Enabling Greater Transparency, Accountability and Participation in Nigeria

Chambers Umezulike May 10, 2017 0

[The DG of Budget Office, Ben Akabueze making a  presentation during the Budget Transparency and Accountability Workshop]

 

It is widely accepted that transparency in government leads to the generation of government accountability since it allows citizens of a democracy to reduce government corruption, bribery and other malfeasance, and control their government. It is also widely accepted that an open, transparent government allows for the dissemination of information and proceedings of government, which in turn forces government to be accountable, helps to guarantee societal progress and effective public oversight, while ensuring participation.

There have been several transparency, accountability and participation movements all over the world. Such movements in developing countries have more justifications for clamouring for such as a result of poor governance, systemic wrecking of public funds, public records inaccessibility and impecunious citizen participation in governance. As a result, citizens of such countries have found it increasingly difficult to hold their governments to account.

This is the case of Nigeria, where several non-profits and movements have been pushing for greater governmental accountability and transparency. And for the first time since the history of the country, the present administration made a striking commitment by signing unto the Open Government Partnership (OGP). The OGP is a multilateral and multi-stakeholder initiative that aims to secure concrete commitments from national governments to promote transparency, empower citizens, harness new technologies to strengthen governance and fight corruption. Nigeria getting on-board the partnership through President Buhari’s commitment to such resulted in a synthesis of government and civil society efforts to realize open government in the country.

Currently, Nigeria just started implementing the National Action Plan (NAP), a key process of the OGP. The plan has 4 commitments that both the government and civil society have made and are implementing across ensuring fiscal transparency, fighting corruption, improving citizenry access to information and citizen engagement.

In line with these developments, the Budget Office of the Federation (BoF) and the Collaborative Africa Budget Reform Initiative organized a workshop on budget transparency and accountability on 9 May 2017 at Transcorp Hilton Hotels, Abuja. In attendance were several international and domestic stakeholders from the government, civil society and private sector. The workshop was organized to allow the Nigerian government examine how it can bolster transparency and participation outcomes in the country with focus on budget transparency – how budget information can be made more accessible, how to move forward in implementing reforms that improves Nigeria’s Open Budget Index Score (OBIS).

The workshop majorly kicked off through a presentation by the Director-General of BoF on Transparency, Accountability and Participation: Reforms and Why It Matters. He used his presentation to highlight progresses made on open government in the country, detailing the OGP and its NAP Commitments. He also mentioned that an area that requires commitments and attention of all relevant stakeholders is Nigeria’s OBIS which as at 2015 was at number 24 on the ranking under insufficient. He also mentioned that in a bid to counter such embarrassing trend, the BoF is on the verge of commissioning the Citizen’s Budget Portal where citizens would have timely information of budget processes including contracting and implementation. In addition, the portal will have further contents such as the BoF Help Desk and Hot Lines to take questions from the general public on budget issues and implementation.

This was followed by a presentation by Atiku Samuel of BudgIT on the Status of Budget Transparency in Nigeria. He took his time to explain the international standards of budget transparency and how the OBIS is measured. After this was a session on How to Make Budget Data More Accessible by Atzimba Baltazar of COMETA. She emphasised the need for a Citizen’s budget which should be a few paged document on governmental revenues, debts and expenditure in a fiscal year using infographics and cartoons to simplify understanding for the citizenry. She lifted lessons Nigeria could learn from countries such as Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa where citizen’s budgets are already been issued out.

The last session was a group discussion on 3 key questions: 1). Do you have enough information on the budget? 2). Who do you go to access the information and 3). How do you prefer to access this information? The resolutions after the group discussions on the questions, respectively, are:

1). Yes, while we have information on the budget including the Medium Term Expenditure Framework, Budget Proposal, Appropriation Act, Budget Implementation Reports etc. the problem is that accessibility to these documents atimes are not timely. Most of them are not in open source formats. Most of the budget line items are not detailed enough, and ultimately, a lay man would not be able to understand the technicalities on most of these documents. 2). It was generally agreed that this should be from the Budget Office, Ministry of Finance and few other primarily concerned MDAs. 3). In open source format – the citizen’s budget and the citizen’s budget portal will go a long way in assisting in this regard.

While one must applaud the BoF and the present administration on efforts to use open government as a tool in fighting corruption, increasing participation and ensuring effective public oversight, there should be sufficient governmental political will in implementing the NAP, other consequent commitments and responding to Freedom of Information (FOI) Requests. For CODE (Follow The Money), the citizen’s budget portal will be largely utilitarian in accessing key budget information for rural communities which we fail to access on time even through piles of FOI requests. Such will enable us take such details down to rural communities and in building their capacity for effective public oversight, ensuring service delivery and in holding their governments accountable.

 

Chambers Umezulike is a Programme Manager at Connected Development and a Development Expert. He spends most of his time writing and choreographing researches on good and economic governance. He tweets via @Prof_Umezulike.

