YES, IT’S OPEN DATA DAY AGAIN!

YES, IT’S OPEN DATA DAY AGAIN!

I have had a couple of friends ask me “what is this Open Data day about sef?”. Well, to answer them and anybody else out there who may be asking the same question:

Open Data Day is an annual celebration of open data all over the world. It is a day set aside for open data enthusiasts and indeed everyone to bring light to the importance of open data. It is a day to show the benefits of open data and encourage the adoption and implementation of open data policies in the public and private sector as well as in civil society.

What is Open Data?

According to the Open Data handbook; Open data is data that can be freely used, re-used and redistributed by anyone – subject only, at most, to the requirement to attribute and sharealike. In summary, Open Data is data that anyone can access, use and share

How can Open Data aid development?

Whether we realise it now or in the future, Open Data really is the cornerstone of good governance and development. If citizens are able to access, understand and use information pertaining to public life, they are encouraged to become much more active citizens, keeping the government accountable and fulfilling their own part of the social contract. Government in turn, knowing that they can and are being held to account by the citizens they serve will have no choice than to act in the best interest of the citizens at all time- also fulfilling their own part of the social contract.

In short, Open Data is a demonstration of an Open government.

You can join in the open data discussion for this year by joining our Data Thorn on Skype by registering at Open Data Day 

See you there!

WE SHOULD ALL BE ACTIVISTS…PART 2

WE SHOULD ALL BE ACTIVISTS…PART 2

I remember the first time i heard the word ACTIVISM- before i got admitted into the university and there was always some news on the television about one form of student activism or the other- either students protesting a lack of social amenities or hike in school fees. These protests were usually characterized by the carrying of placards, sticks, chanting student union songs and slogans etc.

Then came the era of labor unionism, which in another way defined activism for me and a lot of Nigerians as facing off with government and going on strikes.

The above mentioned examples and some others that easily come to mind give the impression that activism always has to be violent and angry. Indeed, there are times when one has to get angry enough about the situation to want to change things, to say enough is enough. Activism is however a lot more than that.

The term activism in itself is quite contentious and has been the source of many debates with different definitions from different points of view.

The Freedom of Association, in their book “Moments of Excess” give one of my best definitions of activism as “specializing in social change. Therefore, an activist is an expert of social change”

A popular definition of activism captures it as being “an engaged citizenry”. Meaning that activists are generally citizens who are concerned about and take steps to address issues of public concern. Any issue that affects public life should concern us all. Ergo, we should all be activists.

Here are a few important steps to becoming an active citizen:

  • Be knowledgeable about the issues – knowledge they say, is power and one can never underestimate the power that lies in being equipped with the right type and amount of information. The only way to engage effectively with the issues is by being properly informed. So, do your research, ask question and dig deep until you get all the answers!
  • Be ready to engage – it should not stop at being equipped with the right type and amount of knowledge alone. It is pointless if you have the information and you are not ready to put that knowledge to work; all that energy and effort put into acquiring it would have just been wasted if you do not enagage!
  • Find a space/niche – there may be that little voice in your head telling you that you are the only person alive on earth who is interested in bringing about social change. This is farthest from the truth. There are many others who are interested in the same issues as you and who are also equipped with the information you have. So, what gives you the extra edge? The answer is your niche (that space you have created for yourself, that people can identify you with). Don’t get me wrong – you do not have to start an organisation or movement or enterprise to create a niche for yourself – you can find an organisation or movement whose vision/mission/aspirations tie very closely to yours and join them or collaborate or even volunteer. Resist the temptation for quick glory. Rather, understand that you need time to learn and mature and a great way to do this is by learning from those who have been in the game longer than you and who have more experience.
  • Walk the talk and talk the walk – a lot of people will argue that we have too many talkers and very few doers. While i may have certain reservations about the generalization a lot of people accrue to this statement, it is not entirely false in itself. Oftentimes, we find out that we have so many people making so much noise about an issue, especially on social media but, when it gets down to the nitty gritty; to actually getting down to the real work of doing, only a few are left. True activists are known by their actions, not their words. It may be something as simple as stopping in front of a zebra crossing while others are driving past or stopping at a red light while other drivers zoom past or you may decide to be like Mahatma Gandhi and go on hunger strike as a way of disagreeing nonviolently with a popular opinion. Whatever way you choose, just make sure your actions speak for you and people can identify you as a real change maker.
  • Be authentic – a friend once told me that passion comes from authenticity and i find this to be very true. When your passion stems from a place that is very real, there is no limits to the impact and influence that you can have on people around you.

