The president of Nigeria’s senate, Bukola Saraki, (left) seen here presenting a letter of confirmation to President Muhammadu Buhari, has promised Nigerians that the National Assembly will be transparent and accountable. Picture: REUTERS
The president of Nigeria’s senate, Bukola Saraki, (left) seen here presenting a letter of confirmation to President Muhammadu Buhari, has promised Nigerians that the National Assembly will be transparent and accountable. Picture: REUTERS

As countries in Africa continue to work to eradicate poverty, the connection between whether governments are spending their budgets correctly and continued challenges with governments’ service delivery is gaining attention.

The advent of social media, data mining and start-ups that count making a social impact as one of their core business pillars, has resulted in a much higher level of accountability being imposed on those in power.

Nigeria is among those countries in which service delivery levels have come under scrutiny. According to Transparency International, Nigeria ranks 136 out of 176 countries on the 2014 Corruption Perceptions Index with a score of just 27 out of 100. In its survey, 85% of Nigerians said they believe corruption increased from 2011 to 2013.

The poor, who make up about 40% of the country’s 179-million people, are hardest hit as corruption severely reduces the quality of the services they rely on. Health services, for example, are seen as highly corrupt by 41% of Nigerians.

While President Muhammadu Buhari vowed to fight corruption during his campaign, it is up to Nigerians to hold him to this.

Transparency is the first step in fighting corruption because it empowers citizens, businesses and the media with the information they need to create a demand for change. But where do we start?

Tackling service delivery, with a particular focus on ensuring greater transparency in spending, is vital to ensuring that politicians’ promises become actual improvements to the infrastructure of the country and people’s lives.

The type of transparency needed to bring sunlight to service delivery issues can be achieved by adopting technology as well as mobile and digital platforms.

Earlier this year, Nigerian senate president Bukola Saraki promised a transparent and accountable National Assembly, starting with a live streaming of ministerial confirmation hearings.

The senate, through its official Twitter account, @NGRSenate, also called on the public to send in questions they would like to ask nominees using the hashtag #MinisterialScreening.

In Nigeria, there are solutions available that allow citizens to track service delivery and report issues to the relevant institutions. A community in Ogun state scored a major victory after using a budget document that was simplified by BudgIT to access government funding to complete the construction of a new school.

The community had run out of funds, meaning 429 primary school pupils were crammed into two classrooms. And although the government had approved their request, it wasn’t until BudgIT inspected the progress of the application that the community learned about it.

Our team analysed, translated and simplified the budgets. We then approached the citizens of Iwoye-Ilogbo and presented our findings at community meetings. The team engaged with local community leaders and sent letters to ministers to request release of the funding.

Construction on the school began in October 2014 and was completed in February last year. BudgIT, working with the community, used its Tracka platform and offline advocacy to persistently demand delivery of the school.

Certainly, there are other countries in Africa that could well benefit from more open governance, and whose citizens deserve better accountability and where the scourge of corruption needs to be curbed.

BudgIT has made transparency real through the use of freedom of information, providing data to citizens through its social media platform with more than 60,000 followers and serving as a platform that raises their sense of civic duty.

Their approach of demanding a transparent breakdown of the National Assembly budget through the #OpenNASS campaign is yielding fruit with the recent promise of the senate president to do so. It also uses freedom of information requests to convince the public on the actual amount spent on independence celebrations after several false figures were shared on social media.

In 2016, BudgIT wants to focus on its deeper impact in Nigeria through its offline budget access programme in Nigeria and Sierra Leone. It also has plans to institute a civic innovation centre to expand impact in other critical sectors, expand in selected African countries and diversify revenue streams with corporate product offerings.

These goals may be ambitious, but they are not impossible, especially if they are pursued in collaboration and with the help of organisations such as Omidyar Network, which is a strong ally, committed to strengthening the relationship between governments and citizens, and so increasing accountability.

• Onigbinde is the co-founder of BudgIT and a Knight International Innovation Fellow