hideouts were stormed by hungry Nigerians—who have had to endure a deplorable economic situation and poverty level worsened by the impact of the coronavirus. The discovery of the hideouts further exposes the rot and persistent corruption in leadership.

Vague Procurement Processes means Follow the Money and BudgIT must carry out a Social Audit in Africa

On a larger scale, unclear procurement processes are drivers of corruption in implementing government projects. The national emergency procurement policies were updated only after Follow the Money activists demanded, during a webinar on Emergency Procurement to fight a Pandemic, that the Bureau of Public Procurement and the Central Bank update their emergency policies in the wake of COVID. The call stated that a transparent procurement platform and an open-data approach can promote accountability, strengthen due diligence and prevent financial leakages and corruption. Shortly after, government agencies paid attention: the BPP, the Accountant-General of the Federation, Ministry of Finance and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission published guidelines for the management of COVID-19 donation funds.

Minister of State, Humanitarian Affairs at the Eagle Square in Abuja to launch COVID palliatives distribution

Still, weak transparency and poor accountability often impede the implementation of standard policies. Despite the promise of the Federal Ministry of Finance, the Budget and National Planning to be more Freedom of Information (FoI)-compliant, citizens are yet to receive the total sum of donations by international bodies, private organisations, individuals and institutions to fight the pandemic.

Although BudgIT, a social accountability organisation, recently demanded a breakdown of the 8.9 billion spent by CBN on COVID19 response, accessing information on palliatives distribution and COVID interventions has proven to be an uphill task.

The issue in Nigeria is no different from many African countries. To further combat the menace of poor government transparency and accountability in public finance in Africa, CODE and BudgIT, in collaboration with Global Integrity, have now launched the COVID-19 Transparency and Accountability Project (CTAP), an initiative that will spearhead a social audit of COVID-19 intervention funds in Kenya, Malawi, Cameroun, Ghana, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria.

The response to pandemics should prioritize the participation of citizens, including needs assessments and provision of palliatives, procurement and delivery of items, thus, the primary aim of this project will be to drive citizens’ engagement using innovative tech tools, creating an interactive portal to publish COVID data and fact-checking public institutions activities on spending to combat the pandemic.

CTAP will also address the threat of lack of accountability and the effects of COVID-19 on socio-economic development. It will strengthen existing tools and build new ones where necessary to match citizens’ needs in the current emergency response and use technology platforms as a means to drive accountability on the importance of optimising public resources in an emergency situation.

Although poor access to information and secrecy in government have proven to be challenges, Follow the Money and Tracka are unrelenting in their mission to promote fiscal transparency and hold governments to transparency standards. Citizens must be alert, demanding that government agencies and institutions provide civil society groups and the media, acting as watchdogs in this crucial time, with accurate and timely information.

COVID19: Regaining Citizen’s Trust through Strategic Communications

Kevwe Oghide 24 April 2020 0

COVID19: Regaining Citizen’s Trust through Strategic Communications

by Kevwe Oghide

Citizens distrust in Nigerian government spans two decades and continues to hit a downward slope. At a time, some of the measures of trust or distrust in government were corruption, inequality and poor economic performance. Today, trust is also measured based on lack of transparency, exclusion of citizens from governance and poor communication.

Trust matters for many reasons, not only because a disconnect between promises and lived experiences can result in a vicious circle, government’s initiatives cannot function without the support of citizens.

Today, the world is shaken by the effect of the coronavirus outbreak (COVID-19), which first broke out in China late December and has spread to over 200 counties with over 2,729,274 confirmed cases, and 191,614 deaths, according to the John Hopkins University COVID19 dashboard. A crisis that was initially termed an epidemic in China has now become a global pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

As the world grapples with the accelerating spread of the pandemic, WHO predicts that Africa may yet be the worst hit by this disease. It urges the region to “wake up to the increasing threat and prepare for a worst-case scenario. In Nigeria, the number of confirmed cases rose by 340% in a week and currently stands at 981 confirmed cases as at the time of writing this article.

In a country where people are discontent with the economy and governance structure, predictions like this increase citizens’ concern for the inability of the current failing health structure in the nation to sufficiently combat a pandemic of this kind. Frankly, Nigeria’s already ailing health system coupled with poor data and statistical capacity, will likely be overwhelmed with the lethality of COVID-19. Multiple factors can weaken the effectiveness of Government responses to a pandemic of this kind — the vulnerability of Nigeria’s healthcare system; low human capital; the use of outdated equipment, the lack of standard facilities and weak supply chains.

