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Faces of Open Government: Oluseun Onigbinde

Rostros del Gobierno Abierto: Oluseun Onigbinde

OGP Support Unit|

Nigeria just became the 70th country to join OGP. What kind of commitments are you hoping to see from Nigeria in its first National Action Plan?

We are glad to see Nigeria as a member of the Open Government Partnership. I look forward to more transparency, most especially at the spending end. Nigeria has a very detailed budget, but it does not publish its detailed spending. I also want open contracting. A peer organization – the Public Private Development Center – is already working to entrench this in Nigeria. As an organization, we are leading a coalition, named Open Alliance, that has developed a draft action plan which enlists what we as civil society will look forward to. We also want more transparency around beneficial ownership of the extractive sectors, a list of convicted persons, a list of entities that includes their beneficial owners, education performance data, mortality rates in public hospitals, and much more.

What do you think Nigerian citizens want to see as a result of Nigeria’s joining OGP?

As an organization, [BudgIT] has been working with other NGOs since 2013 to ensure Nigeria joins the OGP. Since Nigeria joined the OGP through submission of a letter of intent, we have been designing infographics, sharing tweets, and sending messages on the collaborative structure of the OGP and the potential benefits. A lot of media organizations are also interested in amplifying the potential impact of this. I believe there is still a big gap in knowledge about OGP. The citizens’ interest has always been about service efficiency, and transparency is at the core of this interest. Citizens are hopeful that this will create a collaborative platform as anticipated.

How did you become personally interested in open government?

As the Lead Partner of BudgIT, it is important that transparency guides our work in ensuring that every Nigerian has access to information on how public funds are spent. I wanted more fiscal transparency, and I accepted that the Open Government Partnership was an important way to institutionalize this. We started with the former Minister of Communications Technology, Omobola Johnson, who played a critical role in ensuring that Nigeria was eligible for the OGP. I have attended OGP events in Mombasa and London, and it was clear to me that this was a space that Nigeria would benefit from immensely. My organization decided to lead the initiative to convene the Open Alliance, a group of credible Nigerian civil society organizations  and international bodies interested in OGP-related issues. We have also raised the bar on civic engagement and conversation on social media on the important issues the OGP can address.

What is the best example of open government you’ve seen in Nigeria so far?

I will state two recent initiatives – the monthly publication of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) operational and financial activities, and the audited statement of public accounts. These initiatives started with the administration of President Buhari, demonstrating that there is a window for transparency if citizens keep demanding more. For years, as  an organization, BudgIT has been campaigning for audit reports to be made public, and we are glad that the 2014 Audited Reports were finally published after sending four FOI requests and intense engagement with the institution. The next step is to ensure such transparency counts.

Given your background in innovation and fiscal transparency, how can civic technology help open government?

BudgIT is an example of how civic technology has the potential to deepen public conversations in Nigeria and also drive institutional transparency.  At the heart of open government is data, and that has an exponential effect on possibilities. These data can be mined, analyzed, visualized and properly presented for intelligence and engagement. I also reviewed the Nigerian Government’s commitment at the London Anti-corruption Summit, and it includes a hub for developing technology solutions to fight corruption. I see a nexus of efficiency developing when we have data, human intelligence, and technology.

At BudgIT, we have helped NEITI (the Nigerian extractive audit institution) to improve public communication of its reports. Other organizations, such as Order Paper, are liberalizing access to legislative information. The beauty of the OGP process is that it is collaborative, and therein lies the potential for government and civil society to craft a partnership leveraged on technology for a better society.

What is the biggest challenge working in civil society in Nigeria? How do you think OGP can help change that?

I think the biggest challenge is getting donors to take risky bets on ideas of civil society to deliver more impact; also, the shrinking space of engagement between government and civil society. I see the OGP helping to formalize a space of engagement between the government, civil society, and other important actors. With the expected inclusive National Steering Committee that is meant to be rightly divided between state and non-state actors, I see an opportunity for the government and citizens to intersect their ideas on the values that the OGP holds firm. There is always the thought that government and civil society work along different paths – I think this is a chance to bridge that space for a better Nigeria.

