Me and two of my colleagues (well, three actually if we count Oludotun Babayemi) recently attended the second Africa Open Data Conference (AODC), 2017 in Accra, Ghana. For me, it was exciting to be in Accra again, see my beloved friends in the city, eat banku and okro stew, have another taste of ghana jollof (naija jollof is still king though) and of course, go to Makola market for some kente materials.
The conference itself was a full five-day packed affair; conference discussions and panel discussions during the day and cocktails/networking events in the evenings. Amidst all the conversations, fun and everything else in between, there are five key take aways that stood out for me from the conference:
- Open Data (OD) is not just about government data
There is usually that strong inclination for those of us working in transparency and accountability and open government networks to think of Open Data solely in terms of government data. So, for us, it is mainly about tracking government expenditure, processes and activities. However, OD is much more than that: OD is civil society (inclusive of International NGOs) ensuring that results of studies and researches are publicly available to be used by everyone for development purposes. OD is universities ensuring that researches from the institutions are accessible to the public so that they can be used for development purposes. OD is tech innovators ensuring that their tech applications and resources are available to rural farmers in hard to reach areas….the list is endless!
2. Adaptability and innovation is key
Innovation is a word that in my opinion has been overused, abused and misconstrued in the last decade or so. When people hear innovation, they often think in terms of some grandiose plans or tech applications that are built to confuse the average user rather than make his/her life better. Most times, innovation is just adapting existing or known tools in ways that they have not been used or deployed before to solve acute problems. For instance, you want to help farmers in a rural community to better monitor weather conditions to help them decide the best times for planting certain crops and you then develop an application that needs internet connectivity when the end users do not have access to the web or smart phones. Get real please, you are not helping in any way!
3. Open Data holds enormous potential for national transformation and sustainable development, and these remain largely untapped
During one of the sessions where the discussion was mainly on education data, I just sat in my chair imagining what it would be like if people and communities had access to some of the results that come out of our research institutions. What if mothers in rural communities can access results from clinical experiments that provide insights on simple, local, yet effective ways of preventing childhood diseases? What if farmers in rural communities had access to research on simple, biological means of improving soil fertility and crop yield using locally available and abundant natural resources and methods? What if community-based organizations had easy access to information on capital expenditure for development to equip people in local communities better to hold their governments accountable?
4. Sometimes, Open Data may not be so open
Celestina Of CODE giving a lightning talk on CODE Follow The Money work in Nigeria
Yes, I know it sounds kind of cliche, but in my experience working with OD this past year, I realized this is happening a lot. I have come to understand that even with data that is supposedly open and proactively disclosed, one often has to read through hundreds of pages of non-essential information to get the data one needs at a particular time or even make additional requests for data that is missing. I look forward to a time when we can have the data disaggregated in such a way that I do not have to spend days going through pages of information to get the particular data I need.
5. There is still a lot of work to be done!
Ah! We have come quite a long way in the last decade or there about regarding OD but a lot still remains to be done and this can only be achieved if governments, civil society, corporate sector, institutions and sectors work together. The fact that of all 54 countries in Africa, only about 20% have existing freedom of information laws that enable citizens have access to information and even this is fraught with a lot of bottlenecks. I strongly advise that countries that do not currently have a freedom of information law learn from the implementation of countries that currently have so that they can avoid some of these bottlenecks and maybe come up with better versions of their own laws.
Finally, I want to say Meda w’ase to all my people in Ghana. I’ll surely be back!
The FOI Act (FOIA) has been a tool in getting information for my work. However, there are certain things I recently found out about the Act and its implementation which I think you should know too. First, of, you can get a copy of the Act here
- It can be traced back to 1993 during the regime of Gen. Sani Abacha. Edetaen Ojo of Media Rights Agenda, Civil Liberties Organisations and the Nigerian Union of Journalists were instrumental in the drafting of the first draft.
- It went through several reviews before being passed to President Obasanjo in as an executive bill. Obasanjo declined! It was then submitted to the National Assembly in 1993 and was not voted on in the four years of the 1st assembly.
- The Bill was resubmitted to the 3rd assembly in 1999. The Senate version was entirely different from the House of Representatives version. Well, history has shown that the house of reps usually comes out with better versions of laws, but do not ask me how I know this o!)
- A committee sat and harmonized both versions, and this harmonized version was passed by the House on May 26, 2011, sent to former President Goodluck Jonathan on May 27, 2011 and he assented to the bill on May 28, 2011
- The FOIA is a law of the Federal Republic. Therefore it has a statute of general application, and it binds EVERYBODY, ; whether on the demand (requestee) or supply side (requester).
- The FOIAct SUPERSEDES all other previous laws that seek to “keep information from the public” such as the Official Secrets Act, the Evidence Act, the Public Complaints Commission Act, the Statistics Act, the Criminal code, etc.