Calls to CSOs Coalition to Achieving Open Government Partnership in Nigeria

Hamzat Lawal February 16, 2017 0

Connected Development [CODE] was invited to an Open Government Partnership (OGP) event organized by Budgit. The event brought together Civil Society Organizations (CSO) such as Public and Private Development Centre,  Institute of War and Peace Reporting, Network of Police Reforms in Nigeria, Dean Initiatives, Center for Democracy and Development amongst others to discuss the tools used by Budgit in 2016 towards advocating for OGP in Nigeria.

Stanley Achonu and Abayomi Akinbo of Budgit led the event, discussing the tools from FOIVault, PICC and Find a cop. FOI Vault is a repository of requested FOIs by credible and verifiable organizations to the Ministries, Agencies and Departments of the Nigerian Government.

Bearing in mind that a lot of my organizational work involves requesting for more information from the government through the use of Freedom of Information (FOI) requests, I was able to see the potential of the tool as it allows for documentation of FOI requests and response from the government.

As such, I can visit the vault first before sending my next FOI to a ministry or other governmental institutions so as to be sure that someone else from another organization has not sent the same request and likely gotten an answer which may aid my work.  Also, it saves the concerned governmental agency from having to spend valuable time in dealing with a request to which it has devoted time to in the past, albeit to another organization and at the end, we can all synergise and work much more effectively.

picc.com.ng was also one of the presented tools which were used to document verified corruption cases against any Nigerian that has a case with the court of law in the country. As the Ministry of Justice does not have such electronic record, I think this could be a good repository for a background check on anyone intending to run for public office in Nigeria.

Furthermore, the last tool that was showcased is findacop.ng which is a simple web application that can be used to locate the nearest Police station in Nigeria. “We are not able to get enough data around this as the Nigeria Police Force is not ready to make things easier for us,” says Abayomi. As such,  at the moment, there is not much data on the platform.

The presentation was concise, interactive and engaging as it opened me up to new and innovative ways data can be made open and accessible to everyday users. The event eventually ended with a brainstorming session involving all the participants on how to improve the tools as well as how to make CSOs see value in these interventions towards achieving Open Governance Partnership in Nigeria.

Personally, I think collaboration and data sharing between civic organizations is key as this will enable us to build a formidable network of citizens who will have the much-needed information at their fingertips, making them well informed and able to engage the government at any level. This will, in turn, have a lasting impact on achieving good governance in Nigeria.

IMAGE CREDIT: CCHUB

 

The Future We See Through the Open Government Partnership in #Nigeria

Oludotun Babayemi October 25, 2016 0

“Amongst the 70 member countries of the Open Government Partnership (OGP), African countries has the most ambitious commitments, and also has the least number of implementations of their commitment as seen in the independent reporting mechanism but Nigeria can reverse that order as the country has made huge commitment at the London Corruption Summit and hopes to make it tandem with its anti-corruption campaign in the country” says Sanjay Pradhan during the first day of the OGP retreat in Nigeria on October 24, 2016 at the Hotel Seventeen in Kaduna .

The OGP CEO, Sanjay Pradhan making a presentation on OGP

The OGP CEO, Sanjay Pradhan making a presentation on OGP during the retreat in Nigeria

Looking at the panel to discuss commitments around the Nigeria OGP National Action Plan, I was deluded by the fact that the government representatives except for two, were not appropriate enough to discuss pertinent issues around beneficial ownership, open budget, open contracting,  transparency in extractives, access to information, and open data.  I quite  understand that the people in authority, in this ministries are hard to get for such conversation, but if it were really a “government – driven initiative” we should be seeing them coming to talk about these issues in the public.

I would have expected to see Zainab Ahmed, the Minister of State, Budget and National Planning making commitments of publishing online, location – based infrastructure data with their baseline indicators (current state) to the public by December 2017, so this can aid better planning; also the out-spoken Funmi Adeosun, the Minister for Finance committing that “detailed” government spending will be made available to the public by default as from November 2017, and also that the Bureau of Public Procurement will upgrade their website to include procurement plans, tender notices, bid evaluation,contract award documents, and termination information, while connecting it to a citizen feedback platform that can help make sure projects are really been implemented by contractors.

Nevertheless, there were some takeaways from the panel Joe Abbah, of the Bureau of Public Service Reforms had stated that by 2019, all FOIA request will be responded to in 2 minutes! In – fact, they have started something that looks like that in the Bureau, if you want to request for an information from the government, [APPLY HERE] I am sure you are all looking forward to this, it might not be rocket science! Also, the representative from the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) mentioned that for beneficial ownership to work, the Corporate Affairs Commission and the Companies and Allied Matter Act must be amended immediately to disclose beneficial ownership of companies, and not just the publishing of company names that are registered with the CAC which anyways, is a step in the right direction.

Looking across the Panel of government + CSOs

Looking across the Panel of government + CSOs

But why does it take the government a longer time than the 7 days proposed in the law to get a response to an FOIA request, the representative from the Ministry of Budget and National Planning stated that the oath of secrecy signed by civil servants prevents most of them to disclose information requested for through the FOIA. That’s so unimaginable! However, Joe Abbah, stated clearly, that we need to amend the public service rules because civil servants abide by rules and not laws!

