[During one of our townhall meetings at Uratta Umuoha Community, Abia State – a key social accountability strategy through which we have enabled communities organize stakeholder engagements to facilitate the implementation of projects intended for them]
On the 11th of April 2017, the boardroom of MacArthur Foundation Nigeria was filled with several civil society actors on accountability, transparency and civic engagement. In attendance were over 30 representatives from domestic non-profits who are MacArthur grantees. They were there for a conversation with two accountability scholars, John Gaventa, and Walter Flores. An event in which staffers of MacArthur Foundation Headquarters joined virtually from the United States, the aim was to share ideas and have grantees move from tactical accountability approaches to more strategic approaches. As one of the representatives of Connected Development [CODE], I went in with several expectations which were met.
The conversation started with a presentation, Dancing the TAP Dance: Linking Transparency, Accountability and Participation, by Prof John Ganveta who teaches at the Institute of Development Studies, United Kingdom. He started with sharing key governance issues that led to the rise of accountability and transparency movement globally. Most of them encompass accountability deficit, democratic deficit and impecunious active citizen participation in governance. He then went on explaining how several tools such as ensuring service delivery, improving budgetary processes, ensuring open government, aid transparency and NGO accountability can be utilitarian in addressing these challenges. Addressing these challenges would consequently lead to better services through monitoring, improved democracy, reduced public service corruption, empowerment, human rights, greater access to information and challenging inequality.
Another presentation, Citizen-led Accountability: Power, Politics and Strategies, was by Dr Walter Flores of Center for the Study of Equity and Governance in Health Systems (CEGSS) who took time to share his organization’s works on accountability and challenging inequalities in Guatemala. He emphasised that the roles of transparency and accountability in curbing inequalities include turning citizens from passive to active users of services who can demand accountability from the government. According to him, when they started, they first of all started collecting data on how a particular faction of the society was being marginalized in getting services in drug stores and hospitals. The data was collected through sms, audio/visual evidence and they embarked on advocacy and engaged the government with such evidence for appropriate response. They also created channels of engagement for such citizens to discuss problems and implement solutions.
At a time, politics came into play and they were challenged by governmental authorities for not having the legitimacy to advocate for the communities. They then were forced to decentralize their operations to let citizens and communities lead it through their building capacities. Communities were then organized for monitoring. In a presentation in which he shared most of their successes, he finalized by stating that social accountability is crucial for accountability to work. And that in such work, it’s better to start with community organizing and rights literacy, while collective and participatory interventions, strategies and results are imperative.
After the phenomenal presentations were questions, comments and commitments from organizations present. In line with Dr Flores presentation, I made a remark on the effectiveness of his social accountability strategy which we use at CODE. At CODE, in tracking governmental expenditure in rural communities for service delivery, we start with rights literacy in the concerned communities and co-organize town hall meetings with their community leaders for conversation around the particular projects with implementing governmental agencies and contractors. The town hall meetings have helped to embed community ownership in our works and within the chain of our participatory strategies, communities are empowered to ensure these projects are implemented long after we have pulled out. Also in the same line, for sustainability, decentralization of our strategies and community ownership, we activated ifollowthemoney.org to mobilize young people in these communities to ensure governmental accountability themselves.
The conversation was quintessential and more of it are crucial with respect to capacity building of the civil society and sharing of ideas.
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.
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?
The saving one million lives Initiative was launched in October 2012, in response to the poor health outcomes in the country especially for mothers and children. Thus,the program is intended to improve the lives of mothers and children through a result based partnership with States ministries of health.
On the 16th of March, the team at CODE met with Dr. Ibrahim Kana the Program manager of Saving One Million Lives Program for Results to get an extensive elucidation of how the program is being run and what it entails.
Dr Ibrahim and his team excitedly aligning us on how ($500 million) credit that had been negotiated by Federal government with World Bank from which $1.5million was disbursed to states and FCT as grants, sought to deliver high impact, evidence based and cost effective health interventions based on 6 ‘pillars’, namely:-
– Maternal, newborn and child health;
– childhood essential medicines and increasing treatment of important childhood diseases;
– improving child nutrition;
– malaria control; and
– the prevention of mother to child transmission (PMTCT) of HIV.
He stated that the states were receiving 82% of the money and the program unit is not involved in the spending of the money, also that the SOML Program involves reorienting the discussion of service delivery to results rather than just inputs, establishing a limited set of clear and measurable indicators by which to track success, strengthening data collection so that these indicators can be measured more frequently, bolstering accountability so that managers and health workers at all levels are engaged to achieve better results and fostering innovations that increase the focus on results and include greater openness to working with private sector.