- National laws CANNOT be DOMESTICATED (Adamawa state, take note!), they can only be adopted
- States have two options as far as the law is concerned
- Adopt the FOI law in the state
- Pass state FOI law. In this case, if that of the state holds a different opinion from the Federal FOIA, the Federal FOIA supersedes! (no question or argument about this okay)
- The Act is broad in application and covers over 500 institutions including all public institutions at Federal, State and Local Government levels, private institutions working with government funds (so, if Julius Berger has been contracted by the Federal Government to construct a road, information regarding the construction of the road can be requested from Juius Berger!),
- All public institutions are supposed to submit an FOI compliance report to the Office of the Attorney General every February (OAGF) 1st (including the OAGF!) which the OAGF then submits to the National Assembly every year. For a summary of the FOI compliance results summary, visit the Federal Ministry of Justice FOI website. However, we have been told to expect a new improved FOI site soon!
- Currently, out of over 500 institutions, only about 20 submit FOI compliance reports to the OAGF (just imagine!)
- All public institutions (Ministry, Department, Agencies) are MANDATED to disclose certain information proactively and are liable to be sued on the grounds of denial if they do not publish this information (who knew!) Even the OAGF has been sued on several occasions for this (na wa ooo…even the enforcer is a culprit..okay!)
- The OAGF is supposed to devise mechanisms to encourage compliance from public institutions which he is supposed to show proof of in his yearly submission to the National Assembly
- the official secrets Act should be repealed
- the OAGF should do more to ensure compliance by public institutions; more public naming and shaming, publish compliance records for everyone to see!
- The Act should be amended to include punitive measures for institutions that fail to disclose proactively!
The idea of a National Health Insurance Scheme in Nigeria was first attempted in 1962 under the leadership of the then Minister of Health, Dr M.A Majekodunmi. In the last four decades, the fight to have a health insurance system that works has been an arduous journey of sorts, fraught with plenty complexities and peculiarities.
The overarching idea behind a health insurance scheme is to improve the health of all Nigerians at an affordable cost. In 2016, the Executive Secretary of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), Professor Usman Yusuf mentioned that in the 12 years of the scheme’s existence, after it was officially signed into law in 2005 by President Olusegun Obasanjo, the scheme covers only about 1% of Nigerians. To say that this is a failure would be stating things mildly. This inability and ineffectiveness as well as the shroud of corruption that has covered the scheme from its inception are major factors that have led to the call for the repeal of the NHIS Act and the enactment of a new Act in its place. One of the major differences now in the Act is the fact that states can now have their own health insurance schemes. This has already resulted in a number of states such as Lagos, Cross River, Kwara, Kano etc signing their state Health Insurance Acts into law. This fragmentation of the pool has both its pros and cons. The pros being that with states being in charge, desired healthcare services will now become a step closer to the people while the cons will be that the pool of funds will have been fragmented, meaning that states have to maneuver whatever financing mechanism possible to get as much money as they can into the funding pool. Some of the strategies that are being employed by some of the states include: making the scheme compulsory for all state residents, compulsory solidarity contributions from residents who are already on private health insurance schemes, sourcing for lump sum contributions from philanthropists etc.
While all of these sound very interesting, one major question that has been on the lips of development enthusiasts is “will these laws and the inherent taxation of the people translate to better health services for the people? Will it lead to the overarching goal of achieving Universal Health Coverage in Nigeria? Will the state governments do a better job of providing the necessary social infrastructure? Will the social contract between the people and the government be strengthened in this new arrangement?”
speaking in a panel session at the event
These are a few of the questions we asked at a recent experience sharing meeting on health insurance for selected states in Nigeria. The meeting which was hosted by Nigeria health Watch and Christian Aid brought together state officials, media personnel, Civil society organisations working in the health space as well as members of the donor community
As much as we may not have answers to some of these questions now because they will only be answered in time as the schemes kick off in the states, we can however make a few postulations:
- The above questions can only be answered with a YES if the state governments beef up the existing health facilities and strengthen the health systems within the states. This should also be accompanied by appropriate accountability mechanisms to ensure that the monies pooled are utilized as they should be and to the fullest benefit of the people.
- The states should not see the Health Insurance scheme as just another method of revenue generation or another political mandate to be checked on a list or as a tool for campaigning in 2019. Rather, the programs and activities of the scheme should have the health of the people at its core.
- The National Health Insurance Agency needs to strengthen its oversight and regulatory responsibility to ensure that the Health Maintenance Organisations (HMOs) do not run amok and appropriate sanctions be put in place and implemented for defaulters.
- Most importantly is the fact that the states need to understand that for the scheme to work, a good part of the state budgets need to be committed to the health sector to beef up capital health infrastructure at both the state and Primary Health care levels and it should be clear that the funds from the health insurance pool are not meant for infrastructural development.
- Finally, the state governments need to understand that the citizens are major stakeholders in this process as such, they must be carried along every step of the way; they should be able to contribute to the entire decision making process, not just making monetary contributions, there should be a system for addressing the inquiries, complaints and grievances of the people as they arise and the state governments must ensure that they are as responsive as they can be in this regard.
