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“Following the Money” During a Pandemic is Tough but OGP Could be the Game-Changer

Seguir la pista al dinero en medio de la pandemia es difícil, pero OGP puede ser el punto de inflexión

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Hamzat Lawal|

Since the return to democracy in 1999, nothing exposed Nigeria’s negligence, unpreparedness and unwillingness to deliver quality healthcare more than COVID-19. During the military dictatorship, Nigeria had earned notorious labels as irredeemably corrupt, and hopeless by the international community. So, the new order – democracy – came with high hopes for recovery but two decades after, many believe that the country has not had the best dividends of democracy. This excludes regular elections often marred with rigging, blood, and violence.

Central to Nigeria’s failure is economic mismanagement of oil rents, infrastructural dilapidation and weak institutions fueled by corruption and elite capture. With these challenges in view at the launch of Follow The Money in 2012, we constructed our theory of change and engagement process on participatory, open, and consultative principles. We carefully avoided a confrontational model in order to de-escalate risks associated with environments where governments are seen to possess pale popular support, distrust, and illegitimacy. A collaborative model ensures that authorities open their doors for citizen engagement (amidst reluctance and grumblings) without intimidation, arrests or physical attacks.

Photo by Connected Development [CODE]

FollowThe Money is a pan-African social accountability movement that is mobilizing a critical mass of citizens to lead anti-corruption campaigns for structural reforms and good governance. Follow The Money functions as an intermediary between authorities and marginalized rural communities, empowering them with information on public finances (budgetary allocations, procurements, contract details, and specifications) so they can monitor projects independently and hold officials accountable. Our process can be summarized in these specific steps:

  1. Data mining for donor-supported projects and budgetary provisions from procurement boards, tender documents, newspapers and radio stations
  2. Ground-truthing – visiting project sites to ascertain implementation status
  3. Community engagement – facilitation of community outreach activities and  town hall meetings where all interested parties: benefiting communities, officials of the government, contractors, community leadership, media, cleric, etc. will converge to discuss project implementation reports and sustainability
  4. Offline advocacy – with outcomes from outreaches and town hall meetings, Follow The Money writes FOI letters to relevant agencies of the government, letters of complaints or satisfaction and also compiles the community scorecard or petition, where necessary.
  5. Online advocacy – the use of new media helps our team for amplification of core messages and mobilization of citizens for collective action
  6. Government feedback – the ultimate aim is to extract government’s responsiveness in the form of improvement in service delivery and resolution of conflicts

Empowering citizens with information for effective participation and inclusion of marginalized voices would not have been possible without the principles of the Open Government Partnership (OGP). The doggedness of Nigerian-based civic organizations, who internalize the strengths of OGP principles and commitments, explains why civic space and political liberty have neither totally succumbed to repressive and overzealous officials nor given in to polarization and protectionist populism.

Photo by Connected Development [CODE]

Life in rural communities across Nigeria is nasty, brash and short because of the paucity of social amenities and vulnerabilities of lives in the grassroots and COVID-19 has aggravated the fault lines between rural-urban dwellers. Establishing this claim as a fact before legislators in the National Assembly, Mr. Boss Mustapha, Chairman of Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19, lamented that he never knew that Nigeria’s healthcare infrastructure and delivery was in total ruins. COVID-19 should be an opportunity to reset our politics, policies, economies and public health systems.

Ordinarily, the state of public health infrastructures should call for urgency in total reparation and upgradient using all available public resources. However, it is not so. In the wake of discretionary powers granted to combat COVID-19 and under the guise of emergency protocols, some officials are becoming ruthless, tyrannical and undemocratic – resorting to intimidation of citizens and civil society organizations who are working so hard to advance political accountability. Recently, the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation threatened to dismiss civil servants for the “unauthorized disclosure of official documents”. This is a stark contradiction to provisions of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and a host of OGP commitments already extracted from the Nigerian government.

In the news, journalists who have posed critical questions on the expenditures of COVID-19 funds continue to suffer illegal arrests and forced-disappearance. There is also a worrisome trend of extrajudicial and instant execution of citizens who are accused of violating lockdown measures by security agencies. All these are human right violations, which are condemnable, unacceptable and punishable.

It is only in democracies that citizens ensure that elected leaders ultimately do the right thing and account for every penny received as donations to combat COVID-19. However, Follow The Money and other anti-corruption organizations cannot function optimally in environments ridden with fear, intimidation, rigidity or absence of free flow of information, indiscriminate arrests or mysterious deaths.

As the world battles the pandemic, the Nigerian government must unreservedly commit, uphold and respect OGP commitments in the country. The same charge and call apply to local governments. This is in the realization and spirit that what distinguishes democracy from all other forms of government is freedom and liberty. For us at Follow The Money, OGP commitments are the game-changers for anti-corruption campaigns in Nigeria.

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