Tying all of this to the work we do at connected development, we may not take to the streets , carrying placards and chanting (we do not need to). But the sound of our activism echoes loud and clear. We are breeding a community of revolutionary individuals who see governance as a partnership between the governed and the governing; each playing his own part at ensuring a society where social justice and equity prevails. We are breeding a community of social change experts, a community of concerned citizens and this is essentially what activism is all about.
If you are ready to become an engaged citizen, you can join our platform on www.ifollowthemoney.org

REFLECTIONS ON THE PUBLIC HEARING OF THE 2017 BUDGET: ON THE ISSUE OF TAXATION

REFLECTIONS ON THE PUBLIC HEARING OF THE 2017 BUDGET: ON THE ISSUE OF TAXATION

 

Every year, the federal budget is expected to pass through certain stages before it becomes an act (essentially a law for implementation).

         stages in the budgetary cycle

One of the very important stages is a joint house public hearing (which forms part of the processes in the budget approval and accent stage) where members of the public can make submissions and inputs on the budget. The public hearing for the 2017 budget took place between the 13th and 15th of February 2017. During this time, a lot of comment was generated on the need for Nigeria to break away from the over dependence on crude oil as  the major source of revenue. In proposing alternatives to a diversified income revenue generation, the ministry of budget and planning highlighted taxation as a major alternative. In the minister’s presentation, there was much talk about broadening the tax base and I dare ask “HOW?”

Does the Federal Government’s idea of broadening the tax base involve ensuring that more individuals and companies who have not been paying taxes in the past begin to do so or does it intend to increase the tax rate from what it is currently? If the former is the case, then we may be heading in the right direction but a question that readily comes to mind is “how do we ensure accountability in the tax system?”. Becoming  a tax payer ultimately imposes a duty on the payee to ensure that his/her taxes are judiciously used because nobody would not want to see their hard earned money end up in personal pockets, bank accounts, safes or even wells dug out solely for the purpose of hiding embezzled funds. Becoming a tax payer means that they will ask questions about the roads their money is supposed to build, the electricity it is supposed to provide, the hospitals it is supposed to erect, the schools it is supposed to erect and make functional and so on…

Is there any provision presently in place to ensure that citizens’ questions are answered if and when they make them? I know a lot of people will be quick to mention the Freedom of Information Act signed into law in 2011 but permit me to ask how many Nigerians know about this Act and the liberty it provides for every citizen. And even for those that know about the Act and do use it, how many times have they gotten responses from these public institutions and what structures do we currently have in place to ensure compliance and accountability (I will share some of my personal experiences in a later post)?

If however, the latter is the case, then it only becomes reasonable to conclude that this government will not be acting in the interest of the already poor masses and its claims at being a pro-poor government becomes questionable.

 

Celestina is a Project officer at Connected Development. She spends her time writing and volunteering in organisations that work in development and health. She tweets via @Celna4all 

WE SHOULD ALL BE ACTIVISTS…(Part 1)

WE SHOULD ALL BE ACTIVISTS…(Part 1)

A wise man once told me that it makes little or no sense to sit back and bemoan the state of things, the best way to get real change is to go out and ACT! In other words, if you don’t like the news, go out and make some of your own.

This past year, working in the health advocacy circle has been a journey of some sorts. I remember taking the health campaigns for an increase in the health budget and the implementation of the National Health Act to one of the rotary clubs in Abuja and during the session, one of the club members asked a question that really got me thinking. He asked “say we eventually get all these monies we are asking for, how do we ensure that the funds will be properly implemented, the monies been allocated presently, how are they being utilized?”

It is no secret that we have a major problem of implementation in Nigeria; we are always among the first countries to ratify treaties and sign international conventions. But when it comes to implementation, naa-da!

The innovative ways CODE is tracking funds meant for capital projects in rural communities is an excellent way to ensure that Nigerians get what they deserve. What better way to eliminate extreme poverty from Nigeria and the world at large than ensuring that funds meant for the construction of Primary Healthcare Centers in rural communities are properly utilized so that people do not have to spend more money out of pocket to treat basic illnesses? Or ensuring that funds meant for the provision of basic amenities such as pipe borne water in rural communities are properly and fully utilized so that girls do not have to go long distances to fetch water and they can instead spend that time in school? Or ensuring that funds meant for providing basic amenities for education in rural communities are properly and adequately utilized?

It is important that in addition to advocating for increase in allocation of funds in areas of social development such as health, education and environment, we should also find ways to track how these funds are being implemented- this is what CODE does and I am excited to be part of the team.

In my first few days, I have come to understand that young people in Nigeria are becoming more interested in how they are governed and how resources are being utilized. You hear cases of young men (and women) spending multiple days in transit, all in a bid to reach the remotest communities to track capital projects’ expenditures. Some of these communities are almost forgotten by the general public and indeed the government. In fact, some lawmakers representing some of these communities do not even know that they exist talk less of even visiting them to know what their needs are or even ensure that they get what is due them.

These young people who are willing to risk their lives as a way of contributing to national development give us reason to hope and believe that there is indeed light at the end of the tunnel as long as you and I do our parts in ensuring accessibility, transparency and accountability in capital projects’ expenditures.

Celestina is a Project officer at Connected Development. She spends her time writing and volunteering in organisations that work in development and health. She tweets via @Celna4all (https://twitter.com/)