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?
Until recently, I really had no idea there was an act called the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act talk much less of knowing what it was all about.This, I am pretty sure is also the reality for majority of Nigerians. In the little time I have been working in the transparency and accountability and open government scene, some facts have become clear and this article really is about sharing some of my experiences in invoking the powers that the FOI Act affords me as a Nigerian citizen.
First of all, let us examine the Act and summarize just a little bit. For Nigerians who are still where I was up until a few months ago, here are a few things you need to know about the FOI Act:
- It was signed into law by former president Goodluck Jonathan in 2011
- It gives every Nigerian citizen the right to request for information from any public institution from all arms of government; executive (presidency), legislature (lawmakers), judiciary (courts) or any other parastatal supported by public funds () or private organisations that provide public services or utilize public funds
- You can present your request in a written form but this is not compulsory. Verbal requests are also in line with what the law says and in the case of a verbal request, it is the duty of the institution to put the request in a written form on your behalf. However, given that the implementation of this Act is still in its nascent phase, it may be advisable to do a written request (for evidentiary purposes mainly)
- ANYBODY- regardless of age, race, sex, religious, cultural or socioeconomic status CAN request information under the Act
- You do not need to give reasons or explain why you need the information you are requesting for; you just need to ask!
- A mandatory reply is expected from the institution not later than 7 days from the date of the request and a failure to provide information within this time is seen as a no response which is cause for the requester to file a complaint in any Nigerian court of law
- Under certain clauses in the Act, the institution MAY decide to decline your request and they are mandated to state why they have refused.
- If you feel that the institution’s refusal is not covered in any of the clauses, you can file a complaint against them in any Nigerian court of law
- You do not need to pay any processing or other fee with regards to your request. The only fee that may be required is in cases where there will be extra costs in reproduction (such as photocopying) of information requested for
- You can download a copy of the Act here
Now that we know some of the basic stuff about the FOI Act, let me now go on to share some of my most recent experiences in invoking the powers of the Act as a Nigerian citizen:
At Connected Development, some of my major duties involve writing FOI letters to institutions, liaising with and following up with these institutions to get information on some of the projects we undertake when we Follow The Money in the areas of health, education and environment.
In my interactions, I have found that there is still a lot of non-information or misinformation of the general public about what the Act really is about. This may be in part due to the general lackadaisical attitude of Nigerians when it comes to issues we generally consider to be technical and that we perceive may bear little or no effect on our present or future personal standing. To tackle this, it may become expedient that the Act be gazetted, translated into local languages and widely circulated so that Nigerians can easily access and become acquainted with it.
Another finding is that there is still some level of reluctance in the manner and timing that institutions respond to requests. They either do not see the need to reply or even acknowledge the requests and even when they do respond, they never comply with the mandatory 7-day response timing or see the need to ask for and give reasons for an extension period. This problem may have persisted as a result of the fact that no precedents have been set. The law is very clear about what should happen in the case of non-compliance but how many examples can we cite of cases where institutions have actually been held to account?
Now to the issue of who exactly is responsible for handling FOI requests in these institutions: most times, it takes a longer period to get a response because the requests have to be passed around multiple offices before it becomes clear who exactly should handle the requests. This is a very laborious and painstaking process which stalls productivity and response and can be clearly avoided if institutions designate a particular department or officer to the handling of FOI requests and these contacts should be made publicly available on the institutions’ public spaces for easy access.
Finally, it would be really great if public institutions can become proactive in the sharing of public information. We really do not need to wait for individuals or civil society to send so many letters and requests for information that should ordinarily be publicly available to citizens. This can be a very good way for Nigerian government to reiterate its commitment to the Open Government Partnership and show greater responsiveness to its citizens by making data open.
Now, as to whether the ACT is working or not…you decide.
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!
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