The Politics and Lessons of the Africa Open Data Conference 2017

The Politics and Lessons of the Africa Open Data Conference 2017

The Africa Open Data Conference which came up last week (17th to 21st of July) was here and gone, but to me, the conference was overrated. Aside from the fact that the conference was loosely planned as the final agenda was not up until after the first day of the event was out of sight.

The site visitation was unwelcoming with many events on Eventbrite and I end up struggling to register for the session as I have to open more than five tabs to check events and register for what will interest me while thinking of the Uber cost too. But well, that is by the way.

The five days event witness different data experts from various fields and walks of life while not leaving behind the pro and the pre data users.

One of the biggest takeaway from the event is the commitment by the government of Ghana with prominent comment from the minister of Communication who announces the interoperability plan to join data for development across government.

As good as this sounds, the Nigerian in me would not agree to that kind of commitment.  No No, I do not want to sound pessimistic, but I did have some point to backup my cynical argument.

Just on the 31st January 2017, the Vice President of Ghana, Dr. Mahamadu Bawumia while talking about the Right to Information (RTI) bill and the government’s resolve to fight corruption at the Good Corporate Governance Initiative. He stated that “we are going to push the parliament to make necessary amendments, and if I had it my way, it should be passed within 100 days of this government”.

This is July, and the government is yet to pass the bill.

Furthermore, the Minister for Information on 3rd of May 2017 during the International Press Freedom Day made a declaration on behalf of the government. He said that “We have sent the Right to Information (RTI) Bill to the Parliament, it is in there that in Parliament Session of May to July 2017, the RTI bill will be before them for debate and passage. It is non-negotiable”  while it is public knowledge that the parliament is scheduled to rise on 2nd August 2017, it should be noted that the bill has been negotiated out as a non-priority draft bill.

It is exciting to see the president of Ghana HE Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo also joining his voice to the commitment of his cabinet as he said that Ghana is committed to making full use of#opendata. It must work in Ghana for the benefit of the citizens. 

 

While also noting that he said “The implementation of these recommendations is driving our open data initiative, as we work also towards achieving the SDGs. It is the intention of government also to ensure the long overdue passage of the Right to Information Bill by Parliament” he said.

He said the government was strengthening the data ecosystem, establishing strategic partnerships, and creating a harmonized policy and enabling environment for Open Data. Africa’s advancement and sustainable development would materialize when the Continent leverages on the vast and integrated opportunities offered by the employment of information and data, President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo has noted.

But, as much as I would have loved to be excited by the promises of the moon by these politicians, the Nigerian in me tells me that these guys cannot be trusted and hence, the only major takeaway from the conference which is the government commitment is overrated.

Even if I should distrust the Nigerian in me which would leave me with the optimistic option that the government of Ghana would be passing the bill, it should be noted that the Nigerian Freedom of Information  Act which was passed in 2011, is still suffering from numerous challenges.

Most access to information laws in the sub-Saharan region still have exemptions limiting implementation #AODC17

And also, in terms of the usage of the FOI bill for transparency and accountability, it should be noted that citizens are so busy trying to survive that they don’t have time to follow their money.

As a data for development users, Follow the money isn’t only about government funds, grants and debts should also be followed. #AODC17 #AODC2017 #ATI #OPENCONTRACTING

Although I will rate the conference below average, I learned some fundamental lessons which I will love to share with readers, and they are;

  • The revolution of data is that citizens have the power to speak.
  • When a community has data, they have power.
  • Collaboration in data collections and use of data must be oriented with the citizens and not the government.
  • Many decisions have been made by the government, like “where do government build public health care” and these are usually political decisions and not decisions backup by data.
  • We have inefficient use of resources in Africa because decisions are not made based on data.
  • Questions like, how can we make government more responsible and efficient in the distribution of fertilizers is a question which can be answered by data, and that is if the government takes data seriously.
  • Duplication of data collection effort should be mitigated with the use of central database and
  • Data must be shared with data players for active collaborations.

As a Follow the Money enthusiast, I am glad to be a part of this event as networking was made to build the followership and adaptability of follow the money model as a tool for transparency and accountability in and outside of Africa.

Aftermath AODC 2017: 5 Key notes important for the Open Data Movement

Aftermath AODC 2017: 5 Key notes important for the Open Data Movement

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:

  1. 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!