My worry is not that leadership in the executive arm of government would not come out and make commitments, my worry is that implementing such commitment on the basis of a system that would not allow it to work efficiently is the reality, and such is the case for most African countries. As much as this becomes a drawback for me in this “government – CSO “driven movement, I am certain that few positives might be recorded, as we have started seeing from the Ministry of Justice, the agent of the state where the OGP is domiciled in Nigeria.

Proactive Vigilance: How Citizens can hold their government accountable

Oludotun Babayemi July 18, 2016 1147

“Abeg, you cannot come and fix a programme that will start at 8 am on a Saturday morning, I will not be able to attend, please postpone it for another day or cancel it” responded Ijiwere to her colleagues, who wanted to visit another friend; “Let me tell you, If you want me to come for that ‘owambe’ party on Saturday, then you should let it start at 10 am” affirmed Giringori, to his friends who were planning an event for Saturday.

“Imagine, those my friend wanted to suggest 8 am as a time for that party, I totally disagreed, and told them Jigida will be aired on radio at that time, and that is the only way I can report the lack of water in Kagara” said Giringori to his elder brother – Ijiwere.

These are the kind of conversations that go on in Kagara community, with everyone looking forward to Jigida, a weekly, one – hour radio programme that allows for citizens to call – in and express their community needs, which afterwards are been documented and sent to the various local government chairmen, and State House of Representative for response and decisions to be made. That’s not all, the first 30 mins of the programme is dedicated to the Councillor of the community sharing with the community, how much and what they will be spending on in the week. This is what proactive vigilance is all about!

Although proactive vigilance or public participation in budgeting or government spending is relatively new, the evidence attesting to its impact on resource allocation and service delivery is growing. Many of the existing findings are based on the well-known Brazilian experience with participatory budgeting, established first in Porte Alegre in 1989, and now replicated in over 40 countries around the world. Nigeria, is not left out as well, as its government hopes to encourage citizen participation, with its recent commitment to joining the Open Government Partnership, a multilateral initiative that aims to secure concrete commitments from governments to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance.

You might be wondering, how many – landlord associations,vigilante groups, market women associations, community development associations, we have in rural communities. A lot of them! When are we going to start having “project vigilante” in rural communities, that will become voices of several communities, because by the time you wake up tomorrow morning, the news will be agog with “one billion dollars  to be released to provide water in Kagara” only to go to Kagara after one year, you will find out that Kagara has no water source or a broken water source. Quite pathetic, and that’s is the way we are – the leaders and followers.

Nevertheless, I am excited that the Story Story writers at BBC Media Action are focusing on how citizens at the local government level, can be proactively vigilant on such issues of government spending in their communities, and I recently had some hours of session brainstorming with the crew, on how citizens can become vigilant themselves, I hope all will be reflected in their popular radio drama coming up sometimes in fall. Thanks to Nkem, our Reseach Lead on government finance, who took some notes on the highlights, and I have added them below:

Follow The Money

Citizens can at every stage of this budget cycle engage their various government, but limited participation is expected during during formulation

  1. There is the local government or state government budget, a document that highlights government spending and revenue which can be for a financial year, or a multiyear.
  2. The Budget has its on cycle starting from formulation (when Ministry, Department, Agencies, put together their budget), to enactment (when the national or state legislative arm assent to the budget), to implementation (the stage at which contractors start executing projects in your communities), and lastly, the assessment stage (where everyone assesses the implementation of the budget, to provide feedback on how the next stage should look like)
  3. At every stage of the budget, citizens can make noise about their plight, and join in the conversation. They can form themselves as vigilante group or association, and always knock on the door of their  local government officer or Councillor.
  4. They can forward a freedom of information request letter to the local government chairman to request for their budget immediately it passes the enactment stage, and even ask more question like who is the contractor, what is the work plan for the project, how much is the contractor getting, and when will the project be concluded. Here is an example of a freedom of information letter if you want to write one
  5. Government at the local government and state government level should starting providing platforms as well, for the assesement stage. E.g. using local radio programmes like Jigida, create a referendum mechanism for your local government area for people to have their say on projects proposed for next financial year. It should not be only during elections, that citizens see chairmen of local government or governors of states canvassing for votes.
  6. Like I always say, the budget is not only the means by which government declare their spending, in fact 50% – 60% of what’s on it might not be relevant. The other way is to always listen to the state news on your local radio, projects will be announced at all times, especially when they are project funded by other partners, such as the federal government or international donor agencies.

Ijiwere and Giringori have decided to do away with social gatherings, and focus on becoming a vigilante for community projects in Jigida, and if you are reading this, you should be towing same way, and you should share this piece. I look forward to the final drama series on this – If you have listened to Story Story, Voices from the Market program, then you should be more expectant. See you all in Kagara town, listening to Jigida on radio!  

From left, Oludotun Babayemi, Nkem and the BBC Media Action Writers

                                                                                From left, Oludotun Babayemi, Nkem and the BBC Media Action Writers