Nigeria holds public servants accountable with budget watchdog

Nigerians use BudgIT to ensure governments keep their public spending promises

Corruption is a systemic problem in Nigeria

Nigeria has partnered with a public spending watchdog to improve government accountability and transparency. The NGO BudgIT tracks budgets and proposed spending across governments and departments, highlighting anomalies in easily disseminated graphics and asking citizens to track big projects by uploading pictures of their progress. Nigeria is ranked 136th out of 176 countries on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index.

Results & Impact

The organisation has reached 750,000 Nigerians online and offline, and gets 2,000 data requests monthly from individuals, private companies and development agencies. BudgIT played a key part in convincing the Nigerian government to join the Open Government Partnership, a multilateral initiative to promote transparency and stamp out corruption

Key Parties

Nigeria's National Assembly, Nigerian national and state governments, BudgIT

How

The NGO BudgIT mines public spending data, then visualises findings in reports and infographics to simplify budgets for Nigerians. It provides critical information on issues that directly affect citizens like urban development, housing and roads, and asks citizens to track public projects by uploading pictures of their progress. The project is funded by philanthropic foundations Gates and Omidyar

Where

Lagos, Nigeria

Target Group

General public

Cost & Value

Gates Foundation and the Omidyar Network contributed $3 million to BudgIT's work over the next 3 to 4 years

Stage

Running since 2011

Hurdles

The biggest challenge is earning trust from members of parliament who remain suspicious of the project. MPs tend to take requests for clarification as a personal attack, but BudgIT's ongoing work in the country has helped ease tensions: “People in government have come to realise that we’re not in the business of trying to jail people," said co-founder Oluseun Onigbinde

Replication

BudgIT has expanded to Sierra Leone and Ghana

The Story

Nigeria’s National Assembly has partnered with a data-driven public spending watchdog to hold state and national governments accountable to corruption.

Nigeria’s national and state governments are among the most corrupt in the world: the country is currently ranked 136th out of 176 countries on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index.

BudgIT, a civil society organisation born out of a Lagos incubator hub in 2011, has partnered with the Nigerian National Assembly to track public spending across governments and departments. The organisation engages with government officials on spending, then reports to the National Assembly.

“In Nigeria, it’s a big challenge to access information, which is what we’re trying to solve. A lot of public resources are really hidden – we wanted to make it simpler and more accessible for people to understand government budgeting,” said Oluseun Onigbinde, the co-founder of BudgIT.

“Our key goal is to democratise – to fight against corruption with transparency and trust in public resources,” Onigbinde said.

A report on the 2017 national budget – which dissects each department’s proposed budget – identified a number of “frivolous and suspicious items,” such as a 656% spending increase on the legal aid council’s “office stationeries and computer consumables” over 2016 levels.

BudgIT mines public spending data, then creatively visualises their findings with reports and infographics to simplify budgets and proposed spending for Nigerians. It provides critical information on issues that directly affect citizens like urban development, housing and roads. BudgIT’s goal is to empower citizens to demand better services and greater transparency. Many Nigerians use BudgIT data and graphs to advocate for better public sector efficiency on social media.

BudgIT project-tracking tool, Tracka, allows Nigerians to post photos of infrastructure projects within their communities to track progress. BudgIT’s project officers work with citizens offline, as well – they help them get in touch with representatives to push for neighbourhood projects. The tool is currently available in 17 states.

The biggest challenge for Onigbinde and his colleagues is engaging with MPs who are suspicious about the project. “People sometimes feel as though it’s a political attack. We ask them to give us more clarification, and we sometimes get a sense of defiance. It’s a mixed bag of engagement when it comes to abuse of public spending,” he said.

It’s an ongoing challenge for Onigbinde and his team to get access to public spending records and work with MPs, but BudgIT’s steadfast presence has helped ease tensions. “People in government have come to realise that we’re not in the business of trying to jail people,” said Onigbinde.

The organisation has reached 750,000 Nigerians online and offline, and gets 2,000 data requests monthly from individuals, private companies and development agencies.

BudgIT played a key role in convincing the Nigerian government to join the Open Government Partnership, a multilateral initiative to promote transparency and stamp out corruption.

BudgIT is supported by the Gates Foundation and the Omidyar Network, a philanthropic investment firm, which together contributed nearly $3 million for the organisation’s next three to four years of work.

After its success in Nigeria, the organisation has expanded to Sierra Leone and Ghana.

(Picture credit: Flickr/Uchegod)

Jennifer Guay
jennifer.guay@apolitical.co

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