Every year since 1950, the world has celebrated April 7th as World Health Day. So, in essence, we have had over sixty decades of this celebration. The question I ask myself however is “has this yearly celebration impacted Nigerian and indeed global health in any way?”
When I think about the fact that in this age and time, Nigeria is still grappling with communicable diseases as cholera, meningitis and malaria, that Nigeria still contributes 10% to global maternal mortality or that we lose over 2,000 under five year olds daily and I am greatly saddened. Only now are we even beginning to consider tackling non-communicable diseases such as cancer, hypertension, mental illness etc. The picture I see daily of our Health system is that we have had and still have governments who do not care much about the health of its people.
From non-functional Primary Healthcare centers to under-equipped or under-staffed ones to teaching hospitals that may not be readily accessible to the majority of citizens or those that even lack the most basic health facilities or instruments… Every day, the picture is that of doom and depression, which brings me to the theme of this year’s World Health day celebration “depression: let’s talk”.
It is all too important for us to talk about depression in Nigeria because even our health system causes one to be depressed most times! Imagine if you live in a community of over 5,000 inhabitants and there is no functional Primary Healthcare facility in that community, so people in the community have to either recourse to private health facilities where they will have to pay through their noses, further pushing them into poverty or travel long distances to the nearest public health institution (imagine if there was an emergency!).
On another hand, let us even say you do not live in a rural community; you live in a city where all the public health facilities are functional with top line facilities. Alas! A patient is rushed into the hospital on an emergency and is left unattended to until he/she dies or even that there is no doctor to attend to the patient because all doctors are on strike for unpaid salaries or the patient is in need of oxygen and there is no oxygen in the entire hospital. I am certain there are many who can relate to most or all of these scenarios (I can because I have been in some of these situations myself).
women waiting to receive medical care outside a Primary Healthcare Center photo credit: Nigerianeye.com
Beyond all of these instances and storytelling is the fact that there is an urgent need for a revamping of the Nigerian Health system which a lot of health advocates (me included) will argue should begin with putting more money into the health sector. Unarguably, it is true that the Nigerian health sector is largely underfunded but beyond increased funding, there should also be increased transparency in how the funds are being utilized. It is pertinent that before we insist that more money be put in, we demand for explanations and visible proof of how current funds are being expended so that we do not end up funding that same corruption we are claiming to fight by giving it more money in the end.
As citizens, one of the key roles we have to play is in holding our government accountable to its responsibilities. By voting them into power, we sign a social contract with them where we as citizens get to play our part and they as government get to play their part. So, do not just sit back and complain, get involved, get interested in the issues and arm yourself with adequate information, join a community of like-minded people and ACT now!
To join our growing community of activists who are working tirelessly to ensure transparency and accountability in how public funds are being expended, go to www.ifollowthemoney.org and request an invite. Let us work together to change the face of governance and healthcare administration in our beloved country.
Over the last two decades, the issue of climate change and the need for individuals and countries to become more environmental conscious has become a recurring topic with plenty of activities and talks to bring this discussion to the global fore.
One of such activities is the global yearly Earth Hour celebration which is an hourly celebration to ignite the idea of environmental awareness into the minds of people. The celebrations usually consist of various independent activities within an hour when the lights are turned off.
interacting with one of the participants at the event
This year, I had my first experience of Earth Hour celebrations at the CODE event organized at and in partnership with the Hilton hotel, Abuja. This year’s event focused on interacting with the younger generation to get their perspective on the theme as well as ignite their passion towards environmental sustainability. I found this particularly interesting and inspiring as this goes to disrupt the popular cliché that “youths are the leaders of tomorrow”. As a fan of disruptive thinking, I personally think that “youths are the leaders of today” and we are not reminded of this fact often enough. So it was an awesome time, getting to listen to some of the brilliant things the young people had to say.
the students during the panel discussion
Highlights of the event included a panel discussion where students of The Hillside School and The American International school shared some very interesting perspectives into what they thought about Nigeria’s current energy crisis, her role in contributing to climate change via carbon emissions from being unilaterally energy dependent and a heavy user of carbon energy sources such as crude oil and some key recommendations on ways to diversify Nigeria’s energy sources by harnessing the resources abundant in the various regions such as solar and wind energies in the North and hydro power in the South and West. The students also talked about interesting ways they as individuals and their schools were contributing to raise environmental sustainability awareness and changing climate change such as reducing, reusing and recycling materials such as papers, not powering the generator for whole days and researching into generating energy from biological wastes such as urine i.e. biofuel production.
The whole event for me was particularly significant because even though I am very much aware of the fact that climate change is a real issue that affects almost every socio-economic aspect of human life including health, economy and agriculture (which I will talk about in a later post), I really would not consider myself an environmental sustainability activist but after the event, I am positively inspired to be more of an advocate for mother Earth as we should all be. After all, if we do not take care of our Earth, who will?