At the heart of building trust is the process of communications. The Nigerian government currently battles poor communication of decisions; poor aggregation of donations and interventions received, which is fuelling fake news and other issues. If implemented properly, strategic communications play a significant role in increasing the government’s credibility among citizens even at this crucial time.

Reading through posts on Facebook and Twitter, one can literally feel the apprehension of Nigerians as they call out public institutions and the Nigerian government to adequately communicate updates and decisions that are being taken to address the health crisis and measures that are implemented to provide relief and palliatives for the vulnerable groups. A decline in trust at this time can lead to possible chaos and lawlessness, as reported in some parts of the country.

Although effective communication (using all available channels) does not automatically rectify years of mistrust or excuse poor service delivery, it however, provides an opportunity for the government to apply the principles of transparency, accountability and inclusive governance.

Understandably, the Nigerian government is under extreme pressure with the strain of COVID19 and the impact on people, the economy and the society in general. With the growing difficulty to manage public expectations, interactions with citizens can help the government identify concerns, allay fears and assure people of its approach to fight COVID-19.

A wide population of Nigerians who are largely offline (and are less informed) are increasingly skeptical of the government. So, in the face of this growing mistrust among the citizenry, what can government institutions do? Creating a more truth-based, fact-driven, unprejudiced media to curtail fake-news is key, tackling misconceptions and breaking down social media echo chambers; engaging Communications and PR Specialists at this time to strategise means of reaching grassroots people and sensitize them in local dialects on their role in staying safe and following government directives are also plausible.

Government institutions must also look inward to what it controls — its programs, its people, and its processes. That is where strategic communications can play a narrow, but impactful role in building credibility. Enhancing transparency may mean changing the structure and composition of the communications function; providing expanded information and establishing more interactive engagement to reach ‘online and offline’ people and share the institution’s broad strategy to tackling the pandemic. Also, inviting Civil Society Groups to monitor implementation of funds and interventions can increase credibility. #FollowTheMoney, a social accountability initiative is at the forefront, urging the government to be more responsive to citizens’ request for it to aggregate COVID19 data, and consistently publish information to curtail fake news.

Open the Government’s 2018 research shows that majority of citizens want to see more authenticity and transparency in public institutions. Today, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), the Federal Ministry of Finance, the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, the Federal Ministry of Health and other government departments and agencies have enormous choices than ever before to reach their target audience, gain traction in their efforts to drive positive change, enhance public awareness and improve public perception of their institutions.

It may not be a total cure; communicating effectively offers a glimmer of hope against the flood of public mistrust. Specifically, web, database, and mobile technologies can allow government to be more transparent, to better engage with stakeholders, and to drive greater awareness of mission impact. In conjunction, transparency and accountability fuelled by strategic communications have the possibility of opening the Nigerian government up to greater public understanding and appreciation.

Ending Open Defecation in Nigeria: How Realistic is it?

Kevwe Oghide 6 December 2019 0

Kevwe Precious Oghide

A major concern in achieving the Sustainable Development Goal on Water Sanitation and Hygiene Is how to end Open Defecation by 2030. How realistic is this?

Nigeria is suffering from a defecation problem. Defecating in the open is one of the leading devastating menaces to public health in Nigeria. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimates that about 122,000 Nigerians, including 87,000 children under the age of five die every year from diarrhoea, intestinal worm infections, cholera, hepatitis, typhoid and other preventable sanitation-related illnesses.

Although access to clean sanitation facilities has improved significantly, due to increased funding and efforts by UNICEF, the European Union, and other global development agencies working to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal 6 on Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH); the results are still far from quantifiable. Over two-third of Nigeria’s population suffer from poor hygiene and live without access to necessary sewage and sanitation facilities. And without proper sanitation facilities, people have no choice than to defecate in open and unsafe places, attracting unwanted health hazards and safety problems, especially for women and children.

Clean Nigeria Logo

Today, Nigeria suffers not only from poor hygiene but inadequate medical care, a menace that is linked to poverty. Thus, eradicating open defecation is an important part of efforts to reduce poverty. The general population forgo hand washing after using the toilet due to sanitation ignorance, lack of proper water supply systems and poorly maintained facilities. With the gaps in sanitation infrastructure, Nigerians can only dream of simple toilet facilities.