10 Things you should know about the FOI Act in Nigeria

10 Things you should know about the FOI Act in Nigeria

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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!)
  4. 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
  5. 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).
  6. 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.
  7. National laws CANNOT be DOMESTICATED (Adamawa state, take note!), they can only be adopted
  8. 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)
  1. 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!),  
  2. 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!
  3. Currently, out of over 500 institutions, only about 20 submit FOI compliance reports to the OAGF (just imagine!)
  4. 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!)
  5.   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

My Recommendations:

  • 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!
Why We Must Embrace the HeForShe Culture – Olusegun Olagunju

Why We Must Embrace the HeForShe Culture – Olusegun Olagunju

L-R Hamzat Bala Lawal, Senator Jummai Alhassan

Ever imagined the world where there wouldn’t be differences within the gender grouping? Ever wished your female children are accorded same respect as given to the male folks out there?

 

These drove the challenge for the HeForShe campaign that was created by UN Women, the United Nations entity for gender equality and empowerment of women, HeForShe is a global effort to engage men and boys in removing the social and cultural barriers that prevent women and girls from achieving their potential, enlisting men and boys as equal partners in the responsible crafting and implementing of a shared vision of gender equality, with norms of gender equality, non-violence and respect, and thus together positively reshaping society.

Purely the fundamental objectives of HeForShe campaign are to change discriminatory behaviours, through building awareness of the importance of gender equality and women’s empowerment and the crucial role men can play in their own lives, and at more structural levels in their communities, to end the persisting inequalities faced by women and girls globally.

HeForShe also provides a platform for men and boys to become advocates for women and girls, and to behave accordingly, telling their stories to the global community about the actions they are taking to end inequality.

There are mixed feelings in the acceptance of this cause but to know if this call for change is necessary, we need to have had a fair knowledge of how gender-inequality wrecks the society.
Research estimates suggest that, on the current trajectory, gender equality would not be achieved until 2095. With men and boys at the table and engaged in the issue, we believe that we can more than double the Speed of change.

Can we then fold our arms and anticipate 2095 without acting as fast as we can and allow this unhealthy phase continue in this devastating form?

In this light, an event was hosted by the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development at the International Conference Centre for officially and Nationally Launch this HeForShe campaign in Nigeria to sensitize the National mind-set of the need to act now for a gender equal world.

Present at the event were notable figures, the Vice President of Nigeria; Professor Yemi  Osinbajo, The Honourable Minister, Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development; Senator Aisha Jummai AlHassan and Phyllis Nwokedi; Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development.

The Ministry channels visibly took all present around what we stand to enjoy as this campaign kicks off. It was relayed that the Ministry’s ambitious aim is to secure the commitment of one billion men to make changes in support of gender equality and women’s empowerment. Those changes may range from small steps – acknowledging the issue and recognizing that the status quo is acceptable to big steps that directly make changes to individual or community lives.

Hamzat Lawal; The Chief Executive of Connected Development, an organization that has done well in ensuring that marginalized people and sect are empowered and have their voices amplified was also present at the event and gave a direct speech on the focus and his stance on gender equality and parity.

He said “Although we have come a long way from a century ago regarding the rights of women and girls, there is room for improvement. According to UN Women, gender equality is defined as “equal rights, responsibilities, and opportunities of women and men and girls and boys”.

For long, the attention and the pressure have fallen only on women to be the ones who should believe in gender equality. This is wrong. Both men and women should play an active role in ensuring equality between the sexes. As the popular Nigerian Author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie says- “we should all be feminists”! This creed should be passed on to our future generations.

He further enthused “I am happy to be a young man who truly believes in gender equality. In my organization, 70% of my workforce is women.  As of 2016, my organization – CODE has directly impacted 26,811 rural lives, especially those of women and children in ensuring that educational and health care appropriations meant for them are well spent through our “Follow The Money” campaigns.
“However, this is not enough. As an Activist, I strongly believe that now is the time to stand up on our tiptoes, extend our arms to the sky, and confess to the world that we are sick of our women and girls missing out of school, and being victims of conflict and domestic violence.”Lastly, Lawal pointed out that “My greatest dream is that one day, I’ll have a little daughter and a son of my own. When my son asks me what it means to be a man, and when my daughter asks me what it means to be a woman, I should be able to tell them one similar thing- “Boys and Girls are equal!