What are you hoping to learn from the greater OGP community? What are you hoping to bring to that community?

I expect to learn from the challenges and opportunities seen by the members who joined before us. Our organization has been interested in reviewing the challenges of other OGP countries. We are advising state officers to consider such issues right from the foundation. I think we can show leadership as a country that delivers results in the OGP. As a person that has facilitated OGP conversations in Sierra Leone, been on the OGP Awards Jury, and led an online project to track OGP commitments in Sierra Leone, I believe it is important we bring these concepts to Nigeria. I am passionate about the OGP and its potential to accelerate action on the issues that will deepen transparency and accountability in Nigeria.

Nigeria has Africa’s largest GDP and is the continent’s most populous nation. Do you think Nigeria has the potential to be a leader in OGP on the continent?

I don’t think we are late to the OGP group of countries. Nigeria is the 70th country to join the OGP, and the 10th African country. This means that there are over 40 countries in Africa that are yet to join, and we can help the new band of willing African countries, especially in the West African sub-region. We are all aware that autocratic leadership has been a setback to Africa’s development that hindered progress. I believe if Nigeria, currently on the right path of development, can show a forthright example to the OGP with its population and its multiple ethnicities, it will be a great example to other countries.

Can OGP play a role in developing a more transparent and equitable process of distributing the gains from natural resources extraction?

I think the government has set off on the right path with the monthly publication of NNPC reports. NNPC has been notorious for its opacity and also as a conduit to use state resources to fund political patronage. I think for Nigerians to see NNPC books is a good move. We need to step forward with beneficial ownership and also open contracting when it comes to divestments and procurement. I think the Nigerian parliament will consider reworking Nigeria’s extractive industry in the next few months, and the OGP presents an opportunity to ensure the conversations are more inclusive.

Nigeria has several national security concerns, namely the rise of terrorist groups like Boko Haram. Do you think OGP can play a role in preventing the rise of these groups or avoiding further violence?

I don’t want to give the impression that OGP can fix Nigeria’s perennial problems. However, a major reason why we are struggling to end the insurgency, despite the strength of our military, has been the abuse of public funds in the name of security. At least $2bn is being investigated as regards security funding in Nigeria. A major cause of corruption is opacity and abuse of the institutional process. I believe that we need more transparency in the use of security funds and a deeper review of the processes, and the OGP can provide that inclusive space to discuss this. I am also being careful that the development of action plans does not become overwhelming, as this might discourage bureaucrats. We will need to work together within the first crucial two years.

Nigeria is perceived as having a lot of corruption, particularly within the government. Why do you think this is? Do you think Nigeria’s partnership with OGP can make a substantial change in this perception?

I think joining the OGP shows that we want to do things differently going forward. I think the President is interested in fighting corruption, a perennial hold on Nigeria’s development. He seems not to be doing enough in terms of proactive steps to end corruption, which includes radical transparency. However, being interested in Nigeria’s membership of the OGP affirms that he wants to do things differently. I hope the President shows leadership by ensuring that Nigeria adheres to bold commitments that can improve Nigeria’s perception. To take down corruption in Nigeria is a hard task but to do this, we must know that transparency and strengthening institutions are critical. The OGP provides the space to strengthen this position and also allows the intersection of ideas that deepen democracies.

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Oluseun Onigbinde is the Lead Partner of BudgIT, a civic organization based in Nigeria and Sierra Leone that works to use creative data presentation to intersect civic engagement and institutional improvement in West Africa.

Oluseun is a recipient of the Ashoka Fellowship, Aspen New Voices Fellowship, Future Awards and Knight Fellowship with International Center for Journalists. Oluseun is a member of the Harambe Entrepreneur Alliance and also sits on ONE Africa Policy Advisory Board.

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