One prevalent challenge to ending open defecation is not just erecting sanitation structures or providing clean and safe toilets but changing people’s behaviour from choosing farm fields, railways, motor parks, stadiums, highways, streets, roads, playgrounds, bushes, forests and water bodies, to using the toilets. Many rural dwellers, for instance defecate in the open, not necessarily because they do not have access to toilets but because of deep-rooted cultural practices. How do we create awareness of the dangers and detrimental health effects of this practice? How can we share information that will spur behavioural change in an effort to bridge the gap between poor sanitation and the proper use of toilets? There is a mother in a grassroots community who cleans her baby’s faeces, rinses her hands, and continues cooking, though her hands are not thoroughly washed. There is a child who defecates in a corner and goes back to eating his meal nearby. There is a girl who goes to the bush to defecate and is at risk of rape, kidnap or death. The health and safety implications are terrifying.

Although the Nigerian Government is making conscious efforts to prioritize sanitation, with the launch of Clean Nigeria, the results are not encouraging. Many Nigerians understand the need for clean water but knowledge of sanitation is a far cry. 

Girl fetching water in Gandiya Community in Kano State

To achieve an Open Defecation Free (ODF) society, the Federal Ministry of Health and the Federal Ministry of Water Resources must prioritize sanitation, especially at a time when the country faces the challenge of standard and adequate medical facilities. While the need for clean water and sanitation, particularly in grassroots areas is understood, the relevant government, international development agencies and civil society groups must begin an urgent nationwide sensitization campaign about the necessity of proper sanitation and good hygiene practice as this has a significant impact on healthy living. To be fair, some humanitarian organisations like UNICEF, USAID, EU and Connected Development [CODE] have taken up this cause but it requires the efforts of every Ministry, Institution, the private sector, donor agencies and even individuals to make ODF a reality in Nigeria. Of the 774 Local Governments in the country, only ten are Open Defecation Free. Bauchi, Benue, Cross River and Jigawa State account for the ten LGAs that are leading the drive towards an ODF Nigeria.

It is worthy of note that Nigeria loses about 1.3% (N455 billion) of its GDP annually to poor sanitation as a result of illness, low productivity, loss of earning opportunities and other factors. Ending open defecation in Nigeria can mop up this economic loss.

To urgently tackle Open Defecation, relevant Ministries must set up strong sanitation policies and make budget provisions that reach even the most remote grassroots areas. Nigeria needs a separate budget line for sanitation with a special allocation to end open defecation and put measures in place for accountable spending. CODE, through its social accountability movement, Follow The Money, can track funding in the fight to end open defecation and ensure that monies disbursed for the cause are judiciously utilised. The government needs to initiate bills/laws to promote sanitation and take urgent action to implement an open defecation roadmap at State and Local Government levels. Corporate Organisations should prioritize sanitation in their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) —they can make budget allowances for erecting mobile toilets, repairing broken facilities, providing water supply to improve the practice of proper sanitation, in urban areas. There is a need to adopt all necessary means to sensitize the public on the importance of sanitation and hygiene. It is not enough to provide clean and safe toilets but also to change behaviours as a means to bridge the gap between building latrines and their proper use.

In 2014, India began an intentional and aggressive nationwide campaign to stop 623million of its population from practising Open Defecation. Today, India has recorded 94% success rate. If India, with its very large population can achieve this, so can Nigeria. 

Kevwe Precious Oghide is the Communications Lead at Connected Development [CODE]. She has a profound appreciation for great humanitarian service, demonstrates high ethical standards and has an outstanding record of generating high impact results through creativity and collaboration.
Reach her via Kevwe@connecteddevelopment.org

Why Winning the UN SDGs Global Award is Important to Nigeria

Kevwe Oghide 26 October 2019 2

Kevwe Precious Oghide

Hamzat Lawal receiving the Follow The Money UN SDGs Award at the Global Festival of Action in Bonn, Germany

On a sunny day in 2015, global leaders gathered at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, to review and adopt a more comprehensive and transformational development agenda that outlines a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) aimed at eradicating poverty in all its forms and ensuring that no one is left behind in the quest to improve the overall well being of humans.

In simple terms, the Sustainable Development Goals were set out to achieve a world where people have access to basic human rights, good jobs, access to nutritious foods, standard healthcare facilities, affordable education, access to clean water, freedom of speech, where economies grow exponentially, and develop the ability to design innovative technologies while safeguarding the environment.