He highlighted that The Program for Result is an approach to structuring of flow of resources to pay for results, outcomes and inputs and under it, states will be rewarded for their performance based on objective indicators using data from household and health facility survey as well as achievement of certain process indicators related to implementation of a performance management system. The program is placed in the Federal Ministry of Health and will be overseen by a Steering Committee chaired by the Honourable Minister of Health and comprising representatives from the state’s commissioner of health which is ultimately responsible for achieving the PforR indicators and ensuring stakeholders’ focus on objectively verified results.
The PforR will provide funds to the federal and state governments based on a set of five Disbursement Linked Indicators (DLIs) which are;
DLI 1.- Increasing Utilization of High Impact Reproductive, Child health and Nutrition Interventions; this will include states producing plans for achieving reductions in Maternal and Under 5 Child mortality, Improvements from states’ baseline on key health indicators such as penta 3 vaccination, insecticides treated nets used by children under 5, contraceptive prevalence rate, Vitamin A coverage, Skilled birth attendance and HIV counselling and testing during antenatal care. Lagging states are also encouraged to strengthen their MNCH weeks as part of an impact evaluation.
DLI 2. – Increasing Quality of High impact Reproductive and Child Health and Nutrition Interventions: This entails states improving the quality of care at primary health care facilities
DLI 3 – Improving Monitoring and Evaluation systems and Data Utilization; by conducting SMART surveys in all 36 states and widely disseminating the results.
DLI 4 – Increasing Utilization and Quality of Reproductive and Child Health and Nutrition Interventions Through Private Sector Innovation: A competitive innovation fund was established that supports innovations for techniques and technologies in health service delivery. This is been headed by the Private Sector Health Alliance of Nigeria.
DLI 5- Increasing Transparency in Management and Budgeting for PHC: States are required to transfer health staff to entity responsible for PHC while produce and publishing a consolidated budget execution report covering all income and expenditures for PHC.
Speaking on the disbursement arrangement, he stated that once state earnings have been determined and verified, the PMU will set in motion the disbursement process. As soon as the World Bank receives a withdrawal application, funds will be disbursed to a dedicated account of the Federal Government for transfer to the accounts states have in Central Bank within 30 days.
The meeting with the Program management unit was very insightful, as a lot of questions we earlier came with were clearly answered but that did not leave us without having a few “asks” and recommendation that we hope will enable us at FollowTheMoney to effectively monitor and track the I.5 million dollars allocated to states.
Recommendations from CODE
Civil Society Organizations be included as part of the Independent Verification Agents
the National Orientation Agency should be carried along in sensitizing the general public about the program.
Specific asks from CODE
we asked to obtain a copy of the State’s Implementation Plans.
Ijeoma Oforka is a Program Officer at Connected Development, with a background in Public Health. She is passionate about advocating for the plights and issues surrounding women and girls health and education. She tweets via @ijoforka
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.
While some are debating about Big Brother Naija(BBN), Amnesty International (AI) published a bashing human right report on the Nigerian Military, I think these are more pressing issues that tell directly on us and our perception in the International sphere than BBN. The general perception of the average young Nigerian has always been towards entertainment and the arts, which are not wrong in themselves, but requires balance to make us global citizens and engage more in active statesmanship. The quest for development cannot be achieved until we collectively get involved in those things that matter and concerns national development the most, this isn’t stopping them from being social or interact within the social space but to place emphasis on these various issues will go a long way to make these issues potent in the public domain.
The disappointments and the mystery many shares from the backlogs of bad governance and social injustice could be a justifiable reason for this wide lack of morale, but we must all collectively understand that the future must be better than the past, hence the need to be more active citizens than just active netizens, engaging more in the collectivity of our reality and steering the ship of state to focus more on pressing issues covertly influencing governmental policies, human and civil rights to the point where spaces will be vacated for young people to show what they have gathered over the years as political power will not just fall on our laps, we must work (hard) for it.
Some people deliberately have raised serious issues on the details of the report with more focus on killings of civilians by the military following various claims by CSOs, Amnesty claims its reports are concrete following the kind of methodology it used including the world acclaimed ‘triangulation’. The document which is over 400 pages, highlights the human rights abuses and violation world over in an alphabetical order. This report is a yearly survey which is geared majorly towards ‘state actors’ with little or no importance to ‘non-state actors or parties to conflict’.This emphasis has made it a little difficult for people to fully comprehend why not enough credence is giving to the military with all its successes in the offensive against terrorists and its strides in protecting the territorial integrity of the Nation.
Nigerians may not understand vividly what all these means, while conflict entrepreneurs may use these as a bashing tool against the government and military, I am not taking sides here but just analyzing these issues based on facts and available data, to be able to strike a balance from the whole situation, no matter how confusing it may look like.
I watched the Researcher from Amnesty International on Sunrise daily (24/02/2017) talking about the report and how the army has been indicted and to balance up immediately was the Spokesman of the military, who debunked all allegations and also opined that the videos and pictures released are cropped and hence not true, stating vehemently that the Army should be celebrated for its feats in keeping the nation together as one through all the various unrests in all parts of the country as if they are doing us a favor in discharging their job responsibilities.