“I implore our youth to join the HeforShe campaign by standing with women and girls around the world who deserve access to education, healthcare, water, and sanitation, as well as decent work.  As a great country, we could lead Africa in achieving the sustainable development goals.”

It is anticipated that out of the signatories to HeForShe, half will take the initial step of joining the solidarity campaign by making a simple positive pledge for gender equality. It is also projected that another quarter may make the pledge and then be inspired to become more engaged by taking a second step-to donate, to advocate and to sensitize themselves to gender equality issues. And a final quarter may deepen their engagement by making and following through on a major commitment that substantially contributes to social change.

 Every story of a champion making a difference has the potential to inspire others to become more engaged. Each man who takes a new action helps all of the humanity to take an additional step towards gender equality.

I advise you to Take Action Now for a Gender – Equal World.

Olusegun is the Social Media Strategist for Connected Development & FollowTheMoney. He’s a Social commentator and Social Media expert.

New Health Insurance regimes in Nigerian states: Will signing state health insurance laws lead to better health for Nigerian citizens?

New Health Insurance regimes in Nigerian states: Will signing state health insurance laws lead to better health for Nigerian citizens?

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
The Community, The Change and the Changemakers

The Community, The Change and the Changemakers

Having successfully supervising more than 10 campaigns in more than 10 communities with more than 7 community reporters, I can boastfully say I have moved to become a follow the money evangelist. The passion for seeing the change I wished for keep pushing me and the first – hand knowledge of the local communities in Nigeria as someone who spent a significant part of his life in the village really paves more ways for me to understand what the struggles in the marginalised communities could be like.

As someone who constantly speaks, mentor and train community reporters, I am always trying to see things with their eyes as most times, I get the information as it is hot. Hence, this led me to the majority of my decisions in the organisation.

As an organisation that is almost clocking its 5 years of existence, Connected Development has reached the heart of many marginalised communities in Nigeria, and the love of the community led us to our constant reinvention of our process and workflows.

In Oludotun’s blog titled, “Taming the Monster in Nigeria Budget System“, he made it cleared that; Many developed and developing countries are still working towards linking performance to public expenditures, framework or strategy. If these linkages are not made, there will be no way to determine if the budgetary allocations that the support programs are ultimately supporting are successful.

As such, it can be collectively agreed on that the challenges in the spending of the Nigerian government is not about what to spend but about if the monies allocated is actually been judiciously used or not which is a big question that follow the money seeks to answer.

As written by Olayiwola Victor Ojo in his paper titled, “Ethnic Diversity In Nigeria“, it is presented clearly that the polity Nigeria is one of the most ethnically divided society globally with diverse ethnic cocoons and myriads of dialect. And as such, it may be difficult to Follow the Money in all the local communities in Nigeria and the best approach to solving this diversity problem to empower the communities is to train the locals on how to follow the money, and this has always been the bane of operation of follow the money which makes us  have community reporters in almost all states of Nigeria with the goal of reaching all wards in the country.

This is not only a proposition or goal of the organisation, we also share this as a part of the purpose of the organisation which is to empower the marginalised communities in Nigeria through our little effort which made us have a community of follow the money enthusiasts.

In all of these, Mark Zuckerberg in his speech at Havard made it known that membership in communities is declining. Many people feel disconnected and depressed and are trying to fill a void. And in our own little way, we are building a community of people who will Follow the Money and become a champion in the Nigeria we aim to see in years to come, this cannot be possible without the sense of belonging to a community who are attached to a purpose of making the government function for the people it is meant to serve.

According to Mark, Change starts locally. Even global changes start small and we hope our little change will have effects the communities to be proactive and ask the government the right question as to demanding for good governance, we hope they will be inspired to know and seek to know what is budgeted for them as a community and they would always request for it and also, we hope to give a voice to that champion who is ready to take a walk and give a voice to his/her community by becoming a champion through leveraging on our platform.

As the community manager of the Follow the Money project, I found a purpose and this will go a long way in my life. It is all about the community, it is about the people and it is way all about leveraging technology to solves challenges facing the communities.

Like the barrister who approached me in the office one day has said “Knowing about this movement made me find what I really want to do”, I hope to see more people who this will truly be their voice, someday.