The SDGs seek to build on and complete the unfinished business of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which were; to realize the human rights of all; achieve gender equality in all sectors and spheres of life; and importantly, strike a balance between economic, social and environmental dimensions of development. A review of the MDGs revealed that Nigeria was unable to achieve a considerable level of success in its implementation of the goals, more so, the progress made were rather slow and largely unquantifiable.

The 2019 Winners of the UN SDGs Awards

Since the unveiling of the SDGs 4 years ago, Nigeria has made conscious efforts towards achieving these goals — the pace of progress, however, is slow. Some of these success stories include; reviewing the Universal Basic Education Act to address the issue of out-of-school children, signing into law the Not Too Young to Run Bill, combating corruption in the deployment of public service delivery — in primary health care , improved infrastructure and working to build stronger institutions.

The Nigerian Youths are largely at the forefront of these achievements — especially in the implementation of public service delivery tied to the SDGs. Young people in Nigeria, through the Follow The Money (FTM) movement, are amplifying the voices of the marginalised, driving socio-economic development in far-to-reach grassroots communities, demanding open and transparent government, holding their elected representatives accountable for better delivery of public services and working to ensure no Nigerian is left behind in the attainment of the SDGs by 2030.

Follow The Money, a social accountability network of over 5000 anti-corruption activists — data wranglers, academics, youths, researchers — represented at different States and Communities in Nigeria, is telling the stories of citizens, promoting good governance, and empowering citizens with the knowledge and capacity to demand for the provision of quality public services in the country. Using mobile and web technologies to drive this change, FTM is committed to not only making public funds work for the people but also shrinking the widening inequality gap and ultimately lifting millions of people out of poverty.

For instance, it has aided the provision of primary healthcare centres in rural areas — significantly reducing child and maternal deaths; advocated for access to clean water in communities that otherwise would have had to travel miles and miles to access water — reducing the number of children (girls especially) who miss out on school or could be exposed to safety hazards. Follow The Money has also championed the cause of school building projects in these communities, resulting in the enrolment of more children in primary school, particularly girls; and also advocated for the increase in representation and participation of women in grassroots and national parliaments.

CODE Team showcasing the SDGs Award to the Media

Consequently, essential public projects, previously abandoned or which otherwise would not have been implemented, are being restarted and completed, directly impacting over 2 million lives.

Building on this success , several countries are taking steps to replicate the Follow The Money model into their governance system — some African countries like Malawi, The Gambia, Kenya, Liberia have begun Following the Money to promote social accountability and ensure that public funds work for public good.

It was no wonder it won the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals Global Mobilizer award for 2019. According to the SDGs Action Awards Global Project Leader, Laura Hildebrandt, “the 2019 winners are the most impactful, transformative and creative SDG Action drivers.” At the presentation of the UN SDG awards in Bonn, Germany, representatives from Bangladesh, Canada, South Africa and Turkey expressed interest in replicating the model in their countries and sought consultation from the Follow The Money Nigeria team.

Winning this award is important to Nigeria because it projects a powerful advocacy message that recognises Nigeria’s progress in implementing the SDGs. Although, progress is slow, it is interesting to note that Policy influencers, and government service delivery agencies are integrating the SDGs into their implementation plans and budgets. For example, the Ministry of Water Resources began a nationwide campaign to end open defecation, provide clean toilets and access to clean water in rural communities. The Federal Ministry of Education is tackling the increasing number of out-of-school children through partnerships and policy reviews. We are optimistic that the Ministry of Health will accelerate its efforts to repair damaged Primary healthcare centres and improve the standard of healthcare delivery across the country. The ease of doing business has always been a sore spot for many Nigerians, the Government must intensify efforts to boost the Nigerian economy and provide ease for Small and Medium Enterprises.

Nigeria can see the SDGs as strategic plans that aim to improve the overall wellbeing of the country — simply put; the goals are ways to think about how we can create a more inclusive, equitable, prosperous society, and shifting the world onto a sustainable and resilient development pathway. That a home-grown Nigerian initiative won the UN SDGs award, is a commendable feat that puts Nigeria on an anti-corruption fight pedestal and serves as a face-lift of its failing reputation in the International Community.

With this award, Nigeria must begin to rethink its strategies, plans, projects, and focus on building its reputation as a country where quality of life is valued, corruption is greatly tackled, inequality is challenged and the economy is boosting with higher productivity.