The disconnect here is however how the Army has consistently denied ALL these allegations stating that it doesn’t kill citizens and just abides by the Rule of Law and Rules of Engagements as it is enshrined in the constitution as their responsibility. Truth is, in the past, the military has proven to be above the law and has dealt ruthlessly with civilians in purely civil issues, they have ruled as gods on the street as we have seen so many times physically and on Social Media, beating, maiming, threatening harmless civilians at different locations and times in the country. This shameful act has over the years characterized the military as their presence anywhere only exudes fear and panic. This reality has developed an impression in the minds of every Nigerian, young and old which has further deepened and widen the gaps of interaction between the military and civilians in the country, the fear is not location sensitive.
I have had my fair share of military brutality, and it wasn’t a palatable one. Sometime in 2012, I was enroute Makurdi, Benue State, with some students in an 18 seater bus for a wedding, I have had a foreknowledge of the madness that comes with Military brutality as a regular traveller, before this time I wasn’t a victim and as such never had a close shave with the military, we got to a military checkpoint at the fringes of Okene, Kogi State, the driver had not seen that kind of sights before and was very amused, he saw people ‘frog jumping’ in a row, the other occupants in the bus expressed such amazement, but I cautioned them silently, we were about moving past the checkpoint when the husky voice thundered “stop dier”, I immediately knew there was trouble, when the driver was too excited and laughed out loud, we were all paraded out of the bus leaving out the ladies and a man who identified himself as a Pastor. The rest of us tried insisting that we were undergraduates with ID cards flashing everywhere to no avail, we filled out in a line like the victims before us and perform the delegated punishment for our driver’s laughter.
I was quite unfortunate that day as we returned to the bus after the punishment for laughing, though very angry and could hardly walk well, I tried to hide my anger in a smile only for the soldier to tell me to go start from the beginning again as he opined I was ‘smiling too much’. Some will opine that this is a result of the military hangover from the days of dictatorship and military incursion in politics, but we will bear witness to the fact that in recent times the military have started purging itself of these civil abuses with the way it handled the cripple man who was abused by its men.
In the times of War, as we have in the North East, International best practices enshrined in the IHL (International Humanitarian Law) and other conventions and protocols, places a definite demand on State actors to protect the civilian populace and further gives detailed guidelines of how to treat Prisoners of War (POW), maintaining the HUMAN RIGHTS and to treat with all sense of HUMAN DIGNITY of even the insurgents and other non-state actors involved in the armed conflict, when they are arrested .
This is a point where many defer, as they simply cannot comprehend why when a terrorist is caught, he should not be killed without been tried first by a competent court, and not just to be shot arbitrarily, why a terrorist still have ‘human rights’ and that rights must be protected with the terrorist having his own share of relief materials and should not be tortured to give information. This thought bothered me so much as a postgraduate student studying International Humanitarian Law as a course, I could not comprehend either at first but as I dug deeper, I got more clarity about the various dimensions of these issues. Unfortunately, the mandate of Amnesty International is to sustain advocacy on International Humanitarian Law and other issues that pertain to Human Rights abuses.
My opinion should be for the Military to intensify its efforts on bringing to book those within its ranks whenever issues of human right abuses occur with fairness and justice in time as to continue to allay the fears of Nigerians. More must be done to ensure the fusion of the military with civilians to enable the populace to see the military as partners in the Nigerian project and also build mutual trust with the same to further deepen the synergy. The military must not see CSO’s as enemies but partners, we do not need them to come out and flagrantly deny these allegations with illogical rhetoric but to check itself and purge its own systems of those who have vowed not to adhere to the rules of engagement as enshrined in the constitution of the ‘Federal’ Republic. The successes of the Military notwithstanding will be maintained when the Military points its searchlight on its men who would not do the right things, taking laws into their hands and bashing the hard work that seems to have been put in place to ensure its smooth running of its mandate as it concerns security and protection of our territorial integrity as a Nation. Just as the case of the crippled man that was brutalized for wearing a camouflage trouser, that kind of swift response with investigation and strict disciplinary measures must be sustained, this actions will build a support base for the military and will continue to bridge that gap that has been in existence from the days of Military dictatorship
Finally, the government must train, retrain and empower the police to take full responsibility for its job regarding civil matters, it is an aberration to see the military deployed as if they do not have a much bigger job of protecting our territorial integrity and keeping us safe, as I see more Military uniforms daily than that of the police. The State must wake up to its responsibilities before we begin to experience and witness more damning reports like this.
IMAGE CREDIT: Amnesty International
Busayo Oluwadamilare Morakinyo is a Humanitarian and Refugee Expert and a Peace Scholar.